Charter talk rules Lincoln school budget discussion

Charter talk rules Lincoln school budget discussion

Almond: 'Stop demonizing' parents and students who choose charter schools

LINCOLN - As is often the case when officials discuss the school budget, talks during a Budget Board meeting last week centered around charter schools - and got stuck there.

The School Committee's chairwoman Kristine Donabedian and vice chairwoman Mary Anne Roll spent the better part of the Wednesday night meeting talking about the increase in charter school tuition payments over the past few years, and the projections that indicate the numbers will continue to rise.

They made their case to the Budget Board that this increase in out-of-district payments coupled with the end of the state funding formula phase-in period could mean "a huge hit" to the budget, and to schools that seek to maintain a variety of high-level programming.

But Budget Board Chairman Carl Brunetti pointed out that in the proposed budget for FY15, 81 percent of the operating costs are for salaries and benefits, leaving 19 percent for everything else.

He asked, with the school population projected to decline as Lincoln residents age, would that not mean a reduction in staff?

Donabedian explained that 50 students leaving the district does not mean the reduction of two classrooms, but rather that a bunch of classrooms just have one or two fewer students. The fixed costs remain the same, she said.

Tense discussions continued during the meeting, which is just one of many held before the Financial Town Meeting in May. By that time, decisions will have to be made to reconcile the $1.2 million difference in what the School Department proposed and the $50.96 million Town Administrator T. Joseph Almond allocated in his budget.

The proposed school budget includes a $500,000 increase in the local appropriation.

Almond sat in the audience at the meeting with the few teachers and residents in attendance and only spoke during public comment. He said students leaving the district is not a new problem, as private schools have attracted students for years, and that the issue is not a funding one.

He said they need to "stop demonizing" parents and students who choose charters.

Out-of-district tuitions are a "universal challenge," Almond said, and part of a larger debate.

Almond later told The Breeze that "the inordinate amount of time and effort being put forth to discredit and challenge the advent of public charter schools is a distraction from the real issues that need to be focused upon. Public charters are a reality, they are a product of state law, and will continue to exist."

Almond said the current ratio of certified teachers to students is 10 to 1, and per pupil expenditure is approximately $16,000. The proposed budget will educate a projection of less than 3,200 students, he said.

He said the town has come to "a financial crossroad" as state aid and gaming revenue decline and a Massachusetts casino is set to open. From 2004 to 2013, he said, the student population has declined from 3,706 to 3,182.

"So while I do believe that it is appropriate to increase school funding by 2.78 percent next year, which is an amount the town can afford without increasing taxes," Almond told The Breeze, "I do believe we have reached a financial crossroad in school funding and that the School Committee must now act expediently to identify and implement the appropriate institutional changes that reflect the student population it serves, the new state funding formula for education and the fiscal restraints we have all had to cope with."

He continued, "In light of the expiration of additional state aid, these fixed costs associated with wages and benefits will become unsustainable and impede the ability to maintain desired staffing levels at the schools."

Brunetti pointed out at the meeting that eliminating one position at the high school could mean saving $100,000. Roll acknowledged that the day may come when the district has to cut 15 teachers, but that it should be noted that it could have an impact on Lincoln's "diverse" programs, including those for special education.

"If you shrink your program, if your program becomes less rich, we will lose more students," she said. "What has attracted them here in the past will keep them here in the future."

Donabedian shared projections provided by Blackstone Valley Prep Mayoral Academy that in a "worst case scenario" where all Lincoln seats are filled, there could be a 40 percent increase between fiscal years 2015 and 2016.

School Committee member John Carroll, who had stayed relatively quiet when charter conversations were held in the past, chimed in to defend school choice.

"What always concerns me is using words like 'worst case scenario,'" he said. "We're talking about providing excellent education."

He said while Lincoln also provides "excellent educational opportunities," the challenge should be in focusing on how the district can compete with longer school days, a longer school year and a rigorous program.

Carroll also took issue with Budget Board Vice Chairman Hagop Jawharjian's assertion that Blackstone Valley Prep releases "skewed" scores that highlight only certain grades' accomplishments.

Carroll said scores are based on the NECAP tests taken by every school.

"It's not skewed," he said. "The score is the score."

And it is the scores that work as marketing for the charter school option, Carroll said.

At the School Committee meeting Monday night, Roll announced that the district would be looking to hire a media consultant.

Comments

Sorry Lincoln, but welcome to our world.

- Cumberland

The Lincoln School Committee needs to step up to the plate and take on Administrator Joe Almond.

A huge conflict of interest exists between Administrator Almond and the Charter Schools, specifically with the Blackstone Valley Prep Mayoral Academy where he currently serves on the Board of Directors.

There Administrator Almond has set himself four key responsibilities for the Mayoral Academy:

1. Financial Support and Oversight
2. Public Relations and Advocacy
3. Active Participation in BVP Mayoral Academy Sponsored Events
4. Demonstration of Good Faith in all Activities Related to BVP Mayoral Academy

Where does Administrator Almonds loyalty lie?

With this observation, where is Almonds commitment to the Lincoln Public Schools?

There isn’t one, because in Lincolns Town Charter there is a clause that prohibits duel office holding.

Amended 7-1-1971; 11-10-2002]
No person shall be eligible to hold any paid office or employment or to serve on any board or commission in the Town government who holds any other Town office or serves on any other board or commission, or holds any civil office, legislative, executive or judicial, in either the state or federal government, except that of notary public or member of the National Guard or Military Reserve, and except as otherwise provided in this Charter or by general law.

(This means Administrator Almond handles the municipal end of Lincoln, and the School Committee handles the schools).

In addition the Town Administrator has not been granted the powers or funding by the voters to enter in such issues.

Just because the State of Rhode Island offers enabling state legislation to create Charter schools does not mean that the local cities and towns that participate in such programs have the right to do so!

They first need a major Local Town Charter Change to be approved by the voters of Lincoln. Let them decide if they want to fund two separate schools systems. Let the voters decide if they want to inherit multi-million dollar buildings needing to be built and maintained. Not to even mention the legal liabilities that come along with them. Has anyone ever asked about the legal exposer of these Charter schools to the town?

In the Town of Lincoln`s Charter we have a public school system that is designed and paid for by the people of Lincoln! There is nothing in local law that allows for tax payers monies to be spent outside the scope of operations within the Lincoln School System! In addition these charter school funds are above and beyond the standard operating budget. Thereby taking away from the needs of our local schools!

So why is this happening???

I feel the Question here is, if Administrator Almond feels the Lincoln School system is lacking then why does he not work for the betterment of our own schools? In addition why is the Administrator even part of these discussions anyway? There is not one law that gives Administrator Almond the oversight of the school system nor has he any ability to dictate policy. Simply the School Committee does! By right the Administrator should handle his own issues and leave the Education to the School Committee. Administrator Almond is sticking his nose into matters he has no business in doing so!

Mr. Almond is trying to strengthen our financial stability and balance the many elephants in the room. The town can lose sources of income but each year education costs rise along with everything else. Bills go up; electric, cable, water, sewer, fire, and residential tax rates which means the bottom line does. Many people don’t get raises every year and the richness of benefit packages is diminishing. Decision making requires and open mind. It doesn’t make sense to go with the status quo here. While I would never want to see anyone lose their job, if that’s the remedy then go with it, or come up with innovative ways to keep staff and take some/more sports programs away (I am an athlete) too. I love sports. Our teachers love Lincoln, the school system, and their students. Our diverse programs would take a little hit but they would work harder to see that students would not be adversely affected. I strongly believe our teachers would utilize the variety in their skill-set to see a successful transition. Our Fire departments should have the same thinking too.

Additionally, I hope we don’t hire a media consultant as this is little Lincoln, not Hollywood. It’s another cost even if it’s budgeted, surplus labeled or rainy day tagged. If a media consultant is hired the faces of our teachers, school administrators, and school committee would be lost. Hopefully, we will always hear directly from our school leaders; they are the ones we put our trust and investment in.

When everyone is meeting, talking about the challenges ahead, and deciding on what needs to be done there should be transparency, accountability, and the ability to see it from the eyes of others. Coming up with viable and sustainable solutions where all entities benefit is much better than results with ulterior motives stamped on it. It should be a win-win.

At the School Committee meeting Monday night, Roll announced that the district would be looking to hire a media consultant.

Please do tell more.
Does the queen have that many media requests?