2009-01-15 / Front Page

Local schools to lose funding under governor's budget plan

By Donna K. Drago

Under Governor Donald Carcieri's Supplemental Budget for fiscal year 2009, released Jan. 7, Jamestown schools stand to lose more than $32,500 in state aid in the current year's spending plan.

The Carcieri proposal still has to make its way through the General Assembly, Jamestown would lose $3,324 in school funding and $29,238 in professional development money, if the plan is approved.

School Committee Chairwoman Cathy Kaiser said that the amount has already been budgeted and "may have already been spent," especially referring to the professional development funding.

This money goes for "teacher training, speakers," and is spent "as needed," Kaiser said. "It's a pretty significant number," she added.

An additional $149,697 will be cut from general state aid, but lo- cal districts will also see their payments into the teacher retirement fund reduced by 75 percent for the next five months. "So it's a wash," in the current budget, Kaiser said. The teacher retirement payments are not being eliminated, but rather "deferred," Kaiser added. "I have yet to find an explanation of what 'deferred' means in this case," she noted about the already underfunded pension system.

Neighboring North Kingstown, the district that operates Jamestown's high school of record, will lose $74,894 to the school fund and $169,550 in professional development money this year.

About the more than $30,000 that will likely not be paid to the Jamestown school district, Kaiser said that the schools can absorb that amount, "but cannot absorb no state funding," which totals about $300,000 for Jamestown. Sharp reductions in state education funding have been threatened for the fiscal year 2010 budget, which begins July 1, 2009, Kaiser said.

Across the state, the governor's proposed education cuts total some $4.31 million, which Kaiser said is a direct result of monies the state was expecting to come from gambling revenue generated by the slot machines at the Twin Rivers Casino. "It has not come in," Kaiser said.

The school board chairwoman said that the proposed cuts in the governor's supplemental budget are not locked in and will have to be passed by state legislators. "But, I would expect it to pass in light of the economy," Kaiser added.

Even bigger than the state budget cuts, Kaiser is extremely concerned about the governor's proposals regarding teacher retirements.

Carcieri has proposed that teachers who retire by April 1, 2009 will continue to receive annual cost of living adjustments to their pensions. Teachers who retire after that date will not receive the annual bumps, Kaiser said, and added that teachers must also wait until they turn 59 years old to retire. "This is considerably older," than the age at which many teachers decide to retire after a career of 25 to 30 years, Kaiser said.

"The governor is trying to force people to retire now," Kaiser added.

In Jamestown schools, Kaiser said she has estimates that there are about six teachers and two administrators who would be eligible to retire by April 1. "It's not that far away," Kaiser said, adding that the loss of so many from an already small staff "would decimate us."

"This is a major concern to us," Kaiser said, adding that the school committee is emailing local legislators to at least get them to compromise on extending the retirement date. "We don't have anyone to step in," and fill those positions from April 1 to the end of the school year in mid-June. "It's very nerve wracking," Kaiser said.

There are a couple of good things for school districts in the governor's proposal, Kaiser said.

Changing the date from March 1 to June 1 for giving layoff notices to teachers will allow the schools to put together their budgets before deciding on possible staff reductions. "Right now, we just guess," at staffing needs and give out pink slips by the current deadline of March 1. Then, once the local budget is passed, they recall some or all of the teachers who have been given layoff notices. "It's bad for morale," Kaiser said about the process.

The governor is also proposing a statewide school employee health insurance program, Kaiser said, that "would take healthcare out of the collective bargaining process." Kaiser said that Jamestown schools have negotiated a fairly high copay for their teachers, especially for emergency care, which some districts have yet to do. So, while "consolidation is a good thing," Kaiser said, it's also possible that a state health plan could cost the district more money than is currently spent. The governor is proposing a mandatory 25 percent employee copay according to the 2009 budget summary.

Also in the governor's budget is a mandatory elimination of school bus monitors.

The Jamestown superintendent will present the fiscal year 2010 budget at the Thursday, Jan. 22 School Committee meeting. Subsequent budget workshops will be held on Feb. 5, Feb. 12 and Feb. 26. At the final workshop on Feb. 26, the committee could vote on the spending package, which will be given to the Town Council the first week of March.

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