2014-06-19 / Front Page

School Funding Increased

By Barry Bridges

With only a few weeks remaining before Newport’s budget for the new fiscal year must be complete, the City Council decided on an additional appropriation to the schools during budget negotiations at its regular meeting on Wednesday, June 11.

The monies will be figured into a final budget to be voted upon at the end of the month. Councilors are still examining particular funding needs as they balance the numbers for next year.

The Newport Schools continue to struggle with projected deficits and therefore raised its municipal funding request for fiscal year 2015. According to state law, school districts cannot seek an increase of more than four percent over the previous year from their cities. With Newport allocating around $22.96 million to the schools in the current fiscal year, the school department sought the maximum increase allowed, or $918,366.

In remarks to the council, Superintendent Colleen Jermain said, “What we’re asking for is a lot and I know it will impact the city and taxpayers. We can work collaboratively and come to a consensus about what is best for the schools.”

School Committee member Rebecca Bolan also took the podium and commented that “the deficit is bigger than we’ve ever had before. We haven’t done enough investing in our children and right now it’s all coming to a head.”

Second Ward Councilor Justin McLaughlin took the lead in meeting the schools’ request by suggesting a $418,000 appropriation combined with the assumption of capital expenditures by the city.

“The City Council, in recent discussions, has come to understand that we are the landlord of the schools, and it is our responsibility to maintain them,” he said. “I suggest that having a $375,000 capital improvement plan in the school budget is not necessary, because the responsibility for maintaining the schools is really the city’s.”

Additionally, McLaughlin said that “the roughly $125,000 lease cost for the heating system at Rogers High School is another landlord responsibility, which I think the city should absorb.”

With $500,000 in expenditures brought under the city’s umbrella, “that brings down the amount of money that we would really need to appropriate to … $418,000,” he concluded.

Pointing to the facts that the proposed budget also dedicates $1.5 million for the Pell School bond and that the city already increased funding to the schools earlier in the spring by $395,000, McLaughlin calculated that “an additional $418,000 means that we will, in essence, be providing $2.4 million more this year than we did last year.”

Both McLaughlin and Councilor Jeanne-Marie Napolitano emphasized that the council has been sensitive to the needs of the schools. “Providing monies to the schools is addressing economic development. Our responsibility is to make investments – to spend money wisely so that the community of tomorrow is better,” McLaughlin insisted.

Napolitano pointed to Newport’s two new schools as she deflected criticism by some that the schools haven’t been properly supported over the years.

McLaughlin’s plan passed on a vote of 4 to 3, while a related amendment proposed by Mayor Henry Winthrop to make the $418,000 contingent upon the schools’ facilities and payroll functions shifting to the “city side” failed after a lengthy discussion among council members as to whether the city and school budgets should be consolidated.

Even with Newport providing as much of a boost as it could under the law, challenges remain for the schools, which still face a $1.1 million shortfall in the new fiscal year just to maintain the status quo. With the budget scenario the School Committee prefers, the deficit widens to $2.03 million. At a committee meeting on Tuesday, June 17, Superintendent Jermain acknowledged the problem and stressed that “we have to think of new ways of doing business to reduce costs.”

Return to top