2013-12-19 / Front Page

Middletown Schools Eye Budget

By Theresa Hillman

Middletown School Committee members met for a budget workshop and their regular monthly meeting on Thursday, Dec. 12. During the budget session, the committee examined a revenue and expenditures (R & E) report, which presented information on financial forecasts, changes to state revenue streams, tax appropriations, and an increase in school-of-choice (Met School) tuition. Finance Administrator Raquel Pellerin described the R & E review as part of preliminary budget discussions.

The wording of the R&E report’s financial stewardship goals was debated at the workshop. Chair Theresa Spengler emphasized, “It’s not about ‘Is it affordable?’ It’s about making it work so that our students are successful.”

The pre-budget process will continue with four additional workshops early in the new year, scheduled for Jan. 8, Jan. 16, Jan. 29, and Feb.13 at 5:30 p.m. at the Oliphant Administration Building. The vote to adopt a budget could come during a special school committee meeting on Feb. 27. Superintendent Rosemarie Kraeger felt confident about presenting a budget to the town by that date, stat- ing that the committee is “on the fast track.”

Members are trying to repeat last year’s schedule, honoring an aggressive timing request by the town’s financial director, Lynne Dible. Pellerin explained that the town needs time with the school department’s budget proposal in order “to turn it over into a townwide budget document.”

As part of its fiscal planning, the committee will discuss legislative developments with state representatives and town councilors at 5:30 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 6 at Town Hall. Members will meet again with town officials on Jan. 21 to present an updated report on proposed facilities changes.

During the committee’s regular meeting that followed the budget session, Middletown High principal Gail Abromitis and a team of teachers presented changes to the program of studies. Course prerequisites will change next year, as Advanced Placement physics will be algebra-based. Writing joins Spanish and physics as a college credit course offered at the high school. Abromitis said that the program “reflects the diversity of student interests and paths, those that want accelerated offerings and those who want more support.”

Assistant Superintendent Linda Savastano explained that curriculum and instruction is changing as schools switch to the Common Core standards and the new common assessment PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers). “We look at our targets and what we want them to learn. Then we look at our common formative assessments and challenges as a group, comparing what worked and what needed more time.” This method better informs teachers, and the new standards-based report cards in grades K-8 do a good job in communicating student performance and progress to parents. Savastano and her administrative team showcased new website pages that explain the new grading scale, which includes marks for effort and work habits called “learner qualities.”

Forest Park Elementary principal Stephen Ponte and teacher Mary Colaneri discussed how the new assessment’s option to differentiate small group scores allows them to discover where they need improvement. Ponte pointed out that the identified base year scores (set at the highest rate ever) were not representative of their changing, military impacted student population and were difficult to improve. The year following the high baseline had the most number of students who fit into the lowest-performing categories. Yet, even with this difficulty, Colaneri explained that they “focused on multiple types of data for intervention, then targeted goals and behavior plans.”

Douglas Arnold, a retired Middletown teacher who volunteers at Aquidneck Elementary School, complained that the BCI process needs to be “quicker, smoother, and more efficient.” He spoke against yearly national background checks, saying they should exclude retired teachers.

Superintendent Kraeger brought news that the six track students who challenged the school department’s sport restrictions presented a compelling case and raised enough money to compete at an indoor track with Portsmouth students. On the issue of sports concussion testing, Kraeger said that while such testing cannot be mandated for other areas, all winter sports will have a tested baseline by the end of the holidays. Facilities Director Ed Collins announced his department’s $117,000 cost avoidance savings on gas and electricity.

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