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Finance Committee Puts School Funding Method on Chopping Block

The Bristol Warren Regional Schools Joint Finance Committee wants to try an alternate funding method to smooth out annual financing for each town.

The Bristol Warren Joint Finance Committee meets in Bristol Town Hall. Credit: W.Rupp
The Bristol Warren Joint Finance Committee meets in Bristol Town Hall. Credit: W.Rupp

The method used to fund the Bristol Warren schools could be changing.

Instead of using Oct. 1 each year to determine enrollment figures and spending for each town in the regional district, the Joint Finance Committee wants to try an alternate method that will help to eliminate the ups and downs over the years and provide more stable funding.

That method would use an average daily membership (ADM) over a 13-year time period – the length of time children go to school in the district from K to grade 12. 

The finance committee voted to draft a resolution to be written by its solicitors that can be presented to each town council and then state legislators, who would have to change the Oct. 1 funding methodology that is set now in the enabling legislation that created the regional district.

The committee chose this enrollment-based approach over a separate assessment-based approach after listening to a presentation made by the finance directors for Bristol, Warren and the school district: Julie Goucher, Mike Abbruzzi and Pauline Silva, respectively. They were asked by the Joint Finance Committee to come up with alternatives to the present methodology. 

Silva said the trio wanted a “meaningful alternative that didn’t look at numbers. We looked at the methodology only.”

Abbruzzi said an assessment approach would combine the property values in each town and create a separate “taxing authority” just for the schools. 

“But we decided that would only create more bureaucracy and more costs,” he said. “And it would not necessarily eliminate the swings.”

Going that route also would probably have forced both towns to get their revaluations done on the same schedule, he said, because “they are not in sync right now.” 

The ADM-based approach would not change the annual spending by much, according to the presentation. But it is seen as providing more level funding over time and making the whole process “more predictable,” said Abbruzzi.

The choice between the two alternate approaches for most members of the finance committee seemed to become obvious after the presentation, although Chris Stanley, president of the Warren Town Council, seemed to like the idea of a combination assessment of the towns’ properties to determine a tax rate.

Stanley has said that taxpayers in Bristol benefit from a much larger tax base, especially from a much larger business district. Merging the assessed values to determine a funding rate would go a long way to equalizing the impact of taxes, which has Warren feeling “tapped out.” 

John Saviano of Warren, a member of the Bristol Warren Regional School Committee, said that Stanley’s argument that Warren residents are “tapped out” should not be overlooked. 

Warren residents pay about 9 percent of their incomes for local taxes, he said. Bristol residents pay about 5 percent. That’s primarily because of the commercial community in Bristol. 

The new funding methodology “would allow each town to budget better,” said JFC chairman Nathan Calouro, a Bristol town councilor. It might also reduce the “animosity” between the towns that always seems to accompany school funding because using an average "would not hurt anyone."

The ADM approach also seems like the easiest approach to sell to legislators, said Mary Parella, chair of the Bristol Town Council.

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