The North Kingstown School Department recently released its 2019 “Report Card” to the community. It is a snazzy, four-color print job paid for from the department’s budget.
Dozens of copies are sent to the Chamber of Commerce and North Kingstown Free Library. I am pretty certain they are scooped up by real estate agents as a promotion piece for properties in town they are trying to sell.
The report paints a very rosy picture of the town’s schools. However, there are a few things missing from this year’s report.
First, the report used to have a table showing the average cost per student in all the school districts in the state after adjusting out transportation expenses, which vary greatly district to district. Where does North Kingstown or Narragansett or Jamestown stand in relation to comparable communities?
Also absent is a chart showing the number of students for each school in town over the last 10 years. Only a couple of schools cite the number of students, faculty or staff. Wouldn’t this be of interest to a reader? What is the student population trend over, say, the last 10 years, and how about the student-teacher ratio?
I know these data are available in the budget posted on the department’s website, but why make people plow through this document and why not show actual rather than budgeted numbers for the year?
It would also be helpful to know how many North Kingstown children attend a charter or private school. If the schools in town are so great, how many kids vote with their feet to get their education somewhere else? Furthermore, the cost of kids attending charter schools is always a bone of contention at budget time.
As a CPA, the school district COO Mary King knows that we should be shown what the district actually spent for the preceding fiscal year (2017-18) in comparison to the current year (2018-19), by category, rather than the budgeted amounts. The report card is prepared in May so Mrs. King should have a pretty good idea of what the numbers look like for the year that ends on June 30.
In fact, the pie chart on page 22 is based on the final amounts allocated by the School Committee as of May 9. A third column with the district’s proposed budget (2019-20) would also be of interest to many readers.
The pie chart on page 22 of the report card illustrates why the RI League of Cities and Towns and several public interest groups were adamantly opposed to the so-called “evergreen contracts” bill signed by Governor Raimondo. This law provides that the pay and benefits clauses in teachers’ and municipal employees’ union contracts remain in effect after the contracts expire.
The unions and their allies in the General Assembly (which means everyone who represents this newspaper’s readership area on Smith Hill), claim that this law levels the negotiating table in contract talks. Opponents say it puts the state’s thumb on the scale and tips local negotiations toward the unions.
According to the report, in North Kingstown $51 million or 80.9% of the 2018-19 budget is allocated to “Salaries” and “Benefits.” This includes compensation to teachers and support staff who are unionized and administrators who aren’t. Breaking out the “Wages” and “Benefits” into the amounts attributable to faculty, support staff and administration would be, I suggest, especially enlightening.
A few years ago I calculated that all of the property taxes collected on the 20 houses on the street where I live are not enough to pay the salary and benefits of one top-step teacher in North Kingstown. Perhaps this puts the amount we pay to educate the children in this town into perspective.