2005-09-29 / Front Page

Rising costs fueling budget concerns at island schools

Heat, transportation costs expected to increase this winter
By Donna K. Drago

Reducing costly fuel consumption was on the mind of Superintendent Kathy Sipala in her report to the School Committee at its Sept. 22 meeting.

Sipala told the panel that the state Board of Regents asked each district for information about its expected fuel budget shortfalls in light of rapidly rising energy costs across the country.

“They are considering helping to defray the costs,” Sipala said about the Regents.

Last year, there was a $23,000 shortfall in the 16 month budget from March 1, 2004 to June 30, 2005.

After the meeting, Sipala said that the current district budget included $48,000 for fuel oil to heat the buildings, which was a $10,000 bump up from the last budget.

About the Regents question, Sipala said that there was really no way of knowing, at this point, what heating costs would be for the remainder of the fall and winter.

“It’s really a ridiculous question, when you think about it,” Sipala said.

The school will use conservation methods to reduce the fuel bill this year, she said.

Among the initiatives already begun at the schools, Sipala said, all of the radiators have been thoroughly cleaned to make them more efficient. The company that services the boilers will soon come and inspect and clean all the mechanicals and the ductwork, she said.

In addition, she and building maintenance head Lew Kitts were coming up with a maximum temperature to which thermostats in both buildings would be set, Sipala said.

“It will be a range,” Sipala said, noting that some rooms heat up faster and stay warmer than others.

Currently, all rooms have their own thermostats and teachers can set them to whatever temperature feels comfortable to them, she said.

“We can’t keep the schools warm and toasty enough for wearing T-shirts,” Sipala said. She expected that everyone will have to dress in layers with sweaters or sweatshirts this winter, she added.

On diesel fuel to power the schools’ fleet of buses, Sipala said that they had started to monitor bus usage very closely to ensure that the diesel fuel used was for Jamestown School runs versus occasional charter runs with the same buses.

“We may have to charge kids more for field trips,” she added.

School business manager Maria Alfred said there was money left over in the diesel fuel account in last year’s budget. The school planned to spend $47,000 on diesel fuel last year and only expended $36,100, Alfred said. This year’s diesel allotment is $52,000 for the 11 buses that run on-island and to North Kingstown High School. The buses also transport special-education off-island placements.

In other business, the School Committee:

• Learned from Sipala that even though there are 17 new Jamestown students attending North Kingstown High School this fall, only two of them exceed the number that was budgeted last fall.

Sipala said that they budgeted for 239 students and there are 241 as of the first week of school.

“That’s very good news,” Sipala said, noting that it costs approximately $10,000 per student to send them to Jamestown’s high school of record.

School Committee Chairwoman Cathy Kaiser said she still wanted to address the issue of federal subsidies for the five high school students that are from military families renting homes in Jamestown.

• Discussed the impact that foreign exchange students have on the school budget. Sipala said that Jamestown was paying for two foreign exchange students to attend NK.

At $10,000 per head, the students have “a real impact on us.” The panel agreed that the students brought real value to a school by providing the students with knowledge of other cultures, but for a community with no high school, the additional $20,000 “was a real shock to me,” Sipala said.

• Voted to appoint Robin Herud Lee as a teacher’s assistant at Melrose school, Kristen DeSantis as student council advisor, Faith Kaplan as jazz band director, Nicholas Alfred as technology coach and track coach, Thomas Carney as soccer coach, Eric Bush as boy’s basketball coach and David Pritchard as girl’s basketball coach.

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