BY DAVID PEPIN
The School Committee is hoping to squeeze one more new position into the fiscal 2012 budget it sent on to the Town Council Tuesday night.
The committee voted 6-0 to submit a budget proposal of $33,038,353, a 3.86 percent increase over the current school budget. The council is scheduled to adopt a final budget by May 15 after its own deliberations.
The final school budget proposal calls for 3.3 new positions: 1.3 itinerant teachers, a third-grade reading teacher at Frenchtown Elementary School, and half-time reading and behavioral specialists at East Greenwich High School. The initial budget offered by Finance Director Mary Ann Crawford had called for the high school positions to be full-time, along with a full-time technology assistant.
Committee members are hoping some breaks in the numbers, however, will enable them to afford the hiring of an instruction coach, a move supported by Superintendent Victor Mercurio and Director of Student Services Paula Dillon.
The position, Dillon said, is a means of helping teachers design math and literacy programs and activities to bolster the curriculum for both advanced students and those struggling to achieve their grade level.
“The coach would help design instruction for both enrichment and skill level. It’s a flexible position, and he or she can go to different classrooms,” she said, adding that the structure is already in place to put one at Eldredge and Hanaford elementary schools.
Mercurio said in addition to helping teachers who have to arrange classroom extras on their own, a regular instruction coach would encourage more student participation. The position has already been added to school staff in Barrington, he said.
“You’d also be getting a consistent message between schools,” he added.
The position’s fate will be decided by the vagaries of the budget process.
Crawford said there is only $70,000 leeway in the submitted budget (to the maximum 4.25 percent hike in local revenues under state law) to fund the position, but sufficient money for its salary and benefits may come from increased state aid and teacher retirements.
She level-funded state aid at $1,275,563 in her revenue projection, but said the number could rise to $1.4 million if Gov. Lincoln Chafee’s plan to use a newly revised General Assembly education aid formula survives the state budget process. Chafee submitted a budget proposal to state legislators Tuesday night that would increase overall state aid to education by $13.2 million.
Also, Crawford said, a higher-than-anticipated number of staff early retirements could free up additional money. She said 14 teachers have submitted preliminary paperwork for early retirement, with two already having decided to retire and two determined not to be eligible. She projected six, or half, of the eligible teachers will take retirement.
“There’s a few unknowns, but you’ll see them unfold over the next four to six weeks,” she said.
Nonetheless, committee member David Green, while expressing support for enrichment programs, questioned whether they merited the creation of a new position.
“I hear about a full-time person training teachers to do what they should be doing already. I’m struggling with the decision to add another $100,000 position,” he said.
Chairwoman Deidre Gifford, though, supported the potential additional staff member.
“It would bring enrichment programs to a wider group of kids,” she said.
Committee member Paul Martin was not present.