Cumberland school budget hike reflects uptick in spending
Cumberland school budget hike reflects uptick in spending
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.