2009-02-19 / Letters to the Editor

School Committee not making educated cuts

Is the North Kingstown School Committee showing you we can do "more with less" or simply "less with more" as we go through budget discussions? So far, the answer is clearly "less with more."

While districts all around us are scrambling to consolidate and adjust their longterm costs with their teachers and support unions, the NKSD just cut $2.1 million from the budget without a word from the unions, which utilize 88 percent of a $60 million NKSD budget. Some may think that's great, but the district's educational footprint is changing fast and the changes are probably worse than they need to be.

Among the areas reduced in first pass cuts were $110,000 in classroom computers, the last of the tech nology instructors and the senior technician who kept the old computers running. The hardware cut was tough - but understandable - if we have a plan to service what we have so that the classrooms won't be impacted. Was it smart to fire the inexpensive service technician who keeps the old stuff running if using computers was going to be a classroom priority? Probably not.

Though the committee chairperson continually says he looks for non-student facing cuts first before proposing program cuts to the committee, in reality they were the first to go and we really made some mistakes. Along with technology and maintenance, freshman athletics, a librarian, guidance counselors, and building support were also cut.

The last two meetings had a surreal feel. Continuing a practice begun in 2006, the new superintendent's budget recommendations were routinely overrode as the committee leadership adjusted contracts and jobs, on the fly, with little or no regard to the impact of the cuts they madein front of the impacted employees and off the agenda.

One such motion was made to reduce the athletic director's job to 185 days a year. While there has been debate for years about the cost of the athletic director, no one has ever argued the NK athletic director job doesn't require year round commitment. August football players, summer camp attendees, weekend tournament participants and most other athletes probably should be nervous with this non-sensical vote. I have to say the superintendent did not recommend this cut. He once again stated his support for the athletic director - even with an inaudible head nod this time. He wasn't even asked to come back with a plan by the committee. Committee leadership just eagerly made the cut. I am told now that the 185-day administrator is going to be an instrument used across-theboard for administrators.

We have to cut. We have to do it intelligently. Dr. Thornton mentioned the other night that he believes we have taken administration about as far as it can be cut and still remain effective. We should listen and consider the next area of cost reduction.

Many of you have written the committee to express your opinion on the priority of the cuts being made telling us we must look at all areas of cost. I agree. Last year, the committee asked the teachers' union come back to the table to discuss reasonable concessions. We were told no. We've asked again, in fact at a meeting, the audience members had to tell the committee leadership to ask again. This week we were told discussions were going fine but no one's coming back to the table.

Now it's time to act instead of talk. I'm asking that the employees managed by the superintendent outside of collective bargaining and all administrators move immediately to at least a 20 percent co-share of their healthcare benefit. It's not even outrageous. It's equitable if you're paying your own healthcare today. The committee and superintendent can do this at any time. This alone would save thousands.

Ideally, every employee, the unions included, will either move to this number or formally tell the community why they won't. If the committee and administration doesn't want to take this step, they too should tell the community why they won't. The money we save could put back some of the resources we just cut - or could help reduce the burden if we don't get a two percent spending lift from the town.

Don't be fooled by the rhetoric and please look at the decisions coming from this committee for what they are. Douglas Roth North Kingstown School Committee

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