JAMESTOWN SCHOOL COMMITTEE MEETING
Lawn Avenue School
April 3, 2008
Present: Catherine Kaiser, Chairperson
Present: Dr. Marcia Lukon, Superintendent
Dr. Robert Fricklas, Director of Pupil Services
Jane Littlefield, Interim Business Manager
Carole Melucci, Aspiring Principal
Michael White, Town Council Liaison
Peter Gingras, NEARI
The School Committee returned to Open Session following a 6:00 p.m. Executive Session pursuant to RIGL 42-46-5 Exception 2, Litigation regarding Retirement Benefits. Ms. Kaiser announced that no votes were taken.
Call to Order: Ms. Kaiser called the work session to order at 7:08 p.m. and led the Pledge of Allegiance.
Ms. Kaiser called the Roll Call.
Members present: Kaiser, Brennan, Held, Kallfelz.
Members absent: Whitehouse.
Public Forum: None.
Second Reading: Policy on Unreserved Fund Balance Maintenance: Ms. Kaiser commented that Ms. Littlefield ran the wording of the proposed policy to the auditors for their opinion. They pointed out that Jamestown is the first community to have this policy. He questioned how it work in terms of the district’s appropriations to the Town Council and transferring back to the town the excess fund balance. Ms. Kaiser said there is clear consensus among the rest of the committee for the 5% cap on the unreserved fund and returning the rest to the town. However, she said she would like to wait until after the budget process and possibly until the next budget season to set a policy. She said she would like to act as if there is a policy this year, go forward with the 5% cap, let this play out for the year, and not codify it as a policy until the end of that time. Mrs. Kallfelz asked Ms. Kaiser if she was concerned about unanticipated expenses that might put the district in a difficult position. Ms. Kaiser said her major concern is the transfer of $144,000 from unreserved fund to the capital fund; she thought the district could not rely on this type of transfer ad infinitum because the money will not always be in the fund. She suggested that it might be unhealthy to set up a system that assumes the unreserved fund would be transferred for capital costs. She suggested that the committee wait a year to see how this plays out, see what happens with the capital next year, and wait to see what happens with some of the major litigation this year. Ms. Held said her guess was that, in terms of 30/50, the days of overages may be limited. Right now, the district is using the unreserved account as a contingency fund because there are none built into the budget in either special education or litigation line items.
Mr. Brennan expressed concern about backpedaling on the issue. Ms. Kaiser reiterated that she is not against the policy, however, before committing this and future committees to a policy, she wants to live with the 5% cap for the year. Mr. Brennan suggested that these larger expenses in special education and litigation were built into the policy and he asked what the problem was. Dr. Lukon explained that the auditor gave Ms. Littlefield additional advice and suggested that the committee wait until at least after the next financial town meeting.
Ms. Davis read the proposed policy. Mrs. Kallfelz suggested that wording be changed to “...an amount no more than 5%...”. She said she thought that 5% would see the district through expenses that were needed in previous years; however, there are extraordinary expenses this year with litigation and 30/50. She asked whether there is a down-side to espousing the philosophy, living with it for a year, and then either upping the percentage if it leaves the district too lean or agreeing that 5% is adequate. She suggested that it is better to run accounts conservatively. Ms. Held added that the auditor addressed the issue of funds going below the set cap. She noted that there is no mechanism to replace the surplus if it goes below the cap and the district is unable to replace it.
Mr. Brennan moved and Ms. Kallfelz seconded a motion to approve the Policy on Unreserved Fund Balance Maintenance as amended. Motion was defeated by a 3:1 vote. The policy will be tabled for discussion until the next budget season and the School Committee will follow the process to see how the budget plays out with the initial 5% capping of the unreserved fund. Ms. Held suggested that it would be useful to discuss this subject with the Town Council.
Third Reading: Summer School Policy: Ms. Davis read the proposed policy. Members made editorial corrections. Dr. Lukon explained that members can vote to approve the policy pending corrections.
Ms. Held moved and Mr. Brennan seconded a motion to approve the Summer School Policy contingent on corrections. All approved. So moved.
Discussion of FY 08-09 Budget and Possible Vote: Ms. Kaiser explained that the Town Council is requesting that the School Committee decrease the budget by $5,000. In return, they will take over the landscaping of the generator area. Mr. Brennan said that he talked with Mr. Kitts. He thought that this possibility is okay, provided the Department of Public Works follows the plan designed by the school’s planner. He added that Mr. Kitts took the landscaping plan to the DPW, because it is time for planting now. Dr. Lukon asked what would happen if the district took the money out of the budget and the town did not do the planting. Mr. Brennan said that the money would have to be put into the budget next year.
Mr. Brennan said it sounded as if the Council is looking for areas in which to save. He added that the school has two retirees now, new hires will be at a lower step, and savings could be significant. Dr. Lukon said that Ms. Littlefield calculated the savings if incoming teachers were hired at Step 5; the total amount saved for salaries and retirement was $55,926. Dr. Lukon said she spoke with Mrs. Alfred today, and she intends to retire next year. She added that Mrs. Alfred’s contract specifies unlimited buy-back for vacation and sick days, and the potential buy-back is $22,800. With Mrs. Alfred’s leaving, it would be necessary to hire a transition team. Should the position go to a present employee, training would be needed, at a cost of $4,800. Dr. Lukon added that Dr. Fricklas had not budgeted for a student that was expected to graduate; however, that will not happen, and $15,187 will be needed for payment for that student for a partial year. Ms. Kaiser tallied the figures and said the savings is down to $12,139. Dr. Lukon said that there may be other changes, and she suggested that the Committee wait before taking a final vote. Mike White said that the Town Council’s vote will be on April 28 at the earliest, and they would like to meet with the School Committee before the vote.
Mr. Brennan asked about Mrs. Alfred’s position and questioned whether administration had considered combining the position or changing the administrative structure. Dr. Lukon explained that, when the Committee met with administration at the retreat, she gave data to support leaving the administrative structure as it is. She said that the Chart of Accounts change is coming next year, and she is very reluctant to reduce a position at this point. Ms. Kaiser said that final adjustment to the budget will be tabled until April 24.
Date Change, May Workshop: Mrs. Kallfelz moved and Ms. Held seconded a motion to change the date of the workshop from May 1 to May 8, 2008. All approved. So moved.
North Kingstown Letter on Level Funding: Ms. Kaiser explained that North Kingstown wrote a resolution to the legislature regarding capping the tax rate increase in municipalities and school districts, and they asked other districts to do the same. Ms. Kaiser read the resolution. Mr. Brennan will attend North Kingstown’s School Committee meeting next week, and he will share Jamestown’s resolution. Peter Gingras corrected the resolution and said that 30/50 refers to a cap on the tax levy. Ms. Littlefield will check the amount tomorrow regarding the amount Jamestown gets from the capital project. The state has general and capital aid, and capital would flux each year. Ms. Kaiser will arrange a time for members to sign the revised resolution.
School Calendar 2008-2009, and Possible Vote: Dr. Lukon explained that the calendar is very similar to last year’s calendar. She added that a draft went to the JTA, and she explained changes that teacher suggested. Dr. Lukon said there is a question about what Jamestown should do if North Kingstown has holidays for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Ms. Kaiser suggested that Jamestown needs to establish what North Kingstown will do. She added that, in terms of bussing, Jamestown will save money if North Kingstown’s schedule is followed. Dr. Lukon explained that North Kingstown has more professional days than Jamestown, and Jamestown has holidays scheduled on Primary Day and Election Day. The Committee discussed the financial ramifications of Jamestown’s having school when North Kingstown has a holiday. Phil Capaldi explained that JTA is not pushing for holidays one way or the other. He said that JTA worked together with administration to develop the suggested calendar, and he liked it the way it has been created. Dr. Lukon suggested that the issue of the school calendar be tabled until the next meeting in order to check on North Kingstown’s holidays. Ms. Kaiser suggested that administration also look at North Kingstown’s and Jamestown’s start dates. Mr. Brennan will try to get this schedule by email. Consensus of the Committee was to discuss the school calendar on April 24.
Workshop Discussion Topic: Job Fair: Dr. Lukon distributed copies of the article in the JTA contract that discusses the job fair. She explained the advantages of a job fair: it is an accepted protocol, and it allows tenured teachers to try out other positions for which they are qualified. The disadvantages of a job fair are that 1) administrative input is not included, 2) if many positions are open, there could be many changes, and 3) Jamestown might have difficulties in training teachers for new positions. She added that it generally takes three years to become proficient and integrate into a new position. She commented that team teaching in co-teaching rooms depends on having well-matched teams. Dr. Lukon said she thinks it is really important to understand teachers’ preferences, and it is also important for administration to discuss with the faculty the needs for strengths in specific areas. Dr. Lukon said that, in the end, she thinks administration should have the final decision. Ms. Kaiser questioned whether this is the format that administration has. Dr. Lukon explained that a process for this would have to be created, she hasn’t thought it all out yet, and she wants it to be a collaborative process. She added that she can see both sides of why teachers would want a job fair in a particular way.
Ms. Held said she agrees with administrators about needing to have a part in the collaborative process, but because they are responsible for ultimate implementation, then they should have final authority. She thought it was worse to have a job fair that gave people the illusion that they had a choice, rather than the option of just talking about it. If administration has the final say, then it seems as if it is an odd process to have a job fair that seemed as if teachers were able to pick and choose. Mrs. Kallfelz said it is also not right to have the job fair take place in a vacuum for management. She said the precedent holds very little weight for her. Mrs. Kallfelz said she thought the strongest advantage of the job fair is that it allows teachers to express preferences. The system works effectively only when both sides are communicating effectively. She added that administrators are the only ones who have the long view and are mandated to see where the organization is functioning well or poorly, how best to allocate staff how best to use resources, etc. She thought the process leading to the decision should be cooperative. Mrs. Kallfelz asked whether there has been an issue historically about having professional development for teachers who change grade. Dr. Lukon explained that, in the areas that the district is attempting to change, professional development is being provided already for everybody. She added that it is much more difficult to find training and repeat it for one person as opposed to a group.
Ms. Kaiser added that, when looking at professional development needs, if the district invests in a teacher’s professional development and the teacher leaves, then the district has lost. She said she agrees with Mrs. Kallfelz that the job fair is not a format that necessarily supports students. She said she thought that, with collaboration, the district is more apt to have a focus on student achievement. Mr. Brennan said that he thinks the fist statement of the article in the contract guides administration: there is already a collaborative effort have a job fair. The contract does not say that a job fair is mandated; it says administration is to work with the JTA to see if it makes sense. The faculty know the staffing issues and levels of competency. If there is a big discrepancy between what is there and what is needed, Mr. Brennan thought this could be discussed. Administration can still say that maybe those people might not get the positions they wanted. Mrs. Kallfelz said she thinks the first line of the article in the contract sets up adversarial positions. Dr. Lukon added that she has not been here for a job fair.
Phil Capaldi explained that he was hired when Jamestown’s enrollment was increasing. He related his experience of moving to different classes. He added the things started shaking when enrollment started decreasing. Mr. Capaldi said he agrees that the job fair should be a mutual decision. He said he would love to have a job fair and a roundtable discussion about it as well as quantifying and qualifying needs. He said that he thought that administration should explain to the team why the present arrangement is not working. Mr. Capaldi said that if teachers are moved around randomly, it sends a bad message about collaboration. He added that he thinks both the job fair and collaboration can happen. Dr. Lukon is setting the tone for looking at test scores. Mr. Capaldi said there is no need not to have a job fair.
Ms. Kaiser said she is not in favor or a job fair, and she explained her rationale in terms of how a job fair shakes up the staff. She added that she agrees that, if the team is not working and administration thinks it should change, then the team should be told why someone else should be on the team. Mr. Capaldi asked Ms. Kaiser how she justified moving teachers. Ms. Kaiser said that, in her school, teachers move every year. Mr. Capaldi said the genesis of the job fair was brought up by administration. Ms. Held said that Mr. Capaldi’s assumption that if there is no job fair then decision making is capricious is not based on much evidence. Mrs. Kallfelz added that poor managers make capricious decisions, and bad decisions beget poor performance. If administration is not responsible, then the School Committee holds them accountable. She added that it is very hard to prove positive or negative results definitively. Mrs. Kallfelz said her concern is more for students and their performance. She said she also cares for teachers, but she did not think it was good to give administration an ultimatum regarding choosing positions. Mr. Capaldi asked administration on what information they decided that the job fair was not working. He added that there have been many administrators in the last five year.
Charlene Tuttle commented that when teachers have an opportunity to change grades, it can help with spiral teaching. She added that the district only has to pay for subs for professional development. Faith Krause explained that her job was cut this year because a position was reduced. She gave her rationale for supporting the job fair. Ms. Kaiser said she is not arguing about finding jobs for displaced teachers. She added that the Committee is trying to work toward a more collaborative process. Ms. Kaiser explained the number of administrators in the last few year is not so large; Mrs. Sipala was here for five years, there was one interim, and now Dr. Lukon is here, so there has not been continual administrative turnover. In addition, Mrs. Alamanzor has been there consistently.
Mr. Brennan commented that he has worked for the same company for 25 years and has held a number of positions. He added that good teachers will always be asked to help by moving to other positions, and he said he thought a collaborative approach was best. Dr. Lukon explained that she is not opposed to teachers changing positions. She added that her intention would be in asking people if they are interested in moving. Ms. Kaiser noted that job fair language is still in the contract. Mr. Gingras said that JTA was concerned because there was an absence of administrative support for the job fair last year, and there was no communication about it or rationale for why the fair was not held. He suggested that JTA and the district create a collaborative process. Ms. Kaiser said she thought it was better to collaborate from start to finish. The issue of the job fair will be placed on the April 24 agenda for a vote.
Public Forum: None.
Ms. Kaiser said it was great to have the teachers and representation by their union here at the meeting, and she encouraged them to attend any time.
Ms. Tuttle asked whether native plant species were included in the landscaping plan. Mr. Brennan said he was relativelt sure that the plants were not native. He added that Betty Hubbard has done several plans in Jamestown. He said he thought it was a good idea to ask Mr. Kitts make the plan available and to have the students look at it to make suggestions about planting.
Adjourned: Mrs. Kallfelz moved and Mr. Brennan seconded a motion to adjourn the meeting at 8:37 p.m. All approved. So moved.
THE AFOREMENTIONED MINUTES ARE HEREBY APPROVED:
Chairperson, Jamestown School Committee Date