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NK School Committee makes its first cuts

May 13, 2011

NORTH KINGSTOWN—Two weeks ago, North Kingstown Superintendent Dr. Phillip Thornton cautioned the NK School Committee that if the town council did, in fact, level-fund the school district for fiscal year 2012, the resulting cuts necessary to bring the proposed budget into compliance would “cause a lot of pain in the district”.
Tuesday evening, that pain became very real.
In the first of what appears to be a long series of discussions on potential reductions to the 2011-2012 school budget, Thornton outlined a list of recommendations Tuesday night, some of which the school committee voted on, in an attempt to slash approximately $863,000 from the school’s proposed $44 million dollar budget.
The committee approved the removal of proposed addition of a second and a fourth grade teacher at Stony Lane Elementary, moves that will increase class size from 18 students per class to 24; the removal of one school bus from the school district’s fleet; the elimination of a 0.5 library clerk at Wickford Middle School and the elimination of a maintenance position that will go unfilled after the current staff member retires this year.
In all, the approved cuts will slash an estimated $245,000 from the school’s initially proposed budget.
The most hotly-contested items—elimination of the hockey/gymnastics programs from the athletic department, outsourcing custodial and food service work and the potential shifting from a 12-month to 10-month work year for school clerks—were no closer to resolution after Tuesday’s three-hour meeting.
The four cuts that were made from Thornton’s list of 11 potential reductions came after rigorous debate. School Committee members Richard Welch, Kimberly Page, Larry Ceresi and Joe Thompson all approved the individually motioned reductions, member Mel Benson dissented on each vote and member Bill Mudge abstained from each vote, stating he needed “more information” on other potential areas of savings before he could decide one way or another.
School Committee member Lynda Avanzato was absent from Tuesday’s meeting.
“One of the things to think about is that are these are the Superintendent’s recommendations of what he thinks will have the least impact on our education. All of these are going to have an impact on education, it’s just a matter of what will have the least impact,” said Page, who chaired the meeting. “There are always going to be things on here that none of us want to cut. Obviously we would have preferred getting more money, being able to have the other budget but that isn’t what our reality is.”
Among the possible cuts tabled for future discussion are the elimination of a 0.2 business teacher, a 0.7 speech teacher and a 0.2 reading teacher at Davisville Middle School. Combined with the above-mentioned cuts to athletics, custodial and food service and school clerk scheduling, Thornton’s proposed reductions would slash a total of $475,000 from the total budget, about half of the cuts needed to bring the total down to last year’s final number.
Nearly every school committee member encouraged Thornton to come up with a list of other options to get the budget to a zero-percent increase.
For Mudge, the focus was on further evaluating the Jamestown contract and looking deeper into the proposed increases in supply costs, an increase Thornton said is nothing more than the change in accounting practices. Benson, meanwhile, cautioned the committee and asked for further discussion before deciding to cut any teacher positions or sports.
Ceresi and Welch both favored discussions on the merits of sending out an RFP for groundscrew work within the district, a topic the committee couldn’t or discuss or vote on Tuesday because it was not on the agenda.
Ceresi also proposed that Thornton ask the athletics department to draw up a budget that features an overall five-percent reduction in costs, rather than a budget that simply eliminates two programs. He also stated that a study of food service prices should be conducted to see if the district could raise prices while still staying comparable to other districts nearby.
“These are the brutal facts,” Thornton said. “The town council cut us to zero, There’s no good place to go here, folks. This is the good list. From here, it gets worse. This is the list I have. I realize some of it will get voted up, some of it will get voted down. That’s part of the process. I’ll come back with things that are equally or more uncomfortable. That’s the job to get to zero at this point.”
The North Kingstown School Committee will hold a special Budget Sub-Committee meeting to discuss the next round of potential cuts Tuesday afternoon at 1 p.m. at the Central Administration building.

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