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A Kindergarten Correction I’m Thrilled to Make

At last night’s meeting of the Tiverton School Committee, during a discussion of the possibility of resurrecting all-day kindergarten for the 2015-2016 school year, I distributed a flier with four budget reasons for moving forward with the program.

Although elected officials and employees of the school department tend to take the attitude that any numbers that they do not provide must be treated as suspect (without ever bothering to refute them), only two points were actually challenged.

The first was the very last, which noted that the 3% reserve fund required by the town charter covers both the municipal side and the school department for emergencies.  The point is that even if the school department couldn’t find the money for all-day kindergarten within its budget, and even if it wound up having to use its $400,000 in reserves for which it has no (publicly stated) plan, and even if it could not make up the difference in the additional $500,000 that it might (or might not) spend on capital in order to receive matching funds from the state, then in the case of such a massive emergency, it could turn to the municipal government.

It’s the basic math for how the reserve is calculated, and it was pretty surprising to see how little elected officials, including the Town Council president, understand how their resources work.

The second point that was challenged, however, does appear to have been an error on my part.  The flier pointed out that the town government has to make up the difference if state aid falls short of projections.  Since cancelling all-day kindergarten gives up $63,207 in state aid, I’d stated that the town would have to come up with that money.

This turned out not to be the case, and it’s a correction that I’m thrilled to make, because it brings all-day kindergarten even closer into reach.

What Caused the Mistake

The presentation that the school department supplied to the Budget Committee included pricing of all-day kindergarten.  The new cost of extended kindergarten would be $261,271, which would drop to $189,991 after savings from having no midday bus runs, equaling $71,280.  Then, additional state aid of $63,207 would bring the total local cost to $126,784.

The total line items listed in the presentation include money for all-day kindergarten (showing, for example, the bus savings), so one would assume the total budget request would also include the increased state aid.  Indeed, the total increase ($306,687) from last year, minus the state aid increase projected in the governor’s budget ($180,121), comes out to $126,566, which is so close to the local cost for all-day K that it seemed to confirm the inclusion of the extra state aid.

The governor’s budget documents also made my assumption an easy one to make, with explanations like this one (on page D-2):

The formula aid segment alone totals $776.8 million or an increase of $37.6 million in FY 2016. The Governor’s Budget fully-funds year five of the education aid funding formula in FY 2016, including an additional $1.4 million for Full-Day Kindergarten for districts that plan to implement by September, 2015. Since students participating in this program are now in school for a full day instead of half the school day, Distributed Aid for FY 2016 shows a subsequent increase to accommodate the adjustment in the Average Daily Membership (ADM) number used in the education aid funding formula calculations.

The number on a table after that statement shows Tiverton’s increase at $180,121, so it seemed like that had all-day kindergarten in it. In actuality, the kindergarten money is listed on a separate line, with no breakdown by district, right after the list of charter schools on the next page.

Why This Is a Good Thing

Obviously, it’s good news that the municipal government doesn’t have to come up with $63,207 for the schools for which it hadn’t budgeted.

Better news, though, is that the school department’s budget must have included the full expense of $189,991 for all-day kindergarten without the $63,207 offset from the state.  If the school committee had gone forward with all-day kindergarten, the effective reduction from Budget #2 at the financial town referendum would not have been $126,341, but $63,134.

As we now know, of course, the school department also had the problem of incorrectly estimating expenses to the tune of $423,244, leaving its budget short by that much.  That still presents a problem.

The section of my flier that contained the error stated that eliminating all-day kindergarten is not a good way for the school department to make up for its deficit.  Factoring in state aid, a state grant, transportation savings, and the hit to the municipal budget (which turned out to be incorrect), I suggested that the school committee had cost the town’s bottom line $238,094 in order to save $189,991.

Correcting my mistake, though, it’s more true to say that the school department gave up $174,887 in order to save $126,784 or $189,991, depending how you look at it. Either way, that’s not a very good financial decision.

If we turn our eyes toward the future, though, here’s the math for bringing back all-day kindergarten:

  • -$126,341 — Budget #2 reduction
  • -$423,244 — adjustments for incorrect estimates
  • +$471,312 — savings from cancelling new programs (including all-day K)
  • +$78,273 — savings the business director is confident can be realized over the year
  • -$189,991 — revive plans for all-day kindergarten
  • +$63,207 — new state aid not included in the budget

Summing it all up, to fund all-day kindergarten for the upcoming school year, Tiverton doesn’t have to find $189,991, as I’d thought to be the case, but $126,784.  That’s very good news, because it ought to be easy for the school department to come up with that money, as one can see by looking at my corrected flier.

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Justin Katz

Justin Katz, Vice President of the Tiverton Town Council, is a writer and researcher focusing on Rhode Island policy and politics. For more about Justin, see our About page. justin@justinkatz.com (401) 835-7156.

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