Wednesday, April 20, 2016

My Remarks at Meeting of Middletown Town Council 4/18/2016

I have based my conduct as a town councilor on two principles: 1) not to speak unless I have something important to say and 2) to always tell you the truth as I see it.  That’s what I am going to do now.

As I have said in newspaper editorials over the last few months, I do not support some of the actions taken by the schools. I do   not   agree that technology is worth more of an investment than teachers, and I do   not   believe that the use of technology is producing better-educated students. 

I base my comments on 35 years in public school education and the last 10 years at the university level where my colleagues and I have seen a decrease in the ability of students to interpret and analyze what they read and write.  Can they read for concrete detail? Yes. Can they understand underlying meaning? No.  As for their vocabulary – best learned through reading – it’s abysmal.

Only the most persistent and motivated students succeed to the level of their own expectations.   The others demonstrate little reading and writing proficiency beyond scanning on smart phones and researching on Google.   So what is to be achieved by integrating more technology into a setting that would show better results from more reading, writing, and integrated discussion?     Should our most important goal be to ensure that our students are more proficient at taking computerized tests so that they can make us look better than others?   Or do we want them to be able to think critically so they can actually  read and write intelligently?

I teach research-based professional writing in a computer classroom so I am more familiar than most with the benefits and disadvantages of technology. I could write a book about the way students can’t read or follow explicit written directions, about how they ignore the written handouts intended to provide additional explanation, how they cannot explain the meaning of the assigned reading rather than the concrete details, how they avoid using the advanced tools of professional research which require deeper pursuit of the written word. They regard Google as the answer to everything.  My high school students of more than 25 years ago could do better.  

But that’s not the most important point I want to make. Close behind my commitment to my own children, I have always been a teacher.   Inspiring students to learn is my passion – sometimes in spite of themselves.    In my opinion, that is the primary role of a teacher, and most teachers agree with that philosophy.   They know that the students in front of them will sink or swim based on what they learn from inspiring teachers.

I value good teachers, and everyone sitting up here with me tonight does as well. There is a great deal of sympathy here for the Middletown teachers who have been disregarded and treated badly. There is no reasonable excuse for spending more than $1 million on technology and having no funds to support the teachers contract.

I see many teachers present at tonight’s meeting. How many teachers think that spending $1 million on technology at one time was the best use of funds?  

It is interesting that the recent report issued this month by RIPEC   (the R I Public Expenditure Council)   concludes that the primary reason for the better performance of MA students is that the responsibility for decisions that impact the education in the schools belongs to the principals and school councils of the individual schools – school councils that include both parents AND teachers.

How many at the Middletown schools themselves – including the teachers – were asked if the investment in technology was the way to improve student performance?    So how did it happen?

The TC was told that the school department needed $300,000 extra for FY 15 (which they received).  Then  they asked for $144,000 extra for FY16 (which they did not receive) to meet necessary expenses.    Yet in the same year that they said they needed another $144,000, they found more than $1 million for technology. It makes one wonder.

The TC was told that policy called for the funds to be used for one-time purchases. But policy can be changed.   As we all know, how they spend their money is up to them, so they bear full responsibility for how they use it – and they deserve both the praise and the criticism  according to how they spend it.     And of course they could have changed the policy.

The TC was told that the funds were restricted. In January, I asked the then Finance Director how much of the funding was transferred from lines in the operating budget. She responded in writing that $661,449 was reported by the school department as unspent surplus that was applied to the technology purchase.  When I asked, she agreed with the following statement:  The schools found $661,449 in surplus operating funds for technology, but they had no money to replace the librarian or to give the teachers a raise.

I will not even elaborate here about the school budget and the historical differences between inflated proposed budget lines, the minimally reduced budget lines which were approved by this council, and the much lower actual expenditures of the school department, sometimes in the thousands of dollars.

No wonder they can end up with a $661,000 surplus, not to mention the $182,000 they just received in Impact Aid which, with a policy change, could have been used to provide more after school support to improve mediocre test results that they claim are so important to address.    And no wonder Town Council members ask so many questions.  But that is another discussion.  The discussion here is about the teachers contract.

Now, in order to fund the teachers contract, for which they made no provisions, the school department  is faced with a budgetary crisis that they propose to transfer to the Town Council for a rescue.

Unfortunately, the Town Council doesn’t have the luxury of focusing on only one segment of the town. We must concern ourselves with all of the community, so it is very difficult to impose the burden of poor management on the entire town. The Town cannot sustain these kind of budget increases and serve everyone equally – the old, the young, and the in-between.    Not everyone can easily absorb the additional expense of higher taxes, regardless of the state’s assessment about our ability to pay.

As for the contract itself, I do not regard this as a fair contract in comparison to the other bargaining units in the town who have sacrificed much for the benefit of the entire community. They deserve the appreciation of every taxpayer.   But as I said before, the teachers have been treated badly, and now it falls to the TC to right the wrong.

So it is with great misgivings that I will vote to approve the proposed contract for the teachers.    But I do so with a prediction that the school department will come back next year and the year after with similar budgetary requests that will finally become so burdensome that they will have no one to blame but themselves when regionalization becomes the only solution. 

Friday, October 3, 2014

Unified High School - Frequently Asked Questions

On November 4, 2014, voters will be asked to approve a ballot question that permits Newport and Middletown to develop proposals related to unifying their 2 high schools.

It is important to know that approval of this ballot question does NOT give permission to unify the high schools. It merely allows the 2 communities to discuss serious proposals.

To actually unify the high schools, voters would have to approve another ballot question AFTER proposed plans have been developed.

The questions and answers below were developed by the Middletown-Newport Unified High School Exploratory Committee over a period of several months.  The answers are neither definitive nor final.  They are simply the options identified by the Committee, or in some cases the Best Practices in other regional school districts.  Should Middletown and Newport citizens decide to pursue high school unification; final decisions will be formulated by the communities over a period of several years.

Why should the citizens of Newport and Middletown consider the possibility of forming a Unified High School?
  Neither Middletown nor Newport has the resources to support the existing educational structures over the long term.  Programs will continue to be reduced or restructured while expenses rise each year.  The educational opportunities available to today’s students – fewer than those that were available to their parents – are unsustainable. 
    School districts in Newport County are faced with major issues related to sustainability that are irresolvable within the current structure:  1) increasingly inadequate funding that affects the quality of the academic programs, 2) diminishing enrollments that undermine the ability to serve the needs of all students, 3) a declining competitive workforce that promotes economic growth, and 4) a declining and aging population.

Governance and Administration
What would be the governance and administrative structure of a Unified High School?
State regulations require a Superintendent. The Unified High School would have its own Superintendent/Principal.  A unified high school could be governed in a variety of ways:
A.     State regulations require a Superintendent. The Unified High School could have its own Superintendent/Principal. A unified high school(s) could be organized as a unique district with its own school committee (separate from the K-8 districts that would be governed by the existing School Committees.)  The Unified High School Committee would have equal representation from each community.  To avoid tie votes, a majority would be required to approve any Committee action.
B.       A unified high school(s) could be governed by either the Newport or Middletown Superintendent and School Committee.  In this option, the high school(s) would be incorporated into an existing school district.  The host School Committee would include representation from both school districts.
    A unified high school(s) could be governed by a unified Middletown-Newport School District.  The Unified School Committee would have equal representation from each community.

 Finances, Affordability and Debt Obligation
 How would a Unified High School be funded? 
   A unified high school budget would be developed based on per pupil costs as defined by the RI Department of Education (RIDE).   The process would be similar to that used by other regional districts.  The funding from each community would follow the student.
   The budget would be presented to the municipal Councils using the method currently employed for municipal K-12 school districts.  The Councils would have bottom line approval.  As is presently the case, disagreements would be resolved by negotiations.  All debt obligations would remain with Newport and Middletown as is presently the case.

 How will the Special Education needs of students be met in a unified system?
There are two approaches which would be considered by a unified school committee:
1. Special Education services would be provided by the school district as is now the case in Newport, or;
2. Special Education Services would be provided by the Newport County Regional Collaborative as is now the case in Middletown.
   The decision of which approach to take would be based on an analysis of costs and benefits by the unified school committee.  Costs would follow the student, that is, the residence of the student would determine which municipality would pay for the needed special education services.  These costs would be included in the budgets submitted to the respective Councils for approval.

 Staffing Changes
Would there be reductions in teachers and staff? 
   It is unlikely that there would be reductions.  As programs and course offerings expand with increase student population, it is more likely that there would be modest increases in staff and/or changes in content areas and programs that affect staff.

 What would happen with employment contracts?
    There would be negotiations involving unifying and consolidating existing contracts.  Present Middletown and Newport employment contracts are similar but not identical.  The differences could be reconciled with “hold harmless” provisions for existing employees.

 Educational Program Changes
How would education programs be enhanced?
   A larger student body would result in class enrollments that enable an expansion of advanced courses as well as career development courses.

 How would unifying the student bodies of both schools make a difference? 
   A student body of 1,300 (instead of 600 or 700) would support classes and programs that cannot be offered now because there are insufficient students to fill the seats.
    For example, a class selected by only 6-8 students must be cancelled, but it could be scheduled if 15 or more students selected the class.  Larger class enrollments would also enable an expansion of advanced courses as well as school-to-work courses. 

 How would the curriculum be enhanced? 
   Career education would be expanded in multiple ways. The Career & Technical School programs would be expanded to more fields and developed to include partnerships with post-secondary institutions as well as connections with business and industry. Students with specific career aspirations could commit to full programs while other students could explore career fields on a space-available basis as well as in stand-alone electives that are not currently available.

 Would there be changes in the elementary or middle school curriculum?
    Collaboration would take place to develop a common curriculum so that all the students entering the unified high school would have the same curricular preparation and would be fully prepared for high school studies.

 How would unification affect elementary and middle school students?
   Unification does not alter current middle school or elementary school arrangements.  Newport’s Pell        
   Elementary School and Thompson Middle School are new and will not change.  Middletown is now considering a refurbishment and building plan for all the schools.  The plan is for renovation and repair needed regardless of any unification activity and will proceed, or not, irrespective of high school unification.

 Transitions, Facilities, Transportation, School Spirit,
Is a new high school being proposed as part of unification?
    The Unified Committee is not proposing a new school.  If and when a regional high school is proposed, the cost would be distributed among the state and the participating communities – approximately 40%, 30%, 30% respectively.
    Both existing high schools are in need of expensive renovations. The operating costs of one new building would be lower than the costs of renovating and operating two older buildings.
    Middletown’s facilities plan includes construction beginning in 2016 of a new $58 million high school, not including a gym or auditorium, followed by the renovation of MHS as an elementary school for $45 million.
Newport’s renovations would include a new roof at a projected $1.5 mil and a new track at $1 mil, not including other maintenance costs.
   Capital costs and bonding would be the responsibility of Newport and Middletown separately.

What would be the financial benefits of a constructing a single regional high school?
   Both existing high schools are in need of expensive renovations. In addition, the operating costs of one building would be lower than the costs of operating two buildings. 

 How would the two high schools be transitioned to one school?
    Community and parental involvement are the key to successful unification.  The Newport Pell School elementary consolidation and Middletown’s creation of a grades 4-6 Learning Academy required years of meeting and consultations with parents, school staff, school and city administrations.  These are models of how successful unification should proceed.

 What is the timeline for the transition to a single high school?
   A transition period would allow the combining of students to form a critical mass for curriculum expansion and development.  There are a number of different options being considered, but the committee would like to hear ideas from the public.

 What transition plans are under consideration for unification while a new regional high school is in the planning and development stages? 
   The goal would be to begin to create larger enrollments that would make possible the development of new courses or the restoration of opportunities that have been lost as the enrollment has declined.

 How would transportation be managed?
   The communities would continue to transport their students.  Collaboration within each town (9-12 and Prek-8) and across towns (common geographic areas) would ensure efficiency.

 How would the students be unified to create a critical mass prior to planning for a new regional high school?
    There are a number of options including the following:
    One existing school could focus on college prep programs while the other could focus on career prep programs.
    The 9th and 10th grades could attend one school, and 11th and 12th grades could attend the other.
    The schools in one community could be re-organized, moving grade 4 back to the elementary schools; the 9th grade could move to the middle school, and grades 10-12 could be combined.
    These are only a few of the possible options, but a transition period would allow the combining of students to form a critical mass for program expansion and development.

Extracurricular Activities and Sports

Both MHS and RHS have built reputations that foster loyalty within the communities.  What would make me want to change anything that seems to be working so well?
    Aquidneck Island was once served by a single regional high school, Rogers High School.  A unified high school can build its own loyalties, customs and support base in the same way Middletown and Portsmouth did since taking separate paths years ago.
   Education is more than a location.  Education is an opportunity for all students to reach their highest potential. They cannot do that when their opportunities are limited because the low number of students does not support the range of courses that would meet the needs of all the students.

 How would unification affect the athletic programs?
    The number of athletic team and individual sports opportunities would increase. 

 How would unification affect extracurricular activities?
    The number of team, intramural, and individual sports as well as extracurricular opportunities would increase as staff could be used more efficiently.

To reiterate - To actually unify the high schools, voters would have to approve another ballot question AFTER proposed plans have been developed.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Conversations About Regionalization - Part 3

Discussions took place in late fall of 2013 with Newport representatives who believed that the Newport Council was 100% behind the initiative in Middletown.
As in previous conversations in other communities, it was agreed the program needs to be “outstanding.” There was discussion about educating 100% of the students and the decreasing middle class.  Lacking options, students without college aspirations simply “do their time” and leave without skills to become a drain on the economy, perpetuating an under class.
It is likely that the tuitioning towns – Jamestown and Little Compton – would only jump ship for an outstanding program.
There was some discussion of funding; it was suggested that the sale of Rogers High School could ease the city’s bonding obligation
Frustration was expressed over discussions that had previously taken place at the SC level but had gone nowhere, but it was agreed that dialogue and planning taking place at the municipal level was more likely to bring results

There continues to be consistent agreement about the following:
1.      The top priority is an outstanding program that meets the needs of 100% of the students.
2.      It is actually possible to provide outstanding special education services within a reasonable budget.
3.      There are financial benefits to be gained by a single facility and greater efficiency.
4.      There is agreement that equitable representation is a basic priority.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Conversations About Regionalization - Part 2

Our activities continued in the Fall of 2013:

1.      Discussion was conducted with a member of the Middletown School Committee relating to Portsmouth’s efforts to create a STEAM Charter School or integrate such an academy at Portsmouth High School. It was suggested that this might be an effort to filter high ability level students to Portsmouth.  It was also agreed that Portsmouth’s efforts probably lessened the probability of their joining the Newport County consolidated high school efforts; at the same time, it was agreed that the development of a program that served 100% of the students at a consolidated high school with a critical mass would level the playing field and ensure the viability of two outstanding high schools in the region.
2.      An offer was extended to solicit grants to support the necessary public communication at the proper time.
3.      At  a meeting with a representative from RIDE, there was discussion about the challenges ahead. It was stated that the Commissioner was an advocate of regionalization but recognized that developing Charter schools was an easier prospect; nevertheless RIDE would strongly support the initiative. Mention was made of financial incentives as well as answers to questions and information about funding data related to RI regional and tuitioning districts if requested.
4.      There was discussion of regionalization discussions going back 20 years and it was felt then that it would not happen until “our backs were up against the wall,” almost to where we are now.
5.      Discussion centered around recent meetings and the challenge of engaging other districts. It was suggested that, assuming favorable legislation could be passed related to governance and funding, consolidating with Newport would be a good start. Facilities plans could include potential expansion.  It was agreed that the academic program, however, would have to be exemplary and serve 100% of the students. 
6.      On Thursday, August 22, a team of two TC and one SC visited Wachusett, the largest  of many regional districts in MA; it has the 2nd lowest per pupil cost. We first reviewed governance and funding; then we toured the high school, which serves 2100 students.  The high school was regionalized in the early 1950’s; a new facility was completed in 2008.
7.      The facility supports a rigorous program that serves 100% of the students in a program that starts with the assumption that all the students will further their education while it provides multiple skills and options for those who cannot afford to go or do not want to. 
8.      The biggest takeaway was something the high school principal said in comparing large schools to smaller ones:   “Program and rigor make the difference. Your students are competing with the students at Wachusett for college acceptance.”  It follows that they are also competing for jobs with students who are entering the workforce with skills.
9.      In a discussion of special education it was said that parents from out of the district sent students to Wachusett through school choice because of its reputation for serving special education students well; an example was a family that had moved nearer to the district to make transportation easier. The principal said he could have a classroom of 8 autistic or developmentally delayed students with 2 teachers and 8 one-on-one aides.
10.  WRHS serves Life Skills students, and an Alternative Education class; 582 students are scheduled for “Academic Skills remediation” in 80 sections (students may be scheduled in more than one section.) 
11.  Students can opt for full time placement in a regional vocational school by application in Grade 8.
12.  While a meeting with Tiverton reps has not yet been scheduled, the Tiverton Town Council forwarded the Middletown Resolution to its SC “for further study.”
13.  We have been informed that interest has been expressed by a local foundation in supporting our efforts.
14.  A meeting took place with 2 TC reps and a SC rep in Little Compton.  Like in Jamestown, they are satisfied with their current arrangement – both financial and programmatic; however, they indicated that they would be willing to participate with a Consolidated High School Planning Committee.
There continues to be consistent agreement about the following:

1.      Students in smaller schools do not have the educational opportunities that make them competitive with those who have had broader educational experience.

2.      Only consolidation into one building can offer the benefits of a larger critical mass.
3.      The top priority is an outstanding program.
4.      Just as important are the financial benefits to be gained by a single facility and greater efficiency.
5.      It is actually possible to provide outstanding special education services within a reasonable budget.
6.      Equitable representation was universally supported as a basic priority.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Conversations About Regionalization - Part 1

Soon after the Middletown Town Council authorized the Town Administrator to develop a statistical model of a regional high school, Councilman Adams and I began to meet with groups and individuals on an informal basis to “take the temperature” of Newport County. 

We met with representatives from various constituencies with the simple goal of sharing ideas and the following results: 

1.      Following discussion with a councilor from Newport, the Newport Council passed a resolution supporting Middletown’s authorization for the development of a model.
2.      A member of the Portsmouth Town Council was personally supportive but not promising regarding the town’s participation.  Suggestions included developing a PAC as well as engaging parent and/or citizen groups.
3.      We next met with a Portsmouth resident who represents the RI Superintendent’s Association. Unfortunately, the proposed options benefitted only Portsmouth.
4.      A Middletown SC member provided a list of civic organizations for future communication.
5.      Prominent Middletown residents volunteered to help support consolidation if it went forward.  It was observed that Middletown used to be the school leader of the island, but Portsmouth had now assumed that role. Conclusion?  People move to the town that they think have the best schools.
6.      Jamestown representatives said that their schools had been solicited by Narragansett, Newport, and Portsmouth; it tuitions students to NK, primarily because of its program.  Only an outstanding program would make them leave NK. 
7.      It was agreed that test scores have little value as an assessment of the quality of a district; the measure is in the programs provided.
8.      It was agreed that budgetary savings would result from combining physical plant, operating expenses, and administration; an outstanding program would require reorganization of teaching staff due to expanded programming, not reductions.
9.      Jamestown also raised the issue of the perceptions of higher value of Portsmouth’s schools over Middletown’s. 
10.  Prospective efforts at the state level as well as the fiscal impact of the proposal were discussed with a state senator. It was agreed that there would be initial capital costs – much the same as corporate investment in capital to achieve long term savings. The greatest savings would be realized in the implementation stage with consolidation of facilities as well as the reduction of operating expenses (maintenance and custodial services, utilities, combination of services, etc.)
11.  Proposing new legislation more acceptable to the unique partnerships was recommended.  Suggested was a focus on the “why” in order to build consensus that supports the need as well as the financial implications and programming.
12.  A representative of the Newport County Chamber of Commerce expressed support for a program that would increase the meaningful hands-on experiences of high school graduates, thereby expanding the local skilled workforce.  The Chamber will act as a fiscal agent for grants and other funds to be used to market the concept once a firm plan is developed.
In conclusion there was general agreement about the following:
1.      The region’s small high schools are not sustainable – as funding diminishes, so does academic programming.
2.      Consolidation into one building would have the best result; if high schools are combined and merely reproduce what is already in place, there would be no educational benefit.
3.      A regionalized building would require initial capital investment with primary cost savings to be gained from the operation and maintenance of a single facility.
4.      Funding issues have to be transparent and focused on efficiency.
5.      Other districts might join if an outstanding program promises both post-secondary school and high school graduate job success by servicing 100% of the students,
6.      New legislation could alleviate issues related to governance and funding.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

School Regionalization – Restarting the Movement

I started this blog more than 4 years ago, in February 2010. My main purpose was to advocate for school regionalization.  If the reader is interested in the reasons Newport Country schools should regionalize, they are the same and the articles are still available on this blog. But now I need to bring the reader up to date.

In July 2013, Councilman Richard Adams and I renewed the effort to provide better educational opportunities to the students of Newport County, particularly at the high school level. 

Enrollments have dropped dramatically since 1990 and the country has recently been in a recession; as a result, school districts are not able to offer the same opportunities to students as they had to their parents. Reduced budgets and declining enrollments have meant fewer teachers and fewer high school courses while, at the same time,  RIDE is demanding higher standards. School districts are nearing the breaking point.  

But timing is everything. The community wasn’t ready in 2010. We think it is finally ready now to see that, to serve our high school students well, we have to put aside our emotional attachments to past glories and accept the need for change.

Tomorrow I’ll tell you what we did to re-start the discussion.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Newport Daily News - Editorial - Regional high school worth study

July 22, 2013

After many false starts, we are glad to see the idea of regionalization is not completely dead.

That’s because we believe it is a concept that has merit, but has not been fully explored yet, at least on Aquidneck Island.

The issue bubbled up last week in a most unexpected place — at a press conference officially unveiling plans for an 18-mile bikeway across Aquidneck Island. The elected leaders of all three island communities said the Aquidneck Island Bikeway actually represented much more than a safe place for bicyclists to ride.

“We should use it as a symbol ... of what else can we do to create a ‘single community,’” Newport Mayor Harry Winthrop said.

“It’s a great synergy,” Portsmouth Town Council President James A. Seveney added.

“This could be a symbolic first step towards looking at regionalization,” said Middletown Town Council Christopher T. Semonelli. “Maybe it’s the word that we have a problem with, because there’s certainly plenty of desire.”

The Middletown council took it a step past symbolism later the same day, when it voted to take the lead in exploring the feasibility of a regional high school for the island. By a 6-1 vote, it instructed the town administration to develop a model for a 2,000-student school for Newport, Middletown and Portsmouth.

Councilman Richard Adams, who proposed the resolution along with Councilwoman Barbara VonVillas, noted that “we’ve all talked about regionalization for a long time.”

But, he added: “It used to be, not so long ago, that you said the word ‘regionalization,’ you’d better get under the desk because there was a great outcry against it. The whole context has changed.”

During its meeting later in the week, the Middletown School Committee informally supported the concept, and Superintendent Rosemarie Kraeger pledged the School Department’s assistance.

Meanwhile, Middletown School Committee Chairwoman Theresa Silveira Spengler noted that she was meeting with her counterparts in the other island communities to discuss shared services.

That sort of thing — joining forces to purchase items or services or negotiate contracts — has been happening for some time now.

However, discussions about creating a regional school district have gone nowhere, despite studies that have shown financial savings and academic promise.

So maybe this is the way to start — with one regional project, rather than creating a whole new system. And maybe it is smart for it to start in Middletown, which in addition to being geographically in the middle of the island, also is the least polarizing community when it comes to this issue. (Readers may recall that several years ago, a Portsmouth School Committee member said that district did not want “Newport’s problems.”) It will be interesting to see how other communities respond. The Newport City Council will be the first to weigh in; it is expected to take up the matter at its meeting Wednesday.

We are encouraged by Middletown’s leadership on this issue and look forward to seeing the proposal when it comes forward.

Newport Daily News - Officials support study of regional high school

By Matt Sheley
July 18, 2013
Middletown school officials appear to support a proposal to investigate the merits of a 2,000-student regional high school on Aquidneck Island.

Superintendent Rosemarie K. Kraeger and School Committee members said they are interested to see what comes out of a request from Town Council members Richard Adams and Barbara A. Von-Villas for Town Administrator Shawn J. Brown to design a model for the school.

Adams and VonVillas attended the regular monthly School Committee meeting Wednesday afternoon at the Oliphant administration building, where council members and school officials agreed the study would go nowhere without cooperation.

“I do think we need to look at a regional model, given the constraints on our educational offerings and our budgets, but it has to be right for Middletown and right for our students,” Kraeger said. “Unless that happens, it’s going to be a tough sell.”

The School Department is ready to lend a hand, should educators be called upon for assistance, she said. The item is expected to be included on the agenda for the School Committee’s next meeting on Thursday, Aug. 22, at 4 p.m. at Oliphant.

“There has been some initial dialogue about shared services, but nothing about regionalization recently,” Kraeger said. “It’s come up in the past, but it’s been some time.”

Rising costs and shrinking educational offerings have sparked renewed talk in the past couple of months about Newport, Middletown and Portsmouth schools pooling resources.

A June 2009 report by the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council indicated the three communities on Aquidneck Island could save close to $13 million by combining their high schools by fiscal 2013.

Adams and VonVillas said they want Brown to investigate the matter since concrete talks have taken place.

Although Brown was given no deadline for his report, it is expected to be completed this fall, once more than 30 questions — part of the Adams-VonVillas resolution — are answered and all the relevant information is addressed. School Committee Chairwoman Theresa Silveira Spengler said she doesn’t know what will come of the Adams-VonVillas proposal, but believes it is a good exercise to undertake.

“We’re going to be meeting with the other two communities (Newport and Portsmouth) to talk about shared services,” Silveira Spengler said. “I’m curious to see what will come out of this and see what’s discussed.”

Others agreed.

“I think developing this model makes things more concrete,” said Kellie DiPalma, school board vice chairwoman. “It gives a better idea of what we’re looking at, and we can have a better idea that we’re all talking about the same thing.”

“I really do think we are changing the culture of what we did in the last regionalization committee,” School Committee member Liana Ferreira Fenton said. “People are now beginning to say, ‘Oh, wait. This might help during budget season.’” Given the amount spent on schools on Aquidneck Island annually, consolidating could save money and offer a better educational experience overall, School Committee member Paul E. Mankofsky said.

“We can’t continue to support the high schools on this island, or our schools, the way we’re doing it now,” he said. “Collectively, among the three communities, we spend over $100 million and we have upwards of 6,000 students.”

But without answers to key questions — like how a regional high school arrangement would work, the costs and the time frame — the concept would have a difficult time gaining the support of stakeholders and getting off the ground, Mankofsky said.

“It should come up with a notion of how are we going to build this? What’s the total cost? What’s the total cost of operations? What’s the total cost of, perhaps, replacement?” he said. “Those elements, in a model, would give the public an idea for what we’re talking about for the parameters, the bounds, of a regional high school.”

Addressing the School Committee, Adams said he and VonVillas attended the meeting to let educators know their input is important. Without their cooperation, regionalization would be a tough go, he said.

“It is time, and we can do this,” Adams said. “We can pull this off. Is it going to be easy? I think the way to do it is at the high school level so we won’t get ourselves mixed up with the other grades to start with.”

Newport Daily News: Town will explore regional high school

By Matt Sheley                                            
July 16, 2013
The Middletown Town Council decided Monday night to take the lead in exploring the prospect of establishing a regional high school on Aquidneck Island.

The council voted 6-1 to approve a resolution proposed by Richard Adams and Barbara A. VonVillas instructing Town Administrator Shawn J. Brown to develop a model proposal for a new islandwide high school.

Councilman Bruce J. Long voted against the resolution, saying the matter might be better handled by school officials.

Adams and VonVillas argued that given the struggling state of the economy, reduced state and federal aid, declining student enrollments, lagging curriculum and other factors, the atmosphere was right to push the discussion forward.

“There are a lot of moving pieces and we’ve all talked about regionalization for a long time,” Adams said. “I’ve been struck by something lately. It used to be, not so long ago, that you said the word ‘regionalization,’ you’d better get under the desk because there was a great outcry against it. The whole context has changed.”

No timeline was given for Brown to complete the work, but he is expected to report back to the council in several months.

In a two-page letter to the council, Adams and VonVillas suggest Brown develop specific data on personnel, curriculum, athletics, enrichment programs and facilities based on a 2,000-student school “that would enable all students to achieve future success and independence through post-secondary education or entry-level skilled positions.”

Among more than 30 questions needing answers are the number of teachers, administrators, related personnel, number of academic courses, athletic and extracurricular opportunities and square footage of the school building, offices and amenities.

“There are two major reasons: one is money and the other is education,” Von-Villas said. “There are people who will support regionalization because it will save money and the efficiency and the other factions will support it because of the need for it educationally.

“Newport County communities can no longer afford the constant increases in school budgets. Every one of our communities has suffered this season trying to make things work,” she said. “None of the school committees have been satisfied with the money they’ve been allocated by the towns and we’ve given as much as it’s possible for us to give.”

Sen. Louis P. DiPalma, D-Middletown, said he would support the council in its effort however he could, including seeking financial assistance.

“From a state perspective, there’s not a hearing that we have, where a person comes before a Senate finance or Senate education committee, where myself or someone else on the committee doesn’t ask, ‘So what have you done to try to become more efficient?’” DiPalma said. “The second question, right after that, is ‘What have you done to be more effective?’” According to DiPalma, the state currently provides an additional 2 percent in housing aid costs for each grade level that is regionalized. Also, DiPalma said, the state offers an additional 2 percent under the state funding formula in the first year of regionalization, 1 percent in the second year (there is no additional state aid in subsequent years). It was unclear Monday night what the move could mean in state aid and savings for Middletown, Newport and Portsmouth.

The concept of merging the three public school districts on the island has come up on a number of occasions through the years.

In June 2009, the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council released a report showing the three communities on the island stood to save close to $13 million by consolidating by fiscal 2013, which ended June 30.

To date, the concept has been a nonstarter, with talks gaining little traction, but most on the council said they’d like to see that change.

In voting against the resolution, Long asked, “Is it appropriate for the town administrator to do this? It seems that the expertise lies with the School Department.”

In response, other council members said they had no doubt Brown would use the expertise of educational officials to come up with the best model possible.

A staunch proponent of regionalization in the past, Town Council President Christopher T. Semonelli said he was skeptical that other communities would come forward to participate, but it was worth a try.

“It’s a math thing and it’s real easy to determine financially it’s needed,” Semonelli said. “We reached out to people in the community and we got no one to participate. I’m not being a naysayer. I’m at the point where I think someone from the state has to say, ‘You have to do this.’” But others said the time seemed right to revisit the concept on a local level, starting with a regional high school.

“Those boundary lines need to be broken down at some point of time,” Councilman Paul M. Rodrigues said. “I support Mrs. VonVillas and Mr. Adams for bringing this forward. Certainly, there are a lot of facts that need to be gathered and it takes real leadership to move this thing forward.”

“This is a must now,” said Robert J. Sylvia, council vice president. “We can’t ask our taxpayers any longer to keep tightening their belt. They’re hurting. We can no longer support the services that we have.”

Earlier in the meeting, as part of an unrelated conversation, School Committee Chairwoman Theresa Silveira Spengler said she would be meeting with representatives from the Newport and Portsmouth school districts to see if there were areas in which they could work together, primarily focused on maintenance and related matters. Silveira Spengler said wholesale regionalization was not on the table at this point.

Adams said was excited about the possibility of exploring the issue, wherever the matter took the council and the rest of the community.

“We may not exactly know where we’re going, but we’d better get going,” he said.

Resolution of the Middletown Town Council Supporting the Development of a Model Regionalized High School

WHEREAS: The Rhode Island economy continues to slowly recover from the 2007-2008 recession but with significant weaknesses in employment and economic growth; and

WHEREAS: Newport County school enrollments have significantly decreased and are expected to further decline while school budgets rise; and

WHEREAS: Newport County school districts have seen a substantial reduction in Rhode Island state aid, military impact funding and other revenue,and cities and towns have seen a continued reduction of state aid; and

WHEREAS: Educational programs have been reduced to basics, advanced courses eliminated and/or reduced, and entry-level job skill training severely curtailed; and

WHEREAS: Newport County municipalities will be required to make unacceptable reductions in town and city services to support existing school programs and facilities; and

WHEREAS: Property taxes cannot be raised to sustainably fund both municipal services and an educational system which provides a superior education and meets the needs of the Rhode Island economy; and

WHEREAS: Local taxpayers are already burdened by some of the highest property taxes in the country; and

WHEREAS: School districts and cities and towns must comply with RIGL§44-5-2, which caps the property tax levy imposed by municipalities; and

WHEREAS: RIGL§16-2-9(d) requires "The school committee of each school district shall be responsible for maintaining a school budget which does not result in a debt"; and

WHEREAS: It is in Middletown’s best interest to promote community discussion centered on a model for a regional high school which couldhelp alleviate decreasing educational opportunities and consolidate educational funding; and

WHEREAS: A regional high school model is neither a proposal nor a commitment and would be limited to providing a detailed basis for discussion and resolution of issues.

NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED: That the Town of Middletown Administration develop a model of a regional high school incorporating all relevant features and issues such as funding, personnel and staffing, curricula, athletics and enrichment, and facilities.

NOW THEREFORE BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED: That a copy of this Resolution be forwarded to all Newport County municipalities, School Committees, State Senators, State Representatives, and the Governor.

JULY 15, 2013


Developing a Model for a Regionalized High School in Newport County

On July 15, 2013, the Middletown Town Council approved a resolution based on the following request:

At various times over the last 5 years, there have been discussions related to school regional-ization in Newport County that have resulted in little or no action.  

Change is hard, especially when it involves a culture of independence and separation that has been institutionalized over time. In such a case, timing is everything. It may be that the time is now.

Consider the following:
• The economy is barely in recovery following a crippling recession.
• School enrollments have decreased significantly while school budgets have continued to rise.
• Educational programs have been stripped to the basics while advanced courses have been reduced and entry-level job skill training has been eliminated.
• Newport County municipalities cannot continue to support existing school programs and facilities at the expense of the local economy.

As a result, Newport County residents may now be ready to accept a discomforting cultural change to ensure the best possible education for their children within reasonable budgets.

It is in Middletown’s best interest to promote discussion centered on a model for a regional high school which would have the potential to solve the crushing issues of decreasing educational opportunities for future high school students as well as to consolidate educational funding which has become burdensome to all the local communities.

A model is just a model; it is neither a proposal nor a commitment. However, a model would allow municipal authorities to focus attention and discussion on something more tangible than a concept open to multiple interpretations. Such a model should include the following data:

• Per pupil and total costs for an enrollment of 2,000 students
• Number of administrative personnel, average individual costs, and total costs
• Number of teaching faculty, average individual costs, and total costs
• Number of instructional support staff, average individual costs, and total costs
• Number of clerical support staff, average individual costs, and total costs
• Number of custodial staff, average individual costs, and total costs
• Number of maintenance staff, average individual costs, and total costs

• Number of English courses, full year and electives, number of sections
• Number of Mathematics courses, full year and electives, number of sections
• Number of Science courses, full year and electives, number of sections
• Number of Social Studies courses, full year and electives, number of sections
• Number of World Language courses, full year and electives, number of sections
• Number of Art courses, full year and electives, number of sections
• Number of Music courses, full year and electives, number of sections
• Number of Business/Technology courses, full year and electives, number of sections
• Number of Consumer Science courses, full year and electives, number of sections
• Number of Career and Technical programs, full year and electives, number of sections
• Number of Physical Education courses, full year and electives, number of sections
• Number of Advanced Placement courses, full year and electives, number of sections

Athletics and Enrichment
• Number of Athletic programs, staff, number of participants, costs
• Number of Intramural programs, staff, number of participants, costs
• Number of Clubs, staff, number of participants, costs

• Number of standard classrooms, square footage
• Number of small classroom spaces, square footage
• Number of large specialty rooms (music, arts, technology, consumer science, etc.), square footage
• Library, square footage
• Number of offices
• Number of Bathrooms, square footage.
• Cafeteria, square footage
• Kitchen, square footage
• Gymnasium to accommodate 4 simultaneous classes, square footage
• Auditorium to accommodate 500 seats, square footage
• Additional spaces (closets, equipment storage, etc.), square footage
• Total square footage and cost

It is proposed at this time that the Middletown Town Council direct the administration to develop a data-driven model of a regional high school that would provide an outstanding 9-12 education with personnel, curriculum, instruction, and appropriate facilities for an enrollment of 2,000 that would enable all students to achieve future success and independence through post-secondary education or entry-level skilled positions.