During Tuesday morning's meeting with the Newport School Committee/Newport City Council Liaison Committee, Superintendent John Ambrogi announced that due to accounting errors from the school's former business administrator, hundreds of thousands of dollars had been booked incorrectly.
Committee members also discussed Pell School updates and continued shared service talks.
During the meeting, Ambrogi said after an analysis of available funds, there were thousands of dollars that had been booked but not spent.
The previous business administrator had booked $120,000 in supplies and technologies that the school committee believed had been allocated as expenditures, he said. Health care expenditures were also double booked, leaving approximately $215,000 unspent.
In all, the school department spent $331,000 less than expected.
Revenue was also off by about $55,000 from double booking operations aid.
“We have a balanced budget, but I will caution everyone again. To have this kind of surplus and this is certainly not unreasonable and is fiscally prudent,” Ambrogi said. “Next year we're starting with structural deficit.”
The school department will not be receiving $500,000 worth of ARRA funding in 2014.
The department was able to achieve the surplus because of the contractual concession from the Teacher's Association of Newport contract.
“We would be in horrible shape if we were not able to have that contract,” Ambrogi said.
He added that additional savings will be once the Pell School is completed. Combining the elementary schools into one large school will make savings evident in next year's budget, he said.
Pell School Update
Superintendent John H. Ambrogi said he was “cautiously optimistic” about the timeline, but that construction is on target to be completed on time.
“My recommendation and the recommendation of the architect. . . is that we build the building first and see how that process goes along before purchasing any of the soft things, like furniture,” Ambrogi said.
“We don't wand to get into a jam and not be able to build the building.”
School Committee member Rebecca Bolan brought up the possibility of looking for an easement on a nearby parcel of land so students can walk from Hillside Avenue and come through to the back of the school to keep them away from busses and cars.
Ambrogi said the area would be a “major access” for students and he agreed that there should be a way for kids to safely cross the street. He said a crossing guard and signage would be necessary.
“If we need to be thinking about new signage and lighting, it would be good to have a meeting about that sooner rather than later,” added City Councilor Naomi Neville.
The committee continued their discussion of combining services between the the school and city departments and whether the move would make financial sense.
“There needs to be discussion if it will save any money to eliminate a facilities director from the school side,” Ambrogi said, adding that there needs to be an analysis done by the city to prove if it would be cost effective.
There is efficiency to be found by shared services, Neville said, but only if there is a steady stream of communication between the departments.
Eliminating the position would only make sense if the city could assume the additional responsibility without any additional costs.
“We have a good amount of time, we don't have to make a knee-jerk decision,” City Manager Jane Howington said of the possibility of consolidating.