Newport This Week

Middletown Schools Request Larger Increase

The Middletown School Department is asking the Town Council for a $3 multi-million dollar increase this year, which council Chair Paul Rodrigues said is unlikely to happen.

“You are probably talking [about] a $2 to $3 million increase,” Rodrigues said. “I don’t want to be the bearer of bad news, but I am not sure that can happen.”

“We just wanted to be transparent about what we need,” Supt. Rosemarie Kraeger told the council on Jan. 17.

The maximum school budget increase allowed by state law annually is 4 percent, but Kraeger said that such an increase is not sufficient this year. She cited spikes in non-English-speaking students, the end of teacher-paid grants, and the need for more teachers and advisers.

The School Committee will submit its proposed budget to the town on March 22.

The information shared tonight “is certainly challenging,” Kraeger said, adding students and parents “are committed to academic achievement in our community.”

Projected enrollment next year will range from 1,913 to 1,942 students, depending on data sources, Kraeger said, up from 1,906 in October 2022.

“[Overall], our enrollment is certainly down,” said Kraeger.

Twelve staff positions that have been funded by grants, totaling more than $950,000, will disappear in June 2023.

“The grant-funded positions remain critical to support our student needs,” said Kraeger. “We need additional positions in various subjects to support students.”

The current two-star rating at the high school, once four stars, is the result of some 40 English-language learning students now at the high school, and dozens of others requiring similar instruction in the middle and elementary schools.

These students fail tests and courses because they do not know the language, educators have said, and then drop out, causing the school’s rating to plummet.

“We really need three teachers to support those English Language Learners,” said Kraeger. “We are not compliant with the Rhode Island Department of Education [requirements].”

The state’s board of superintendents has recommended disbanding the coalition of regional special education, Kraeger said. Only Middletown and Little Compton would be left in the group if this happens, potentially causing a nearly 50 percent loss in savings.

The state aid funding formula is based on enrollment and other factors, due to lower enrollment. The current formula was based on 2,300 students, about 400 more than Middletown current enrolls.

“We could stand to lose $870,000,” said Kraeger. “Also, we need to lobby for fully funded special education costs when we lobby our legislators.”

Councilor Dennis Turano said, “We are enabling the state. We need to push back [to state legislators].”

Kraeger said the uncertainty of state aid was a key factor in School Dept. budget issues, with many numbers not expected to be finalized until mid-February. “We don’t have those hard numbers now,” she said.

School Committee Chair Theresa Spengler said the most frustrating part was speculation about projected figures, such as special education or state aid, in presenting the preliminary budget.

“It’s not the best news we wanted to give. We have been through difficult times [already],” said Kraeger.

The town’s bus transportation contract will increase 4 percent, a total of $93,000, not including statewide transportation.

In addition, a full financial analysis needs to be done in the next few weeks regarding the number of staff retirements, Kraeger said.

The budget must be formalized by April 1. The first public hearing on a proposed budget will be on June 14, with a second on June 21.

One response to “Middletown Schools Request Larger Increase”

  1. Bobbi says:

    Maybe the superintendent should give her pay increase back to help fund the schools!

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