2011-01-20 / Front Page

NK remains high school of record

By Geoff Campbell

Two days before deadline, the Jamestown School Committee voted unanimously to maintain North Kingstown as the high school of record for the island.

The vote at the Jan. 13 meeting of the Jamestown School Committee proved to be the epilogue to a story that began at the North Kingstown School Committee meeting which took place two days earlier.

The tuition contract sets the price and the conditions for high school age Jamestown residents who plan on attending North Kingstown High School.

The contract is currently a threeyear rolling agreement and next year it becomes subject to annual renewal. There is some disagreement among members of the North Kingstown committee as to the end date of the 10-year agreement, which was first signed on June 30, 2001.

Adjusting and clarifying the language continues to be one of the chief responsibilities of North Kingstown’s tuition subcommittee. The progress of that work has led to two deadline extensions. The first extending the original Nov. 1 deadline to Jan. 1, and the second extending the date to Jan. 15.

Mary Ann Carroll, the attorney for the North Kingstown School District, spoke to the urgency of the matter. She cautioned the committee that failure to vote on the contract would run the risk of Jamestown opting out of sending their eighth graders to North Kingstown High School next year.

North Kingstown Superintendent Phil Thornton said that the state is requiring the school district change from Insight, its current financialrecord keeping system, to the Uniform Chart of Accounts (UCOA) system, which will standardize the way districts account for resources budgeted and expended and provide greater accountability to assist decision makers at all levels. He said that transitioning to UCOA provided his administration with the time and opportunity to consider “all the variables” in the tuition costs.

Thornton said that some tuition costs were included that had previously been paid by other income resources. Thornton also explained that the tuition numbers are affected by the infusion and subsequent depletion of federal grant money.

The tuition price recommended by Thornton was $9,827 for a general education student, an increase of $116 per pupil over last year’s tuition. The cost for a special education student will increase by $5,000, to $37,038, but that price decreases dramatically when certain federal funds are no longer available. The English Language Learner cost will be $52,545, an increase of $890.

Thornton reminded the committee that the price has always been set based on numbers that are typically two years in arrears as a result of the data collection system used by the district. He added that as the UCOA system is put in place, the data used to make the tuition contract decision would only be a year old.

Based on 220 students and following the superintendent’s proposed rates, the income of next year’s Jamestown tuition contract represents approximately $2.2 million in income.

Once Thornton made his recommendation, committee member Bill Mudge immediately began to question both the numbers and the process.

Mudge said that the proposed tuition number violated the contract and that the number was reached without using the contract formula. He made reference to the absence of a figure in the tuition amount that reflected Jamestown’s portion of the bond issue used to build the new high school building.

North Kingstown School Committee Chairman Richard Welch, and subsequently several of the committee’s members, reminded the group that the business of the night was not improving contract language, but instead it was to settle on a tuition number.

At one point during the meeting Mudge accused Welch of signing a contract extension without North Kingstown School Committee approval, asking, “How dare you?”

Welch responded that he had not signed anything without the committee’s approval.

“You are absolutely incorrect,” Mudge said. “That’s despicable.”

In short order, Welch read aloud the Dec. 16 meeting minutes, which clearly stated that the committee granted the chairman authority to sign the deadline extension. Mudge raised further objections and the chairman, appearing frustrated, refused to recognize Mudge, saying, “You are done tonight.” Instead Welch recognized committee member Lynda Avanzato who made a motion to accept the superintendent’s recommendation regarding the tuition contract amount.

“That just cost North Kingstown $300,000,” Mudge said. The motion to follow Thornton’s recommendation was passed 5-1.

Following the meeting, Mudge readily owned his frustration and his tendency toward unfortunate behavior because of his frequent aggravation. He added that what he was seeking from the school committee was both right and relatively easy to accomplish.

He explained that he sought to table the contract vote in order to conduct a thorough review of both the historical and current numbers, perhaps led by outside professionals, in order to assign the fair share per-pupil cost to Jamestown students.

He asserted that Jamestown may not be paying its fair share and that his efforts are born of vigilance that he maintains on behalf of the North Kingstown taxpayer, whom he believes picks up the financial slack if the tuition price fails to cover the total per-pupil cost.

Language that allowed for an annual adjustment was removed from the 2001-2011 version of the contract, according to Mudge. The language: “In any given year, therefore, each sending district will be charged or credited with the adjustment for the previous year” provides some assurance of a fair share tuition rate, Mudge said.

Mudge created spreadsheets using “numbers mined from” committee documents that have led him to believe that current tuition charge falls short in covering the true per-pupil cost by an estimated $1,000 or more for a general education student.

At the Jamestown School Committee meeting two days later, the report was more tentative regarding final tuition contract numbers.

Jamestown School Committee Chairwoman Cathy Kaiser said that Jamestown is waiting for verifi cation of the tuition numbers from Ned Draper, the North Kingstown School District director of administrative services. She read portions of a letter from Draper aloud and explained that the changes in the accounting process are not complete and therefore the numbers may receive additional adjustments.

Jamestown committee member Julia Held, the liaison to the North Kingstown School Department, said that North Kingstown intended to have the final numbers in December but that the accounting system changes have taken longer than expected. She added that the deadline extensions were mutually agreed to, and that the time was used for “negotiating details.”

Held added that the tuition contract process is separate from the high school review process, which is on a five-year cycle and was most recently completed last year.

No tuition rates were discussed at the Jamestown School Committee meeting.

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