School budget puts focus on curriculum, technology

School budget puts focus on curriculum, technology

Slim raises, reduced benefits in new teachers' contract

NORTH PROVIDENCE - Curriculum improvement and more technology implementation are the main drivers of the proposed $50.37 million school budget approved last week by School Committee members, who will now send the finances over to town officials for consideration.

The proposed budget for fiscal year 2015 represents a $2.7 million, or 5.69 percent, increase over last year's budget of $47.66 million, and anticipates $16.35 million in state aid, a $1.36 million increase from last year, and $32.77 million in the town's appropriation, a $1.05 million increase.

As a former curriculum director in Lincoln, Supt. Melinda Smith said the lack of curriculum resources available in the district when she arrived a year ago was a surprise. She said that outside of putting a highly qualified teacher in the classroom, giving the teacher the proper tools "is obviously critical."

Funds for educational supplies and textbooks make up 2.1 percent of the budget this year, compared to 1.3 percent last year, according to a presentation given by Smith at budget workshops. Technology also increased from 1.1 percent to 2.3 percent of the budget.

Reductions were seen in salaries, which went from 55.5 percent of the budget last year to 52.5 percent. Benefits increased from 20.8 percent to 22.3 percent.

The $591,000 budget item for curriculum resources includes textbooks, digital textbooks, science inquiry kits and professional development, said Finance Director John McNamee.

Science and math are specific areas of focus, Smith said.

"Science scores are lagging behind the state average," she explained.

While the state averages for proficiency in grades 4, 8, and 11, are 41 percent, 30 percent and 30 percent, respectively, North Providence scored 38 percent in grade 4, 10 percent in grade 8 and 26 percent in grade 11 in the 2012-2013 school year.

Math resources on the list to purchase include a five-year middle school Glencoe math series that includes student materials and online access, Smith said, as well as materials to practice the Common Core State Standards' conceptual learning of fractions, squares and cubes.

She added that elementary school students have already started using a new math resource by pooling the principals' budgets.

Technology initiatives proposed will continue the effort to update North Providence schools, with $1.29 million budgeted.

"We were well behind the curve when it came to technology," McNamee said.

The district spent a reimbursable $326,000 on technology in fiscal year 2013, and has received another $300,000 through the Rhode Island Department of Education's wireless classroom initiative.

"It basically gives us the wireless infrastructure at all our schools," he said.

Smith credited McNamee and former interim Supt. Timothy Ryan for starting the technology initiatives, and Technology Director David Wright, who she said "has really thrust us forward at probably a quicker pace."

"We're working at, I think, hyper speed to get things in place for our teachers," Smith said, with library media centers set up in the middle schools and Learning.com implementing teaching literacy skills through K-8 libraries and librarians.

In addition to building up the district's network and expanding bandwidth, McNamee said this budget includes plans to purchase approximately 300 computers for the upcoming Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers test, in addition to the 450 purchased last year.

The majority of the tech budget, McNamee said, is $737,000 in hardware costs. Licensing software costs total $67,000, and switches in infrastructure costs $80,000, he said.

The budget includes funding for additional programming, including bringing back Advanced Placement classes to the high school, and adding a middle school program run by Bradley Hospital that will bring students currently receiving out-of-district services for special needs physically back into the North Providence schools. They will still be considered out-of-district, but cost savings will be realized in transportation and tuitions, Smith said.

McNamee noted that the district cannot control the growing cost of out-of-district tuitions that caused a deficit in fiscal year 2013. This year, 196 tuitions are budgeted, he said.

Tuition and transportation for a special education student could cost $64,000 or upwards of $100,000 each, he explained, based on the services required. The district currently has 60 such students, who could require these tuitions from age 3 to 21.

Cut from the budget is the $67,200 needed to run the Sailing for Success program, Smith explained, because the district has partnered with Kids Klub to supply funding so the program can stay afloat.

Also in the budget, additional school personnel proposed include a full-time school nurse teacher, as well as a part-time resource teacher at McGuire Elementary School, a part-time preschool teacher, and a part-time English language learner teacher.

The only school administrators receiving salary increases this year, per the terms of their contract, are Smith, whose $127,500 salary represents a 1.8 percent increase; and Asst. Supt. Lisa Jacques and Special Education Director Kim Carson, whose $100,000 salaries represent just over a 3 percent raise.

McNamee said teacher pension costs are on the rise because of a 1.15 percent increase in the district's contribution, which equals a quarter of a million dollars, plus payroll taxes.

Self-insured medical claims are an area of concern for this budget, McNamee said, as this year is already running 13 percent ahead of last year. Affordable Care Act costs will also increase the budget, he said, so the benefits line that traditionally sees a 6- to 8-percent increase is anticipated to go up by 10 percent to 12 percent.

School Committee member Stephen Palmieri told The Breeze he wished to thank teachers involved in negotiations for work they did in coming to agreement.

Palmieri was chairman of the Teacher Negotiation Subcommittee and worked with School Committee members Gina Picard and Steven Andreozzi and representatives of the teachers' union to come to an agreement after a year of work to reduce sick days from 18 to 12, personal days from 5 to 4, and longevity by 10 percent.

Top-step personnel received a half-percent raise, he said, and 1.5 percent over three years, with teachers not receiving more than a 3 percent raise over the past six years.

"Whatever the budget increase this year, it really has nothing to do with the teachers. They've really brought the contracts in line," Palmieri said. "I just wanted to say 'thank you.'"

Comments

When Melinda Smith says she was surprised by the lack of curriculum resources available in the district, she meant this is the tip of an iceberg. Clearly with her leadership there is a confidence that NP School District will rise to competitive levels. But wait a minute, why are we where we are now at a rating of 22nd out of 31 school districts? Who was running the schools before Mrs. Smith arrived last year (administration, teachers and school committee)? There is much to do today because our school district was not doing the job for the parents and taxpayers in the past. Where is the accountability?
I call on the parents and taxpayers to get involved in the NP School District; it's your money that is being invested in education at almost 60% of our town’s taxation. The quality of education has a direct impact on the young adults that come out of the school district, our home valuation and our future as a town. We all have an investment in our town’s education quality, you are paying for it and you should demand the best possible results and nothing less should be acceptable.