Portsmouth schools ended year with $425,000 surplus

The new turf field at Portsmouth High School officially opened to students Monday, as cheerleaders, athletes and marching band members broke it in for the first time before the start of school on Tuesday. Here, PHS cheerleader Ashley Underhill (middle left) and her teammates practice a routine on the new turf Tuesday afternoon. The first home football game, against Rogers High School, is scheduled for Friday, Sept. 12. It will be preceded by a fund-raising golf ball drop at 5:30 p.m., followed by the official ribbon-cutting ceremony at 6 p.m. School Committee member David Croston said the PHS tennis courts, which are also part of the “T3” project, will be surfaced starting Thursday, Aug. 21, and may be ready for play by the middle of next week. Photo by Richard W. Dionne Jr. The new turf field at Portsmouth High School officially opened to students Monday, as cheerleaders, athletes and marching band members broke it in for the first time before the start of school on Tuesday. Here, PHS cheerleader Ashley Underhill (middle left) and her teammates practice a routine on the new turf Tuesday afternoon. The first home football game, against Rogers High School, is scheduled for Friday, Sept. 12. It will be preceded by a fund-raising golf ball drop at 5:30 p.m., followed by the official ribbon-cutting ceremony at 6 p.m. School Committee member David Croston said the PHS tennis courts, which are also part of the “T3” project, will be surfaced starting Thursday, Aug. 21, and may be ready for play by the middle of next week. Photo by Richard W. Dionne Jr.

PORTSMOUTH — The School Department ended fiscal year 2014 with an operating surplus of $425,323, Chris DiIuro, the district’s director of finance and administration, told the School Committee Tuesday night.

That brought the district’s fund balance to about $3.4 million.

“These are preliminary numbers; we have not had our audit yet,” said Mr. DiIuro.

Revenues for fiscal year 2014 that ended June 30 were about $37.16 million — below budget by $501,619, according to Mr. DiIuro. The expenditures do not include the $1 million un-budgeted transfer to the capital projects fund which went toward the “T3” athletic field upgrades at the high school. (More than $500,000 has been raised in private donations for the improvements as well.)

However, the district saved more than $920,000 on the expenditures side, he said.

Some of the key savings were made in the following areas, he said:

• $286,000 in health expenses, which including a one-time equity distribution of $107,000

• $247,000 in special education tuition as a result of students moving out of the school district

• $150,000 in professional development funds that were unspent

Mr. DiIuro said the fire code code upgrades at Hathaway School will be paid for out of the general fund surplus. The project costs about $692,000, but the town is eligible to receive a 40-percent state reimbursement, he said.

School Committee Vice Chairwoman Emily Copeland commended administration for increasing the facilities rental income by nearly 500 percent, from $7,569 to $37,284.

Impact statements questioned

Also Tuesday night, the committee heard from Larry Fitzmorris of the taxpayer group Portsmouth Concerned Citizens, regarding the accuracy of the committee’s fiscal impact statements (FIS).

“This is the third or fourth time I’ve been before you with this subject,” said Mr. Fitzmorris. “The last one you put out on Nov. 13, 2013 was substantially inaccurate.”

That’s when the School Committee ratified labor contracts for the National Education Association (NEA) and Portsmouth School Administrators Association. According to Mr. Fitzmorris, the FIS understated the cost of the NEA contract considerably and did not include information on the cost of step increases. He suggested the School Committee modify its policy to include information on the cost of step increases, longevity, professional pay, pensions and other items in any future FIS.

“This is not revolutionary,” said Mr. Fitzmorris. “It has been done for a number of years in Coventry and Cranston.”

Committee member John Wojichowski said he would be open to providing additional reports that may be helpful to the community, but disagreed with Mr. Fitzmorris’ charge that the statements’ numbers didn’t add up.

“The information put forward was completely accurate,” said Mr. Wojichowski.

Mr. Fitzmorris responded by saying if the committee had forecast its labor contracts accurately, it wouldn’t have needed to “lay off a number of people.”

Committee member David Croston said the panel should work with administration and seek Mr. Fitzmorris’ input toward making its statements more helpful to taxpayers. “There’s nothing this committee has wanted more for the past two years but transparency,” he said.

The matter was referred to a new policy subcommittee that will soon be formed, according to Committee Chairwoman Terri-Denise Cortvriend.

Non-resident tuition

In other business, the committee set the non-resident tuition rate for the 2014-2015 school year at $14,126. The tuition rate for non-residents last year was $12,964.

Under the district’s student residency policy, the School Committee must approve a non-resident tuition rate each year. Tuesday’s vote excludes Little Compton students who attend Portsmouth High School under a separate agreement, said Mr. DiIuro.

Other than the Little Compton students, he added, there were no non-resident students paying tuition to the local district last year. However, there has been one request for the coming school year, he said.

“This individual believes they will be moving to Portsmouth, but won’t be living in Portsmouth at the beginning of school,” said Mr. DiIuro, adding that the district is allowed to prorate the tuition fee.

The district has the authority to waive tuition fees if that were deemed in the best interest of the School Department, but that would happen only in an “emergency situation,” said Superintendent of Schools Ana Riley.

Assistant superintendent

Ms. Riley also reported that interviews have begun for a new assistant superintendent to succeed Jeffrey Schoonover, who left the district earlier this year to take a superintendent’s position in Somerset.

“I hope to bring you a candidate at the Sept. 9 meeting,” she said.

The district is looking for offer a salary in the range of $110,000 to $125,000 for the position. “This seems to be very much in line with other districts our size,” said Ms. Copeland.

Until the new person is hired, the committee voted to “engage” an interim assistant superintendent to help Ms. Riley prepare for the opening of schools.

“We’re not hiring anyone. It’s a consultant,” said Ms. Riley, noting the interim position will earn an hourly rate of $53 to $60 with no benefits. The money is already in the budget under Mr. Schoonover’s salary, she said.

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