2011-05-26 / News

Taxpayers’ association proposes cut in school budget

By Geoff Campbell

School Committee Chairwoman Cathy Kaiser directly addressed the budget warrant at last week’s meeting, which was filed by the Taxpayers’ Association of Jamestown and proposes a $601,330 cut to the 2011-12 town budget.

At the School Committee’s May 19 meeting, Kaiser explained that the proposed number was “very close to, but not quite equal to, the actual increase of the budget of $611,896 according to the town Web site.”

“One can infer that [the association] is looking to wipe out any increase for this year,” she added.

Kaiser suggested that some might assume that the split should be proportionate to the percent of each entity’s budget as part of the whole. In which case, she said, it would be 57.8 percent for the school share and 42.2 percent for the town share.

Kaiser instead recommended that a more just approach would be to examine the actual increase of $611,896 (of which $459,717 belongs to the town), which is 75 percent of the total increase. She added that “$152,179 is our increase,” or 25 percent.

Committee member Sav Rebecchi supported Kaiser’s thinking, and added, “If the intent was to level fund or [provide] no increase at all, then it’s more appropriate to look at where the increases came from. That’s the fair approach.”

Kaiser said that the warrant, unlike one filed by the taxpayers’ association a year ago, was not specific as to which part of the burden the two major budget holders, the town and the school, would share. She explained that because the lack of specificity, “[The association], in a way, has done a disservice by making it a lump sum instead of looking at the two budgets as they did last year and giving reasons why they were looking for cuts in various areas.”

Rebecchi pointed out that the taxpayers’ association is “causing a situation where they are forcing us to go head to head with the town.”

Mike White, the liaison to the Town Council and a selfdescribed “major proponent of democracy and warrants,” said that he hopes that “everyone will recognize the importance of the education of young people and the security of education in our democracy.”

He continued, “With all due respect to taxpayers’ associations, I am never going to tell anybody what a buck is worth.”

“I think that this committee and this administration,” he added, “has done an excellent job of coming out with a very responsible budget that I can support whole heartedly and I am hoping that the citizens of Jamestown recognize the due diligence.”

The consequences of a six-figure cut in the budget remains unclear, but it is likely that the district’s administration will work quickly to develop a budgetary response, in case the cuts come to fruition.

The Financial Town Meeting is scheduled for Monday, June 6, at 7 p.m. at Lawn Avenue School.

Personnel news included the unanimous appointment of Kenneth Duva as the new director of student services, replacing outgoing director Gwen Spence on July 1. Superintendent Marcia Lukon appeared pleased as she recounted the highlights of Duva’s resume.

According to Lukon, Duva has “administrative experience both at North Kingstown as an early childhood administrator and then for the last two years in Woonsocket as the assistant director of special education.”

“His experience is in the areas that we deem to be most important for our school district,” she added.

According to Duva’a resume, he earned a bachelor’s degree from Rhode Island College, majoring in elementary education and special education. He then earned a Master of Education in special education from Providence College.

In the Woonsocket School District, Duva currently supervises 1,500 special education students as well as the 450 special education professionals who provide services. Duva was a special education teacher for seven years before becoming an administrator, first in North Kingstown and then in Woonsocket. He and his wife Caite live with their three daughters in North Kingstown.

Lukon described the thorough vetting process that included “an initial screening committee made up of parents, administrators, teachers and specialists [that] unanimously recommended moving him forward for my consideration, and then we interviewed him two more times after that.”

Lukon concluded by saying that she “was very comfortable and very pleased that we have found such a stellar candidate.”

The committee unanimously approved the superintendent’s recommendation to hire Duva. The candidate elect, now employee, was warmly greeted by the administrators and school committee members.

“Thank you very much. I am both delighted and excited to come on board,” Duva said. “I have heard many great things about the district.”

In other personnel news the committee approved a 50-50 job share for the music teacher position between Marilyn Hostetler and Gilda Codilla, and they also approved the superintendent’s recommendation “to accept, with regret,” the resignation of Adriana Trautman, the School Committee clerk.

The superintendent explained that the number of lunches purchased by students continues to decline and she has taken several steps to address the issue and better understand the underlying dynamic. Between now and the end of the school year Lukon asked that Sodexho, the food service company, maintain whole wheat pizza with alternating toppings of vegetables and meat as a daily menu item so that students can count on one item with which they are familiar.

She also suggested that there might be too many choices. Lukon added that the lunch costs $3 a day at Lawn Avenue and $2 a day at Melrose. She hopes to address the problem in such a way as to reduce the current $25,000 subsidy to create a break even or better scenario.

Rebecchi suggested that other small districts that use Sodexho be contacted in order to determine whether or not the down economy alone is playing a role in the decreasing numbers and what other districts are doing. Lukon reminded the group that Sodexho’s contract is up at the end of the year. Other contenders include Aramark, which has the state contract.

Earlier in the evening, following executive session, Kaiser announced that a motion had passed unanimously to approve “the addition, if needed this year, of five extra days to the superintendent’s contract.”

Other agenda items addressed at the meeting included the approval of two overnight field trips. The seventh grade is headed to the Boston Museum of Science and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Museum on June 9 as part of the Science and Math Scholars project. The eighth grade will leave for Washington, D.C. on June 2.

The principals’ report highlighted a few of the more than two dozen enrichment activities and field trips that took place in April and May and that are on tap for the remainder of the year.

Lukon explained that the now defunct nine-district joint venture – Southern Rhode Island Collaborative Education and Training Center – will deplete its remaining funds by Aug. 30. As a result, the largest asset, the building located in North Kingston, has been reduced in price by more than 30 percent to stoke interest in the property. A public auction of the building’s content will take place on June 25 at 10 a.m.

The next meeting of the School Committee is scheduled for Thursday, June 2, at 7 p.m. at the Melrose Avenue School.

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