PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The Providence School Department’s budget shortfall is expected to swell to $42 million by 2024, even as the Elorza administration is projecting large surpluses for the city side of the budget in the coming years.
In a five-year plan delivered to the City Council last month, the Elorza administration predicted the school department’s shortfall will grow from $12 million next year to $42 million by 2024. On the city side, Providence is expected to run surpluses of between $2 million and $13 million during that period.
But the five-year plan also discloses that the administration is not planning to increase the city’s annual contribution of $128.5 million to the school department through 2024, which means school officials may have to rely on a combination of increases in state aid and cuts to balance the budget.
“The long-term budget projections with significant deficits for the Providence Public School District are not new,” Superintendent Christopher Maher said. “The district has been committed to submitting a balanced budget and remains so. That commitment resulted in approximately $5 million in cuts last year. We will do that in the future if our revenue projections do not improve.”
School department spending is projected to increase from $386 million in the current school year to $441 million in 2024, with the bulk of the growth coming from employee salaries and benefits, charter school tuition and transportation of students.
The new Providence Teachers Union contract calls for the city’s educators to receive pay raises of 2% this year, 2% on Sept. 1, 2019, and 1.5% on Jan. 1. 2020. (The city is projecting 1% raises in the years that follow.) Charter school tuition is expected to grow from $19 million in the current fiscal year to $24 million by 2024, while the city expects student transportation costs to increase from $16.6 million this year to nearly $20 million by 2024.
School revenue comes primarily from two areas: the state and the city. With the city’s contribution projected to remain flat, the administration projects state aid will grow from $252 million in the current fiscal year to $264 million by 2024. (Providence has upped its contribution to the school department just once – by $3.6 million – since 2010.)
On the city side, Providence is projecting its annual spending to grow from $493.2 million in the current fiscal year – this includes the contribution to schools – to $540 million by 2024, fueled in part by annual increases in tax revenue. The administration isn’t necessarily proposing five years of tax hikes because the tax base is projected to grow, but rising property values could result in an increase next year.
State law largely prohibits municipalities from raising their tax levies above 4% each year, so the city is projecting two 4% increases and three 2% increases over the next five years.
Elorza will submit his budget proposal for the fiscal year that begins July 1 in April.