2009-01-29 / Front Page

School Committee begins budget review

By Eileen M. Daly

The Jamestown School Committee began the arduous process of reviewing the budget at its last meeting. Always a challenging procedure, recent economic conditions have added another layer of difficulty to the process, the school committee members said.

The budget meeting was well attended. The committee welcomed State Representative Deb Ruggierio, Town Administrator Bruce Keiser and Town Councilors Mike White and Barbara Szepatowski to the budget discussion.

Superintendant Marcia Lukon began by explaining the zerobased method employed in drafting this year's budget. The proposed FY10 operating budget is $11,946,444 and represents an increase of 2.66 percent over FY09. The total projected expenditures (including capital improvements) are $12,214,932, which represent a 3.09 percent increase. Assuming level-funding of state aid, the town contribution of $11,442,910 represents an increase of 2.50 percent over FY09.

Lukon outlined the major bud- get areas including salaries and benefits, tuition, transportation costs, and costs related to special needs students both in and out of district. Lukon said there are a number of unknown factors that may affect this budget process. These include the level of state aid and grant funding, the number of retirees, the governor's budget proposals, the potential savings from participation in the statewide transportation pilot, military enrollment, fuel and energy costs and the findings of the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) School Support System review.

Student Services Director Dr. Robert Fricklas presented the special education budget. The proposed budget of $2,224,749 represents a 4.07 percent over FY09 and requires the addition of one special education teacher and one full time teacher's assistant. Fricklas pointed out that research indicates that time in general education classes is positively related to employment, community involvement and increased earning. Fricklas said the goal is to continue to meet students' needs without having to increase out-of-district placements. He identified the key special education budget factors as Federal and Rhode Island regulations governing the education of children with disabilities, Individual Education Plan requirements, salary and benefits, the cost of outof district tuition and transportation, and the findings and directives issued in the RIDE School Support System review.

Building and Grounds Director Lew Kitts presented a proposed capital budget of $199,600. This number did not include the cost of the system-wide technology project, as those numbers are not yet available. The largest project identifi ed by Kitt concerns the installation of new fire alarm and smoke/ heat detection systems that Kitts said must be installed in order to comply with the state fire code. Other projects include resurfacing the parking lot and revamping the outdated kitchen at the Lawn Avenue School.

Finance Director Jane Littlefi eld said if the Jamestown school district will not receive state aid next year, the contribution needed from the town will increase to $11,824,333. This would represent a 5.92 percent increase over the current budget.

The committee commended the administrative team on drafting such a lean budget while still preserving services. Committee members discussed the need for a long-term plan to adjust to the almost certain decrease in state funding. Committee Chair Cathy Kaiser stressed the importance of gradually making necessary cuts rather than risk an abrupt disruption in delivery of services. Kaiser also suggested that reserved funds be utilized to offset losses during the adjustment/transition phase.

In other business:

• The committee reviewed the monthly report on meal sales.

• The committee heard the second reading of the hiring policy and the second reading of the tobacco policy and voted to approve both.

• The committee received a letter from Lisa Carlisle and Ann Zainyeh, Lawn School Improvement Team co-chairs, recognizing the school's excellent music program. A letter was also received from the Jamestown Substance Abuse Prevention Task Force advocating for the continuation of Student Assistance Services.

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