Staff Reductions, Restructuring Tops List of Proposed Budget Slashes

Proposed cuts include multiple teacher positions, paraprofessionals, restructuring of the athletic director's position and more.

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?”

ANGEL FISH January 26, 2012 at 11:32 PM
The NKESP is NOT acting in a manipulative behavior at all, NKRI Transparency. If anyone has been manipulative it has been some of the SC members. And the "union man" in particular made a bold statement about the NKESP office holders holding out on their members. That was quite a blatant attempt at union busting if I've ever seen one! Unfortunately members of the community have a preconceived notion that the NKESP is more interested in themselves than the welfare of the schools and its students. Certainly these tax paying members of the town want to keep their jobs, but these people sincerely believe, as do I, that they are best equipped to serve the community and students because they all have a vested interest in it. Outsourcing companies have no emotional ties to the school or its community,. And there is proven literature availble on the net, which shows that in the long run outsourcing does not save money but in fact ends up costing a district more.
NKRI Transparency January 26, 2012 at 11:54 PM
I too am a NK taxpayer asking to give more and more being asked to give more without concern to those that cannot afford to give more. I would like to ask if you have reviewed the town org chart. I would like to ask how many other towns utilize outsourcing. Did I hear incorrectly that these NKESP same would have first options for the same positions via an outside company? Sounds like a win win in that existing keep their jobs while tax paying residents save money. Other than that please tell me where you expect additional funds to come from??
Dave January 27, 2012 at 12:19 AM
nkrit You are right about no other place for funds to come from. This move is a necessity, not a desired move, but one that absolutely has to happen. I think the SC will vote for this and to outsource numerous other areas, I think the votes are there for that....On the other hand, I don't see any outsroucing being done by the town, not even talk of it! Instead they built a new IT center and ordered an expenisve report that just recommends spending more $$$. I saw one of the meetings where the SC asked that the report contain suggestions for outsourcing areas of IT....guess what? The report had nothing at all to say about outsourcing areas. hmmmm guess the TC didn't really want that in the report, hence, it wasn't there. Both sides of the house need to be doing these kinds of things. I hope to see the TC get into the game and do some of what the SC has already been doing for 3 years.
Dave January 27, 2012 at 12:22 AM
The infighting may be embarrassing, but the parents and taxpayers should be far more embarrassed by their lack of attendance and participation in their government.
NKRI Transparency January 27, 2012 at 12:36 AM
Dave, I am appreciative of your constructive comments. Not that it is reassuring but I will write that I will also be communicating with our TC to cut back for the same reasons as people cannot afford increased taxes. Currently I am not aware of what they are or are not doing to hold the line. In the end I am hopeful that all will understand and do the right thing. Thanks again Dave!
NKRI Transparency January 27, 2012 at 12:40 AM
Dave, would also like to ask if you consider the NKFD as part of the TC side as next Monday is TC vote for changes to save $$'s. I have been following closely while commenting my thoughts.
Dave January 27, 2012 at 12:59 AM
NKTRI Thanks also to you for your comments. I really think we all need to try to come together to some extent and get through some of the worst economic times since the great depression, so it's good to see some agreement and progress, at least on this forum, if not in the US Congress. I do see the NKFD as being part of the town side. I don't know the issues with that contract but learned quite a bit about the issues from reading this forum. Not sure the issues are the same, since there is an argument that changing the schedules could impact safety, and that concerns me. What do you think about that contract? I think rather than changing their schedules they might take a look at how many positions are in the dept...and perhaps work on consolidation of those.
Mike January 27, 2012 at 02:10 AM
Your logic is faulty. I agree that good schools make a town more desirable, but high taxes make the same town less desirable. Additionally, more money doesn't mean better schools--if it did, we'd be doing better than other states that spend much less per pupil than RI schools. So, no--we are not going to give a blank check to an inefficient organization. Finally, nothing stops you from paying more--just write a check. I'm sure the schools would spend it.
Mike January 27, 2012 at 02:14 AM
Mark--why does it matter? Are his/her ideas incorrect? If so, please point out where. Ideas/facts are what count here--not intimidation.
ANGEL FISH January 27, 2012 at 02:34 AM
I would like to address NKRI Transparency's comment that IF an outsource company does in fact come into play and if they do offer jobs back to the "fired" employees, you do realize that no benefits package will be offered so that actually amounts to a reduced pay. So it isn't a cut and dry "win-win" situation by any means.
Joe Smith January 27, 2012 at 03:14 AM
NKRTE - You are probably correct; but isn't that the issue? The cafeteria fund is an enterprise fund; it is supposed to at least break even. From S/C meeting last August: :Ms. Tavares said she thought her food services department would break even next year.... She asked the committee to give her department a chance. Over the last few years, hundreds of thousands of dollars have been diverted from the general fund to cover -- and let's be honest -- giving the workers full medical benefits (just look at the expenses). Now, the workers do a great job, no doubt; however, exactly how many other school districts in RI "insource" food service? Essentially, the points are quite basic: Can the food services department fulfill the requirements within the revenues (without raising meal prices again) of the program (and not a shell game by moving the director's salary to the general fund)? If not, do we want to give up other educational benefits (what we are giving up by having to divert the hundreds of thousands of dollars from the general fund) to provide the level of compensation? Look, the NK-ESP could form its own group and bid on any RFP that would come from outsourcing. Then, it would control what salaries and benefits are offered.
NKGOP Watch January 27, 2012 at 03:37 AM
Jim Smith here makes some good points BUT NO ONE SEES THE OBVIOUS: YOU CANT PAY TEACHERS 80K, HEALTH, AND A 1.5 MILLION PENSION PER TEACHER ANYMORE. And, looking at private school educators pay rates, you dont have to. 50K and a 401k and you can work with kids and get ten weeks a year off. You have ONE THOUSAND APPLICANTS. PATCO anyone? lol
NKRI Transparency January 27, 2012 at 04:10 AM
Dave, I have had much dialog regarding the NKFD contract. With all concerned in the end it came down to compensation reaching for much for justification. Took much time to get to the core of the issue. I truly do not want to see anyone hurt. Unfortunately there will not be any winner’s just methods to soften the reality of the situation for all concerned. Dave, must admit I enjoy reading your constructive comments.
NKRI Transparency January 27, 2012 at 04:13 AM
All and all it is unfortunate but in the end, all need to think of the tax payers and what they can and can no longer afford. During these difficult time any and all opportunities of saving should move forward.
NKRI Transparency January 27, 2012 at 04:15 AM
Joe, excellent points and what a great idea....hopefully it is a viable suggestion for a win - win.
NKRI Transparency January 27, 2012 at 12:17 PM
As I have confirmed that existing staff will have right of first refusal, it seems that outsourcing shiold be an acceptable alternative. Same staff working with the same students and school - tax payer savings.
NKRI Transparency January 27, 2012 at 06:22 PM
Everyone only has so much energy such that self-evaluation is important minimizing waste. For those curious and or interested in cost effective alternatives, please see the following link: http://ri-can.org/campaigns/put-achievement-first
NK~T~P~T January 28, 2012 at 01:00 PM
What people need to contemplate, however, is that the median sales price for a home in NK is substantially lower than in either Jamestown or Narragansett. Yes, their taxes are far lower, but their home prices are far higher. One way or the other, we all pay. I think it you did the math for the "average" homeowner owning the "average" home in any one of those three towns for an average of twenty years, you'd find that it's actually cheaper to live in NK.
NKRI Transparency January 28, 2012 at 03:00 PM
The continued reply comments are such that It amazes me when: individuals write that it is ok for taxes to go up. individuals write that justification is that some else is doing or not doing it.
Ed Renehan January 28, 2012 at 03:54 PM
It would be great if we could keep the current arrangement for food service workers and custodians. BUT WE JUST DON'T HAVE THE MONEY. WE CAN'T AFFORD IT. Period. End of story.
Clarence January 28, 2012 at 05:07 PM
Is anyone out there considering our economy when these 100+ folks are laid off....collecting....or out of work....seems like someone's playing the short game!
NKRI Transparency January 28, 2012 at 06:01 PM
.....as compared to residents not being able to afford increased taxes while these same will have first right of refusal for these replacement positions. Have you seen previous suggestions? Can existing as is funds be used to pay for this? Please, tell me what I am not seeing here.
Carrie January 30, 2012 at 10:43 PM
The employees might be offered a job at 7.50 an hour..How can you live in this town supporting a family on those wages? They will also have to qualify for heath benefits and if they don't they will most likely get state medical for their familes..How about the admin? What about cutting their pay? They want to get rid of the employees that make the least amount. Taxes go up every year and either way you still have to pay..
NKRI Transparency January 31, 2012 at 05:29 PM
Carrie: Just as I don't want to see anybody get hurt, difficult times make for difficult decisions. As a resident it is my money being spent and enough is enough. Seems you are forgetting or don't care about residents that can not afford additional tax increases. I also find your attitude callous in thinking that taxes go up any ways so let things continue as is. There is a reason that taxes increase.....a reason that is in need of change. I mean it's for the kids, right?
Carrie February 01, 2012 at 05:36 PM
Callous? I don't think so.... I do realize that noone wants to or can afford more taxes in this town but they still go up every year. Did you read the article in the Standard Times on how much they were willing to give up and save the town?The town needed to save $400,000 they could save the town $500,000.Let me be frank with you.. My husband is one of those custodians that will lose his job of 16 years. If he does my children will lose the apartment they are living in and will be homeless..We will then qualify for foodstamps and medical asst.(which your tax dollars pay for). We also have a son who has many medical problems which I had to quit my job to stay home with. So I would say YES it is for the kids......
NKRI Transparency February 01, 2012 at 11:01 PM
Carrie, be it public and or the private sector, as with other's I'm sympathetic to the plight of including that of your husband. I prefer nobody is hurt, unfortunately things have progressed to a point of needing repair as it cannot continue as is. Local, state and federal government needs to operate both efficiently and cost effective.
Carrie February 02, 2012 at 12:33 AM
I agree that all governments need to operate effciently and cost effective. I know that "outsourcing" looks good on paper but it is documented that it does NOT save $ in the long run.So do we need to save $ right now and spend more in the long run say after their 1 or 2 year contract is up? Do you know what a custodian does besides clean the schools so the kids have a safe,clean enviroment to learn in? I would like to know what the public thinks a custodian does..
NKRI Transparency February 02, 2012 at 03:07 AM
Correct me if I am wrong but won't the existing have right of first refusal with any company that wins outsourcing contract?
Carrie February 03, 2012 at 07:39 PM
I am not sure about now but when I was a custodian(which I quit in Sept.) we were told that it would still be an interview and nothing was guaranteed.The company they wanted pays minimum wage.They aren't telling anyone anything except they are in Arbitration.No details of any kind.
NKRI Transparency February 03, 2012 at 09:45 PM
Although not sure of the details, will take your word for what you are saying as it makes sense. It is unfortunate that it has come to this but the bottom line is that there is a need to cut cost. You may think this is hard but please look around as many residents cannot afford additional tax increases.


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