2006-10-12 / Front Page

School board, council hold joint session

By Michaela Kennedy

The School Committee met with the Town Council Oct. 5 to discuss ongoing activities and answer questions about the school district. The board reviewed topics ranging from the quality of public education to future budget costs.

Principal Kathleen Almanzor presented "Information Works!" Rhode Island's annual report on public education. Almanzor noted that the School Improvement Team uses Infoworks for strategic planning purposes. Information about the local school district, as well as other districts in the state, is available on the state Department of Education's Web site.

When asked by Council Vice President Julio DiGiando if the school was comfortable with its level of performance, Alamanzor said, "We are always trying to improve ourselves."

The School Committee offered points of strength in the schools and where improvement was needed. The terms for assessment received by Jamestown Schools, high and improving, "are nice labels but tend to gloss over specifics," School Committee Vice Chairwoman Julie Kallfelz said.

Thanks to small class sizes, the staff and teachers know the children well and work toward bringing out their full potential, board member Julia Held pointed out as strengths.

On areas for improvement, "We need to do a better job of differentiating our instruction," Kallfelz said, adding that an increasing number of resources were availdrawbacks able to strengthen this area.

The district needed to maintain a high focus on mathematics, board member William "Bucky" Brennan noted. "We are well performing, but we need to keep everyone on their toes," he said. "We're still not beating East Greenwich and Barrington, and there's no reason for that," he added.

Brennan went on to praise the performance of students from the island. "We had the salutatorian (at North Kingstown High School) last year, and valedictorian the year before that," he pointed out.

In an update on the South County school districts' feasibility study of shared services, Committee Chairwoman Cathy Kaiser reported points of recommendation from the advisory committee. Included in the recommendations was support of legislative efforts to permit the use of vans for regional and special education transportation. She said the advisory committee supported a study on regional transportation, which found that vans were more economical than smaller buses.

Kaiser also said that legislative efforts were recommended to require private and parochial schools to c-ordinate book orders and distribution, and invoice the public school districts for the cost of the textbooks. According to current law, public school districts order, pay for, and distribute the books.

Another recommendation was to continue pursuing the collection of data to determine the feasibility of food services program collaboration with other districts. "Through feasibility studies, we are looking for savings outside our walls," Kaiser said.

Councilman DiGiando urged the school board to continue exploring possibilities of collaboration with other districts. But Superintendent Robert Power warned about shared services, saying that it was important to understand all benefits and before making agreements with other districts.

After a discussion with the council about installation and maintenance costs for a new generator, the School Committee voted 3-0 to share 50 percent of the installation cost, $8,145. Brennan recused himself. The panel agreed to locate the generator, to be used for emergency management purposes, on the Melrose Avenue School property.

Kaiser noted that maintenance costs would be between $500 and $1,000 per year.

In a discussion of pre-budget concerns, the School Committee addressed:

+ Food service costs: Kaiser noted that the district was asked to share administrative food service costs, an unbudgeted expense, under the one-year renewable contract with North Kingstown, "somewhere between $20,000 and $25,000." She noted that the committee would continue to explore alternative lunch program options.

+ Playing fields: Kallfelz told the council that over the past year and a half a grass roots movement, from the Jamestown Soccer

Association, PTO, and other groups, has emerged, to gather funding, look at the conditions of recreational areas around the school, engage a land-use planner, and to put together a land-use plan. Kallfelz noted that they hope to have results from a facilitiesuse study by late spring, and a request for financial support would be submitted for the 2007-08 town and school budgets. Kelly offered to participate in the effort and keep the council informed of its progress.

+ Costs associated with North Kingstown use of buses contracted by Jamestown. Brennan said that North Kingstown struggles with the number of buses they have to allow the high school to start later, but not push back the younger grades so far that they get home late in the day. He told the council that Jamestown was considering offering buses to allay the burden, but more discussion was needed. Kelly suggested looking at Rhode Island Public Transport Association. "You could possibly find some capable professionals who are able to look at your program and give some advice," he said.

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