2010-12-23 / News

Jamestown, North Kingstown agree on deadline extension

By Tim Riel

The Jamestown School Committee approved an extension to push back the deadline for notifying North Kingstown if Jamestown will be sending additional students. Conversely, North Kingstown will inform Jamestown if it cannot accept additional students.

The new deadline is Jan. 15. The original deadline was Nov. 1, but the Jamestown committee extended it to Jan. 1 at the Oct. 21 meeting to allow the two communities to complete negotiations on tuition contracts. The Dec. 16 vote added another two weeks to the extension.

“We had hoped today to have word from the North Kingstown team about terms for the tuition amount – we’ve already worked out language – but they did not have the necessary attendance at there executive session to deal with that,” committee Chair Catherine Kaiser said.

Kaiser also said that North Kingstown would finalize tuition discussion at their Jan. 11 meeting.

“We should be OK with [the extension],” Superintendent Marcia Lukon said, “as long as they notify us immediately after their meeting.”

The committee also reviewed Sodexo’s year-to-date sales figures. According to the School Committee Action Notes (SCAN), “the committee remains concerned about the decrease in Lawn [Avenue School] participation and will continue to monitor the numbers carefully.” Principal Kathleen Almanzor of Lawn Avenue School reported that the new healthy menus are getting a good reception.

Police Chief Thomas Tighe told Lukon that parents who wish to volunteer must go through the Attorney General’s office in order to get a background check. The fee for the background check is $5, but families who qualify for free or reduced lunch can apply for a waiver. Before the procedure change, the 230 parents who received their check through the Jamestown Police Department are good for three years.

Also concerning the police department, Lukon asked Tighe if he could evaluate the effectiveness of signage concerning a crosswalk on North Road and Watson Avenue.

“Earlier in the year, I wrote to Chief Tighe and asked him to evaluate the signage in the vicinity of the crosswalk on North Road and Watson Avenue, because cars are no slowing down when they are going through that crosswalk,” Lukon said. In a reply, Tighe said that he agreed that the signage could be improved and they are preparing a work order to construct fluorescent crossing signs at the crosswalk.

In other news, three school districts withdrew from the ninemember Southern Rhode Island Collaborative (SORICO), of which Jamestown is an affiliate. North Kingstown, South Kingstown and Exeter-West Greenwich all bowed out citing financial problems facing the collaborative. SORICO won’t officially be a six-member assembly until June 30, since the state requires a six-month notice. The school districts can annul their decision during that sixmonth span. If the three districts don’t rescind their withdrawals, the remaining members would be Jamestown, Block Island, Chariho, East Greenwich, Narragansett and Westerly.

“SORICO is in the process of figuring out its future,” committee member Julie Kallfelz said. “A number of districts think that the facility on Camp Avenue is no longer necessary.”

Even with the three schools withdrawing, Kallfelz said that the remaining schools were still optimistic about the committee. “A number of member districts are looking at continuing to work together as a collaborative, whether its under the name SORICO, or just districts working together.”

Along with the $180,000 defi- cit that SORICO faces, it will also be losing Mike McKee, the committee’s executive director, effective Dec. 31. In early December, Lukon mentioned that although SORICO was facing tough times, they would continue to work on ongoing projects, such as Race to the Top, a federal program that has awarded Rhode Island a grant if certain criteria were met.

“SORICO is virtually bankrupted,” Lukon said before the decisions by North Kingstown, South Kingstown and Exeter-West Greenwich. “We voted that we are looking into selling or leasing the building. But we will stay together in a hibernated state. We just won’t take on new projects.”

When the three school districts all voted unanimously at their December meetings, the number of schools involved change, but SORICO’s goals remained the same. According to SCAN, “the SORICO board is exploring leasing or selling the building. Member districts have agreed that they can work together without a facility on projects such as implementation of Race to the Top initiatives. Members will be liable for building/ operation costs not covered by the lease income; they will also benefit from the equity realized if the building is sold.”

Lukon hoped that the school districts would reconsider. “I find it surprising that they have done so and would ask if they wanted to reconsider withdrawing. And if so, a new vote would have to be taken before Jan. 1,” referring to the deadline.

“I’m having a hard time seeing the down side to being a part of it,” said committee member Dana Long, “so I’m curious to see why those three decided to pull out.”

Lukon added that if the schools didn’t change their minds, they would give up their share of the equity of the facility. “And that building is quite valuable,” Lukon said.

SORICO currently owes $356,762 on the building’s mortgage. The monthly payment for the offices, which is adjacent to the Quonset Business Park, is more than $4,000, and although two tenants pay the majority of that – Thundermist and the Rhode Island Network of Education Technology (RINET) – RINET has already expressed that it is planning to vacate the building. The 24,000 square-foot building, which includes 6.9 acres, is appraised at over $910,000, and reports say that it may fetch anywhere between $800,000 to $1 million.

The committee also voted to waive the first two terms of the committee’s policy for public high school vouchers to allow a student, who is a junior, to finish his high school career in a separate school district. The first term is that the school committee “determines that the desired placement will allow this student an important educational opportunity that does not exist at the current school of record.” Examples of programs that don’t currently exist are schools of the performing arts, schools that specialize in public service, schools that offer curricular choices unavailable elsewhere and schools that offer ROTC programs.

The second restriction waived was financial: “The school department will pay an amount no greater than the tuition rate charged by the Jamestown School Department school of record district.”

After waiving the first two criteria, the committee approved the request of Joan Jordan to allow her grandson, who just moved to Jamestown from South Kingstown, to finish his high school career at Chariho. Jamestown will not be responsible for transportation.

Also, Kaiser and Julia Held volunteered to serve on the negotiating team for the next Jamestown Educational Support Personnel Association.

The school committee will hold its next workshop meeting on Jan. 6. The next business meeting will be on Jan. 20. Both meetings will begin at 7 p.m. in the Lawn Avenue School library.

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