To the editor:
The Fiscal Year 2014 (FY14) Little Compton budget is in the process of being constructed. All departments are required to submit their proposals to the Budget Committee by March 1. After that, the Budget Committee studies the budget and then holds meetings with the budget submitters to insure that there is no excess or “fat” in the proposed budget. Through this process, the Budget Committee has been able to keep the tax rate just about the same for the past three years.
As expected, every preliminary budget submission shows an increase over the previous year. We fully expect that the Budget Committee will do its usual good job and bring the numbers down to their lowest level.
But the school budget promises to be a challenge. We have been studying the trends of the teacher count and the student count going back to the 1994/1995 school year (FY95). The graph below shows the results of that study. As can be seen, the trend is up for the number of teachers while the trend is significantly down for the number of students in the school. And that student population trend is expected to continue according to a demographics study done by the New England School Development Council in July 2010 as part of the school’s application for matching funds from the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) for the school renovation project. This is the school’s own data!
At the school’s January 30 budget workshop, the school administration indicated that it intended to maintain the current number of teachers for FY14. At the School Committee’s February 6 meeting, the members voted for a budget that keeps all the teachers. However, Joseph Quinn, vice-chair of the School Committee, did move to eliminate two part time teachers primarily because they are not needed while the students learn in the temporary classroom modules. The School Committee voted 5-to-0 to eliminate the two positions from the roles.
The discussion included a comparison of this year’s class sizes of surrounding towns with those of the Wilbur & McMahon School. Here is what was divulged:
By its own admission, the school administration agrees that Little Compton’s class sizes are the lowest in the state. The graph shown here goes a long way to explain why that is the case.
Do lower class sizes result in better student scores and performance? Barrington beats Little Compton in standardized testing more often than not. Their average class size for first grade is 21 students while Little Compton’s average class size is 12 for first grade. There goes that theory!
Accordingly, during the February 6 School Committee meeting, Mr. Quinn made a motion to combine next year’s two first grade classes (currently this year’s Kindergarten) into one 19-student class. His motion was defeated 4-to-1 to the cheers of the many teachers in attendance. The best reasoning that was stated for this defeat is that the move to the temporary classroom modules is enough strain placed on the students and perhaps the following year some combining can take place. This is not a financially sound reason and is based purely on conjecture.
We want our students to continue to do well. The newly renovated Wilbur & McMahon School will provide a much better atmosphere for learning than the current building. Those renovations are now underway and are expected to be completed in time for the 2014/2015 (FY15) school year.
In the meantime, the school administration and School Committee need to take another look at the size of the teaching staff and reduce the operating budget as the renovation costs begin to take hold. The Budget Committee should be very firm in assessing the FY14 school budget with particular focus on the number of teachers for a declining student population.
The FY14 school budget shows a 2% increase over FY13. We feel this should be 0% given the economic conditions facing townspeople and the demographics within the school itself.
Roger Lord, on behalf of the Little Compton Taxpayers Association