NEWPORT — Newport school administrators said they aimed to minimize the tax impact in their proposed operating budget for the 2022-2023 school year to encourage voters to support a major renovation of the district’s career-technical education center.

Superintendent Brendan Minnihan and Business Administrator Ed Edmond introduced a proposed operating budget of $19,768,269 for the 2022-2023 school year on Thursday, with $7,574,575 to be raised by taxes. The proposal would have an additional tax impact of 55 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value, equivalent to an additional $82.50 on a $150,000 home.

The district’s proposal represents a developed launching point, based on current estimations, for the school board to deliberate and perhaps hone in the coming weeks. A public hearing to discuss the budget is scheduled for January 13, 2022, at which time the school board is expected to adopt the final proposal.

Perhaps the biggest question facing the board will be several currently vacant positions, totaling $264,831, that would remain unfilled under the proposed budget.

“These are positions that we would love to fill but haven’t been able to,” Minnihan explained.

Many of these positions are related to special education, Minnihan said. Should the district need to hire one of these positions during the school year, money might be allocated through other funds or means.

Edmond said the district does not anticipate being able to find candidates next school year to fill these particular positions.

“We were at a point where we wanted this budget to be level-funded,” Edmond said. “And if we didn’t cut these positions, then we would have had to cut somewhere else and be making program changes.”

Newport educator Lisa Ferrigno, speaking during public comments, urged the board to prioritize filling several key vacant positions at the elementary level, including a guidance counselor, a Title I teacher and special educator.

“Our students are in their third year of a global pandemic,” Ferrigno said. “Many of them need additional support, which they would be getting through a guidance counselor, a Title I teacher and special educator if we could fill these positions.”

The proposed budget is approximately $550,000 higher than the current year operating budget, largely due to an increase of $371,875 in health insurance obligations, approximately $219,000 in contractual pay increases, and a revenue loss of $263,647 in state adequacy aid.

Adequacy aid, or the state’s funding contribution to local school districts, is based on a per pupil formula. Minnihan said that district enrollment dropped by 60 students this year, which the district used to project next year’s adequacy aid.

Edmond said the administration tried to be “frugal” in its operating budget next year due to the Sugar River Valley Regional Technical Center, which has a “once-in-a-generation” opportunity to renovate its 30-year-old building with a state commitment to cover 75 percent of the construction cost. The proposed renovation has a total cost estimation of $15.4 million, with the state committing to cover $11 million of the construction. The district also plans to use $2.1 million in federal elementary and secondary school emergency relief (ESSER) funds and raise $280,000 in donations and grants to reduce Newport’s cost burden to $1.9 million for the project.

The proposed upgrades to the career-technical education school are intended to better align the learning spaces with the evolving needs of modern industries, increase learning opportunities and improve the building’s infrastructure and energy efficiency.

The Newport School Board voted unanimously to accept the district’s proposed budget.

“We asked for a level funded budget and for the focus to be on the [career-technical education center] project, which I think is critical for Newport,” said board Chair Jenna Darling. “So job well done.”

reporter @eagletimes.com

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