PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) - With the Providence School Department facing "staggering and increasing budget deficits" in the coming years, the president and vice president of the school board have directed Superintendent Chris Maher to develop proposals for righting the ship.
In a letter issued Wednesday, School Board President Nicholas Hemond and Vice President Nina Panda asked Maher to offer solutions for addressing a budget gap that is projected to grow from $3.7 million in the fiscal year that begins July 1 to $37 million by 2023.
"For too long our district has lamented our budgetary situation and not done enough to alter our course or sound the alarm for what it will truly take to close the gap," the letter states. "The problem now grows worse than ever and it falls to us to find a way to balance our district's financial obligations."
- Read: The full letter
- Related: Everything you should know about Providence's finances
- Follow: Providence politics on Facebook
The challenge the district faces: its expenditures are expected to grow from $387.7 million in the current fiscal year to $429 million by 2023, significantly outpacing the modest increases in projected revenue over the same period.
The bulk of the school department's revenue comes from two sources: state aid (currently $247 million) and city aid (currently $128.5 million). The city is projecting state aid to increase by approximately $2 million a year through 2023. The district isn't expecting the city to increase funding at all in the five-year span.
On the spending side, employee salaries are projected to increase by $13 million between 2018 and 2023 and employee benefits are projected to grow by $19 million during the same period. District spending to send students to public charter schools is expected to grow from $18 million in the current fiscal year to $25 million by 2023.
"It is time that we as a city have an honest discussion about where our priorities are, and what needs to be done to place our school district on solid financial ground," the letter states.
Hemond and Pande warned that "programs and resources we have fought to protect over the years may be a part of the measures that must be taken to ensure solvency and fiscal stability" of the district.
"The seriousness of these projected deficits require substantive, proactive measures to rein in spending," the letter states. "These measures will be painful and impact every aspect of our district."
Maher said he's in the process of preparing cost reduction scenarios for the school board.
"We owe it to the city and its citizens to balance our budget and not kick this can down the road," he firstname.lastname@example.org) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan
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