Coventry parents angry over cuts in books, sports, jobs in budget

Parents listen at Tuesday's meeting on how the town will deal with a $1.5 million deficit.

The Coventry School District is facing a $1.5 million deficit. Officials want to eliminate textbooks, cut back on sports and clubs and lay off about two dozen staff members. The cuts are their way of dealing with the budget shortfalls in the school district.

A town meeting Tuesday to discuss the proposed town budget, including the school budget, brought in more than 750 people from the community and highlighted divisions among the different groups involved.

The town has not allocated any additional money to the school district beyond what it had last fiscal year, putting the district at a deficit of about $1.5 million.

The school district has proposed deep cuts to deal with the shortfall, saying the deficit is caused in part by funding pensions and sending students to other districts, which costs money. The people who live in Coventry say the future of their children is the most important thing.

"I'm a simple housewife and I don't understand any of this," one woman who stood up at the meeting said.

Her confusion and concern summed up what many at the meeting were saying. Parents told NBC 10 they don't want a repeat of past problems that were caused by unclear wording about the issues on which they were voting.

NBC 10 asked the superintendent, Dr. Michael Almeida, how the district could be facing such severe financial struggles just since last year.

"What's happened is over the last couple of years we've absorbed it," Almeida said. "We're at a point where we can't absorb it anymore."

The superintendent said the district has already taken steps to close that shortfall in the past by shutting an elementary school and downsizing administrative and support staff.

Ruth Daniels, a behavioral specialist with the district, is one of the more than two dozen people whose job is on the chopping block this time around.

"It's a shame because children, they're very accustomed to where they are and then things change for them. So it's very, very heartbreaking, I think," she said.

Daniels noted that she would lose out on pay if she lost her job with the district, which she said would affect her ability to buy things and contribute to the local economy, creating a ripple effect.

Several frustrated parents at the meeting said they would consider moving their children to another district if the cuts were too extreme.

Others who stood up at the meeting described the budget as "woefully inadequate."

The meeting, which wrapped up after 10 p.m. Tuesday, lasting more than three hours, resulted in voters not approving the budget outright.

At the meeting, a number of people suggested that the town should increase the tax levy by the maximum amount of four percent to make up some of the $1.5 million deficit.

The budget will now go to an all-day referendum, in which the town will rework the budget and bring it back to the voters.