2017-06-01 / Editorial

School committee keeps costs low, education quality high

ANOTHER VIEW
BRUCE J. WHITEHOUSE

I’d like the opportunity to respond to an advertisement a local citizen’s group posted in both the May 25 and this week’s editions of The Jamestown Press.

To set the record straight, the town is asking the taxpayers of Jamestown to support a 2 percent tax increase not 2.36 percent as the taxpayer’s group stated in their advertisement. The 2.36 percent number is the overall increase which includes state and federal support. Two percent is what the town and school are asking of Jamestown taxpayers.

Educational programs is a restricted fund. Auditors tell us a healthy restricted fund should be 5 percent of the total budget. Five percent of the total proposed budget is $559,810 which is $19,769 more than what is in the educational programs budget at present. So, according to professional, independent auditors we are right on target. Think of this as insurance against unforeseen costs — special-needs students moving into the district, a busted boiler, charter school tuitions or a large influx of military family students with high school-aged students.

Starting each December, the school committee has to create a budget with major unknown, including transient student population and special-needs student requirements among many other factors. The taxpayer’s group alleges the restricted fund has gone up ‘every year.” In fact, it has gone DOWN every year for the past five years.

The school committee and town officials have tried to protect Jamestown taxpayers by creating a fund that will cover as many contractual contingencies as possible while investing the money to lessen the potential financial tax burden for residents. At present, the school and town have allocated and invested $1.15 million dollars to protect taxpayers from future contractual obligations known as other post-retirement benefits.

In coordination with the town, the school addressed this liability through the use of an irrevocable trust that has provided the stability necessary to maintain the town’s strong Aa1 bond rating. We remain only one of five communities in Rhode Island to maintain a Moody’s rating at this level, allowing us to take advantage of lower interest rates and significant savings when we need to borrow funds for long-term projects.

Student population is determined by a census in January. There are 110 students in PK-8 and 12 students in high school who are from (transient) military families, presenting a challenge in projecting the number of students who will be attending high school. In this proposed budget, our assumption is there is a difference of 13 students (freshmen) entering high school versus the seniors graduating this June. Average tuition is $12,415 (this does not include CTE or students out-placed or students with IEPs) for Narragansett High School or North Kingstown High School. The increase in tuitions accounts for, at least, $161,395.00 for fiscal year 2017-18.

The taxpayer’s group would like the town and school department to employ zero-based budgeting. Zero-based budgeting is a tedious and laborious process that strips the budget down to nothing every year simply to start again entirely from scratch. In fact, the school department has employed zero-based budgeting for the entire 10 years I have been a member of the school committee.

What do we get for our tax support? BOTH schools are listed as “commended” the highest ranking from RIDE. Other schools are visiting Jamestown to witness innovative practices. Volunteer robotics coaches are leading our students to national recognition.

We invite public comment. We invite you to our Thursday evening meetings and budget hearings with the town council. We ask for your support at the financial town meeting. We ask to assure the preservation of the republic through public education.

Bruce J. Whitehouse is the chairman of the Jamestown School Committee

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