School committee looks to raise support for school budget
The School Committee meeting on Monday, March 17, began with a “Happy St. Patrick’s Day” from committee Chair Bill Padien, but then the group got down to business.
Two topics dominated the discussion. With budget season in full swing, the school budget was one. There was also continued discussion concerning the organization of the middle grades.
Superintendent Robert Hicks offered his observations on the budget. The school presented an overall $4.816 million budget to the town for 2014-15, with the town appropriating $4.665 million. (The town’s appropriation is a 3.9 percent increase over this year’s budget.) The town recommended reducing the school budget proposal by $86,597.
Hicks pointed out that with a decrease of approximately $30,000 in healthcare costs due to enrollment in the healthcare pool, called the Inter-local Risk Management Trust, the budget gap wasn’t as bad as originally thought. But Hicks went on to say that since teacher pay has been frozen for two years, and new contracts are looming in the near future, the school could not afford even the approximate $56,000 decrease. According to Hicks, there are also several fixed costs relating to retirement contributions, issues resulting from the town audit and student costs that need to be paid no matter what.
Padien made a request to the school committee members and to those in attendance to drum up support and go to the town budget hearings to make a plea to the town not to cut the school budget as recommended. (The school committee was scheduled to meet with the Town Council on Tuesday, March 18, at a budget session. See related story on page 1.)
Hicks also handed out a graphic that tracked how much of the town’s budget funds the school system, which showed a decrease of the school’s percentage of the town’s budget. The percentage of support has dropped from 57 percent to approximately 50 percent. In addition, the amount allotted to the school from tax increases over the years has also been slowly decreasing. Members of the school committee found the graph to be helpful and will consider making it a part of their presentation to the town during the budget process.
The committee continued its discussion on blended classes, with specific attention to reorganizing the middle grades. Hicks said he has been looking into this issue due to the upcoming retirement of one teacher and another retirement coming in the near future. The new models up for discussion did not eliminate any teaching positions but, along with grades six and seven, would place grades five and possibly grade four (now self-contained classes) into more of a traditional middle school structure.
“These models are not perfect and are proposed to stimulate thinking on what will work and what won’t work for the Block Island School,” said Hicks.
Committee member Pat Doyle felt that no matter what model the school chooses, a strong emphasis needed to be placed on reading and writing. She suggested that a writing component be attached to the school’s summer reading program. This sentiment was backed by committee member Elizabeth Connor, who said she finds that some of the young people applying for jobs at her company (she is the manager of the 1661 Inn) don’t possess adequate writing skills.
Hicks said that Block Island School students were doing quite well in reading and writing and he felt he needed to better inform the community of this fact. Even with Block Island students doing well, Hicks assured the committee that a strong background in reading and writing will be looked for in any new hires to the middle grades.
More information on the school’s budget, middle grade models and New England Common Assessment Program results are available at blockislandschool.net.