School budget request is an under-two-percent increase
Block Island School Committee chair Bill Padien took clear pride in announcing February 11 that the school’s request to the town this year would be only 1.9 percent higher than last year’s. In real terms, the request represents an increase of $83,872 in town appropriations — from $4,417,861 in 2012-2013 to $4,501,733 for the 2013-2014 budget. The school’s total proposed operational budget is $4,686,596.
After months of work chipping at away at expenses, there was relief on the faces of committee members as they voted to approve the budget. Superintendent Robert Hicks would now transmit the budget to Town Manager Nancy Dodge. The budget will be part of the larger town budget presented to voters at the Financial Town Meeting in May.
Responding to the auditors’ recommendation that the committee set aside reserve funds between 3 percent and 3.5 percent to capital expenses, the group voted for 3.25 percent ($25,137). This was directed to the repair or installation of a lift and to roof repairs or replacement. This amount would be deducted from an unassigned fund balance (as of end of Fiscal Year 2012) of $223,986.
New administrative structure
The committee also approved the re-organization of the school’s administrative structure. which includes the continuation of one half-time principal and adding one full-time principal whose duties would also include those of curriculum director. In this capacity, his or her responsibilities would include what Hicks termed “teaching and learning.”
Hicks said the cost of creating a full-time position “is offset in several ways: the elimination of one of the current part-time co-principal positions; the reduction of the number of days worked by both the remaining co-principal (90 to 75) and the superintendent (90 to 80); with an in-house hiring, the salary differential between a replacement and a top-step teacher; a reduction in the need for curriculum consultation services, typically paid from grants; and a small savings in travel.”
Explaining the reference to an in-house hire, Hicks said later that there would be a considerable cost savings from hiring from within the school staff — in the range of $50,000, he added.
The net operational cost of the administrative re-organization going the in-house route would be close to $6,500. Hicks also recommended maintaining the 75-day special education director as part of the administrative structure. Discussion followed on the need to set up a search committee and to advertise for the new position, as well as to re-advertise for the co-principal slot. The group also noted it would have to advertise for two teacher positions vacated by retirements.
Though Hicks had announced the retirement of art teacher Teri McCombe and second grade teacher Barby Michel at the committee’s previous meeting, he presented members with copies of letters from both teachers. Expressing the committee’s sentiment, Padien said while they would accept the resignations with regret, he personally wished he could refuse to do so. He noted the contents of the letters were very moving. Hicks concurred, saying: “Teri and Barby are absolutely magnificent teachers. I have felt it a pleasure to have spent three and a half years with them.”
In her correspondence, Michel wrote, “I am proud to have contributed to the growth and achievements of the Block Island School. In 1974, my fifth and sixth grade classroom was in the storage closet of the cafeteria, the books were worn and outdated, the curriculum was three pages long and there were no special subjects. Despite these limitations, the spirit, energy and commitment of the community to the school was extremely strong. My own commitment and dedication to the Block Island School has only increased over the years and will continue after retirement.”
Noting she was retiring after 39 years, as the “longest serving employee of the [school] and of the [town],” Michel added, “I am very fortunate to have been able to have a career that I love, in a place that I love, for so many years.”
McCombe wrote, “I am very privileged to be Block Island School’s art teacher since 1983, entrusted with the care of young minds and the joy of creating art with them. Every day has been an adventure. My students’ energy is palpable, and their enthusiasm for life has continually led me to reflect upon my own.” She explained that when she first came to the island 30 years ago, “there was no art program in a resort town that boasted multiple galleries and was residence to numerous successful artists. The community recognized the compelling need for children to express themselves proudly and threw their financial support behind the art program.”
Reflecting on the changes, McCombe said, “It still amazes me that I was once ‘art on a cart.’ Now I leave an established curriculum, a beautiful facility and college art scholarships through our partnership with Block Island Arts and Crafts Guild.”
Reporting on the fall 2012 New England Common Assessment Program tests, Hicks said that in testing of third, eighth and 11th grades in reading, math and writing, the island school scored fourth in the state, coming in behind Barrington, East Greenwich and Little Compton. As usual, the scores for the 11th grade were not made public because the class numbers were below the 10 required by the state.
“I look at the scores as part of a longer term improvement,” Hicks said. “Last year, we made tremendous improvement.” Noting some “slight drops” in math and writing scores this year, Hicks nevertheless believed the school was still moving significantly in the direction of overall improvement.
In another report, Hicks shared a chart indicating changes in attendance rates since implementation of the new school schedule of four extended days Monday through Thursday and a shortened Friday. Compared to the 2011-2012 academic year, the overall rates of attendance in 2012-2013 tended to go up from September to November, remain the same in December, and drop in January 2013. Hicks attributed the decline to an outbreak of flu.
The committee accepted bids from Hull’s Suburban Propane and Greenscape Mowing Services; transportation was still in discussion and no bids were received for freight or housing. The school will continue housing for administrative staff with the same homeowner at the same rate.
The committee authorized a stipend for Robert Closter, which he requested, for his role as assistant varsity coach for Girls Varsity Basketball.
The committee also retroactively approved a request for homeschooling a youngster for a week out of school in January. The group decided it wanted to make sure that in the future all such requests are received well before the intended time period involved.
Padien reminded the board of the upcoming Close-Up trip to Wahington, DC, for which he said “lots of fundraising is going on.” Though students from all high school grades are eligible to participate, this year seven students representing the ninth, 10th and 11th grades will take part.
The next meeting was scheduled for March 18.