2014-10-23 / Front Page

Middletown Examines Regional Efforts

By Olga Enger

Just weeks before a ballot question will gauge voter support on a unified high school for Middletown and Newport, two recent decisions on shared services may be emblematic of the future state for Aquidneck Island school districts. Middletown School Committee members unanimously approved the district’s participation in a regional hockey league that includes Rogers High School and Rocky Hill School in East Greenwich during their regular meeting on Thursday, Oct. 16. In contrast, Middletown Superintendent Rosemarie Kraeger announced at the same meeting that Portsmouth, which has traditionally rebuffed the idea of a regional model, is withdrawing from a special education program which shares resources with three other communities in Newport County.

Regional Hockey League Formed

Soon Rogers and Middletown hockey players will wear the same uniform, ending a long history of friendly rivalry. Middletown committee members swiftly approved the district’s participation in a regional league after the Rhode Island Interscholastic League approved the co-op last month.

“Currently we are going to split the cost of the buses,” said Karen Massaro, athletic director for Middletown schools. “We will pay for a head coach, while Rogers will pay for two assistant coaches. We don’t need police details. Athletic training will be paid for by Rocky Hill.”

Kraeger clarified that each school will carry its own insurance.

Massaro said that between the three schools, there will be around 24 students on the team, based on the number of incoming freshmen. The majority of the players will be from Middletown.

Although the coach can only dress 20 players, the RIIL rules prohibit cutting prospective players at try-outs.

The only outstanding detail is the uniforms, said the athletic director. “They might wear Rogers for home, Islanders for away,” she explained. “That decision hasn’t been made. It’s not a major one, as long as the students are happy.”

The league is expected to begin this December.

Portsmouth Exits Special Ed Program

Portsmouth has announced its withdrawal from the Newport County Regional Special Educational Program (NCRSEP), leaving the Middletown, Tiverton and Little Compton districts behind.

The program jointly conducts educational and support programs, transportation and administrative functions related to special education services within the schools.

In a letter to Commissioner of Education Deborah Gist, Portsmouth Superintendent Ana Riley wrote the district could “close the achievement gap more effectively” if the district handled the special education programs independently.

“At this point we don’t know the full [financial] impact,” said Middletown Superintendent Rosemarie Kraeger.

The decision to withdraw from NCRSEP was based on a recommendation prepared by Futures Education, a firm specializing in special education services. The consultants expressed a concern over a widening achievement gap between students with disabilities and their classmates.

Riley said special education programs will not be disrupted because of the withdrawal and she “does not anticipate a significant loss of special educator positions.”

Kraeger explained that finding qualified special education personnel is “very difficult” in the state.

Formed in 1979, NCRSEP allocates its budget based upon student enrollments in the member districts. The current program budget is around $18 million, with Portsmouth assuming 37 percent of the costs, Middletown 32 percent, Tiverton 26 percent, and Little Compton four percent.

Futures Education reported the program was financially well managed, despite cash flow issues.

The consultants highlighted that Portsmouth school principals expressed “dissatisfaction with leadership of NCRSEP in responding to requests.”The educators also stated there was “no accountability for the instructional staff” and that “ineffective teachers are simply moved to another district.”

“The number one issue is how we are going to service our students,” said Kraeger. “How that works out for all the communities remains to be seen.”

Kraeger said this was an opportunity to take a closer look at the program for the member districts. “Is it a cost saver? Do we need to rebrand? Should it function as it has since the late 1970s?”

In Other Business:

Tensions rose after committee member Paul Mankofsky asked for a status update on a complaint. During a high school pep rally, individuals hit a piƱata, depicting a Viking, the Rogers High School mascot. An individual complained and called the media, saying it promoted racism and violence. Chair Theresa Spengler said beyond a notice that was sent out to parents, there would be no further public discussion or formal action. She described the incident as a “lapse in judgment” and said the individuals did not intend to offend. Mankofsky asked if there was “a failure in leadership” and stated that the incident reflected “ignorance.”

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