2016-10-13 / Around Town

Scheduling and Benefits Top Committee Topics

By Betsy Sherman Walker

Mike Newsome awards Stella Dufault and Colby Schreiber of Jennifer Hole’s third-grade class at Pell Elementary School for their Week 1 Outstanding Fundraiser Award. (Contributed Photo) Mike Newsome awards Stella Dufault and Colby Schreiber of Jennifer Hole’s third-grade class at Pell Elementary School for their Week 1 Outstanding Fundraiser Award. (Contributed Photo) The roof project at Rogers is ahead of schedule, the Rogers HAM Radio Club is seeking approval for a new antenna, and the daily schedule at Rogers should be revamped. Retiree insurance benefits are like an oversized jellyfish with “tons of tentacles.” PTECH is thriving, PARCC scores continue to baffle, math needs an intervention, and grants still give the jitters to some.

At a discussion-heavy meeting, the Newport School Committee met on Tuesday, Oct. 11, to take on a range of topics. Six of the seven members were present, along with Superintendent Colleen Jermain: David Carlin, Sandra Flowers, Chair Jo Eva Gaines, David Hanos, Robert Leary, and Kathleen Silvia. Rebecca Bolan was absent.

Newport Superintendent of Facilities Thomas Harrup told the committee that the roof project at Rogers is 85 percent done and “will be completed by its target date.”

The committee heard from Rogers senior Forrest Ficke, a trustee of the Rogers HAM radio station, W1VRC, and a sergeant in the JROTC program, about its application to erect a 50-foot high antenna in order to improve W1VRC’s broadcast traction. It will be affixed to the ROTC building, secured to the ground, and would extend only 10 feet above the roofline. All the licenses and paperwork are in place. The committee members were enthusiastically in favor, but agreed with Leary’s caveat about communicating with the school’s neighbors.

“The one thing I have learned from the Zoning Board,” he told Ficke, “is to contact your neighbors first.” He then said he wouldn’t vote until that had happened, and the committee decided to postpone a decision. In reference to last year's cell tower controversy, Leary added that if the neighbors are assured from the start it is for a school project versus a business, “they will love it."

The committee unanimously approved Jermain’s request to create an RFP to evaluate the daily schedule at Rogers. Citing the need for more efficient, effective scheduling, Gaines said she thought it was about time.

“Every year we have problems with not enough space for classes, and time slots for students to get what they want. That’s bothersome.” “Other districts have done this recently,” added Leary (who introduced the discussion), “and I suggest we do the same thing.” Jermain’s request passed unanimously.

In the lengthiest conversation of the evening, the committee unanimously approved Leary's motion to ask for a review and an audit of retiree insurance benefits, from health care to life insurance. “This [situation] has so many tentacles coming out of it,” Leary said, “that it’s like a jellyfish.” Citing mistakes with billing, clerical errors, and the fact that there is no uniformity, Hanos pointed out that while nothing will change about the plans and what they offer, “everybody needs to be reading off the same sheet of music.” Carlin expressed his concern about the incorrect billing of retirees and if and when they would be reimbursed. Jermain replied it had happened in some instances, and said they would be compensated.

Other tentacles: Changing dates for when policies go into effect, premium rates that should have been frozen – but were not – at a given rate based on the year the individual retired, and spouses with different plans. And the final conundrum, which Leary noted: “We spend more for retirees’ health care than we do for active faculty.”

The PTECH (Pathways in Technology Early College High School) grant and the facilities it offers, Jermain feels, has been a game-changer for a number of students. “We already have eighth-grade families who come and visit,” she said. “These students are looking at $70,000-$80,000 salaries. They are meeting mentors. It can only help them enrich their future.” It also has the capacity to draw out-of-district students and the tuition they bring with them.

There is always talk about what will happen “when the [$200,000] grant money runs out.” Flowers said that “constantly re-upping is the nature of a grant. That’s when you get creative.” And most, but not all, of her colleagues agreed with her. Gathering his fiscal slingshot from the other end of the spectrum, Carlin expressed great concern. He feels strongly that the public has a right to be aware of what he sees as the reality of the situation. “PTECH is a fantastic program,” he said, “but if we lose the funding, we’ll have to [go looking] for it elsewhere.”

The district’s disappointing PARCC results took a hit. While acknowledging that educators feel they are not a solid measurement of how they are teaching – and what their students are learning, Jermain reminded those in the room that “whether we like it or not, people judge our community on those scores.”

And finally, it was agreed that it is time for a math intervention. “Let’s look critically at our curriculum,” said Gaines. “If we need to hire more staff to get our kids off the bottom rung, let’s do it.”

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