With , Superintendent Phil Auger has released the first batch of proposed cuts to keep North Kingstown schools out of the red. On Tuesday night, Auger presented $880,000 of the roughly $1.6 million worth of cuts schools will need in fiscal 2013. (In a letter that appeared on the North Kingstown School Department’s website, Auger said the remaining $678,000 in cuts will be presented at upcoming meetings.)
On the chopping block are multiple faculty and staff positions spread out across the district. Two middle school teachers (one from each school) and two elementary school teachers will be nixed.
’s media center (library) will take a heavy hit if the proposed cuts are implemented as a full-time library clerk and a part-time librarian will both be eliminated — resulting in $70,000 in combined savings and cutting library staff in half.
Joy Arnold, a media specialist at the high school’s library and an Old Baptist Road resident, spoke out against the proposed staff reductions. According to Arnold, state and federal mandates are making library use critical and, after grading senior papers, she said more and more students have difficulty identifying reliable sources and conducting sound research.
“These students have been conditioned by society to believe they can find everything on the Internet,” said Arnold, who stated that 21st-century library skills need to be woven into the curriculum. “Computers are not going to solve our problems.
But the most contentious proposed cut of the night went to two paraprofessional positions that may be removed from the district. The school department looks to head in to arbitration with the paraprofessionals union — the North Kingstown Education Support Professionals — after mediation broke down earlier this month, according to Auger.
Nearly 50 members of the ESP attended Tuesday’s meeting, rising to their feet as union President Sandra Blankenship took the microphone during citizens’ comments. Blankenship slammed committee Vice Chairman Richard Welch for his letter to the editor in last week’s Standard Times, calling his comments “insulting and based on innuendo that was not facts,” and calling for Welch to retract the letter
have also led to contention between the two bodies. The school department rejected the union’s offer of about $500,000 in concessions during contract negotiations. Though ESP’s concessions would be more than what would be saved by outsourcing (approximately $400,000) in the first year, outsourcing would offer more savings in the long run, said Auger, who added the savings are “more in the neighborhood of $800,000.”
Union members said outsourcing would lead to poor service. “If you think for one moment that you think you’re going to get the same dedication from an outside group, you are living in a dream world,” said Blankenship.
“It ain’t about the money: You just want to get rid of us,” said Justin Romano, a North Kingstown custodian and resident, during citizens’ comment.
School Committee member Larry Ceresi, however, said the committee has worked to avoid outsourcing since he joined in 2007. “The subject of outsourcing custodial services has been on the table since I got to this committee five years ago,” he said. “The reason that it hasn’t been done in the past five years is because no one wants to do it.”
Another item on Auger’s list of proposed cuts was the restructuring of the athletic director’s position. Under Auger’s proposal, the position would move to a part-time position with pay distributed as a stipend in lieu of salary and benefits. Auger suggested that a teacher take over the responsibilities, receiving a stipend of $10,000 on top of salary. Similar stipends would be given to athletic directors for each middle school ($2,500 per school) and $7,000 for an assistant athletic director. These cuts would reduce the cost of the position (currently upward of $100,000, including salary and benefits) down to $50,000.
The aforementioned cuts (see the full list here) are only slightly more than half the cuts that need to be made to hit the $1.6 million mark. In response to criticisms during citizens comments about regarding why Auger did not have the remaining cuts at Tuesday’s meeting, the superintendent explained he has been having difficulty finding appropriate areas for cuts.
“I’m going to have to put some things (on this list of cuts) that would make tonight look like a picnic,” said Auger.
Auger warned that the $1.6 million in cuts is the “most positive scenario” for the school department. The North Kingstown Town Council will only be able to raise town taxes by four percent next year — yielding a maximum of roughly $2.5 million in additional tax money for the town. Considering that the council level-funded the school department last year, Auger warned that the $1.6 million deficit could increase to as much as a $3.2 million hole if the same happens this year.
“The hole we are in is far bigger than any of us realize,” said School Committee Member Lynda Avanzato, who — along with Ceresi — urged speakers to bring their grievances to the North Kingstown Town Council, which determines the school department’s total budget.
Members Melvoid Benson, Bill Mudge and John Boscardin urged the committee to work “harmoniously” with the council.
“What’s it going to take for everybody to get on the same page?” asked Boscardin. “What’s it going to take for everybody to sing the same song here?”