2012-03-08 / News

Panel learns teachers’ salaries are public record

Also, board opposes bill that would give control of school’s finances to town
BY TIM RIEL

Superintendent Marcia Lukon shared with the School Committee at its March 1 meeting that salaries paid to teachers is public information. Lukon was tasked with finding out after a resident inquired about a spreadsheet of salaries and benefits so he could project trends in the town’s liability.

Taxpayers Association of Jamestown member Jerome Scott asked at the School Committee’s Feb. 16 meeting why he hasn’t yet seen the individual salaries of teachers. It was at that meeting that the school panel unanimously passed its $12.1 million budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

Committee Chairwoman Cathy Kaiser told Scott that she wasn’t sure if the board had the right to release that information. Lukon said she’d find out. What the superintendent learned was that salary and benefits paid to individual employees is considered public information under the Access to Public Record Act.

In order to acquire the records, the School Committee said that “requests for public documents must be made in writing, must clearly identify the specific records being sought and must state that the request is being made pursuant to the Access to Public Records Act.”

In other business, the committee unanimously approved a resolution in opposition of a proposed Senate bill that essentially will take financial decisions away from Rhode Island’s school committees and given to town and city councils. State Sen. John Tassoni Jr. (D-Dist. 22, North Smithfield, Smithfield) was the main sponsor of bill S-2239.

The proposed legislation would amend Rhode Island General Law 16-2-9 (“Relating to Education: School Committees and Superintendents”) so that school committees would continue to have jurisdiction over the curriculum and personnel, but the town or city council would control finances.

The bill would also eliminate verbiage that says the superintendent and the school committee are responsible for approving “expenditures in the absence of a budget,” and would also be amended to say that all contracts are “subject to the express approval by the city and town councils.”

An explanation of the proposed bill reads: “This act would vest school committees with the powers and duties over the direct provision of educational services, including, but not limited to, the hiring and retention of personnel, the content and curriculum to be provided, educational administration, and the pedagogy employed.

“In contrast, the city and town councils would have direct control over the direct financial aspects of the education, including total budgets to be extended, the amount of salaries, the grounds of the schools outside of school buildings including, but not limited to, outside maintenance, and any other direct expenditure of money.”

Tassoni points to the fact that most school districts are struggling financially, so the current system isn’t working.

Also, the School Committee agreed that it wasn’t going to make any changes to the Elizabeth Stone Scholarship Fund. The scholarship is a one-time award that is to be used for expenses associated with freshman year at an accredited four-year college. Each year as many as four scholarships of at least $1,000 may be awarded.

Along with a high school transcript and application, candidates must be Jamestown residents who submit a one-page essay explaining why they are applying for the grant and how it will be used. The essay review panel will have three delegates: School Committee member BJ Whitehouse, parent Nora Santamour, and former teacher Fran Gorman.

The committee’s next meeting will be held on Thursday, March 15, at 7 p.m. at Melrose Avenue School.

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