Jamestown, Narragansett eye shared school services
By Donna K. Drago
Between bites of bagel and chunks of fruit salad last Saturday morning, the Jamestown School Committee and the Narragansett School Committee laid out ways that each system could potentially help the other by working collaboratively and possibly sharing services with each other.
The meeting was held at the invitation of Narragansett Superintendent Albert Honnen. He said that while Narragansett was a somewhat larger system “we have many more common areas than differences.”
The breakfast meeting was a chance to “be honest and free with ideas,” Honnen said. He added that the discussions “should not jeopardize anyone’s job” but rather be an opportunity “to see how far we can go.”
Each school system discussed how they were hamstrung by major budgetary concerns, and how each was seeing a steady decline in student numbers.
At the outset, Narragansett school panel Chairwoman Ann Masterson was eager to hear about Jamestown’s commitment to sending high school students to North Kingstown High School. “How locked in are you?” Masterson asked about the relationship.
Cathy Kaiser, Jamestown’s school board chairwoman said, “We are in our 27th year with North Kingstown. We have a long-standing relationship.”
Kaiser then took the conversation in another direction. “Let’s zero in on what we can do in the short term,” she said.
“Our intent is not the high school” Kaiser said. “This is not where we want to start this discussion,” she added.
Nancy Devaney, a school board member from Narragansett, continued to push the issue of taking in Jamestown’s students.
“At the middle school, we could take all of your seventhand eighth-graders,” Devaney said, adding “We have room for 200 more kids at the high school.”
Again Kaiser pulled the discussion back. Sending the middle school students off the island “is our last option,” but she noted, “We may not succeed at that, and we recognize it.” Kaiser said that Jamestown wanted to start the discussions by talking about possibly sharing administrative services.
At a Jan. 5 work-session Jamestow School consultant John Pini, a retired Chariho superintendent and resident of Jamestown, suggested several cost-cutting measures by restructuring the top administrative tier.
Among Pini’s suggestions were to reduce the superintendent and the special education director’s positions to half time.
Superintendent Honnen said he had already retired once and would like to do it again someday. In addition to talking about a shared superintendency, he would also like to discuss a sharing of the special education director, Honnen said.
“A special education collaborative could be important” to the two districts, he said, speculating that if one town offered certain types of programs and the other town offered the others, they could each share the costs by eliminating those programs covered by the other district.
Honnen noted that the special education director in Narragansett was nearing retirement and has been on the job for 32 years. Sipala was asked about Jamestown’s special education director, and she characterized Beth Pinto, who was not present at the meeting, as “vibrant, with another 20 years to work” at her career.
The two committees also discussed the possible sharing of positions like occupational therapist, physical therapist, and school psychologist.
Honnen asked the school boards to give him and Sipala further direction on what other items they want to be discussed.
“Our per pupil costs are huge, so students are first for us,” Narragansett’s Devaney said. But she added, “We’ll acquiesce to you on that one, because it’s not what you need.”
A sub-committee consisting of the two superintendents, plus two school board members from each town was formed and will meet for the first time on Jan. 26 at Jamestown’s Lawn Avenue School.
Among the items that the two committees put on its list for discussion are: the sharing of both superintendent and special education directors, shared transportation, food services, and special education programs and staffing.