By Meg O’Neil
As discussion heats up between the Newport School Committee and City Council over the topic of shared services, at least one top administrator believes there's already a solid foundation in place between school and city operations.
According to Director of Property Services Paul Fagan, there are already a number of shared services in place between the two departments. He reviewed some of them during the Newport School Committee's monthly meeting on Tuesday, June 12.
Speaking solely from the school side, Fagan reported on a number of recreational services that are currently shared. To begin, the school’s athletic teams use city fields (Toppa, Cardines, Vernon, Murphy) and tennis courts that are maintained by city personnel. In addition, the city’s adult basketball program uses the gymnasium at Rogers, and when the time came for the Newport Recreation Center to recoat the gym floor of the Hut, the school lent out the floor equipment.
Fagan went on to say that the relationship between the schools and police and fire departments is also, “extremely beneficial,” with the police department using Thompson Middle School during second shift hours in April as a training facility. Additionally, both the police and fire departments use the Broadway facility for other activities such as departmental awards ceremonies.
Additionally, Fagan described the relationship between himself and city Tree Warden Scott Wheeler. “I could not do my job for the schools without his help,” he said. According to Fagan, Wheeler has saved the school department thousands of dollars in contracted labor costs by collaborating on a range of projects across school property.
In terms of vehicles, Fagan said the relationship between the city and schools “has always worked well.” All school vehicles are serviced at the city garage by First Vehicle. The school department recently acquired two Chevrolet pickup trucks that school employees spotted in an auction pile. Fagan said City Manager Jane Howington and the City Council donated the trucks for re-use by the school department.
While the school committee was impressed by the amount of shared services already in place, Fagan reported that there could still be ways the relationship between the two groups could improve. He recommended that an additional five areas be explored: utility budgets, service contracts, custodial services, capital improvement programs, and grounds.
Additional updates from the evening’s meeting include the following:
- Lunch Price Increase: Families of students who do not receive free or reduced-price lunch can expect to see an increase in the cost of student lunch in the 2012-2013 school year. Lunch prices will jump from $1.75 at the elementary level to $2 and $2.10 to $2.25 at the middle and high school levels. Newport would still have the lowest price lunch of all schools in the east bay.
- Teachers’ Association of Newport – Mediation and Arbitration: According to school committee member Charles Shoemaker, the negotiating teams from both the school department and teacher’s union met on Friday, June 8, to discuss a possible agreement on a three-year contract. Shoemaker said that the Friday meeting resulted in no further progress, and that the two groups may be headed toward arbitration. Newport school teachers are currently working under the terms of the three-year contract that expired in 2011.
- Pell School Update: School committee member Jo Eva Gaines reported that the underground plumbing for the 100,000-square foot Claiborne deB. Pell Elementary school has been installed. Additionally, the foundation in two of the three buildings has been poured. The structural steel mainframe of the building will be delivered to the site in July.
- Rhode Island Mentoring Partnership (RIMP): The Aquidneck Island Mentoring Program is looking for volunteers to mentor a student for one hour a week. There are currently 27 community volunteers at the elementary level, three at Thompson Middle School, and two at Rogers High School. According to a recent study by the Branch Consulting firm, children in RIMP programs reading scores improved by 53-percent, writing scores by 52-percent, math scores by 49-percent, and referrals for disciplinary actions decreased by 82-percent.