2016-05-12 / Front Page

Schools Examine Budget

By Newport This Week staff

With upcoming budget sessions scheduled with City Councilors, the Newport School Committee addressed the upcoming fiscal year at its monthly meeting on Tuesday, May 10.

Superintendent Colleen Jermain is recommending that the district once again request a four percent increase in funding from the city for fiscal 2017, which begins on July 1. That is the maximum increase in local appropriations allowed under Rhode Island law. Last year’s city contribution to the schools also increased by four percent, or by over $935,000, to $24.3 million.

The recommendation was met with some resistance. “I haven’t seen any financials; I haven’t seen any serious public hearings on the budget,” said committee member David Carlin, who wanted to take a closer look at the numbers. “We should not ask for a four percent increase [simply] for the sake of asking for an increase…. Count me out.”

But other committee members supported the superintendent’s move, including Sandra Flowers and Kathleen Silvia, who felt that the district should seek as much funding as it could.

A resolution in support of requesting the four percent increase was approved on a 5-2 vote, with Carlin and Robert Leary opposed.

The committee also agreed to issuing layoffs for 11 teachers due to the budget picture, but Jermain hopes that the impacted employees can be recalled by July when the finalized budget picture is known.

“Just as soon as we can, I hope, we can call these people back. It causes a lot of stress,” said committee member Rebecca Bolan.

In welcome news following the deficits of previous years, Director of Administrative Services Joan Tracey reported that the current budget year may end with a $300,000 surplus, with one factor being an increase in federal monies.

In other business, the School Committee: y Voted 4-3 to approve a recommendation of the Health & Wellness Subcommittee to award the food services management contract to Compass Group/Chartwells. Bolan thanked the “school nurses, chefs, energy and environmental committees” who in their efforts logged nearly 50 hours collaborating on the research. Besides cost-effectiveness, other considerations included staffing, training and self-sustainability. A Chartwells representative praised the subcommittee, saying there was not as much “due diligence in other districts about what was good for children as there is in Newport.” y Unanimously approved moving forward with aligning its purchasing policies with the city’s procurement policies. The committee agreed with Jermain’s observation that such a consolidation would not only be cost-effective and more efficient, but would also streamline a host of procedures. y Heard from the superintendent on the New England School Development Council (NESDC) Special Education Trends report. Newport’s out-of-district placements have been reduced in the past year, she said, and the district is hoping to see costs decline further. Jermain also announced that she has been appointed as a representative to the NESDC board, a move she predicts will be “very helpful in terms of seeing how we are doing in costs and placement and to see where the money is going.” y Reported on the Request for Information for the Alternative Learning Program (ALP): Five companies responded, with a variety of models, options and rates. Suggestions ranged from setting up the program at Rogers to moving it off-site. One plan is to move the students into the art wing, but some members of the art faculty fear that their students would be displaced and less cohesive as a group. The committee heard from one of the ALP teachers. “In my experience,” she said, “I am instructing just as I would [in a regular classroom]. She added that her classes “are smaller, there is a lot of differentiation, and I am meeting their needs. I have seen successes with these students.” Leary asked if monthly attendance records could be made available at future meetings, while Carlin queried if figures about the cost to the district per pupil could be provided. Carlin also brought up the topic of earlier intervention when he asked, “Should we be concentrating on these students when they are in elementary school?” Hanos responded on the need to “reach kids earlier.” y Heard from Jermain that a strategic plan meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, May 17.

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