Cumberland school budget hike reflects uptick in spending

Cumberland school budget hike reflects uptick in spending

Wearing "Go Google" T-shirts, 8th-graders Hannah Ballou and Colin Langton demonstrate how they would work together on class projects using Chromebooks. As they worked, during last week's School Committee meeting, their progress was projected for all to follow along.
Supt. Thornton wants a notebook computer for every middle schooler

CUMBERLAND - A pair of eager 8th-graders wowed the School Committee members last week by showing off just one application possible with the Chromebook personal computers that Supt. Philip Thornton wants to put in the hands of all 1,100 middle-schoolers next year.

Described as mobile computer devices, the 11.6-inch Acer 720 Chromebooks represent a $451,500 line item in a budget that would require $1.54 million more from taxpayers next year to support an overall 4 percent boost in school spending.

Thornton is describing the Chromebooks as "transformational" for students.

Budget hearing dates were expected to be announced this week and the school spending package is due at Town Hall by April 7.

To demonstrate the Chromebooks, social studies teacher Tanya Rao focused on the post Revolutionary War economy.

Attacking a DBQ - document-based question - students Hannah Ballou and Colin Langton of North Cumberland Middle School, began collaborating in front of school board members and onlookers on a single Google document projected on a screen for all to see.

For 10 minutes or so they shared ideas as they moved toward the goal of a final report that would be edited, corrected and rewritten to completion, all as a computer document.

Rao didn't use the words "paperless classroom," but that's the scenario she described as she talked about the mounds of data and drafts that she'll no longer be printing out or copying.

Internet information replaces textbooks and reference materials in the process she described.

For example, when the students encountered the word "supercilious," they used the online dictionary to look up its meaning and insert it in their texts.

Rao talked about finding online original documents, including a picture of George Washington taking his first oath of office in a simple wool suit, and Paul Revere's own letter about events of the Revolutionary War. Look-ups are quick and fun, she said.

The students' demonstration was followed up with comments from McCourt Middle School educators who described the many benefits that Chromebooks offer special needs students. The compact computers relieve students from the piles of ragged papers and dog-eared folders they currently lug around - and often misplace.

Among many more uses, the computers also open up more opportunity for using a variety of learning software, educators said.

Supt. Thornton is suggesting a $451,584 investment in this "one-to-one" computer initiative, with more spending ahead as, one high school grade at a time, Cumberland students acquire the Chromebooks and move into 21st-century learning, as McCourt Principal Jay Masterson described it.

The computers will give all students equal advantages, increase access to information, and free up teachers' time.

Related to the purchase, Thornton wants to put new technology coaches in each middle school library.

Other proposed programming additions are at the high school:

* An Apple music lab, $25,000;

* A "solid works" lab to replace the computer-aided drafting lab, $12,000;

* Project Lead the Way to launch a biomedical pathway, $35,000;

* One and one-half additional English language learner teachers to meet a growing need that's led the state to identify Cumberland as a "high incidence ELL district;"

* Middle school band program restored.

Other big expenses next year are an additional $578,475 in charter school tuitions for a total $2.89 million; and an added $270,500 in state pension costs.

Thornton's budget report to the School Committee argues that Cumberland taxpayers can afford to do better by schools.

"With a median income that is 14th out of 39 cities and towns, according to the last census taken in 2010, and a tax rate per $1,000 that ranks in the bottom half of statewide property taxes, the capacity to raise taxes to support both the town and school budgets has been more available than most other Rhode Island cities and towns."

Mayor Daniel McKee, who will ultimately recommend the dollar amount for schools, told The Breeze this week he anticipates a town-school budget that, like other years, increases the tax load on residents by about 1.5 percent.

Finance Director Brian Silvia had earlier noted an increase of that amount would generate about $1 million.

In the past two years, taxpayers have upped their contribution to schools by $2.4 million.

McKee said that fully funding the BEP - Basic Education Plan - as calculated by school board Chairwoman Lisa Beaulieu, would raise taxes by 16 percent.

"But that's immaterial," he said. "We're not gong to be raising that kind of revenue," but rather staying within the town's 4 percent cap on raising the levy.

He went on to repeat his belief that public school funding as it stands now is a "failed financial model."


Thornton is noting that once again Cumberland ranks lowest statewide in per-pupil spending at $12,294. The state average is $15,215. The second lowest is Pawtucket at $12,842. Barrington is also one of the lowest, at $13,467, while Newport is investing $19,311 per kid.

He notes that because of state reimbursement formulas, if the budget were approved, the amount per Cumberland child would go up by $219 while the amount per charter school student will be up by $1,446.


Here are the school building improvements the School Committee is reviewing for next year. The total cost would be $480,000.

Ashton - Lighting for the parking lot, $20,000.

Community - Ceiling tiles in five rooms, $3,000, and a cement slab for Dumpster, $8,000.

Cumberland Hill - Curb repair, $13,000; security cameras, $7,500; screen for auditorium, $8,000; chimney repair, $16,000.

Garvin - None.

B.F. Norton - Chimney repair.

McCourt Middle - Security cameras, $7,500; locker paint, $12,500; air conditioning in server room, $10,000; roof facade, $80,000.

North Cumberland - Security cameras, $7,500; front entrance lighting, $20,000; intercom system, $45,000.

Cumberland High - Repointing trans building and pool wing, $50,000; white boards, $35,000; chimney repair, $16,000; wellness elevator, $80,000.

Other - $25,000.


The budget calls for filling 16.1 positions while deleting 7.5 positions, for a total boost in the salary line item of $848,208, which includes step increases to some teachers.

Under the plan, half-time band director will be restored to the middle schools along with library technicians.

Cumberland High School will see a half-time librarian added to the staff after a full-time librarian was cut this year.

Community would replace its half-time principal with a full-timer for a total of two at that large elementary school.


Enrollment next year is expected to be 4,596 students, a decline of 84 students, a 1.8 percent reduction that will likely see two full-time elementary school teachers laid off.

Any expectation that enrollment would level off as students transition to Blackstone Valley Prep has not proven true, Thornton said.

North Cumberland Middle School will see the largest decline, from 645 this year to a projected 619 next year, or 26 students. McCourt Middle will likely drop 12 students, from 463 to 451.

Cumberland High will increase by two.

Cumberland's share of tuition expense for students going to area charter schools will climb by $578,500 next year to $2.9 million. Most of that - $2.4 million - will go to the 345 students attending Blackstone Valley Prep, a division of the Rhode Island Mayoral Academies. An added 34 students will be going to Beacon charter school in Woonsocket, costing $237,082.


Just the length of the article has me thinking that this is written as a "smoke screen", to throw so much at everyone so quickly that some "stuff" is bound to filter through. The tax payers should not be fooled by this ploy. It is OUR MONEY that they are intent on getting! Mr. Thornton; just because the town income median and the tax rate are not appropriated to your liking does not mean that there is more money available for the schools to spend. It doesn't work that way. And all of this technology and associated equipment is "neat", but NONE of it equates to better grades. Check the statistics! Furthermore, why is there not a concerted effort to approach each of these "FOR-PROFIT" companies like APPLE, GOOGLE, SOLIDWORKS, and musical instrument manufacturer's to provide FREE incentives to PROMOTE their products in our town? Why does the TAX PAYER always have to be the first to PAY MORE? The answer seems to me that it is because we are all residents and will be the easiest to FORCE to pay. Where are our representatives? Is there anyone with any courage, any intestinal fortitude that will take a stand FOR ONCE? And I always laugh when the amount spent is referred to as "per pupil", when MOST of the budget is going to the TEACHERS and their pensions. Enrollment is going DOWN, but the expenditures just keep going up and UP. When will this end? I will tell you when...when every tax payer moves out and leaves these greedy, evil, selfish monsters to fight amongst themselves....for the betterment of our children's education, of course.

Why do we constantly compare Cumberland in "per pupil spending" to other cities and towns yet have the third highest paid school superintendent in the state? (~proposed $159,000)

Superintendent Thornton's budget report to the School Committee argues that Cumberland taxpayers can afford to do better by schools.

"With a median income that is 14th out of 39 cities and towns, according to the last census taken in 2010, and a tax rate per $1,000 that ranks in the bottom half of statewide property taxes, the capacity to raise taxes to support both the town and school budgets has been more available than most other Rhode Island cities and towns." (Raising taxes to give more tax money to the schools because taxpayers have the median income is not the answer.)

Remember the "Big Ask" that was supposed to boost Cumberland schools? An extra $1 Million was provided for maintenance of effort in 2012. More money, more money, the schools just need more money.

A few years ago didn't some high school notebooks end up being sold by the IT professional? Now the schools want $451,584 for middle school notebooks. I agree with Stuck in the Valley, why aren't we approaching computer companies or getting grant money?

How about investing our tax dollars, time and effort into our graduating seniors to be able to get a high school diploma? How about graduating seniors that don't need remedial math courses upon graduation? That is what we should be focusing our efforts on. Getting our seniors ready to move ahead into college.

So, let me get this straight. Thornton States; that because Cumberland is the 14th wealthiest municipality, in this sad excuse for a state - and our ever increasing property taxes are still low, when compared to others. We should just spend, spend spend some more - on the backs of the property owners. Not to mention the parasite Charter school will eventually suck us all dry...The spending in this town and state is completely unsustainable - God willing I'll be able to sell my house and move and watch this ship sink, from another state!

I suspect that you will be in the same situation as I am...STUCK IN THE VALLEY! No one wants to buy a house in Rhode Island except the dummies who have been here for too long already! GOOD LUCK!

Wait let me dig into my pockets just a little more. When does it end? How come I am forced to continue to give up more and more to live within my means but the Cumberland School System says I can afford more because they cannot live within their means. What a disgrace.


The spending per pupil includes the money that goes to the Supt. So, if you were to lower his salary, the spending per pupil would be even lower!

Thank you, Superintendent Thornton. It is clear, based upon all quantitative and qualitative measurements, that our Cumberland School system is finaly heading in the right direction. Of course, there is more work to accomplish, and more issues to address, but I believe that Dr. Thornton is the right person to lead us forward.

So why blame Thornton?

Did I not see in this newspaper, Mercymount children using Ipads in the classroom? Shouldn't the Cumberland Public Schools remain competitive?

Stop pissing and moaning about the salary, have you even looked at the salaries and top heavy administration BVP has? You really cannot unless you go to guidestar(net) to review the tax filings.

Mayor McKee and BVP are sucking out tax dollars to the tune of $2.9 million dollars for next year that should have stayed in the Cumberland Public Schools.

I bet he gives the Cumberland Schools more because he looks like a idiot when the BVP gets their state mandated increases.

See BVP does not have to come to the town council hat in hand looking for money like the public schools have to do.

They don't even have to meet with the town council and discuss their budget or future plans.

Hell they did not even get local approval to build his new school on Broad Street or the purchase of St. Patrick's either. Plus he wants 30-42% construction reimbursement for his private funded building purchases.

If he is taking public dollars, why is there no public watch dog looking over his books and plans? Where are his minutes on file? Reason is that Mrs. Gist approves of charter schools and tell the Cumberland Public Schools how much we need to give BVP and they get paid 1st.

Cumberland is screwed! Stop whining. Our scores suck because we don't do what other school systems with the proper funding do.

Give the Cumberland School children a fighting chance like the BVP children. Music, extra teacher in every classroom, language in elementary classes, chess and other after school programs.

Hey Cumberland Public schools are spending over $12,000 per child and a 7 year old charter school system is over $15,000

How does that happen?

The list of items they want to spend money on (for the sake of spending more money) cracks me up. That's the best they can do? Meanwhile, the infrastructure of the town's school buildings, roads, etc. continue to deteriorate rapidly.

Wrong article, losing my marbles in my old age. Glad to see they are considering some capital improvements.

Finally got my "new" home valuation from the town in the mail yesterday. No big surprise, my home is now worth less... Making selling it - even more difficult. However, at least I'll be paying less in property taxes!

PLEASE Read the commments above...all the straight out incorrect facts topped with ignorant and hate filled opinions being presented as facts...and all the darn negativeness...and we ask why our state and is in the shape it is???? Isn't it clear? Negative and despair begets negative and despair. We have never seen anything positive come from negative.

The BVP, whether you like it or hate is leaving most systems in the dust. Why? Not because of the money but because of the approach and attitudes of the admin, teachers, parents and SCHOLARS!!!

BVP is not the problem, it is the answer.

BVP reports with as stringent standards to the state. BPV must produce results or lose their charter.

BVP is kicking our school system's butt. And that is what is pissing everyone off.

I hope there are leaders coming that can find balance; not until then will we see forward positive sucess.

The only fact that everyone should learn and know...and maybe the school system and BVP should get together and sponsor a forum to TEACH our negative, short sighted and selfish taxpayers.....BETTER EDUCATIONAL SYSTEMS PRODUCE BETTER ECONOMIES....BETTER HOUSE VALUES...BETTER TOWNS....LESS CRIME....

So tired of all the nay sayers and haters....who produce nothing for this town...try coming up wiht solutions...and not one liners...a detailed plan...

Okay, BVP is the answer. Now what? What’s the next step? We shouldn’t have to ask because that should have been determined before this hay ride was begun. We spent millions to build an incubator. The best education in the state is available by lottery. Now what? How do I furnish my child with that education? I’ve filled out the lottery for several years. Haven’t hit yet.

McKee & Co. ran an experiment that didn’t need to be run. The results were available before the experiment was run. Go to nearly any state in the union or country in the world and you can find schools which are doing it better than whatever system you choose to compare against. They could have gone to Moses Brown, Wheeler, Mount St. Charles, LaSalle, Hendricken, Barrington PS, East Greenwhich PS, etc... before they built their little incubator. But they ran the experiment and the results are in. What’s the next step? Because if they don’t have the answer then they spent millions so a select few could get a top-notch education but it won’t benefit the masses. Concept cars are pretty to look at but if they don’t go into production and the technology in them doesn’t get used then they’re just that, pretty to look at.

By "answer" I intended that in a collaborative sense. Not THE answer. It is hard to say that people could gone to the 5 private schools listed...I could never even have afforded to go to an open house for those!

BVP is a publicly funded system like CPS. I guess you could go to Barrington, IF they have the room and if you want to pay $7,000 +/-.

Why say a "select few" There isn't any selection in a lottery.

What's next? Well just a short time ago BVP was only K and 1st grade...Sept 2014 High School #1 opens. Concept cars are "grown", they start out with one, two etc.

It will be interesting to see what it looks like in 2-3 it grows at the rapid rate we seen now.

FYI i don't have children in any school...all done. Three through CPS>

Before we cannonize BVP, let's be sure to review the facts. BVP has outperformed Cumberland Schools in some areas, is about equal in others. Statistically, BVP performs on par with Community School and Cumberland Hill School. Do they have some unique approaches, sure. From an educational perspective, is what they have reproduceable...No. BVP to CPS is apples to oranges, BVP can set different expectations and can foster an enviroment that is not possible for a public school system to emmulate; that's not their purpose. But I don't think BVP is trying to create a beta test for a public system, they are trying to offer high quality experiences for their population. They have some advantages and some disadvantages. Financially, they get the upper hand while the public schools have to beg and borrow for funding. We all want great schools that impact our property value and provide a civic foundation for our children. But at what cost? We want great teachers, but don't want to pay them. We want great administrators but think they make too much money. For far too long we have hid behind the curtain of fiscal responsiblity by under funding our schools. We see it in the schools, the infrastructure and the quality of education. We can keep putting used tires on the old car and brag about how low our car payment is, or we can step up to our responsiblity as adults in the community and pay our share. I benefited from a solid CHS education; its time I pay my share for the next generation. I hope the Council and Mayor step up too!

Cumberland teacher, teaching 10 years or more will make $74,232 (base salary) this year for 182 days of classroom instruction. All you have to do is just take a moment to look on the districts web site.
I may be old, but when I did work ,my year was 260 days not 182. In the real world if these teachers worked a real year their salary would be closer to $106K so the $74,232 their making is a VERY fair salary for what they do. Do you want to know what's sad? McKee's so call, "Charter School", that almost everyone seems to hate, just think, since it's doing so well has improved the Cumberland Public School District. Who said, "competition doesn't improve a business"? That's exactly what public education was before BVP today.
Think about it, let's say B. F Norton this year when testing is done the student's improve by 3% and I think that school has 4 classes per grade (lets called it a 4 track school). If they have 25 student in a classroom and the percentage for meeting or exceeding state testing scores in reading would be 3 student per hundred. I may be old but I did look on the districts web site but the only info I found was from the 2008-2009 testing year. Hey, CumberlandFacts I could use a little help here, let's see what you can find for the 2012-2013 testing year.
I don't know about you but it's getting harder every year as a retiree just to survive. Any increases in my Social Security get eaten up by Medicare. Mr. Ward I would love you as a taxpayer in Cumberland you explore how teachers can retire at 55 and where or who funds there health care until they are old enough for Medicare? Cumberland has a self funded health care program that the taxpayers PAY FOR, as a retired senior can you look into this? Can you also include police, fire and municipal workers so we know what these people are really costing us?

Well said...I only say that BVP does have to beg for money...they get their share from public monies but they beg for the grant money...well not beg, but beg in relation to how it was used in your comments. The difference in the "extra" money is that the MA group has something to offer the private funding sources. All public schools can apply for grants, and CPS has received them in the past. The big difference is that the private groups like what they see in the MA schools, not traditional public schools.

Hard to blame MA public schools because they have more to offer....I remember that commercial: "don't hate me because I am beautiful" well sort of like that! LOL

It's all about the money. Why do you think McMee fought to change the way the education money was divided among the state a few years back? It wasn't because Cumberland needed it, it was because he needed more money to run his pet peeve of a school. If the per pupil spending increased it would increase money for his school. So many thought he was fighting for the town public schools but in reality the intention was to fund his.

CumberlandFacts: To be clear, I wasn’t suggesting sending Cumberland students to those schools. I was suggesting that within that list are highly successful local schools which could serve as exemplars for how to run a highly successful school. Assuming of course that was the aim of BVP.

My point is: Was it necessary to create a new school (at significant expense) to duplicate the results others have achieved elsewhere? As to the lottery “selection” I’d say there is a selection in a lottery. It’s not pre-determined but it is a selection. Some people get chosen, many do not. Not everyone wins Powerball. By the same token not everyone who enters the BVP lottery gets to go to BVP. The choice may be random but it is nonetheless a choice.

It’s hard to argue with the results BVP has achieved but everyone who is concerned about taxes should be cognizant of the fact that since the inception of BVP Cumberland taxpayers have been responsible for supporting two school systems (three if you count Central Falls but everyone is RI bears that burden). BVP will not replace the Cumberland School system any time soon, if at all. And in the meantime we’re on the hook for two school systems. Right, wrong, or indifferent that’s an expensive proposition.