2009-04-09 / Front Page

School Committee tables budget discussion

By Eileen M. Daly

The Jamestown School Committee reviewed the status of the 2010 budget at its April 2 work session and concluded that reductions in health insurance costs, through group health membership, will allow the committee to meet the Town Council's request for a $150,000 reduction to achieve a 0 percent tax increase.

The committee, however, still must respond to the governor's proposed use of federal IDEA funds to replace $104,000 in state aid. The committee plans to address this issue at the April 23 meeting, when the administration is scheduled to propose additional reductions to offset the loss of general, unrestricted state aid.

School Committee Chairperson Cathy Kaiser began the meeting by saying, "Well, we know what our task is."

Committee member B.J. Whitehouse responded with, "Can we state this clearly, because I am not sure we know exactly what our task is."

Kaiser pointed to the need to decrease the budget by $150,000 to meet the 0 percent tax increase the town council requested and committee members agreed that the health care reductions would be enough to cover this reduction. Committee members then turned their attention to the $104,000 reduction in general funds.

Committee member Julia Held asked about Bucky Brennan's suggestion, raised at the March 31 town council meeting, to use unreserved funds to offset the cost of the increased number of Jamestown students attending North Kingstown High School in the fall. "Are we, as a committee, going to investigate Bucky's suggestion?" Held asked.

Superintendent Marcia Lukon responded, "I do understand Bucky's proposal and I do think it will work," she said. "However, I'd prefer to explore other options."

Kaiser then suggested that the discussion be tabled until the April 23 meeting when the list of proposed cuts will be available from the administration. Committee members agreed to do so, but before he agreed, B.J. Whitehouse went on record to say, "I am a little agitated about being asked to decrease a budget that I thought was already very responsible."

"I'm a little upset about the process. The administration and the school committee worked really hard on this budget and I thought there was a lot of political grandstanding. I just want to state that I didn't like it," he said.

The committee then heard from parent Lisa Carlisle who presented proposed plans for a new playground on the Lawn school grounds. Carlisle said that the plans have been in the works for the past six years, since the completion of the Melrose School playground. The proposed project includes several climbing boulders to be installed on the site of the former Lawn playground and a courtyard area that would feature a climbing net, tether ball courts and a multi-use swing. Issues of concern included the need for an archaeological study of the courtyard site, a feasible plan for overnight bus parking and the issue of fundraising. The school committee ultimately endorsed the playground design and gave the playground committee the go-ahead to begin raising funds.

The status of the Elizabeth Stone Scholarship was also reviewed. Chairperson Kaiser reported that attorney Quentin Anthony will transfer the bequest funds to the school in early May. Applications are available at Jamestown schools, on the school website and through the North Kingstown High School guidance office. The application deadline for submission is May 15. The school committee agreed to fund as many as four scholarships of $1,000 each for this year.

Finally, Chairperson Kaiser reported receiving a letter from Narragansett Superintendent Kathy Sipala inviting Jamestown to consider using Narragansett High School as its high school of record. The school committee last conducted a high school review in 2004. At that time, it was agreed that a review be conducted every five years. The school committee agreed to conduct a review, limited to North Kingstown High School and Narragansett High School, in the spring. A seven-member review committee consisting of two administrators, two school committee members, and one member of each School Improvement Team and a representative of the Special Education Local Advisory Committee will visit the two schools in May. They will be responsible for collecting and analyzing data and will make a second visit in September to resolve any questions generated by the data analysis.

The next business meeting of the Jamestown School Committee will be held on Thursday, April 23. The next workshop meeting will be held on Thursday, May 7. All meetings are held at 7 p.m. in the Lawn Avenue School library.

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