2010-01-14 / News

School Committee sets goals, meets with Town Council

By Eileen M. Daly

Budget concerns and the possible loss of state aid to the town dominated last Friday’s joint meeting of the School Committee and Town Council, which got off to a collaborative start despite anticipation by both groups of another tough financial year.

Prior to the joint meeting, the School Committee, along with Superintendent Marcia Lukon, Director of Student Services Gwenn Spence, Finance Director Jane Littlefield and Buildings and Maintenance Director Lew Kitts, met to develop new goals for fiscal year 2011.

The committee set five new goals during the meeting. They include:

• To support structure and programming that allows maximum flexibility for administrators, teachers and students

• To improve student achievement at all levels, with particular emphasis on challenging all students to perform to their potential

• To continue to support district and school-level administration

• To advocate for district interests locally, regionally and at the State House

• To exercise fiscal responsibility and ensure efficient use of district resources

The discussion also focused on burgeoning technology – not only on finding ways to increase technology in the classroom, but also anticipating the need for increased policies regarding the use of various devices within and outside of the school environment.

Spence raised concerns about the use of social networking sites and other Internet programs by students and teachers. Committee member B.J. Whitehouse said that some teachers are using technology and the Internet in exciting educational ways, such as blogging and the use of sites like YouTube to showcase musical performances.

The committee agreed that while these technologies can be educational, the potential for abuse also exists. The ethical use of technology by both students and teachers was discussed and it was agreed that, at the present time, the policies already in place are sufficient. However, the committee agreed to remain open to the need to develop further policies regarding technology.

Whitehouse advised the school administration not to hesitate to bring these concerns forward.

“We are going to rely on you to help us be proactive,” he said.

Lukon added that a technology consultant has been hired to evaluate the current status of technology in Jamestown schools. The consultant will report on ways to improve the use of technology for educational purposes, Lukon said, adding that the report is expected within the next several weeks.

Another area of focus was building safety. Kitts reported that Jamestown’s school buildings are “as safe or safer than other schools.”

After the school committee finished setting its goals for FY2011, the joint meeting of the School Committee and Town Council began. That discussion immediately focused on budget expectations and strategies.

Town Administrator Bruce Keiser responded to questions from the committee about the town’s budget outlook and expectations for FY2011. He discussed the potential impact of the loss of excise tax revenue, a loss that could amount to $440,000 in lost revenue for Jamestown, he said. Whether this loss will be realized is unknown at the present time, Keiser said.

“There is so much uncertainty at the state level that it is impossible to plan intelligently,” Keiser said.

Lukon concurred, and spoke about the challenge of creating a school budget at a time when so many factors, such as health care increases, contract terms, state aid allotments, etc., are unknown. She also mentioned the lack of information available regarding incoming military students – particularly high school students – as a significant difficulty in school budget planning.

Because Jamestown does not have its own high school, the fi- nancial impact of the current 25 high school students from military families is a cost of approximately $250,000 in tuition to the town. Those costs are not nearly covered by the $11,000 in impact aid Jamestown received from the federal government last year, she said.

Nonetheless, Keiser and Lukon attempted to come to some general agreements about how to proceed in this budget year. Keiser outlined his goals for the upcoming contract negotiations and the two groups discussed the impact of a reduction in state aid, the need for union concessions to preserve jobs and the need for alternative revenue sources.

Councilman Bill Murphy informed the school committee of an opportunity to secure a small wind turbine (for educational purposes and to generate electricity) through the U.S. Department of Education. Lukon said she would be happy to look into this, as it would be easy to tie the wind turbine into the NASA grant program.

Finding a place to park buses on the island remains a challenge, according to Lukon. There has been no resolution to this concern, and Lukon emphasized the need to find on-island parking for the bus fleet or risk incurring exorbitant costs for renting offisland space.

The committee and the council agreed that it is important to keep the lines of communication open. The school committee will continue to send “SCAN” notes – a brief synopsis of school committee meetings – to the council. The committee also invited the council to attend school budget hearings and to email questions in advance of the joint hearings in an effort to make the process as smooth as possible.

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