By Meg O’Neil
The new year brings position changes on the Newport School Committee, as Charles Shoemaker and Jo Eva Gaines were officially named the Chair and Vice-Chair, respectively, during the committee’s regular meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 8.
Shoemaker had previously been Chair from 2005-2008.
As is customary at the first meeting, the Committee Chair discussed goals for the year.
Shoemaker said one goal is to increase parental involvement in Newport schools. Although parental involvement is strong in the pre-k and Head Start programs, Shoemaker said that momentum is lost as students transition to kindergarten – a trend he would like to see reversed.
He said he’d also like to see more candidates running for School Committee. In the election season just past, seven candidates ran to fill seven seats on the committee. “I welcome any thoughts on how we can increase the number of candidates,” Shoemaker said. “I think we can also all agree to make these meetings run as efficiently as possible so they are not seen as boring, but let’s make them functional.”
Shoemaker said he’d like to further explore the consolidation of finances with the city. Although members on both the City Council and School Committee have said they endorse consolidation, little progress has been made.
Another goal of the School Committee will be to explore changes in extended benefit packages for school department employees.
According to Shoemaker, the most important goal for the upcoming year is to incorporate the Newport Public School District Strategic Plan, a community effort started in 2010 and expected to continue through 2015. The text of the Strategic Plan can be found online at www.NewportRISchools.org.
In other business:
The committee voted unanimously to reappoint attorney Neil Galvin as the school department’s legal counsel. In 2012, the district spent $66,000 on Galvin’s legal services. By comparison, for the four years 2007 to 2010, the amount totalled $91,000.
“This was a year we had innumerable hearings on the Pell School,” Gaines said. “He’s earned every penny.”
Superintendent John H. Ambrogi said the amount Galvin receives depends on the activity level in a certain year. “As long as we are prudent in our day-to-day requests of Galvin, then the number can be kept low.”
- Ambrogi also said that $74,000 remains in the school department’s operating budget for the current year. “Our budget this year is less than our budget was when I took over,” he said. “I don’t know where we’re going with this … I’m a pretty conservative, cautious guy in regards to money. I’ve been very concerned how few dollars have been passed our way and how we’ve had to draw down on personnel … I’d like to pull a rabbit out of a hat, but I don’t have a rabbit, and I don’t have a hat anymore.”