Supt. Lukon unveils budget
Superintendent Marcia Lukon last week presented the School Committee with a $12,231,960 budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year. The spending plan, if approved, would be $349,710 less than the current fiscal year, a decrease of 2.78 percent.
The town’s contribution is $11,206,067, a reduction of 1.68 percent.
Lukon, along with Jane Littlefield, the School Department’s fi- nance director, began the Jan. 31 meeting with a PowerPoint presentation outlining key aspects of the budget. Out-of-district tuition – referring to money spent delivering special services to students who can’t receive those services in the district – again proved to be the most volatile issue.
According to Lukon, due to the wide spectrum of services and their variable nature, it is hard to predict how much the School Department will have to pay other districts to serve Jamestown students. The current budget only reflects presently known student needs.
But out-of-district tuition isn’t the only unknown. Lukon said there are other major mysteries for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins July 1. Those unknowns include the number of military students, fuel costs, federal grants and anticipated increases in insurance premiums. The figures in Lukon’s proposal, she said, were based on current military enrollment.
Moreover, according to Ken Duva, director of student services, preschool enrollment and estimated revenue may change because the state Department of Education is in the process of amending regulations. The new guidelines will outline the minimum number of instructional hours for children in prekindergarten.
By far the largest proposed spending decrease comes from the “other purchased services.” The category includes items such as tuition and transportation costs. The proposed budget forecasts $246,588 in savings over the current year. It also appears Jamestown will save slightly more than $41,000 in salaries next year. Those savings reflect four teachers retiring and being replaced by teachers at a lower pay grade.
The 2013-14 budget also forecasts approximately $15,000 in savings on electricity. Those savings are attributable to using greener technology.
Following the presentation, Jerry Scott of the Taxpayers Association of Jamestown asked if the more comprehensive budget report – which was given to the committee members, as opposed to the condensed version provided to the public – would be made available online.
Chairwoman Cathy Kaiser, who had both reports in front of her, asked what exactly he wanted to know.
“I don’t know,” he said. “You’re looking at a 4-inch thick book, and I’m looking at a 1/2-inch [thick report].”
Committee member Ryan Conlon told Scott that it was basically the same information, but the version the board members had was broken down into segments.
“The details,” said Scott. “The devil is in the details.”
“There’s no devil here, Jerry,” responded Kaiser.
Committee member B.J. Whitehouse said the reason for the difference in thickness was because of reference materials. He added there were no numbers in his version that didn’t appear in the budget that was made public.
Scott worried that the budget was not transparent enough. He said that he wanted to see individual teacher salaries, but was told that information was confidential.
He also criticized the budget for the disproportionate amount of funds spent on special needs. However, as the committee explained, the federal government mandates the vast majority of special-needs funding. It was also noted that few, if any, other towns in Rhode Island were able to offer the same in-district services that Jamestown provides.
Several staffing changes are included in the budget. An athletic director will be added, as well as two crossing guards. The crossing guards are being added due to parental concern of traffic on Melrose Avenue. An additional math teacher is also included in the proposed budget. The addition of a Lawn Avenue School math instructor, Lukon said, would increase math classes from an hour every other day to 50 minutes daily. It is anticipated that an additional math teacher will also allow increased instruction in science, Spanish and social studies.
Enrollment figures for fiscal year 2013 show an increase of six students in the Jamestown schools, and a decrease of two at the high school level.
The School Committee has scheduled two more budget workshops: Thursday, Feb. 7, at Lawn Avenue School, and Wednesday, Feb. 13, at Melrose Avenue School. Both meetings start at 7 p.m. The board’s next regular business meeting will be held on Thursday, Feb. 28.