School budget cuts could total $252,000 for new year

Co-principal, one teacher will also not be replaced
Thu, 01/30/2020 - 5:45pm
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There were only two school employees included in the revised list of recommended budget cuts on the School Committee’s agenda on Monday Jan. 27: Co-Principal John Canole, who resigned effective Tues. Jan. 28; and a special education teacher who is retiring in June. Neither is recommended to be replaced next year, reducing the budget by $153,315.

So far, no other personnel cuts have been proposed during the committee’s discussions on the proposed 2020-2021 school year budget. All of the other items on School Superintendent Michael Convery’s list of proposed reductions or eliminations are non-personnel items, ranging from paint purchases and library books to technology hardware and cultural activities. All have been discussed in previous School Committee budget work sessions.

The new total of the proposed cuts is $252,202. The two personnel cuts are 60.8 percent of the total; non-personnel items are 39.2 percent. (A complete list of the recommended budget cuts to date is on page 6.)

Convery has, however, given the committee members a list of ‘Other Areas To Be Considered Later,” which may include additional personnel changes. That list has not been discussed in the budget work sessions.

“We did non-personnel items first,” Convery said, rather than look to savings from eliminating staff and faculty jobs. The goal, he continued, is to keep the increase in local tax revenue for school support at 3.6 percent over the current year. The additional funds must be approved by the Town Council to be included in the budget presented to voters at the Financial Town Meeting on May 4.

Even that amount of an increase was concerning to the School Committee members. Chair William Padien said the town’s Finance Director, Amy Land, had told him the upcoming town budget was “tight.”

One notable change from the previous discussions was including out-of-district tuition in the 2020-2021 budget instead of paying that $124,000 expense from the School Department’s uncommitted fund balances, as Convery had recommended at the Jan. 13 work session. He explained that putting the tuition back in the budget will add to the school’s “maintenance of effort” baseline for state funding in future years, instead of substantially reducing the fund balances now.

Another change was the reinstatement of the dental program, which Convery had previously recommended for elimination. Convery said that after consulting with the B.I. Medical Center — which has provided dental screenings and some additional dental work to eligible children under a $7,500 annual contract – “I believe that we can cut $4,000 [from the contract] reducing it to $3,500.” Examining the program’s history, Convery said that of the 72 students eligible for the service two years ago, only 17 received cleanings and/or x-rays. Most students can present a card from their family’s dentist instead of having the work done at the Medical Center under the contract. 

“For the same level of required service,” Convery concluded, $3,500 will be enough. The recommendation is now to cut the dental program by $4,000.

Canole’s resignation earlier than expected

John Canole has been Co-Principal of the Block Island School for more than 10 years, most recently administering the secondary grades, and was planning to resign in June, Convery told the Committee. Canole said in his Jan. 13 letter that he chose to make his resignation effective on Jan. 28, “the mid-way point of the school year,” giving “the school department the ability to utilize the remainder of my salary to help off-set this year’s deficit.” (The projected deficit now stands at about $40,000, said School Finance Director Melanie Reeves.)

“I have genuinely come to appreciate the uniqueness of the island and I have become very attached to the students, faculty and staff of the Block Island School,” Canole’s letter continued. “Working in your school has been a wonderful and rewarding experience for me.”

Convery said Canole will return for about one full day in April or May to complete the teacher evaluations he is responsible for.

“Mr. Canole has been a strong supporter of education and a tremendous asset to the entire school community. He will be greatly missed and we wish him well in the future,” Convery said.

Padien said he would accept Canole’s resignation with regret: “He will be sorely missed. I really like the man.”

The vote to accept Canole’s resignation was unanimous, 4-0. (Member Kara Stinnett was absent.)

Canole’s mid-year departure will save the school about $15,000 in the year ending June 30. Not refilling the co-principal’s position will save $36,956 in the next budget.

The school now has four special education teachers and a Director of Special Education. The retiring teacher is at the top step of the salary range. Including salary and benefits, leaving that position unfilled next year will reduce the budget by $116,359.

Committee members were clearly uncomfortable with some of Convery’s recommended cuts. “I’m making a list of things I’d like to put back in” if possible, Padien said.

Member Jessica Willi was thinking of how the Committee could discuss possible staff and faculty changes, by name, especially without the persons affected present. Willi said, “There has to be a way to talk about this stuff.” 

Padien directed Convery to ask the School Committee’s legal counsel to advise them on Open Meetings Act provisions. A closed session may be added to the next budget workshop, scheduled for Feb. 4 at 7 p.m. at the school. The committee has scheduled a vote to adopt its budget recommendation to the Town Council on Feb. 10.

“Next week,” Padien concluded, “we have to fish or cut bait.”

List of school cuts

The New Shoreham School Committee is considering cuts in specific line items in the Block Island School’s budget for the 2020-2021 school year. The itemized spending reductions, and some increases, proposed by Superintendent Michael Convery to the committee are listed below. Amounts preceded by a minus sign are proposed reductions; offsetting increases have a plus sign. (Amounts and descriptions are as of Jan. 27, 2020, with notes in square brackets.) – Pat Tengwall

Recommended decreases:

Eliminate Secondary Principal due to resignation: -$36,956

Eliminate one Special Education Teacher due to retirement: -$116,359

Decrease Guidance Counselor from 85 days to 80 days: -$3,018

Move yearbook from extracurricular activity to actual course: -$2,422

Eliminate School Committee stipend: -$1,130

Reduce budget hours for Occupational Therapist due to history: -$1,899

Eliminate Project Lead the Way, engineering: -$3,000

Eliminate Trane contract [for HVAC maintenance]: -$15,000

Eliminate paint purchases: -$1,500

Eliminate cultural activities [for students not participating in sports]: -$6,230

Eliminate Boston and CloseUp trip funding [trips are in alternate years]: -$5,400

Decrease teachers’ travel expenses [for conferences, etc.]: -$1,500

Eliminate professional development for North Kingstown school district technical staff: -$2,700

Adjust dental program to cover required services: - $4,000 [originally proposed for elimination, -$7,500]

Eliminate yearbook funding [yearbook would become a course]: -$500

Decrease instructional supplies: -$5,000

Decrease athletic supplies: -$1,000

Decrease athletic honors and awards [local awards only]: -$500

Decrease athletic equipment: -$2,200

Eliminate technical education replacement machinery funding: -$1,800

Decrease bus fuel: -$1,500

Decrease maintenance supplies: -$2,500

Decrease lumber and hardware purchases: -$300

Decrease public textbooks: -$2,000

Decrease technology supplies: -$1,000

Decrease library books: -$1,500 [originally proposed for deeper cut]

Decrease technology hardware: -$10,000

Decrease professional organization fees: -$1,290

Change one employee health/dental insurance from family to single coverage: -$11,085

Performing annual gym floor coating in 2020 school year budget [instead of next year]: -$3,500

Subtotal, Recommended Non-Personnel Decreases: -$104,860

Recommended increases:

Change [expected] health insurance premium increase to 8 percent: +$11,386

Change [expected] dental insurance premium increase to 6 percent: +$1,973

Increase tuition reimbursement based on teachers’ contract: +$3,000

Increase rent based on new lease: +$1,000

Total of all recommended reductions and increases: -$252,202