Principal, Board Chair Defend City School Budget Increase

NEWPORT CITY - The Newport City School Board outlined its 2012-2013 budget to the city council Monday evening. Residents will vote on the budget on Town Meeting Day. The budget this year has a 4.98 percent increase. Principal Stephen Earley, who presented the budget with school board chairman Leo Willey, said the school board had level funded the budget for the past five years. The increase would mean about a $44 increase on a $100,000 home. Five years ago, Newport City School placed 141st out of 279 schools as far as per pupil spending. That ranking dropped as the Newport City School Board level funded its budget while other boards increased theirs. Now the Newport City School is 192nd in spending in the state. If voters approve the new budget, Newport City School would bump up to 186th, Earley said.Earley said he feels school officials are not asking for too much and are trying to be responsible.Newport City School students are getting needier and needier, said Earley. The amount of students who qualify for free or reduced lunches continues to rise, which, according to Earley, is expected considering the economy. Earley said the amount of students who receive free or reduced lunch increased from around 63 percent to 70 percent. More students need special education services, Earley said. “When you look at the budget, you’ll find two-thirds of the increase we’re asking for is in special education costs." However, Newport City School has a smaller percentage of special education students than other schools in the North Country Supervisory Union. “We have less than 20 percent in special education.”Alderman Denis Chenette expressed concern that salaries for special education have a 24.52 percent increase, aid salaries increased 12.74 percent, and salaries for regular teachers have a .13 percent increase. Earley pointed out the budget has no salary increase for regular teachers. He also said the board, when looking at the current budget, was considering consolidating the special education position with an intervention position.“Last year when we made the budget, there was a special education position that was consolidated into a regular position that ended up coming out of the regular funds,” said Earley, who added that the special salary, two years ago, was similar to what it is now. “As the needs of the students became more apparent, it became obvious we couldn’t consolidate that position.”Newport City School teachers, along with others throughout the North Country District, are in contract negotiations. However, according to Willey, there is no plan in the budget to deal with any pay raise. If there is one, the board will have to find money in other line items.“We never put a percentage in our budget proposal,” said Willey. “It’s just not a good project when you’re in negotiations and you lay a percentage figure out there for the teachers union to scrutinize. They’ve got a working figure at that time, saying the board has set an amount.”City Manager John Ward said it’s better to budget for it. The school board has a figure in mind based on what other towns have stated, Willey said.Alderman Tim de la Bruere questioned a charge to park the buses. According to the budget, the line item to park the buses in 2012-2013 was $3,200, but that figure dropped $900 in the proposed budget. The buses are kept at a lot in Derby. “We’d love to have them housed in the City of Newport,” said Willey. “We tried that, but were turned down. Years ago we had an outstanding deal with the City of Newport, when the (city) garage was on the Causeway. We had a building there and housed our buses there. When that went away and you built a new property, we were in hopes to go to that, but we were unable to. The city couldn’t find room for us.”The city garage is full of equipment but there might be room outside, said City Manager John Ward Jr. It might also be possible to park the buses on other city property, Ward said.The budget doesn’t include North Country Union High School’s budget.