2011-06-09 / Front Page

Superintendent discusses other high school options

By Geoff Campbell

Superintendent Marcia Lukon asked for the School Committee’s endorsement of her plan to determine if East Greenwich and Portsmouth are interested in being a potential host high school for future Jamestown graduates. If the districts prove to be interested, Lukon said she wanted to conduct a preliminary review of the schools.

The June 2 meeting of the Jamestown School Committee was brief but substantive. Lukon explained that although the five-year review of high school options occurred last year and included North Kingstown High School and Narragansett High School, she has done some additional research as part of an on-going effort to insure the best next step for Lawn Avenue School graduates.

“I have spent some time analyzing recent data, not only about NKHS and Narragansett, [but] also about two other area high schools that I think might be viable options,” Lukon said.

She reminded the group that both the East Greenwich and Portsmouth schools were part of a review some years before, but in the intervening years it was not certain that there would be room for Jamestowners.

Lukon said with the drop in population, sufficient space now exists. She requested the committee’s endorsement to “investigate interest and viability” to make “overtures to those two districts.”

She also said that she wanted to request a financial proposal from Narragansett High School “if we should choose to send our students to Narragansett.”

Lukon said that some achievement data from all three other districts, including New England Common Assessment Program scores, is superior to North Kingstown’s at this point.

She added that additional data she reviewed included AP exam scores, graduation rates, per-pupil expenditure rates and average SAT scores.

Committee member Julie Kallfelz spoke in favor of endorsing the superintendent’s plan. “As long as Jamestown relies on another community for its high school, we have an obligation, both a financial obligation and an educational obligation, to make sure that we are making the best choice that we can for our students and our taxpayers,” she said.

Kallfelz continued, “Our contract with NKHS is by mutual consent, so while we certainly feel an obligation on our part to make sure that this is the best choice for our students, at the same time North Kingstown School Committee has that same obligation and they review this contract annually. At any point, any year, this contract could be non-renewed on the part of NKHS.”

“It’s only logical that [Lukon] know and understand all of our options,” she added.

Kallfelz said that she hopes parents will understand and support the committee’s ongoing due diligence necessary to insure the best education for Jamestown’s students.

“While we have stated that we will have a five-year review process,” Kallfelz said, “it’s an annual basis [on which] we have to reevaluate this.”

The committee expressed its agreement.

Following a question from committee member Sav Rebecchi as to the details of the North Kingstown contract renewal process, Lukon reminded the group that each November either party could end the arrangement, thereby hosting only those students currently enrolled through their graduation date.

The committee members were complimentary of teachers, administrators and district management of North Kingstown. They did not seem certain that the North Kingstown School Committee is as unifi ed in its support of hosting the high school for Jamestown as other districts might be.

Committee member B.J. Whitehouse said, “We would be doing our students a disservice if we didn’t look into it.” He said that the School Committee should look at both achievement scores as well as financials.

“Information is a good thing,” he added. Each committee member supported the superintendent’s intention to fully explore what each of the three districts might have to offer Lawn Avenue graduates who are among the highest achievers in the state, according to both NECAP scores and public statements made by state Department of Education Commissioner Deborah Gist. The committee endorsed by consensus the superintendent’s plan to mine interest of the two districts and to conduct a preliminary review.

In an effort to explore potential cost savings, the School Committee Chairwoman Cathy Kaiser and Finance Director Jane Littlefield invited district retirees to a meeting that included Blue Cross Blue Shield representative Mark Gagnon. The School Committee had authorized the conversation some time ago and the meeting proved to be informative for both sides. Littlefield said that the meeting was “fairly well attended for the time of year,” and she added that an additional meeting is being considered.

The savings, approximately $8,000 per retiree on a family plan, would occur if the retiree voluntarily moved from the school’s current health plan, Blue Cross Blue Shield’s Healthmate Plan, to the insurer’s Plan 65, an option that includes enrollment in Medicare Part A for portions of the coverage.

Kaiser explained that during the discussion it was made clear by Gagnon that Plan 65 requires retirees to pay the Medicare Part B prescription plan cost of $114 per month. Kaiser posed a question to the committee. If the district intends to make Plan 65 a viable voluntary option, does the district intend to pay the $114 out-of-pocket expense for the retiree?

Committee member Julia Held asked if the cost of Plan B is likely to increase dramatically in the future. Littlefield said that annual double-digit increases were very unlikely given the history of the stability of costs of Part B over time.

Littlefield explained that the potential savings is net of the possible reimbursement by the district of the Part B expenses. Savings for a retiree on a single plan would be $2,200, according to Littlefield. She explained that most of the retirees are on the family plan and she reminded the group that only retires who have reached 65 years old would be eligible for Plan 65.

Littlefield and Kaiser described the retirees as open-minded, even after learning that there was a potential out-of-pocket expense. Held reminded the group that the School Committee’s original discussion of the topic included the provision of a one-year trial period of Plan 65 after which a retiree could return to Healthmate. The committee agreed with Held’s recollection and indicated that including a trial period remained their intention.

Kaiser reported that interest in trying the plan was evident at the meeting, provided Part B costs were reimbursed.

Littlefield said that she is hopeful that the next meeting of retirees will include people already on Plan 65 so that they can share their experience with the program.

Each of the district’s contracts, in place at the time of an employee’s retirement, lays out the terms of health insurance cover- age for employees in retirement. Therefore, some employees retired under a contract the terms of which required mandatory enrollment in Plan 65 when qualified. Other contracts include terms that allow retirees to remain on the Healthmate Plan throughout their retirement. Reimbursing the outof pocket expenses for Part B for employees currently on Healthmate and willing to voluntarily move to Plan 65 is part of an effort by the School Committee to incentivize the switch.

Kaiser said that if the committee was in favor of moving in the direction of reimbursing Part B costs for any retiree choosing to make the switch, a letter “re-explaining” specifics of Plan 65 and of the committee’s intention to reimburse related out-of-pocket expenses should be sent.

Held made a motion and the committee voted unanimously in favor of authorizing “the finance director and the school administration to make a proposal to reimburse the cost of Part B of Plan 65 to any retires who would make a voluntary switch from Healthmate to Plan 65.”

Kallfelz reported that the Elizabeth Stone Scholarship Fund Committee has reviewed 13 applications, the most in the threeyear history of the scholarship program. The scholarships are awarded to “to deserving high school graduates” and are “to be used for expenses associated with freshman year at an accredited four-year institution of higher learning.”

She described the applicant pool as “a very strong and very diverse group of students, all with compelling cases.”

Kallfelz added that the committee’s recommendations would be made to the School Committee at the June 16 meeting.

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