PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The Providence school department is bracing for its sixth consecutive year of level funding from the city, and Mayor Jorge Elorza’s school board president isn’t happy about it.
Board President Keith Oliveira was the only member of the mayoral-appointed panel to vote against the school district’s $353.5-million budget proposal Monday, part of his ongoing effort to remind the new mayor that his campaign pledge to improve the city’s schools will come with an increased price tag.
Mark Santow, a new board member, abstained from voting.
“I think it was an important statement to make,” Oliveira, who was re-elected president with Elorza’s support earlier this month, told WPRI.com. “I don’t think this budget meets the needs of the school department.”
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Oliveira said he was upset the proposal doesn’t include more bus passes for high school students, technology upgrades for schools across the city or more support for the “social and emotional needs” of students, all items that found their way to the chopping block as school officials went to work closing a projected $34.7-million shortfall for the budget that takes effect July 1.
The board’s Finance Committee originally voted to ask Elorza to increase the city’s share of the school budget by approximately $10 million, but Oliveira said the full board changed course after meeting with the mayor. The board is now counting on the city to set aside $124.9 million for the school department, the same amount it has provided the schools every year since 2011.
The rest of the budget will come from the state, which is projected to provide about $222 million for the 2015-16 fiscal year. Separately, Providence still doesn’t know how much its schools will receive in federal aid, but that figure dropped from $64 million in 2010 to $45 million in 2013 and is expected to continue to fall, according to Christina O’Reilly, a spokeswoman for the district.
The overall school budget – which includes both city and state funds – is expected to grow from $346.2 million during the current fiscal year to $353.5 million next year, with nearly 77% of the whole budget going toward salaries and benefits.
That projection also anticipates no wage increase for teachers in a new union contract, something board members have said they consider unlikely. City teachers have been working without a new contract since September after the union overwhelmingly rejected a pact negotiated by former Mayor Angel Taveras. The city and the union are currently involved in mediation discussions.
“In the context of the city’s finances, we’re glad good things are in the budget,” Evan England, a spokesman for the mayor, told WPRI.com. The budget includes funding for additional teachers at the West Broadway Middle School and Providence’s two new high schools, as well as expanded career and technical education programs at all high schools and more Advanced Placement courses across the city.
School officials say they closed a projected $34.7 million budget gap by declining to hire for at least 45 positions and cutting funding for certain supplies, technology upgrades and bus passes. High school students who live at least 2.5 miles from school would still receive passes, but the board previously committed to reducing that distance requirement two miles.
Because the school board serves in an advisory role when it comes to budget matters, Monday’s vote was largely ceremonial. Elorza is slated to unveil his full budget Apr. 29 and the City Council will spend the next several months vetting the proposal. Ultimately, the school budget is decided by the mayor and the council, not the school board.This report has been updated.