Newport Nets Unexpected School Savings

Valley News Correspondent
Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Newport — On Thursday, the School Board is expected to decide on recommendations from the superintendent on where to spend a portion of the current year’s budget savings estimated at $750,000.

Superintendent Cindy Gallagher said the savings is derived from $1.3 million in unspent salaries and benefits.

After adjusting for expenditures that are over budget in other categories, the district is left with a surplus of about $750,000.

“It is because of the staff we lost (after the end of last year),” Gallagher said in a phone interview on Tuesday.

Additionally, she said there are three positions that were never filled.

Legal fees for the School Board, special education for out-of-district placements, and repairs and maintenance represent some of the expenditures that were over budget, according to information provided by Gallagher. Meanwhile, spending for regular education, guidance, and physical and occupational therapy came in under budget.

Gallagher recommends using about $540,000 of the $750,000. That would include spending about $250,000 to hire a consulting firm to review and make recommendations on how the district should operate with respect to its policies and financial procedures, she said.

Other expenses she recommends covering include paying off a bus lease, funds for substitute teachers, supplies for next year and safety upgrades.

She further recommends holding the remaining $209,000 in reserve until the fiscal year ends on June 30.

None of this sits well with resident Joe Branch, who said the revelation of more than $1 million in lower spending nine days after residents voted on next year’s budget shows something is wrong.

“That should have been projected,” Branch said. “That is what everyone in Newport is upset about.”

Branch also doesn’t agree that Gallagher and the School Board should decide how the money should be spent.

“Return it to the taxpayers or let them decide,” he said. “I don’t think the superintendent and School Board have the right to decide where to spend the money.”

Had voters been made aware of the available money, Branch believes it may have changed the outcome on the vote for a salary increase for teachers, which was defeated in the March 13 annual school meeting vote.

“I am not against teacher raises, and I believe they deserve a raise,” said Branch.

“It looks like we don’t support education, but (the tax increase) was just too much in one year. With the $1.3 million we could have given the teachers a raise.”

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com