NK 'Rhetoric' Could Jeopardize Jamestown Tuition

The continuing drumbeat of complaints about the school contract by a few North Kingstown residents sends islanders looking for other towns interested in $2 million a year.

When it comes to educating Jamestown students in grades nine to 12 at , local leaders agree it’s a good idea — publicly, at least. But privately, a few officials and residents have voiced reservations, leaving many to worry that sharp-edged discussions could drive Jamestown — and its more than $2 million annual tuition payments — away.

Aside from revenue, the approximately 200 Jamestown students at the 1,604-student high school increase the student base, enabling more advanced placement and language classes, and bolsters clubs and sports, according to NK Superintendent Phil Auger.

“We get many benefits,” Auger said of the Jamestown students, who have been educated in North Kingstown since the 1970s. “I’d be really worried to see Jamestown leave our district.”

That may be a real possibility, according to Julia Held, Jamestown’s non-voting North Kingstown School Committee member. While saying the town is happy with the quality of education Jamestown students receive, she said other districts are an option.

“The rhetoric by some members of your School Committee and Town Council that NK taxpayers are subsidizing Jamestown students, and that Jamestown is perceived as not paying a ‘fair share’” leads some in Jamestown to worry about their students’ future, Held said. “There may be other schools that would serve our students at least as well, and we would be negligent in our educational and fiduciary responsibilities if we didn't look at them.”

Jamestown pays North Kingstown $10,103 for each general education student, $36,575.08 for each special education student and $49,991 for each English as a Second Language student. The amount Jamestown pays, how that fee is determined, and how the School Committee spends the funds has sparked questions and rancor from School Committee member Bill Mudge and a small group of local observers.

Under the 10-year agreement signed in 2001 by Jamestown and North Kingstown school committees, tuition is negotiated every year for the following year based what it currently costs to educate additional students at the high school.

Mudge has said since 2003 that formula is wrong. He believes the contract should factor in more overall school system costs and be based on estimated future costs.

A majority of the School Committee, which discusses contract details in executive session, has so far disagreed.

Mudge, who was absent when this year’s contract was approved in April, and Joe Thompson, who voted to approve the contract, bring it up often at committee meetings.

The School Committee attorney has repeatedly told Thompson that he cannot “revote” the decision, and School Committee Chairwoman Kimberly Page regularly rules comments about the approved contract out of order.

Mudge and some Town Council members dislike another contract feature. In 2001, when the high school opened, the NK-Jamestown school agreement obliged Jamestown to make proportional payments toward the high school bond debt. Those bond payments went to the school system instead of the town, which services the debt. North Kingstown Town Manager Mike Embury says he has “no idea why it never came up” at  council meetings. Council member Chuck Brennan said he has not seen any interest among council members to raise the issue.

On July 27, Embury asked Jamestown School Superintendent Marcia Lukon  for $262,702 to cover Jamestown’s “share” of this year’s high school bond debt. Embury says Lukon and the Jamestown School Committee chairperson responded "that they had a new agreement with the NKSC and that any concern about the bond payments should be taken up with the NKSC."

For 2011-12, North Kingstown school negotiators won a tuition increase without including bond repayment as part of its calculations. “Jamestown does not have the benefit of the high school building for eternity. North Kingstown does," Auger said.

On Sept. 13, over objections by Mudge and Thompson, the School Committee voted to have Auger and Business Director Ned Draper include rising pension payments, but not the bond debt, in calculations for next year’s contract.


Pam October 11, 2011 at 03:59 PM
This would all be a moot point if we regionalized the school districts. Jamestown has no high school and Narragansett is losing student population which endangers their ability to provide a full range of high school courses. Those two towns have few schools; some NK residents live closer to the Narragansett elementary school than they do to elementary schools in the north end of NK. And Jamestown and Narragansett have a ton of summer homes for which owners pay taxes but don't use school services.
jeff October 11, 2011 at 06:55 PM
I agree that there is nothing wrong with asking whether the correct contractual payments were made in the past, but the debate, now, is as to setting the annual cost for Jamestown. As to the economics, I could not agree with you less. Your analysis would be fine if NK students were 'consumers' and if the 'pot' of consumers contained both NK and Jamestown students. That is decidedly not the case. NK students pay nothing to go to NK, and we are mandated by law to provide an education to them. We are stuck with all of the fixed costs of running the high school and Jamestown has a choice of where to go. Therefore, this is not what you term a 'perfect' market by any means. Under these circumstances, we are competing only for Jamestown students and the market is not determined by our cost at all, but by what others will offer. Whether it makes economic sense for us depends only, as in a private business, on whether it is profitable. Nobody advocates taking Jamestown students at a loss, but the idea that 'fairness' should be the driving force, if 'fairness' is based on per pupil cost, ignores the reality. Any payment in exess of incremental cost for Jamestown students actually lowers the per pupil cost overall.
john boscardin October 12, 2011 at 02:48 AM
Well Dave, if you read the article, you will notice the comments made by the Jamestown School Committee chairperson..... "that they had a new agreement with the NKSC and that any concern about the bond payments should be taken up with the NKSC." That statement alone is the answer...bonding costs are not the same now as in the original contract. So in fact, less money is being paid than would have been under the original agreement. I am neither dead nor wrong which i am sure disappoints you.
Govstench October 12, 2011 at 12:59 PM
The issue with the bond debt on the high school is a North Kingstown obligation, not a Jamestown one. If the school committee wants to include a portion of that debt obligation based on the number of students attending, include it in the tuition bill. The town manager had no business going to Jamestown with a bill for the bond service cost. If he didn't know that, then he shouldn't be manager. Factoring pension payments into the tuition costs are ok but there is one thing being overlooked here - is the tuition costs in line with area schools? You can increase the cost per student to the point that Jamestown will take their students elsewhere. Is the town prepared for that loss in revenue? The town appears to be playing with a ticking time bomb and one day it will go off.
NKGOP Watch October 16, 2011 at 03:26 PM
The ENTIRE budget crisis is due to OVERCOMPENSATION of municipal employees. The pay and health and pensions are too high. Period. I like our town help, but this was never supposed to be lucrative. Traditionally, the innate inefficiency of government was compensated by the employees being paid LESS than private jobs BUT you got good job security in exchange. Now they are paid MORE than private, in fact about DOUBLE the private school classroom employee! NOW, when you are paying all your teachers for example, EIGHTY THJOUSAND - PLUS - defined benefit pension, plus health, you are spending $100k for a part time (3/4 time) employee with good job security. The unions are not bad they just did their job too well while the voters did not do their job well at all. Now we have the painful upheaval of partial bankruptcy, cutting programs and features, and eventually, yes, compensation will get back to normal too. This is the train wreck that a few people always predicted. Taxes are ridiculous as well, and while some selfish soccer-mom/dad yuppies may not feel that OR EMPATHIZE with those less fortunate homeowners, there is a real price to that as well. R


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