2018-05-10 / Around Town

School Committee Changes Times, Collects Debts

By James Merolla

The Newport School Committee discussed a candidate for the position of principal of Thompson Middle School at the May 8 executive session, unanimously voted to change school starting and ending times for Rogers High School, Thompson Middle School, and Pell Elementary School at the open meeting and voted to collect school lunch debts.

The Thompson candidate’s name was not shared, and no decision had been made on the candidate at the time of the open meeting.

On school start times, School Committee Chairman David Hanos, Jr., said, “All have to change.”

The new September starting times were last in place during the 2015-2016 school year but were changed to give high school students an 8:15 a.m. start, after the committee discovered that some studies showed students performing better if they started school later.

Rogers High School Principal Jared Vance said that the later start times caused multiple problems for Newport students, as students from Middletown, Portsmouth, Tiverton, Jamestown, North Kingstown and Narragansett school districts all start their high schools at 7:30 a.m. and come to Newport for Newport Area Career & Technical Center classes. “It was impacting the start and the end of the day for all of our kids,” he told Newport This Week, and was also causing busing dilemmas.

Four-hundred-fifteen surveys returned from families at Rogers, Thompson and Pell were in favor of the new start times.

“It was overwhelmingly positive from all three schools,” said Vance.

“There have been discussions all throughout the district about this,” said Supt. Colleen Jermain. She added that the bus companies are compliant with the changes.

“Last year, we started [picking up children at] Thompson first, then we went to Rogers, then we went to Pell,” said Jermain. This year, the order of pick-up changed to accommodate the starting and ending time changes, she said. “The bus companies said they will be able to deliver and pick up our students on time.”

New times for each school in September will be as follows: Rogers will start at 7:30 a.m., end at 2 p.m.; Thompson will begin at 8 a.m., and end at 2:30 p.m.; Pell will start at 8:30 a.m. and end at 3 p.m.

On the subject of school lunch debt, the committee voted 6-1 to change how the schools may pursue collecting unpaid school lunch fees from families who can afford to pay them.

“We adopted a policy here in Newport last year that we wouldn’t do ‘lunch shaming.’ We agreed to feed students who couldn’t pay their lunch bills adequately,” said committee member Rebecca Bolan. “But there is also an issue in collecting outstanding debts.”

The change calls for hiring a meals advocate to identify all students whose families do not qualify for free or reduced lunches, who, essentially, can pay for school lunches but don’t. If they do not pay, after reminder letters go out, their bills will be turned over to a collections agency.

Currently, Bolan said, the unpaid school lunch debt in Newport hovers at over $27,000.

“Parents who are not legitimately able to pay will not be involved in this process. These are people who can, but don’t,” added committee member Jo Eva Gaines.

Business Manager Carlos Colley told the committee that there were no up-front costs, that if a collection agency was hired, they would keep a percentage of the lunch debt payments they collected.

In other matters

. Business Manager Carlos Colley discussed the remainder of the 2017-2018 and possible 2019 school budget, answering many questions about grants, salaries and expenditures, but it was all preliminary, leading to a joint budget sub-committee meeting with the City Council later in May.

. New security cameras have been installed at Rogers High School and are operating.

. Certificates of Achievement were given out to the All-State Orchestra and Chorus, as well as the RHS Robotics Team.

. A resolution, introduced by committee members David Carlin and Kathy Silvia, was read, honoring Assistant Superintendent Sidney Williams, naming him Newport Public Schools Historian, and congratulating him on his 90th birthday. “I’m honored and very appreciative of the fact that you have seen fit to confer this honor upon me tonight,” said Williams.

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