2013-04-18 / Front Page

School board lowers cost to use facilities

Rotary Club said prices too high to hold May Breakfast
By Nick Pereira

Members of the Jamestown Rotary Club and Conanicut Island Art Association attended the School Committee’s April 11 meeting to hear about a 60-percent reduction in the cost for nonprofit organizations to use school facilities.

While for-profit companies face a rental fee, nonprofits only have to pay custodial and usage fees. The usage fee was set three years ago, but the School Committee decided at last week’s meeting to lower the cost from $100 to $40.

Lewis Kitts, director of buildings and maintenance, said the cost incurred by nonprofits is to offset the energy charges used to run the room, as well as hallways and bathrooms. Typically, the school would be closed at that time.

The reduction in cost is due to savings from environmentally friendly measures. According to Kitts, energy-efficient lights save $30 dollars an hour, while waterless urinals save an additional $10 hourly.

Members from the Rotary and CIAA argued that much of the money they raise goes to schoolrelated affairs like the eighth-grade field trip to Washington, D.C. Because the schools directly benefit from the nonprofit events, the Rotary and CIAA said they should benefit further reductions in the costs to use the facilities.

However, the School Department faces custodial costs that the school board feels uncomfortable offsetting with the donations. According to Kitts, the union’s contract for custodial staff sets a minimum pay.

“There is a contractual minimum of three hours,” he said. “Sundays, holidays and evenings when school is not in secession are time and a half.”

Kitts said substitute custodians who are not legally bound to union contracts are impractical. “They aren’t trained to open or close the schools,” he said.

The School Department currently allows groups to rent the Melrose Avenue School auditorium for functions like breakfasts or art shows. The possibility to use Lawn Avenue School is being worked on.

Also on the subject of money, Town Council Vice President Mary Meagher told the School Committee that the councilors were looking for additional savings for the upcoming budget. She said they might have to ask the School Department to find additional savings, adding that the spending plan for fiscal year 2014 was projected to be $400,000 more than last year.

Meagher said that her presence was “nothing official.”

“I’m just apprizing you of the situation,” she said.

Meagher said the Town Council is aware that the School Department has already cut costs. She said the councilors are grateful of the committee’s efforts to reduce its budget.

“But we are hoping and we ask that if you have more you can offer, we would appreciate it,” said Meagher.

Projected savings in healthcare costs and state aid that failed to materialize spurred Meagher’s visit.

Finance Director Tina Collins was in attendance at the meeting and announced $80,000 in savings for the upcoming fiscal year. The budget decrease is due to several students indicating they would attend private high school. The town will not pay tuition fees for those students to attend North Kingston High School. However, she said that number isn’t set in stone. It was also announced that two special needs students might enter the district next year.

Based on the new developments, the committee unanimously voted to approve a revised budget $12,126,215. The taxpayers’ contribution totals just under $11.1 million, $317,036 less than the current fiscal year.

In other news, the School Committee heard a presentation about the district’s comprehensive assessment system. The current system stems from the No Child Left Behind Act. Essentially, the assessment system is a series of tests given at intervals that allows teachers to gather data on student progress.

“The tests are nationally recognized progress- assessment tools,” said Kathy Almanzor, director of curriculum.

The tests allow teachers to systematically evaluate a student’s progress over time. “Progress monitoring,” said Almanzor. “You hear that in education all the time now.”

Almanzor says monitoring student progress over time provides a great deal of information to the School Department about each student.

“The important thing is what you do with the information,” said Superintendent Marcia Lukon.

School board members wanted to know to what degree parents were kept apprized of the testing.

“How much do parents get involved?” asked Committeewoman Sarah Baines. “What are we hearing from parents?”

“Not a lot,” responded Principal Carole Melucci.

Jamestown students currently take a battery of tests. The exams they take include the New England Common Assessment Program; Degrees of Reading Power; Scholastic Math Inventory; Scholastic Reading Inventory; and quarterly writing assessments.

According to Lukon, more parents tell her that their kid is bored than parents who say their kid is being tested too much.

However, some people disagreed. “Teachers are saying it is too much assessing,” said Almanzor.

In fact, several teachers attended the meeting and disagreed with Lukon. They said assessments take up too much class time and they cover material not taught in class. Another concern is that poor assessment performances could ruin a student’s confidence.

In lighter news, Jamestown students showed no lack in confidence when they conducted an art presentation to the school board following the scheduled business meeting.

Students showed the committee members artwork they had made ranging from Japanese style to impressionism. Older students studied advertising logos and explained the “America Runs on Dunkin’” campaign to the committee.

“This is great,” said Committeewoman Julia Held. “It’s really fun to see what you’re able to do.”

Lastly, this week is April break for the district. When classes resume next week, new security procedures are expected to be in place. As of now, Jamestown has not released those procedures.

“It gives a nice break so people can prepare for the changes,” said Lukon.

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