2007-11-21 / Front Page

School committee braces for budget woes

By Michaela Kennedy

The expected $400 million shortfall predicted for the state budget next year may translate into less funding for schools next year. School Committee Chairwoman Cathy Kaiser reported a bleak outlook on education costs and funding at the panel's Nov. 15 meeting.

Kaiser shared information she received regarding state budget priorities at the Nov. 13 Conference on School Finances and Governance. Kaiser praised the program outlined by the Board of Regents, which included shifting mandated expenditures, such as regional transportation and extraordinary special education costs, to the state. But she also lamented the lack of money available for the changes. "The legislators said there's no money," she said.

Superintendent Marcia Lukon talked about costly mandates imposed by the state, and the lack of compensation for the increased work load. The committee agreed that efficiency in the district should be addressed.

Outgoing School Committee member David Dolce said that in the short time he has been on the panel, "it's clear these mandates are a burden on the district." One suggestion Dolce made was to hire a book service that would take the burden of book ordering and inventory off the administration. "I think the objective is to take the burden off the administration, whatever you can do," he commented.

Kaiser told administrators present that the committee took seriously the added burdens put on the administration and would continue to look for ways to help increase efficiency. The committee agreed to postpone a meeting on strategic planning as one efficient measure. "It will give the administration a chance to incorporate the SALT results," Kaiser added.

In the superintendent's report, Lukon noted an anticipated 6.5 percent increase in tuition rates for North Kingstown High School. After some discussion, the committee asked business manager Maria Alfred to request additional financial details from the high school and to meet with tuition sub-committee members Cathy Kaiser and William "Bucky" Brennan to review the new rate.

Lukon also noted that auditors spent four days in the district. She congratulated Alfred for her impeccable record keeping. "There were no adjustments, which is very unusual," Lukon said.

Lukon went on to announce Fire Chief James Bryer, Brian Bryer and John Warner have agreed to serve on the Facilities Committee.

In a food service update, Superintendent Lukon reported a rise in meals sold. Lukon said the administration wanted more details from the food service company about how money was spent. Questions about data should be cleared up at a meeting with the provider to be held on Dec. 6, she added.

In a discussion about objectives, the committee endorsed seven goals for the board, with an expectation for an eighth goal on improvements for efficiency to be added.

In the principal's report, Kathy Almanzor and aspiring principal Carole Melucci said that school improvement teams for both schools completed their self-studies in preparation for the School Assessment of Learning and Teaching this year. "The teams did a great job. They shadowed students for a day, and met for many hours to write the report," she commented. A presentation of the results is slated for the Nov. 19 faculty meeting, Almanzor noted.

Also in her report, Almanzor said that first quarter report cards were generated, and parent conferences will be held on Nov. 29 and 30.

In other business, the committee read and edited a draft policy on the use of school buildings by non-school-based organizations. The document offered prioritized categories for facility use requests. The committee continued the draft review to the next business meeting on Dec. 20.

The committee appointed Kristie Wian as a full-time eighth grade teacher assistant for the remainder of the school year.

School committee member Julia Held sat on the North Kingstown School Committee for Brennan, who was out of town.

In correspondence the committee received:

A letter from a parent thanking the school for the "vastly improved" lunch program.

An invitation from Kids First, the Coalition for Quality Children's Media, to a screening of the film "Two Angry Moms," Dec. 3., 7 p.m., at Jane Pickens Theatre in Newport. A panel discussion about improving school food programs will follow the documentary.

An urgent request from the Two Angry Moms movement to oppose the Harkin/Murkowski amendment to the U.S. Senate Farm Bill that would pre-empt states from passing more restrictive nutrition standards. The law would render null and void Rhode Island's statutory restrictions on beverages sold in high schools.

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