2009-03-26 / Front Page

Jamestown students welcome at NKHS

By Adrienne Downing

North Kingstown Schools Superintendent Philip Thornton said Jamestown students are wanted and welcome at North Kingstown High School, despite recent public comments by some attendees at N.K. School Committee meetings and at least three N.K. School Committee members.

N.K. School Committee members Richard Welch, Lynda Avanzato and Melvoid Benson each said during a candidate's forum that it may be time for Jamestown to look elsewhere for its high school education needs.

"I think we have an issue here folks, if we need to make room for our students, Jamestown students need to go to Rogers, Middletown, Narragansett or elsewhere," Welch said.

"We included Jamestown when we built the new school, but we gave them no responsibility," Benson said.

Jamestown tuition payments to North Kingstown tend to be a topic of discussion each year at budget time, according to Jamestown School Committee vice chairwoman Julie Kallfelz, and this year is no exception. "I think some people just don't have a full understanding of how good of a mutual arrangement it is for both our towns," Kallfelz said. "After all the facts are laid out and cooler heads prevail, there is always an agreement that this benefits both of us."

Jamestown sends approximately 200 students a year to NKHS and pays a tuition based on a formula agreed to in 2001 and updated in 2003.

The formula is calculated by a combination of three factors; the per pupil expense at the high school, bonding costs related to the school and indirect costs relating to administrative expenses. The per pupil cost is figured by taking the total general education costs for educating students at the high school, subtracting transportation expenses, which Jamestown pays directly, and grants and school lunch funds and dividing by the number of students enrolled in the program.

The same formula is used to set tuition rates for special education and English Second Language students. Jamestown is billed per service for students enrolled in the general education program, but who receive special education services, such as speech or reading instruction.

Two points raised most often by North Kingstown residents who feel Jamestown is not paying its share involve the impression that Jamestown is paying tuition based on an outdated number and that Jamestown did not regionalize with North Kingstown to increase the bond rebate from the state.

"The building and the land are not our asset. If, when the current contract expires and North Kingstown chooses not to renew it, we walk away with nothing," Jamestown School Committee chairwoman Cathy Kaiser said.

Former Jamestown School Committee member Sirje Carl, who was the committee's chairwoman at the time of the 2001 contract, said Jamestown was not asked to participate in the bond issue nor to regionalize with North Kingstown. "Even if we had, I am not sure it would have been legal," she said. "It is not as easy as it sounds to regionalize a school district, especially when we do not have a binding vote on their school committee. Their citizen's voted on the bond issue. We can't vote in North Kingstown."

North Kingstown Director of Administrative Services Ned Draper suggested an effective method might be for Jamestown to pay a portion of capital improvements necessary to maintain the building during its life cycle, such as needing a new roof.

There has also been some question of whether Jamestown pays tuition based on a two-year old figure. Kaiser said Jamestown closed this gap when the formula was re-evaluated in 2003. "The state provides a 30-percent rebate on the bond which, for several years after the new school was built, which was not passed on to Jamestown. When both towns mutually agreed this was not a fair arrangement and revised the funding formula, Jamestown stayed on the old formula for one more year to front load our tuition, thus reducing the two-year gap to one," Kaiser said.

Draper was asked by the N.K. school committee to provide his evaluation of the current contract, and found that removing Jamestown students from NKHS would not provide a savings to the town, but would create a budgetr gap of more than $1 million.

"It may be important to consider, that although the cost to educate a Jamestown pupil is consistent with our costs, the savings of not providing this service is not dollar for dollar. Due to the nature of high school scheduling, a reduction in students does not provide a direct reduction in staff," Draper said. "I estimate savings of no more than 10 teacher salaries. This would leave approximately $1 million budget gap, or more, each year of subsequent operations."

Draper's assessment of the contract formula was that it "is the most accurate and fair calculation for both parties."

Thornton agreed with Draper and said he prefers not to think of "our students and Jamestown students," but said instead he considers them all NKHS students. "It is not an us and them. We are all one family," he said.

Thornton said he hopes the relationship between the two towns will continue for a long time. "We not only want Jamestown students, we need the Jamestown students to continue to provide the great variety and education we give to students at the high school," Thornton said.

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