NORTH KINGSTOWN—In his latest attempt to reduce the 2011-2012 school budget, North Kingstown Superintendent Dr. Phillip Thornton presented a new list of recommended cuts totaling $771,566 Tuesday afternoon during the School Committee’s Budget Subcommittee meeting. If approved, these cuts would result in the elimination of 10 class sections at NK High School, two third-shift custodians at the high school and cause a six percent reduction in funding for the athletic department.
The cuts, part of a plan to bridge a gap between what the school department proposed for its FY12 budget and what the NK Town Council ultimately approved, factor in the council’s level-funding of the district (a decision that eliminated a proposed increase of $713,417), a projected $150,000 loss due to food service costs and revised figures related to state aid ($30,000), Medicaid ($100,000) and Jamestown special education ($150,000).
The reductions, which will still have to go before the School Committee before being enacted, would also ask the district to offer early retirement incentives for five full-time employees. This would, in theory, shave a total of $125,000 off the total $44 million dollar budget as higher-paid employees leave the district’s payroll and make way for Step 1 replacements.
Thornton’s cuts are on top of the $245,000 in reductions already approved by the School Committee during their meeting last Tuesday night that eliminated one bus from the district’s fleet, two teachers from Stony Lane Elementary School, a 0.5 library/guidance clerk from Wickford Middle School and a $40,000 maintenance position that will go unfilled.
Not everyone in attendance agreed with the cuts suggested.
School Committee member Bill Mudge feels Thornton’s recommendations don’t go far enough in addressing what’s really wrong with the school district’s budget, namely the funding the district provides for charter schools and, especially, the tuition rate for students from Jamestown.
“I’m not trying to screw Jamestown,” Mudge said after stating he felt the whole issue was a “farce” and was handled in a “deplorable” way by the school committee last week.
“I’m just trying to get all the facts on the table,” he explained. “There’s a differential in state aid [between North Kingstown and Jamestown]. We’ve been getting hosed for 40 years. All I want to do is have the discussion on the table and get all the info looked at and this school committee in the past has refused to do that. Shame on us.”
Mudge offered a list of cuts for Thornton to consider in addition to the ones the Superintendent recommended.
For one, Mudge contends, there is $350,000 worth of savings to be had in the supplies and materials line items, savings Thornton says don’t actually exist because Mudge is misinterpreting the accounting in the budget.
Second, Mudge suggested cuts of $100,000 each to IT services, hardware and ADM Salary and Benefits, not to mention the proposed $200,000 savings he said could be achieved by conducting a survey of the district’s transportation patterns to find out whether or not they’re as effective as they can be.
Mudge also pushed Thornton to consider having the school committee attempt to find a way out of funding charter schools, saying he doesn’t understand why the district can’t ask for a waiver out of that state requirement since it is not “a failing district.”
Thornton, however, refused to sign off on the idea, stating that when the district accepted federal money for the Race to the Top program, funding charter schools was one of the conditions it agreed to and he didn’t feel comfortable going back on that agreement.
In all, Tuesday’s meeting was merely a chance to continue discussion on the budget matter as a whole. Thornton will present his recommended cuts to the school committee during its meeting next Tuesday and, depending on how many are approved by the seven-person panel, will then work on drafting a final budget proposal.
Mudge, for one, has already said he will vote against every proposed cut, stating he still feels he lacks enough information to make an informed decision.