Cut Nurses? Librarians? ’No Options Are Pleasant’ On School Budget

by | Mar 4, 2015

sc march 3What might it take to be able to present a budget with an acceptable increase to the Town Council? Two nurses, two library/media specialists, the senior project coordinator, a raft of capital improvements, and no 1:1 Chromebook implementation at Cole, according to the list of proposed reductions Supt. Victor Mercurio presented to the School Committee Tuesday during its public hearing on the 2016 fiscal year budget.

“None of these options are pleasant ones,” he admitted.

That “acceptable” increase would be 2.5 percent over this year’s budget.

The actual $37.5 million budget presented to the School Committee last month, however, was 5.4 percent higher. So the committee asked Mercurio to come back with cuts.

By law, the School Committee cannot ask for more than a 4 percent increase over the previous year. Also by law, the Town Council cannot raise the tax levy by more than 4 percent. The School Committee must present a budget to the Town Council by March 15.

The 5.4 percent budget increase comes out to $1.9 million, reflecting $992,000 in contractual salary increases, $713,000 in benefit increases, $37,000 in transportation cost increases and $431,000 in discretionary spending increases. In particular, health care costs (part of the benefits increase) are up 7.5 percent, or $240,000. In recent years, that increase had been closer to 4 percent.

“The last couple years … it wasn’t that hard to get to the number we needed to get to,” said School Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Mark, elected in 2012, after the meeting. “The Town Council was fine with the number we presented. We had to make a compelling case for why the budget was higher, but at the end of the day, we came in with a decent number, the Town Council was supportive and we were able to get it done. We did not have the same kinds of fiscal constraints in the last couple of years that we’re facing now, between health care costs and the population growth in the district.”

In the past six years, enrollment has increased by 100 students, from 2,368 in the 2009-10 school year to 2,468 this year, or 1.5 percent. More students means more staff.

Mark likened this stage of the budget process to what a doctor might ask when you tell him about a headache: “On a scale of 1 to 10, how much does it hurt?” What do these cuts mean in those terms, she asked.

“For me personally, taking a nurse out of the school, when they are also delivering instruction, that’s a major red-flag to me because it’s just going to the heart of student safety,” said Mark.

Currently, each school in the district has its own library/media specialist and its own school nurse. Under the reductions presented Tuesday night, four schools would share two nurses and two librarians.

Mark questioned Mercurio on the proposed $176,000 in capital improvements, also on the cut list.

“How painful are all these, to delay them?” she asked.

“The day you make the decision to cut it is not painful,” said Mercurio. “But … if we keep doing this, the people sitting here 25 years from now will say, ‘What were they thinking?’”

Three parents at the meeting spoke in favor of adding all-day kindergarten.

“A lot of parents support this initiative,” said Kristen Bierwirth of all-day K. Bierwirth, the parent of twin preschoolers, argued that just because the program doesn’t yet exist, that wasn’t a good enough reason not to fund it. “You’re saying we don’t have this program. Well, we should have had this program. We should have had it 10 or 15 years ago.”

Mark and Committeeman Michael Fain both expressed surprise that few of the proposed $431,000 in discretionary increases to the 2016 budget were on the cut list outlined Tuesday. Mark asked Mercurio and the other administrators to look at those items again.

“There’s no question that you guys have a really tough job,” said Tricia Colgan, mother of one alum and an EGHS junior. “We have a well-oiled machine here … I hate to see you cutting existing programs.”

In the end, all six School Committee members in attendance Tuesday night (Deidre Gifford was absent) agreed they were willing to ask the Town Council for larger increase than last year – 3 to 3.5 percent – and that staff cuts should be avoided as much as possible.

In addition, Fain, Mark, committee members Yan Sun and David Osborne all said they would like to see at least the cheapest of the all-day kindergarten proposals included in that budget. That would be the so-called “equity” proposal, which would add one all-day K class at Frenchtown to mirror what’s offered already at Meadowbrook. The price for that would be $144,000.

“The ‘equity’ model gets our foot in the door,” said Osborne.

Even while arguing to include the equity model, Mark remained ambivalent in comments after the meeting.

The administration will be hard pressed to include it, she said, “without digging even deeper into programs, so they’re quite reluctant to do that, to eliminate existing programs to make way for a new program is a very challenging thing. It takes years to build up quality programs and it can take years to get them back.”

Still, she added, “At the same time, there’s a sense of urgency around trying to move forward on all-day kindergarten.”

“We should try,” agreed Sun.

The School Committee meets again March 10. They have until March 15 to approve a budget to send to the Town Council.


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14 Comments

  1. Mom

    I think we should cut mercurio. That would be the least painful option.

    Reply
  2. Yaohua Zhang

    I support Dr. Sun’s position on recovering the $60,000+ 1:1 repair cost incurred during this school year. Almost everyone is under the impression that all the chrome books are insured, but it is not. During the technology budget workshop several weeks ago, Dr. Mercurio told SC that there is no accident insurance on any of the chrome books. The district has paid more than $60,000 on repairs during this school year. District technology director explained that it cost $180 to repair a crack screen. Dr. Mercurio told SC that the parent was asked to buy the accident insurance, and the parent is responsible for the repair cost. Dr. Mercurio agreed to ask Mr. Podrazo if he could recover the repair cost from the parents. Dr. Sun asked for the update at yesterday’s SC meeting. Dr. Mercurio said he would ask. As a taxpayer, I am not willing to foot the repair bill and continue to foot that bill for someone drops the chrome book. Parent should pay the accident insurance or pick up the repair cost. I would like to see that $60,000+ to be recovered to help save school nurse’s job, etc. I would also suggest the district to look into if there is any such area that taxpayer is footing the bills which we are not responsible. t.

    Reply
    • Heather Larkin

      Yaohua- according to Mr. Podraza,the district has not spent any money on Chromebook repairs. All families and students were clearly told that if the machine was broken, they would be billed for the cost to repair or replace if they were not insured. Roughly 3/4 of the Chromebooks are insured. Only 38 have been sent out for repairs so even if the district were paying for it, the number would be nowhere near $60,000. Where did this number come from?

      Reply
      • Yaohua Zhang

        Heather, This number is from Dr. Mercurio and the district technology director at the technology budget workshop..SC member questioned why the district budgeted $20,000 repair cost in its Cole 1:1 proposal but it cost $60,000+ for high school. Technology director told SC that the district proposed none touch screen for Cole 1:1. He further explained that it cost $180 for touch screen used in EGHS and it cost $30 for none touch screen. There was a discussion about accident insurance and who should pay for the repair cost. Dr. Mercurio told SC that he would ask Mr. Podrazo if it was possible to recover the repair cost. Dr. Sun asked Dr. Mercurio for an update at yesterday’s SC meeting. Dr. Mercurio didn’t question the $60,000 number. He told Dr. Sun that he would ask. You might want to call Supt’s office to seek further clarification.

        Reply
      • Yaohua Zhang

        I believe we should record the SC meetings.

        Reply
    • HS mom

      My daughter was told to repair her broken power cord on our own cost. Where does tis $60,000 budget come from? I am totally confused.

      Reply
      • Elizabeth McNamara

        HS mom and others, I am working on getting more information about that line item but an important detail is that the $60,000 is the total item cost for Chromebooks next year – including the price to lease them. But I do have a question for you, HS mom: did you purchase the optional insurance? And, if not, how come? Thanks. (If you’d prefer to contact me via email, you can do that at [email protected].)

        Reply
  3. Leanne Barrett

    As of September 2014, 81% of kindergartenters in Rhode Island are enrolled in full day K. All charter schools in the state provide full day K. Nationally, 77% of kindergartners are in full day K. We need to start moving forward with full day K in East Greenwich. Getting children started off on a strong foundation, and addressing early learning gaps in full day K is the most important thing we can do for our kids.

    Reply
  4. EG Mom

    Supt. Mercurio told the SC last night he made his decisions by weighing the number of the students who would be affected. He questioned the SC if they want to implement full day K – which would benefit some students some students but impact others.

    Reply
  5. Heather Larkin

    Full day K is ideal and will likely come but I hope it’s not at the expense of school nurses and librarians. We are very fortunate to live in a town where lots of the scary stats on kids who don’t get pre school and full day K don’t apply to the socio-economic demographic here. The majority of our students get high quality private preschool/daycare or are home with a college educated parent who engages in reading and learning activities regularly. And for those who don’t we have excellent preschool and limited full day K along with strong intervention programs. Don’t get me wrong, it seems crazy that we don’t have it in 2014 but if in this budget year contractual agreements eat up our money, I don’t want to lose a media specialist just to have full day K right now as opposed to next year.

    Reply
    • Parent

      Heather I agree that the staff cuts should not be an option. I just can’t believe that without adding anything extra to the budget we are so far above last years spending. Big increase and even less than what we had last year. The proposed budget should have included all day K. I am happy there is more of a discussion around getting our schools up to par-yet still very disappointed that we are not a leader in innovation in education

      Reply
      • heather

        Here’s the reason we are so far above last year’s budget without adding anything:
        “The 5.4 percent budget increase comes out to $1.9 million, reflecting $992,000 in contractual salary increases, $713,000 in benefit increases, $37,000 in transportation cost increases and $431,000 in discretionary spending increases. In particular, health care costs (part of the benefits increase) are up 7.5 percent, or $240,000. In recent years, that increase had been closer to 4 percent.”

        Reply
  6. ewolfsonp

    Cutting the hours of NURSES should NEVER be under consideration ……. think of the health & safety of the children …. I had a child at Frenchtown (MANY) years ago… back when ….there was a part time nurse.. the secretary played nurse as well as all of her other duties…..it was AWFUL…. a NURSE is needed in the building to handle.. Asthma Attacks… Accidents….and SO MANY OTHERS that need attention from a staff member with medical training!!!!!!!!!

    Reply
  7. Parent

    None of the staff cuts proposed seem to add up to the rhetoric presented that these would affect less students than other options. That makes no sense, every single child in the school will be affected if the service is cut or reduced. Nurses roles are obvious, librarians/media specialists are teachers in their own right and seem to being overlooked here or considered a soft target . It seems ridiculous to focus on providing 1:1 chromebooks and then remove the actual staff that teach the skills to use them, ie the Librarians. There must be other budget lines that have less impact on the kids than removing those staff positions. The full budget needs more scrutiny. A high school sports team can get funded for equipment or facilities hiring which is the same cost as required to pay for a Nurse/Librarian. That is 30 students versus 300. Sorry I would rather see 2-300 young students being taught IT skills at a young age than provide them with sporting options at high school. If money is tight then those are less essential, giving the young the best start possible, that is non negotiable. Those staff cuts should be off the table for consideration completely, the short and long term impact is far greater than being presented. I hope the school committee look far more closely at the budget before accepting a poorly thought out budget cut proposal. Too many children will be affected by those proposed service cuts and the impact of doing so is not being presented from what information is being made available.

    Reply

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