N.K. committeeman says island students not paying fair share
North Kingstown School Committeeman Bill Mudge is once again calling for tuition increases aimed at Jamestown students, saying the contract between the two school committees has cost taxpayers in his town millions over the last decade.
But not everyone is buying it.
In a letter to the North Kingstown Patch on April 30, Mudge said N.K. Superintendent of Schools Phil Auger claims North Kingstown has made a profit of about $1.3 million annually over the last two years by providing a high school education for Lawn Avenue School graduates.
“I find no empirical evidence that supports this conclusion,” he wrote, using figures from fiscal year 2011. “If you have been unwittingly persuaded by Dr. Auger’s unsubstantiated rhetoric, it’s time for you to hear the truth, the whole truth, about Jamestown tuition rates.”
Mudge admitted to beating the drum in the past, but said he had been ignored, both by North Kingstown’s school board and town council. He accuses Kim Page, chairwoman of the school committee, of a “coordinated effort” to keep the “public uninformed.”
Mudge claims that Jamestown pays less per pupil than North Kingstown taxpayers. He says it costs $2,000 less to educate a Jamestown child, amounting to more than $420,000. Jamestown pays $19,000 per Lawn Avenue School eighth-grader, according to Mudge, but that number decreases by $8,000 when a student is sent to North Kingstown to attend ninth grade.
Both Auger and Page refute the numbers, as well as Cathy Kaiser, chairwoman of Jamestown’s school board, who wrote a letter to the N.K. school board after reading Mudge’s.
“I am left scratching my head at the figures Mr. Mudge provides,” she said. that Mudge didn’t use actual figures, but rather estimates. “For a contract this substantial, the school committee did not use approximations or averages,” she said. “The contract called for audited amounts that were published by the Rhode Island Department of Education.”
The per-pupil cost to attend North Kingstown, according to the state, is $11,049 for North Kingstown residents and $10,195 for Jamestown children. While Mudge claims that Jamestown’s per-pupil cost “includes transportation,” the cost to bus students over the Verrazzano Bridge to campus is not part of the contract. “Transportation costs are not included because we provide our own transportation,” said Kaiser.
According to the Education Department’s Unified Chart of Accounts, Jamestown spends less than the $19,000 that Mudge reported, although Kaiser does admit the number is higher than most districts.
“As a small district, we are unable to achieve the same economies of scale that are possible in larger districts,” she said.
The UCOA figures are $15,391 per pupil on the elementary level, $16,725 for each student at Lawn Avenue School.
“We continue to believe that basing the tuition formula on N.K.’s high school per-pupil cost is what is fair for both districts and defensible to the community,” said Kaiser.
Mudge also said a provision in the contract between the towns call for a yearly joint review between the school committees, but that has not been the case. He says contract talks haven’t been transparent.
Since 2001, when the last Jamestown contact was signed, Page said there have been 23 North Kingstown residents on the school board. She added there have been five superintendents, three business administrators and more than 25 town councilors.
“There was no conspiracy by myself and the other 50 people who served North Kingstown to cheat the town residents for the past 12 years,” she said. “The $3,370 per person for 200 students per year for 10 years that Bill Mudge calculated as millions lost to fraud and mismanagement, is nothing more than his math error.”
According to Auger, Mudge has quarreled ad nauseam about the tuition contract since taking office.
“I’ve said it a million times, but every other district in the state would love to have this arrangement,” he said. “They’re great kids. We have room for them. They help make our school better. This isn’t some kind of conspiracy. We’ve been fully transparent. As I see it, there are no problems and we hope the relationship continues into the far future.”
Tuition negotiations between the towns are expected to take place in June.
Administrative assistant Janette Warner said Jamestown Superintendent of Schools Marcia Lukon deferred comment to Kaiser.