COVENTRY – Two months after rejecting the city budget originally offered to them, voters in Coventry will go to the polls again today to make their voices heard on an alternative budget for the financial year which began July 1.
After its first proposed budget was defeated in the May referendum, Coventry City Council got to work cutting its original budget in hopes of creating one that residents would support.
The $114 million budget passed by the board last month represents a decrease of approximately $336,000 from the failed budget and includes a 2.3% tax increase from 2022. It would result in a residential tax rate of $19.57 per $1,000 of assessment, or 10 cents. lower than what had been offered – and a trade rate of $23.59.
Someone with a house worth $350,000 could expect to see a tax increase of $59.05 per year, or about $5 per month.
Among other things, the proposed budget would restore funding that was cut from the parks and recreation department after the pandemic, maintain operations, invest $955,000 in capital improvements, and allocate $234,148 to be used to deal with unforeseen expenses.
In altering its original budget, one area where the city council chose not to make cuts was in its allocation to Coventry public schools.
On the school side, which accounts for about 69% of the overall budget, the proposed $50 million appropriation from local taxes would help maintain all sports and activities while investing $1.2 million in district facilities. .
When the fiscal year 2023 budget process began last year, the school district projected that it would need an increase in local appropriations of approximately 9%, largely due to several unavoidable increases as well as the state’s requirement that 3% of its operating budget be devoted to maintenance.
“We have reduced this percentage to 2.86% [local appropriation increase], which is well below the rate of inflation,” Supt. Craig Levis said in a phone interview Tuesday.
This was accomplished in part through the implementation of a number of cost reduction measures. The district has also worked to strategically use its pandemic relief funds to offset its local ownership, Levis said.
“Coming out of the pandemic, I think we’ve used our federal funds effectively to meet the needs of our students, our families, and our staff,” he said, “and that’s critical.”
Federal funds have been used to purchase Chromebooks, for example, to improve cybersecurity, to purchase high-quality educational materials, and to address socio-emotional needs and learning loss fueled by the pandemic.
After several months of distance learning, learning loss among students was significant, Asst. Supt. Don Cowart said Tuesday.
“When we had the opportunity to invest money, we invested it in students,” Cowart said, adding that the relief funds were directed to “improving the quality of education and the experience that children have in schools”.
Interventionist positions have been created to help at-risk students, he said, and summer programs have been established to deal with socio-emotional as well as academic learning loss.
In addition to investing in facilities and maintaining extracurricular activities, the budget voted this week would fund various school safety improvements, using the District’s approximately $900,000 increase in state aid for meet the needs highlighted by a recent survey of each of the buildings in the district. .
Following the fatal shooting in May at a Texas elementary school, the school district and local police conducted an investigation of the seven school buildings in Coventry.
“We’ve identified some areas where the need is incredible,” Levis said, noting that many buildings in the district are at least 60 years old. “After what happened in Texas, we want to make sure we’re doing everything we can do.”
There are surveillance cameras needed in elementary schools, exterior doors to be replaced and communication systems to be put in place, among other things.
At a recent meeting, the Coventry school board approved the use of the district’s additional $904,000 in state aid to make these improvements. But if the budget fails, Levis said, those funds will have to be used for operations.
The instability that surrounds each budget season in Coventry has posed many challenges, said Cowart, who added that he hopes to encourage turnout in tomorrow’s referendum.
“We love that so many people are moving to Coventry,” Cowart said. “People come here, and I think they expect their kids to have a good, well-rounded learning experience. »
But for a district to function well, it takes investment, he said, adding that almost all school districts in Rhode Island that currently operate above Coventry spend more than Coventry per pupil.
At $16,873, Coventry spends among the lowest per pupil in the state – the city ranks 47th out of 63 districts in the state for spending per pupil.
“You can only go so far with a certain level of investment before you hit a wall,” Cowart said. “The communities that are above us and that thrive…they invest more.”
Only 1,536 of Coventry’s roughly 26,000 registered voters took part in the May 26 budget referendum, with less than 100 votes determining the outcome. School and town officials have since been working to ensure better attendance this time around.
“It’s not our job to tell people how to vote, it’s our job to make sure people know when to vote and where to vote,” Cowart said, “and give them all the information they need. to make a good informed decision when they go to the voting booth.
Coventry residents can vote for the proposed $114 million budget for FY23 between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. Thursday at the following polling stations:
District 1: St. Francis Church, 132 Peckham Street, Coventry
District 2: City Council Chambers, 1670 Flat River Road, Coventry
District 3: Club Jogues, 184 Boston Street, Coventry
District 4: Coventry Senior Center, 50 Wood St., Coventry
District 5: Westwood Estates Clubhouse, 1A Liena Rose Way, Coventry