School Committee looks at capital planning
The need to dip into reserve funds to pay the cost of severance and post-employment benefits for retirees was averted at the end of the 2012-2013 school year when the New Shoreham School Department discovered it had the necessary funding to cover retirement costs.
Superintendent Robert Hicks, in a memo to the Block Island School Committee that was presented at its meeting on Aug. 19, said an early estimate had indicated department reserves would be down to $13,000. However, a recalculation disclosed that the 2012-2013 year closed with an increase.
In the memo, Hicks said of the change: “Primarily this was caused by the need to set aside funds for severance and post-employment benefits for retirees... When the year closed, however, we were able to accommodate the retirement cost in the 2012-13 year without impacting reserves and were also able to avoid the planned use of reserve funding of the 2012-13 budget. In the end, the 2012-13 year closed with an increase of reserves, rather than the planned decrease.”
An addendum to Hicks’ memo stated that the department had an uncommitted balance of $84,404 after setting aside 3.5 percent of the budget in reserves. Hicks added that the budget had not gone through a final audit and that the numbers were subject to change.
The increase will allow next year’s budget planning to begin, and Hicks indicated that among the building issues he and Maintenance Director Scott Nelson considered important to address were carpeting in the elementary hallway, water intrusion in the lower level rooms, and playground area drainage.
Other upgrades being considered, Hicks said, were replacement of a lift located between the art room and the cafeteria that accesses both elementary levels at “hopefully less” than $30,000; addressing security — replacing the front door and room locks — the anticipated cost was $23,000. Renovation of the façade on the old portion of the school building was also under consideration, “through the Town capital budget setting aside part of the cost of roof replacement ($74,300).” Setting aside approximately $15,000 would also be necessary “for smaller building projects,” Hicks said.
Though no vote was needed, the committee approved the direction Hicks was going on capital planning, and he agreed to update them on future progress in this area.
Hicks presented the committee with a summary of education-related legislation passed in Rhode Island this year. Of the list of 17 bills passed, Hicks highlighted several: one related to security, in which an assessment must be done by school and town officials — including fire and police departments. The superintendent said he would keep the committee posted on developments.
However, he added that there seemed to be some contradictory directives — one requiring public posting of safety plans and another “that exempts plans to protect student safety in the event of a catastrophe from the public records act.” Hicks said he needed advice “to figure this out.”
On a practical level, while the local school already runs fire and evacuation drills regularly, now the requirement will be to have them twice a month, every month. Hicks noted, “We can no longer concentrate drills in good weather months.” When asked whether the students would have time to grab their jackets in winter, Hicks replied, “No stopping for coats!”
On the requirement to have CPR training at the school, Hicks said, “We exceed the state demands. Among the legislation proposed, a Rhode Island House bill urges that “the Board of Education reconsider current graduation requirements... and that the Board of Education delay the state assessment... to allow for adequate time for students to be immersed in the Common Core Curriculum.”
Hicks echoed concern for another pressing issue — one that is being addressed all over the island — that is the lack of sufficient bandwidth at the island school. At an earlier meeting, Hicks had agreed to draft letters to the Town Council, Governor Lincoln Chafee, the Department of Education, Deepwater Wind and to other relevant state and municipal officials in an attempt to create awareness of the situation.
Presenting his draft to the committee for review, Hicks asked for comments and suggestions. Chair Bill Padien and member Elizabeth Connor urged that the language be changed to create a resolution. In the meantime, the letter remained a work-in-progress.
Padien announced the annual back-to-school breakfast for faculty and staff would be held at the 1661 Inn at 8 a.m. on Aug. 28. He asked committee members to attend in order to greet returning and new staff.
On their first day back, Hicks said, faculty members would work on the Common Core Curriculum.