By Meg O’Neil
NEWPORT – When the 2013 fiscal year starts on July 1, it will mark the seventh year in a row that city councilors have either level-funded or cut the school department’s budget. To put that in perspective, in FY2006, the school department received $23,456,396 from the city. For the current school year, the schools received $22,564,158 – a net loss of $892,238.
It was under that premise that the Newport School Committee met at Thompson Middle School on Monday, June 18 to discuss potential cost saving strategies, which ranged from cutting academic programs to staff reductions.
With a $639,515 deficit in the operating budget, and an additional $400,000 cut in federal funding for Title I and II programs, Supt. John H. Ambrogi told committee members that when it comes to savings, the administration has begun to run out of options. “We don’t have many places to go at this point in time,” Ambrogi said.
“There are some tough decisions that have to be made as far as what programs, positions and other situations can be cut,” he said. “None of this is fun, it’s not a position I want to be in, but we need to take a look and see where we are with these budget decisions.”
Due to reduced federal funding for Title I, which is used to pay for specialized reading and math teachers, Ambrogi recommended laying off three reading specialist teachers.
If approved, the move would bring the number of reading teachers from six at the elementary level to four, and the number of reading teachers at Thompson from four to three. It would also save $333,000 annually in federal funds.
“If you wanted to keep those three reading teachers, you’d need to request $1 million from the City Council,” he said. “I don’t think that’s going to happen. In a perfect world, I would’ve liked to have been funded a little per year so we weren’t in this situation today.”
When the new Claiborne deB. Pell Elementary School opens in September 2013, Ambrogi says that the remaining amount of reading teachers is likely to be a sufficient amount for the student population.
“I think we need to put more resources at the elementary level. That’s where the foundation is for everything else,” he said. “I’m sitting here in the position of having to dismantle something that I’ve worked hard to establish over the last seven years … these are tough decisions that will impact someone: kids, teachers, programs.”
Other school programs face possible elimination as well, including a proposal that would eliminate the Advanced Placement Chemistry class at Rogers High School for 2012-2013 school year. Eight students signed up to take AP Chemistry this fall. The school department has proposed to cut the program, and instead make it available to students the following year.
Several on the committee opposed the proposal.
School Committee Chairman Patrick K. Kelley cited his son’s college which he credited to the AP courses offered at Rogers High School. Likewise, Committee vice-chair Rebecca Bolan also said that her daughter received her doctorate in a shorter amount of time because of the college-credit courses that she took at Rogers.
“I’m kind of shocked at this,” Kelley said. “We know that the jobs of the future are in the sciences, but now for some reason, we’ll take that opportunity away from these eight students. I just can’t support that.”
Rogers was recently rated as the 8th best high school in the state by U.S. News and World Report and the American Institute for Research, with much of that ranking based on the amount of Advanced Placement courses offered to students.
Meanwhile, Committeewoman Jo Eva Gaines stressed the importance of not cutting any programs until the budget numbers were entirely firmed up.
“It’s important that we advocate for what we know our kids need as we go forward,” she said. “I don’t think we should be cutting programs until we know what the City Council will give us.”
The City Council will vote on the school’s FY2013 budget on Wednesday, June 27.