School Committee seeks to restore funding, programs

2020-21 budget not yet final
Fri, 02/07/2020 - 9:30am

The New Shoreham School Committee moved closer to a decision on its 2020-2021 school year budget on Tuesday night, but has not committed to a final set of budget cuts, nor to a specific percentage increase for the overall school budget that it must forward to the Town Council.

The scenarios discussed on Feb. 4, however, would restore funding for a second administrator to replace co-principal John Canole, who recently submitted his resignation, and funds for library books, instructional supplies, travel for cultural activities, and the Boston and Close Up trips for the junior and senior classes.

At the end of the 85-minute meeting, School Committee Chair William Padien directed Supt. Michael Convery and School Finance Director Melanie Reeves to rework their recommendations and come to the next meeting on Feb. 10 with two plans that would set the overall school budget increase at 3.9 percent or 4.6 percent.

The difference in the total budget comes down to strategy: How much of an increase in school funding will the Town Council approve in what both Padien and Town Finance Director Amy Land have called a “tight” year?

The total of Convery’s recommended changes is still a $252,202 reduction from the current school year’s budget, including elimination of two positions – co-principal Canole (saving $36,956 in the next budget) and retiring special education teacher Kathleen Martin (saving $116,359). Numerous non-personnel items would also be trimmed or eliminated.

Convery, however, was no longer recommending cutting back a high school Spanish teacher and the speech and language pathologist from full-time to four-day positions. Both will be needed in the new school year to support students’ learning, he said.

Convery made clear that eliminating the part-time co-principal “is not recommended long-term.” That would leave Principal Kristine Monje to oversee all grades, with Mark Hawk, the Special Education Director, heading that department.

Instead, Convery continued, “I believe the school should develop a transition plan to support the building principal.” The transition plan “could involve the special education director and/or the superintendent positions; possibly a full-time administrator who was responsible and certified for special education services and administrative duties throughout the building; or a superintendent with a special ed background could also be considered long-term. I believe discussions along these lines need to begin.” Convery himself is a part-time superintendent. It was not clear whether Hawk would meet either set of qualifications.

The cultural activities line item — $6,230 for alternative activities for students not participating in sports — “needs to be revamped, but not eliminated,” Convery said. He noted that more than half the budgeted amount is for a coordinator’s salary, and “the number of students participating is not high.”

The committee accepted the retirement of Kathleen Martin “with regret.” Martin had informed the Superintendent of her intention to retire at the end of this school year, after 16 years as a special education teacher. “Ms. Martin has been an institution at Block Island School and a tremendous asset to not only the special education department, but the entire school community,” Convery said. “She will be greatly missed.”

“Kathy Martin is just an incredible teacher and she’s definitely going to be missed by a lot of students and, I’m sure, her co-workers as well,” member Annie Hall commented. “She’s a great advocate for the kids.”

“I agree,” said Convery. The vote to accept Martin’s resignation was unanimous, 4-0. (Member Kara Stinnett was absent.)

The School Committee is scheduled to adopt its budget request at its next meeting on Monday, Feb. 10, at 7 p.m. at the school. The Town Council will hold a public hearing on the request on March 11.