School Committee move to eliminate pensions for future members
Eugene Nadeau feels that no elected official deserves to have a pension and has proposed a resolution exempting all newly elected school committee members after November 2012 from being eligible to collect a pension. With the support of his colleagues on the committee, Nadeau may soon get his wish as the committee unanimously approved first passage of the resolution Tuesday.
“No elected official should be eligible for any pension, and that goes for everybody,” Nadeau said. “I think we’ll be the first [elected group] in Rhode Island [to not have pensions], so maybe it’ll catch on. If we don’t set the example, then we’re hypocrites; hopefully, this will be an incentive for others to follow.”
Nadeau said, currently, members must serve six years on the committee before being eligible to participate in pension collecting, which starts at age 60. The resolution is scheduled to be on the agenda of the committee’s next regularly scheduled monthly meeting in September and, once approved, will go into effect.
In other committee news, a somewhat lengthy meeting agenda belied the quick and efficient meeting that lasted little more than an hour. Items approved by the committee included an art donation by the late Esther Chester; maintaining current out-of-district tuition rates for FY 2013; adding a teacher position at Park Elementary to accommodate English Language Learner (ELL) students and address classroom weighting; adopting a revised FY13 budget; and extending the Blackboard Connect (Connect-Ed message system) contract for another three years at no additional cost to the school department.
The Esther Chester art donation featured thousands of pieces, including original framed music series, framed musical series lithographs, framed oil paintings, lithographs, framed and unframed small paintings and postcards, worth a total of $225,900. School Committee Vice Chair Patrick Maloney said the pieces were donated to Warwick Schools to be used to raise funds for the music department.
“It’s a wonderful collection,” he said. “It’s unbelievable to have people that are so willing to give back to the students.”
Maloney said some pieces have already been placed at Toll Gate High School as well as the administration office, and he hopes additional pieces can be placed, or rotated, through the other schools to allow students and staff to appreciate and enjoy.
With regard to out-of-district tuition rates, Director of Business Affairs Anthony Ferrucci said the procedure for establishing tuition rates charged for students outside the district that attend Warwick schools, which the committee adopts each year, is to take the preceding year’s approved rate and increase it by the percentage increase of the committee’s adopted budget for the proposed school year, and since the difference between FY12 and FY13 is less than one percent it was recommended to sustain the current rates.
Robert Bushell, director of elementary education, said an additional teaching position is required at Park School after two additional ELL students were screened and qualified for the ELL program there.
“Unfortunately, they are both second graders and the two second grade classrooms have 23 and 25 students, weighted at 28 for both classes,” Bushell said. “These additional students will bring the classes over the contract limit. Also, 24 and 26 students are too many for this grade level.”
Bushell said the position would not be specific to second grade, nor would it be for one year only.
“We often have third grade students go back to their home school,” he said, adding the additional position is not in the budget and will be supported by local funds. “We have a better chance of success with a smaller class size.”
Addressing the revised adopted FY13 budget, Ferrucci explained a portion of the potential local fund surplus of $1.68 million for FY12 would be used as carryover dollars into the FY13 budget in order to offset various authorized expenditures, including projects that have begun but have not been completed, and therefore can’t be counted as spent in the FY12 budget. He said the carryover funds totaled $904,384. Of that, $600,000, the largest amount, will be used to increase professional development stipends to cover training sessions in August 2012 and March 2013. Other funds will be used to address an increase in salary and fringe benefits to fund projected staff costs. Projects started but not yet completed include implementation of the food service point of sale system in the junior and elementary schools, the school department’s computer room relocation and costs associated with special education teaching strategies. Following approval of adding the carryover funds, the department is left with a revised balanced FY13 budget of $156,996,741.
With regard to the Blackboard Connect contract, for the Connect-Ed messaging system, Ferrucci said when the contract was signed it was for three years, with an option to extend but prices would be revisited. However, after talking with Blackboard Connect, Ferrucci said he was able to confirm the company agreed not to raise prices if the district chose to extend the contract for another three years.
Following the agenda portion of the meeting, Nadeau expressed his displeasure with Commissioner of Education Deborah Gist and the recent school rating system implemented by the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE), which labeled several Warwick schools as “typical” and put others on warning status.
“I’m angry about schools being placed on warning status by RIDE. It’s Gist who should be put on warning,” he said, which was met with applause from teachers in the audience. “I’m serious. When you have [schools in] Barrington and West Greenwich [rated] lower than [schools in] Providence, there’s something wrong with the rating system that they keep throwing at us. It’s disgracing Warwick and we don’t deserve this.”
Darlene Netcoh, an English teacher at Toll Gate, spoke in support of Nadeau’s comments.
“The school classification system is obviously rigged in favor of charter schools, the ‘darlings of the state,’” she said.
As an example, Netcoh used the Met School, which had a 15 percent proficiency rating, up from 4 percent in 2009, and compared it to Warwick’s overall proficiency rating of 57 percent, which she acknowledged could be higher.
“But none of our schools should be on warning [status],” she continued. “Barrington and West Greenwich are already highly above average, so they can’t go much higher, and when you don’t improve your rating goes down.”
Netcoh praised Warwick schools and staff.
“We have a good school system, and principals and teachers in the buildings that are working hard to make sure our students succeed, and it’s disheartening to be told we’re ‘typical’ and to be put on warning,” she said.