School playground opens after oil spill

DEM issues clean bill of health
Thu, 04/11/2019 - 5:45pm

Block Island School Superintendent Mike Convery told The Block Island Times that the school’s playground area, impacted by a fuel oil spill, was given “a clean bill of health” by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management on April 8, after soil sampling was conducted at the site.

Convery said the playground was shut down on Monday, March 18 after fuel oil spilled from a vent pipe onto the side of the school building, and then onto the grounds. The exact cause of the spill is still being investigated.

“The soil samples came back clean,” said Convery, who noted that the holes that were dug into the earth near the building by an independent agency for remediation and soil samples would be filled in, and the playground would be reopened by the weekend. The area had been roped off, and an independent agency dug holes that were a few feet deep at the side of the building to conduct their work.

During the School Committee’s meeting on Monday night, Convery said, “We still don’t know why the spill happened, and, more importantly, why it stopped. The systems that failed should have stayed failed, and not stopped.” Convery said that the town’s Facilities Manager, Sam Bird, is looking into the issue.

Union contract

Convery told The Times that the school would be changing the payroll calendar year start date for school related personnel, such as secretaries, custodians and teaching assistants, from January 1 to September 1.

The reason for the change is that the New Shoreham Employee Association union contract that was agreed to a few weeks ago would short vacation time for school related personnel under the Jan. 1 start date. Convery said the 11 people classified as school related personnel work full-time at the school 10 months out of the year, while the 40 town employees in other departments work year-round.

“That gives some of the vacation time back,” said Convery, who noted that he met with Town Manager Ed Roberge on Tuesday to discuss the matter. After some discussion, Roberge agreed to the change. An addendum will be drafted to accommodate the change.

Convery said the union contract led to vacation time being accrued “based on actual hours worked, versus days, as had been done in the past.”

On the positive side, Convery noted that the new contract calls for “a 20 percent wage increase over a three-year period across the board” for school related personnel. He also said employees would receive full individual health care and the town would pay 50 percent of family health plans, or about $450 per month.

Committee Chair Bill Padien said, “The employees are getting a lot of benefits from the new three-year contract. They’re getting more in wages and health benefits that they didn’t get before.”

At Monday’s School Committee meeting, the committee voted unanimously (3-0) to approve the NSEA union contract for school related personnel. The Town Council had unanimously approved (5-0) ratification of the contract at a recent meeting.

Prior to the contract’s approval being granted, Convery said the contract created “some controversy,” as school related personnel were concerned about a loss of vacation time. The controversy prompted Convery to meet with Roberge to discuss the issue.

With its approval, the committee also voted unanimously to approve adding an addendum, to address the vacation time issue. Committee member Annie Hall was recused from the discussion.

Spending freeze

The School Committee unanimously (4-0) approved freezing discretionary spending for the year after Convery informed the committee that the school was projecting a $35,082 deficit for fiscal year 2019. “We are projecting overspending on maintenance and repairs,” said Convery, noting that $14,000 would be spent for maintenance and repairs of the school’s HVAC system, and $20,000 for plumbing needs.

“Since we’re at $35,082 in the red, what does everybody think about freezing anymore discretionary spending for the rest of the year?” asked Padien.

“I think that’s a good idea,” said Convery.

School Principal Kristine Monje said that some departments, like wood shop and ceramics, might have a need to purchase supplies. She said those departments typically hold off on spending their budgeted funds until the end of the school year. “They don’t drain their budgets. So they might need to order some supplies to keep their programs going,” she said.

“If it’s needed supplies that should be fine,” said Convery. 

New school sign

In other facilities news, Convery said that Bird spoke with the contractor, Billy Rose, regarding installation of the school’s new sign. The sign is in the process of being installed near the flagpole at the front of the property.

“That’s exciting,” said committee member Annie Hall.

Bird told The Times that, “The school committee requested that the new sign be installed and picked the location. Billy Rose is doing the installation. The foundation was poured on Saturday, and after the concrete is cured Billy will install the sign.”