Director of Teaching and Learning Alexis Meyers presented the district’s Rhode Island Comprehensive Assessment System (RICAS) results at Tuesday night’s school committee meeting, highlighting achievement in English Language Arts (ELA) and mathematics, but also raising concerns over low performance among students with Individual Education Programs (IEPs).
“We outperform the state,” Meyers said. In East Greenwich, a higher percentage of students are meeting and exceeding expectations in ELA and mathematics across all grade level.
Where the state overall only had 34 percent of students meeting or exceeding expectations in ELA and 27 percent of students meeting or exceeding expectations in mathematics, 51 percent and 55 percent of East Greenwich students did. These scores beat out the Massachusetts state average in math and tie with the ELA average.
Generally in Rhode Island, elementary schools tend to outperform middle schools with RICAS scores, according to Meyers. In East Greenwich, the third grade had the highest scores and seventh grade had the lowest.
Since switching over from the PARCC last year, districts have no way to compare this year’s standardized test score results to the last. The state has implemented a new school report card system, however, grading academic performance, student success and college and career readiness, Meyers said.
The number of stars a school can receive is dependent on their weakest category, though.
“Whatever your lowest point is on this matrix is what your overall school rating is,” Meyers said. “There is no average.”
Meyers pointed out that East Greenwich High School received all five stars, but the district still faces issues with scores among IEP and low-income students. In East Greenwich, more than 95 percent of IEP students are not meeting performance expectations and only 13 percent of low-income students are meeting performance expectations.
Town Councilwoman Caryn Corenthal, who herself works as a special education teacher, raised concerns over this from her seat in the audience, looking for ways that this may be improved in following years.
Others with children in the district asked how it could be possible for students to be receiving good grades in the classroom but be performing poorly on standardized tests.
“My daughter won the math award in Cole last year, and she barely made exceeding expectations,” one mother said. “It was pretty surprising. My son gets As and he barely meets expectations.”
Meyers said reasons for this could be because of a disconnect between the curriculum and the test. After doing an itemized analysis of each question and sitting down teachers in the math department, Meyers learned that 40 percent of the material students were tested on had not yet been taught in the classroom.
“If you’re getting As and Bs and you’re not meeting expectations on a standardized test, we’ve got a big disconnect,” Councilwoman Lori McEwen said. “Any parent should ask ‘What does that really mean for my child and grade level performances and abilities?’ Those are great questions to have with individual teachers on how they see those students succeeding.”
Unaudited 2018 budget reveals $437,000 deficit
The committee also received a presentation from the town’s temporary finance consultant, Michael D’Amico, on the school’s 2018 unaudited budget numbers.
The only thing that was stressed more than the fact that the numbers presented could change after the audit is completed, was that D’Amico had no idea why such huge swings were seen from one year to the next.
In some instances, items such as guidance and counseling were budgeted for nearly $150,000 less in funding for no apparent reason. Unsurprisingly to D’Amico, costs stayed relatively consistent. In some areas, such as instructional teacher salaries, technology hardware and even electric bills, some large, unplanned expenses.
“I tried my best to determine how that budget was created,” D’Amico said. “I’ve talked to a lot of people in the past few short weeks, and I can’t really pint down where [some] of those changes came from. There were a lot of hands in the pot making changes and adjustments. I don’t know.”
“Creating a budget is often a fool’s errand,” D’Amico continued. Since he wasn’t here a year ago when the budget was created, he has no idea what the thought process behind many of the changes were.
He estimates that this year’s financial deficit was $437,000, which although smaller than the previous year, is still significant. This number, of course, could change once the audit is returned. The audit timeline is still a ways off, however.
“When I joined about three weeks ago, the auditors and I sat down and went through the list of items they have not yet received from the town,” D’Amico said. “It’s longer than I would have hoped. It’s really behind.”
Although D’Amico and other town officials have been hard at work and anticipate meeting the extended February timeline, D’Amico said there’s still a lot that needs to get done.
The school committee also asked D’Amico about consolidating the town and school finances departments and opinions about the process.
Although he believes only one person would be needed for the amount of work that needs to get done, and consolidation could save the town lots of money, D’Amico noted that the job does come with some added challenges.
“The problem, and I’ve seen this in multiple places so I’m completely aware of the problem, is that it’s really difficult for the person who’s named the finance director to serve two bosses,” he said. “You’ve got a town manager and a superintendent, a town council and a school committee. I don’t care what job you have, if you have two bosses at work who are both giving you directions on any given day and both feel ‘If I ask for something, I should get it right now,’ that’s a really tough spot.”
D’Amico said with the right person, but also the right circumstances, it can work. If the school committee and town council are not getting along, he said it could put a finance director into impossible situations.
Although consolidation does have its perks, D’Amico said he does not want to undersell the difficulty of making it work.