2015-09-24 / Around Town

City Donates $200K to Pell Endowment

By Olga Enger

The Newport City Council has approved a $200,000 donation for a school technology endowment. In a 5-2 vote, councilors approved the resolution at their meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 23, which will “guarantee the future financial health of the Pell Elementary School’s technology resources… allowing for the timely updating of both software and hardware.” Councilors Kathryn Leonard and Justin McLaughlin voted against the measure.

The Newport Public Education Foundation (NPEF) created the fundraising campaign, which is chaired by former School Committee member Robert Power. Including the city’s donation, the endowment has reached $665,100 of its $1 million goal. The campaign has so far raised $256,100 from private donors and has secured a $200,000 grant from the Alletta Morris Mc- Bean Charitable Trust.

“It’s a way of maintaining what we have,” explained Councilor Naomi Neville, who sponsored the resolution along with Mayor Jeanne- Marie Napolitano, Vice Chair Marco Camacho, and Councilors John Florez and Lynn Ceglie.

Thompson Middle School has a smaller endowment, which helped the school replace old projection units with short-throw interactive projectors last year.

“When Thompson was built, we raised $1 million, because they didn’t have furniture or technology. It was always envisioned that what was left over would be put in an endowment fund,” said Power.

That endowment is currently at around $135,000.

Since then, the NPEF changed the endowment policy to specify that only interest earned on the principal may be spent. Although an outside firm manages the Thompson money, the city will be responsible for the Pell technology endowment.

Three former mayors, Harry Winthrop, Richard Sardella and David Gordon, recently wrote an appeal to council to the approve the funds to assist Pell.

“In Newport Public Schools, as in most urban areas with diverse population, it is not unusual to have students reading two years below a grade level and those reading two years above in the same class. The need for differentiated instruction is paramount,” they wrote.

The letter referenced a “blended learning” model, which includes teacher instruction and self-instruction through technology.

This fiscal year, the School Department received the maximum four percent municipal increase allowed by state law, which amounted to $935,086, bringing the city's total appropriation to $24.3 million.

“Putting funds towards technology is an important investment; most councilors understand that,” said Neville. The councilor, who has two daughters in the public school system, said an event is planned for October to thank the donors and encourage additional donation, to work toward the goal.

“This is a good way of being proactive about the planning.” Neville added that fundraising efforts were underway before the Pell School opened three years ago.

The pool of city money to be used for the donation is unknown at this point.

“The funds are not budgeted,” Laura Sitrin, Newport’s director of finance told Newport This Week before the meeting. She added the money could be taken out of the proceeds from the sale of the former William J. Underwood Elementary School, which is in a fund that does not get budgeted, but requires a council resolution to spend. The former school sold for $2.5 million in June.

“I find it a good way to create a maintenance plan,” said Neville. “If you look at major universities, all the non-profits, they work hard at building up the endowment. It’s the endowment that allows them to sustain themselves.”

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