A smaller scholl budget welcome by Town Council
What a difference a year makes.
School Committee members received a pleasant and cordial reception to the budget numbers presented by School Superintendent Marcia Lukon during last Tuesday’s joint meeting of the Jamestown School Committee and the Town Council.
This year’s school budget request of $11,606,867 is slightly less than last year’s school budget of $11,767,907, a decrease of 1.37%, but school committee members did not necessarily attribute the pleasant reception they received to this decrease.
“It’s just a different council,” School Committee Chair Cathy Kaiser said.
Lukon presented a budget that she said was developed through a zero-based budgeting process.
“We don’t start with last year’s numbers,” she said. “We look at each line item and determine whether or not it’s needed and if there are any possible savings to be gained.”
From that point, Lukon said, the goals of the budget process are to “maintain present levels of successful programming, provide needed services for our known student population and make progress toward achieving our strategic planning goals,” all in the most cost-effective manner possible.
As in years past, the major budget areas concerned salaries and benefits, tuitions (for regular education high school students, as well as for special education students and out-of-district placement students) and transportation costs.
Of these, transportation costs represented one of the highest increases, up $16,141 or 2.69% since last year. This increased cost was particularly galling to both the committee and the council, as Jamestown’s participation in the statewide transportation system was supposed to result in a decrease in transportation costs.
Lukon said she has been trying to get out of participating in the statewide system, but so far has not been successful.
“We have been meeting with RIDE, but so far, we haven’t been able to get out of participating. They keep saying they are going to ‘make us whole,’ but what that will mean, we don’t know,” Lukon said.
Director of Student Services Gwenn Spence presented the special education budget to the council saying, “I am happy to stand before you tonight with a decrease in the special education budget.”
The special education budget Spence presented calls for $2,101,239 in spending, down from last year’s costs of $2,224,749. The 5.55% decrease resulted from a number of factors, Spence said, including students who have graduated out of the budget.
The highest costs associated with the special education budget are the costs for out-of-district special needs tuitions, Spence said. There are currently eight students on out-of-district placements at a total cost to the school district of $507,810, she said.
It was this number that drew the only critical comment of the evening from a member of the public.
Islander Jerry Scott questioned why eight students cost the school department so much in tuitions.
“You could send them to an Ivy League university and still have money left over,” Scott said.
Spence responded by first saying that she wanted to make sure to speak in generalizations in order to protect the privacy of the students in this “very small community.” She went on to say that one student might require the services of a number of different professionals, including speech therapists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, nurses and paraprofessionals.
Spence also said that much of the costs associated with the special education budget are the result of state and federal mandates and that there are very few discretionary dollars in that budget. Nonetheless, she said, students are only placed in out-of-district placements when they absolutely cannot be serviced safely within the district.
After a brief discussion between members of the committee and the council regarding areas of possible shared cost savings and an acknowledgement from both groups regarding the still-unknown variables in both budgets, the meeting adjourned.
The next budget work session of the Town Council will be held tonight, Thursday, April 1, at 6:30 p.m. at Town Hall. The School Committee will also hold a workshop meeting tonight at 7 p.m. in