NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — The North Kingstown School Committee met Tuesday evening — in what could be their last meeting conducted fully over Zoom — to approve the appointment of 13 volunteer nominees to the new Diversity, Equity and Inclusivity Subcommittee and approve the Request for Proposal (RFP) for Providence-based Keelia Kentor Educational Facilities and Campus Master Planner as the district’s Educational Facility Master Planner for coming projects.
At the start of the meeting, School Committee Chairman Greg Blasbalg announced that the committee is planning to hold its next meeting, scheduled for May 11, in-person — with COVID-19 guidelines in mind.
“I’m happy to announce that we’re making plans and, as long as we don’t have any issues or unforeseen circumstances, we’re going to be returning to an in-person meeting for (May 11),” Blasbalg said. “The plan is to hold that meeting in the high school auditorium to allow ample opportunity for the appropriate social distancing we still need.”
The School Committee unanimously approved all 13 nominees to the new Diversity, Equity and Inclusivity Subcommittee — which itself was approved at its March 23 meeting — as well as its three co-chairs: Assistant Superintendent Denise Mancieri, Committee Member Jen Lima and Human Resources Director Brian Lally. All members come from within the town and consist of students, parents and community members from a variety of backgrounds.
“We wanted to have a group to take a look at the potential of racism through the district,” Blasbalg said, adding he feels it’s important for the district to have a committee of people with different backgrounds and perspectives to look at and advise the district on issues related to equality and discrimination in education.
Mancieri and Lima said they were overwhelmed and honored by the number of people who volunteered to be a part of the subcommittee and are very happy with the team assembled.
“I have no qualms about the people that were chosen,” Mancieri said.
Lima said while some may think racism and discrimination aren’t major problems in North Kingstown, any sort of discrimination is a problem.
“It doesn’t matter how many people are affected. If people are affected, that means that there’s a reason for things to be looked at,” Lima said. “North Kingstown is a great town, North Kingstown is a great school community, but there were issues that need to be addressed.”
Superintendent Phil Auger echoed those sentiments on the importance of the subcommittee, one he said is quickly becoming commonplace in South County and across the country.
“These are issues that we need to be talking more about. We want all of the students in our district to feel they belong; that their needs are addressed,” Auger said. “Whether they’re educational, emotional or social needs, it’s very important, and it’s very easy to have blinds, so it’s all the more important we put together a group (to address them).”
The subcommittee will meet at a date to be determined. The comments came following a tense moment earlier in the meeting during public comment when parent Kim Lanowy, who was critical of the need for such a subcommittee, argued that racism is not a major problem in North Kingstown. Lanowy said she was offended by a “white privilege test” posted last week to the Towards An Anti-Racist North Kingstown (TANK) group’s Facebook page, of which Lima is a co-founder, and was cut off by the School Committee’s attorney, Mary Ann Carroll, who said she felt that commenting on a member’s Facebook page was outside of the realm of appropriateness for the meeting. Blasbalg allowed Lanowy to continue to speak for the remainder of her allotted time, while Student Representative Jacob Cedor, speaking in public comment after Lanowy, called the interruption by Carroll “very inappropriate” and “disrespectful.”
In other business, Chief Operating Officer Mary King personally thanked Town Council President Greg Mancini and Counselors Katie Anderson and Kim Page for voting to approve the budget Monday night, a sentiment seconded by Blasbalg, who said the budget will be reviewed again by the committee after state aid numbers come in to see if any changes need to be made.
“A budget is a budget and it’s based on assumptions,” Blasbalg said. “If assumptions change, then the budget has to change.”
With that in mind, King said the district had to get their facilities master plan done by early December and had placed an RFP out, which received nine responses. After working with a bid leveler to weigh the value of each proposal, King recommended that they go with the offer from Keelia Kentor, who had “absolutely glowing references” and said that while it wasn’t the lowest bid, it was the best overall value presented. The committee approved the choice unanimously.
All votes on the evening were unanimous, including the approval of the 2021/22 School Committee calendar, with the first meeting scheduled for Aug. 10, and the addition of Lisa Bowe and Jack Pyne to the Buildings/Facilities subcommittee.
The next School Committee meeting is scheduled for May 10, tentatively to be held in the NKHS Auditorium.