2018-05-17 / Front Page

Schools Request Budget Increase

By James Merolla

The Newport School Committee voted 6-1 at its May 14 meeting to approve a nearly $41 million budget, which would represent a 3.9 percent increase over last year.

The School Department said the increase is needed to maintain existing programs, negotiate new contracts for teachers and support staff, control projected legal costs and deal with an increase in students who need to be trained in English.

Committee member David Carlin voted against the budget at the special meeting, protesting that members only received it electronically on Mother’s Day, barely more than 24 hours before the meeting.

“This is an extremely shoddy process,” he said. “I will not be voting for this budget. This should have been brought to us weeks ago.”

Committee member Sandra Flowers called “shoddy” too harsh a word, but questioned some of the figures in the proposed budget, especially the line item for substitute teachers, and said that she wished she could take it home and study it further.

Committee member Jo Eva Gaines’ motion to adopt the budget included a contingency to “revisit” the plan, should different “hard” numbers come into play before the June 30 end of the fiscal year. She recommended that the School Committee accept the plan until the schools discover their allocation from the City Council.

The following is an excerpt from a letter by Superintendent Colleen Jermain to City Manager Joe Nicholson, in preparation for the May 30 joint meeting of the School Committee and the City Council.

"On behalf of the Newport School Department, our proposed budget for July 1, 2018 – June 30, 2019, approved by the Newport School Committee on May 14th is enclosed. Our request for the FY 19 school year is for $26,606,854.16. Knowing at this time the City has budgeted a 1.81% increase for our next fiscal year we look forward to working together collaboratively to resolve the challenges of funding a full investment in our schools for our children and educational system."

A new contract with Newport teachers and support staff is being negotiated. The current contract expires on June 30, and some of the numbers from that negotiation directly affect the proposed budget.

Roughly, the new budget calls for an additional $400,000 in salaries, $500,000 in benefits, $400,000 in new transportation/busing costs, $130,000 to hire new English Language Learner (ELL) teachers and $100,000 in projected legal costs.

Ron Becker, a member on the budget sub-committee for the schools, the former chairman of the City Council’s Finance Review Committee and a financial actuary, said that to comprehend a 2,300- item line sheet on such short notice would be difficult even for an experienced accountant. He suggested that the School Committee should have the opportunity to make changes between now and the time it meets with the council.

“We are being asked to adopt a budget and figure it out later,” School Committee Chair David Hanos said.

Hanos pointed to class scheduling problems at Rogers that have been studied for a long time. “I don’t think we are going to have the answer [to that] in two weeks,” he said.

Jermain agreed that the timing was unfortunate, but said, “If we could have done this sooner, we would have… everyone has been working around the clock. You have received more information now than you have ever received before.”

Gaines agreed that the budget preparation process has improved. “We can’t expect the budget given to us to be hard, fast and forever, because that’s just not the way it works,” she said.

But Carlin labeled it a “useless document” if it did not contain hard numbers, saying, “Why not adopt a $50 million budget, a $100 budget?”

He also said that the City Council is eyeing a 3.14 percent increase in the entire city budget.

Of the previous 14 school budgets, 10 were either level funded or cut down, Hanos said. It is only over the past four years, he said, that the schools have slowly been given the funds for programs that the School Department deemed absolutely necessary.

The next meeting of the School Committee is scheduled for June 12.

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