2018-06-07 / Around Town

Newport Schools Request Funding

By Andy Long and Leif Walcutt

Superintendent Colleen Jermain presented the latest projected budget at a joint meeting with the City Council on June 4, framing the basis for a request in increased funding.

"This is an opportunity to present what your needs are and differences between last year and this year,” Mayor Harry Winthrop said.

According to the School Committee, proposed expenditures will result in a deficit of nearly $650,000 in the 2018-2019 school year. The committee requested an increase in funding of $220,000.

Jermain said the increased costs stem from a rise in students who are English Language Learners (ELL), which will require additional staffing amounting to $120,000, and $100,000 for legal fees for bargaining purposes.

Winthrop said the council will take the school committee’s information into consideration. No concrete decisions were made regarding the budget.

Students who do not speak English increased this year to 233 from a total enrollment of 2,191. Additional funding for the students is due to a state mandate stipulating that if a school system’s limited English-speaking population exceeds 10 percent, the budget must provide the necessary resources.

Jermain said the state will provide $25,000 to help bear the costs associated with having the students, but the mandate requires adding three staff positions.

She also said that the retirement of 10 teachers with salaries at or near the top of the pay scale, to be replaced with less expensive instructors, will result in savings that can be apportioned to the new teachers.

Winthrop requested further clarification for the legal negotiation budget request. “Why do you outsource your negotiations? All budget negotiations in the city are done in-house,” he said.

Jermain said that $100,000 is needed to negotiate upcoming labor contracts. The School Committee doesn’t have a staff attorney and hires one at an hourly rate. The teachers’ and other staff contracts will expire this year.

Other rising expenses include health, dental, life and liability insurance costs, energy costs and contracts for transportation.

Jermain has prepared for the projected shortfall by laying off seven teachers, along with other savings, in unspecified areas.

She discussed the school system’s alliances with private sector companies and non-profits that provide services and opportunities for students.

“We look at our community partners and how we can leverage these partnerships, so it doesn’t add more costs, but builds more of an investment in our community and children,” she said.

For example, she said, the East Bay Community Action Program picks up the costs generated from having children being transported to school before the morning bell, often by parents who must get to work. Another grant of $150,000 from the Barr Foundation of Boston, said Jermain, which was matched by the local van Beuren Charitable Foundation, pays for professional development and integrating technology into the classroom.

Electric Boat, another donor, the manufacturers of the Navy’s submarines at yards in New London and at Rhode Island’s Quonset Point, is contributing $50,000 towards the technical training programs.

At the end of the session, Councilor Kate Leonard questioned the true cost of Newport’s schools, saying, “I think the people need to know that the city provided services and funding by taking them over from the School Committee and paying for them.”

Leonard was referencing that the city provides payroll and accounting services for the schools without charge. The city also pays the interest on the bonds that financed the construction of school facilities. She said the true cost of the school system, if the city’s shared services costs are included, approaches $44.7 million, or about $20,414 per pupil.

Jermain, while not endorsing those numbers, said that when she was hired as superintendent, “My direct charge was to share services. The good news is that we’ve been very successful at it.

“What I believe is that the children and the future of the Newport community is based on being able to have young, bright, educated people that want to live in this community, that are able to afford to live in the community, and realizing [that] it is an investment in going forward.”

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