School Committee scrutinizes its dollars

Fri, 02/17/2017 - 9:00am

The School Committee juggled a few issues at its most recent meeting, including a request from Supt. Judith Lundsten to reduce the number of days she is on island from 90 to 85, keeping the proposed 2018 budget to minimum increases, and to increase the number of hours a liaison to the island’s Spanish-speaking community works per week. 

Lundsten also informed the Committee that a plan to link an antenna from the school rooftop to one in Westerly as a way to bolster its broadband capacity was cost-prohibitive, and therefore Lundsten said she could not recommend moving forward with that option.

After speaking with a representative from OSHEAN – a Rhode Island-based non-profit that offers guidance on affordable broadband solutions to public facilities such as schools and libraries — Lundsten was informed that because the frequency would be transmitted over ocean waters, that frequency needed to be licensed. The licensed frequency, said Lundsten, would cost in the neighborhood of $100,000, and there would also be annual fees applied. 

“I am not going to recommend that,” said Lundsten. She did say that she was looking into a “Plan B,” but was reluctant to provide any more details until she did some more research into the matter.

It’s budget time, and the School Committee was looking into keeping the proposed 2018 budget to an increase of about 2.7 percent above last year’s appropriation. They were scrutinizing every dollar. 

A proposal to increase the hours of a Spanish-speaking liaison to the Latino community sparked some debate, even though the cost increase was about $1,700. Committee members, prompted by member Pat Doyle, said they wanted to increase the numbers for the current school year, so that the additional hours could be increased immediately.

“We have a significant Spanish-speaking population,” said Lundsten. It was said at the meeting that the school has between 27 and 29 Spanish speaking students, out of a total population of about 120.

“I think six hours a week is very important,” said School Committee Chair Bill Padien. “The motion is for this year, right now, in this budget. Not next year.” The total cost of $3,600 would be for the year, or $1,700 for the remainder of the current school year. 

When asked if she would prefer the expanded schedule, Principal Kristine Monje said, “If we can afford it, yes, but I don’t want it pitted against instructional materials.”

The motion to expand the schedule to six hours a week was approved unanimously. 

Supt. Lundsten also requested that her schedule be reduced to 85 days a year down from 90. Lundsten noted that the reduced days would also be less expensive for the town.

At this, member Pat Doyle said, “I feel from a personal perspective this would also be better for you.” Lundsten nodded her head in agreement. She noted that she was here two days a week and “things happen on those other three days.” She said she “feels strongly that there always has to be an administrator in the building,” and the team of administrators currently coordinate their schedules to ensure there is coverage. 

Doyle called for “a brainstorming session to see where you could get some support from other administrative staff.”

There is also a need for a vehicle for transporting special needs students, but estimating the cost of the new vehicle proved difficult. Some members of the Committee wanted to leave the line item for the bus blank, with a letter of explanation to the Town Council. The Town Council’s role is to approve the entire municipal budget that will eventually be put to the voters at the Financial Town Meeting in May.

Member Elizabeth Connor said she preferred to provide some estimate, even if it was too high, because the Committee knew that the purchase of the vehicle was inevitable. With insurance, driver, and lease costs figured in, the Committee approved an expenditure of $17,000 for the new vehicle. 

“I have full confidence it will be less when we go to the Town Council,” said Conner.

The School Committee approved a $5,037,318 budget for 2018, an increase of $123,229 over this year’s amount of $4,914,089.