2013-03-28 / News

Work underway to upgrade school security

Renovations expected to be complete after April break
By Nick Pereira

New security doors are in place at both Jamestown schools. The new doors are the first stage of a security overhaul being conducted in the district, the School Committee said at its March 21 meeting.

Ideally, all security upgrades, including bullet-resistant glass and drop boxes, will be in place by the end of April break. Along with the renovated facilities, new procedures will also be introduced, said Superintendent Marcia Lukon.

“We want to give people a little time to adjust over the break,” she said.

In other news, the committee responded to a letter advocating higher pay for substitutes from island resident Lisa Tuttle.

According to the letter, there has been no pay increase since 2007. Currently, Jamestown pays substitute teachers $75 a day.

The School Committee reviewed a chart of rates paid to substitutes in nearby communities including Charlestown, Newport and Westerly. According to Chairwoman Cathy Kaiser, Jamestown pays substitutes similarly.

“I draw the conclusion we’re paying a comparable rate to neighboring towns,” she said.

“Honestly, that makes me think everyone is underpaid,” said Tuttle, a substitute. She then pointed out that if towns only paid the prevailing rate, substitutes would never receive a raise.

Kaiser said towns paid what it cost to retain substitutes, which is determined by the market.

Committee members also pointed out that Jamestown was close to finalizing a budget for the upcoming fiscal year. They said Tuttle’s letter was the victim of poor timing.

Last year Jamestown had 1,007 substitute days. “That would have a significant impact on our budget,” said Committeewoman Julia Held. “It would require a lot of explanation to the taxpaying community.”

Committee member B.J. Whitehouse sympathized with Tuttle. “I’m a former substitute myself, so I know it is one of the toughest jobs out there,” he said.

Tuttle has two boys, one at each school. She has lived in Jamestown for four years and worked as a substitute teacher the entire time.

In the past, parents have shown some concern over the number of substitute days in Jamestown. However, the School Committee generally accepted the number because many were due to full-time teachers attending workshops for professional development.

The school budget will be reviewed by the Town Council Thursday. With the date looming, the school board elected to take no action on Tuttle’s concerns.

However, the School Committee did commit to keep the letter on file and review it for the budget in fiscal year 2015. All members agreed that in order to retain high-quality substitutes, it was important to pay a competitive wage.

Also at the meeting the school board heard a food-service update from Lukon. Jamestown’s yield reimbursement, the amount earned from hot lunch, is up 6 cents a meal. That equates to $3,000 a year. Moreover, Jamestown either meets or exceeds standards set for healthy eating. Lawn Avenue School won a bronze award as a healthier school based on national standards. The award comes with a plaque and $500 towards the school’s food services. Melrose Avenue School did not apply for the award because the application presented too many bureaucratic hurdles.

Prior the meeting, the School Committee met in executive session and voted on the appointment of Jamestown resident Darlene Daft as the school district’s newest teacher’s assistant. Daft was unanimously approved.

Daft has two children in the Jamestown school district. She worked as a substitute teacher in town before accepting her new position as the seventh-grade assistant.

The School Committee also approved a resolution supporting the elimination of the master lever. The master lever allows straight-party voting.

“The master lever is ridiculous, but I’m a little mystified why it’s coming our way,” wondered Whitehouse.

He was told that the school board received a request from a statewide organization seeking to eliminate the master lever.

After a brief discussion, the committee unanimously voted to pass a resolution supporting the elimination of the master lever.

The School Department is also eliminating a piece of the lighting bill. Lew Kitts, director of buildings and maintenance, replaced grow lights in the sixth-grade hydroponics lab with LED lights. Although costlier up front, the lights last longer and cast off less heat. The grow lights are on for 14 hours a day in order to create enough light for the plants to grow.

“Over the course of the next year, the LED lights will save 2 million watts,” said Lukon, which is the equivalent of $200. “The plants under the LED lights have experienced a 30 percent growth-rate increase.”

In other news, for the third straight year the board unanimously approved a request to allow the seventh grade to sleep over at the Boston Museum of Science. “It looks really neat,” said Committeewoman Sarah Baines.

Lastly, Jamestown’s fifth-grade teacher Christian Bernardo was nominated for Rhode Island’s teacher of the year in social studies.

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