2012-09-06 / Front Page

Tuition talk with North Kingstown officials heat up

NK school panel vice chair shows support to island
BY KEN SHANE

For more than 30 years, Jamestown parents have sent their children to North Kingstown High School. For the most part, the relationship between the two communities has gone smoothly, with local students getting a good education, and the town on the other side of the bridge receiving compensation that helped to enable the high school’s programs, and pay off the bond for the new school.

Now the portion of the Jamestown payments that have gone toward paying off North Kingstown’s bond have become the subject of a dispute. According to Cathy Kaiser, chairwoman of the Jamestown School Committee, when the new high school was built about 10 years ago, Jamestown agreed to pay a per-pupil portion of the bond payments. It was part of an overall payment that also included a tuition fee for each student.

Last year it came to light that the high school was keeping the bond payment portion of the fees and not passing them along to North Kingstown. The logic behind this was that if the bond payments were passed along to the town, the North Kingstown School Committee would have to turn around and ask the town for the money back in aid. Unfortunately, the North Kingstown Town Council didn’t see it that way.

As a result of the misunderstanding between the North Kingstown council and its school committee, when it came time for the most recent tuition negotiations with the Jamestown School Committee, the North Kingstown committee proposed that the bond payment portion of the fee be eliminated from the formula, and substituted by a new administrative accounting formula that would find Jamestown paying an additional $479 per student.

The Jamestown School Committee reluctantly agreed to the proposal in the spirit of compromise. However, the North Kingstown council was not happy about the agreement, and felt that Jamestown was no longer paying its fair share of the bond payments. The council requested a separate negotiation with Jamestown on the bond issue payments.

Kaiser and Jamestown School Superintendent Marcia Lukon met with North Kingstown Town Manager Michael Embury and explained Jamestown’s position. Kaiser said she didn’t know if Embury had taken the response to the North Kingstown council, but nothing more was heard until this year, when North Kingstown requested the negotiations once again. This time the Jamestown School Committee decided to put its response in writing.

In a letter from Kaiser to Embury dated Aug. 24, Kaiser lays out the Jamestown position in no uncertain terms. The letter lays out the history of the negotiations and disputes the manager’s assertion that the North Kingstown Town Council has the right to pursue bond payments independent of the North Kingstown School Committee. Kaiser’s letter also offers to return to the previous formula in which the bond payments were included in the tuition payments.

In a letter to the North Kingstown Patch dated Aug. 15, North Kingstown School Committee Vice Chairman Richard Welch stands firmly behind the Jamestown position. His letter includes praise for the Jamestown students who attend North Kingstown High School.

“First, let me begin by saying that the Jamestown students come to our high school very well prepared and are some of our most high performing students both academically and athletically,” Welch said. “Any school district would be very happy to have these students attend their schools.”

Welch goes on to point out that the cost of having Jamestown students attend NKHS is approximately $800,000 a year, while the tuition fees that are being paid total well over $2 million.

“So in any given year, it is apparent that we take in far more than it actually costs the district. These funds are then used to provide support for the entire high school program for electives, sports, honors and advance placement courses, as well as additional staff.”

Welch goes on to point out that the money being received by North Kingstown that is over and above the town’s actual cost is well in excess of the $260,000 that the town council is seeking from Jamestown in bond payments. He also cautions that Jamestown has the option of sending students elsewhere.

“We need to stop trying to force them to leave and thank them for coming because if they leave, you will see your taxes go up and hear the cheers from another school district that will welcome them with open arms,” Welch said.

“We have a very good relationship with North Kingstown, and Dick’s letter sums it up very nicely,” Kaiser said. “For the majority of school committee members there, we are appreciated, but there is a small faction that persists in saying that we’re not paying our fair share.”

Kaiser emphasized that the Jamestown School Committee considers what is being paid now to be fair. She said that whether or not North Kingstown profits on the arrangement is not her concern. What is her concern is that Jamestown pays that same amount per pupil that North Kingstown taxpayers pay. The profit results from Jamestown students being incorporated into already existing classes and programs.

According to the contract between the two towns, if Jamestown were to decide to send students to another high school, the town would have to inform North Kingstown by Nov. 1 of the prior year, and that would only apply to ninth-grade students. Students already enrolled at North Kingstown would be allowed to finish there. According to Kaiser, such a change is highly unlikely before this year’s deadline.

“It’s never a fait accompli that our kids will always be at North Kingstown High School,” Kaiser said. “At this point we’re very happy with the education that our kids are getting. Should any of the factors change dramatically in the future, like if the quality of education goes down at North Kingstown because of all the cuts they have to make, or if they are seeking additional tuition money from us, obviously we would reassess our options. We’re not committed without conditions.”

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