Chariho School Parents’ Forum

July 7, 2008

Charlestown ad-hoc recommends withdrawal

Filed under: Charlestown — Editor @ 9:46 pm

This article from the Westerly Sun isn’t much of a surprise, but what is surprising comes in the section near the end discussing buy-outs and assets owned.  The suggestion is that Charlestown could withdrawal from Chariho and not be liable for future financial support.  It is my understanding that the three towns are collectively liable for the Chariho employees.  In other words, even if Charlestown left today, they would still be responsible for the current employees’ pension and health insurance.  But the article infers that they could walk away with no liability.  If this is true, the $4mm that they estimated to have paid into the District (which they would lose if they left) pales in comparison to the potential liability.

Is it realistic to think that Richmond and Hopkinton would shoulder the entire liability?

CHARLESTOWN — Withdrawing from the Chariho Regional School District could cost as much as $49.9 million over 20 years — but would be cheaper than equalizing taxes among member towns.
So indicates a recent report by the town’s Ad­hoc Withdrawal Update Committee, which rec­ommends floating a bond for a pre-kindergarten through grade 12 Charlestown School District over 11 other options — including partial with­drawal and a joint school district with the town of Richmond.
Committee members had hoped to present their report to the Town Council on July 9, but the meeting has been postponed by Councilor James M. Mageau — who, along with other coun­cilors, support a referendum this fall asking vot­ers to approve up to $25 million for Chariho’s main campus in Richmond. The three-part ballot question is identical to a $26-million campus improvement plan that failed by 47 votes in Hopkinton last November.
The ad-hoc group, however, views withdrawing from Chariho as the most cost-effective solution for Charlestown in the long run.
The bottom line
Capital costs for a Charlestown school district are estimated to include: • Construction of a new middle school (324­student capacity): $19.7 million • Construction of a new high school (324-stu­dent capacity): $21.2 million • Auditorium with 500 seats: $3 million • Renovations to Charlestown Elementary School (486-student capacity): $3 million
 * Secure land for new schools: $3 million Assuming Charlestown receives $1.2 million in state housing aid, the annual cost to repay a $49.9 million bond would be about $3.3 million in fiscal year 2012-13 — which represents a 11.7 per­cent town budget increase. (Without the proposed audi­torium, it would present a 11.1 percent budget increase.) Equalizing taxes in the dis­trict, or creating a common tax that is based on property values rather than student enrollment, would lower Hopkinton and Richmond’s annual school contributions to more than $6 million each, while increasing Charlestown’s share to about $18 million — an increase of about $7 million, according to the committee’s report.
Charlestown has the lowest percentage of student enroll­ment in the district (about 28 percent), but pays more than Hopkinton and Richmond when state education aid is subtracted from each town’s annual contributions.
“Charlestown cannot afford a uniform school tax rate, and meanwhile school infrastruc­ture has degraded to the point where education is suf­fering, where the [district] operating budget is consumed by the costs of maintaining failed facilities, and where renovation of these facilities will be quite expensive,” the committee’s report notes.
The ad-hoc group favors complete withdrawal because it removes the stalemate on tax equalization; gives the town local control over the education of its students and a plan for a high-quality edu­cation; and is both cost-effec­tive and affordable.
When and where?
Under a timeline estab­lished by the committee, the town would hold a withdraw­al vote in mid-to-late 2009, with school construction beginning in 2010. Students would move-in to the new facilities in September 2012.
The group recommends a “one vote, one plan” approach, or building all of the facilities at once rather than in phases. (As an alter­native, town officials could opt to divide the project into two phases.) “We feel that this is a more streamlined approach which avoids any unforeseen prob­lems that might arise between votes or phases of construction in a two-stage plan,” the committee wrote. “However, if members of the town are interested in pro­ceeding with a phased approach, we suggest that a survey question to evaluate town sentiment on this pro­vide valuable information in making a final decision on how to proceed.”
Because any future land acquisitions would be subject to negotiations in executive session with the Town Council, committee members have declined comment on possible school locations. A source close to the group, however, acknowledged last week that a land swap with The Nature Conservancy might be possible — giving the town space for a school campus on Carolina Back
Road near the Charlestown Elementary School.
Forgoing investments
Though the town currently has about $4 million invested in Chariho infrastructure, committee members have recommended against asking Hopkinton and Richmond for a pay-out.
“Since the district was formed in 1958, Charlestown has invested around $4 mil­lion in infrastructure improvements at the Switch Road campus. Further the value of this investment has depreciated significantly,” the committee wrote. “If Charlestown asks for repay­ment of assets, then accord­ing to [state law], the other two towns have veto power over Charlestown’s with­drawal proposal. The 2004 withdrawal proposal set a legal precedent that if Charlestown did not ask the other towns to repay assets, then Charlestown could vote as a single town to with­draw…”
In 2004, Charlestown vot­ers rejected a $34.9 million bond for a Route 1 high and middle school complex, and a $3 million campus auditori­um. The proposals failed despite the fact that local res­idents approved a binding withdrawal question in 2001
by a margin of 543 votes.
For Chariho construction bonds to pass, a majority of voters in Charlestown, Hopkinton and Richmond must vote to approve them. An amendment to a state law known as the Chariho Act could change that, and allow a majority of voters in the dis­trict to approve school improvements — but would also open the door for Hopkinton and Richmond voters to approve a tax equal­ization measure.
The last bond that passed in the district paid for the construction of Chariho Middle School in the late
1980s.
Elementary school improvements

In addition to school with­drawal options, the Ad-hoc Withdrawal Update Committee has recommended using impact fees to improve the Charlestown Elementary School — whether the town proceeds with withdrawal or not.
Under 2004 withdrawal plans updated by the commit­tee and Newport Collaborative Architects Inc., the Charlestown Elementary School would expand to include new space for music and media centers, two new fourth-grade classrooms and
three new kindergarten class­rooms.
Impact fees, or fees collect­ed from development, could be used to renovate or rebuild the school’s library; improve or replace the schools well and septic system to add capacity for increased enroll­ment; and build or renovate classrooms to increase stu­dent
capacity.“We recommend that the [town’s] impact fee ordinance be amended to allow greater flexibility in utilizing this money for the benefit of Charlestown students,” the committee wrote. “Other towns (notably Richmond and Hopkinton) use different lan­guage in their impact fee ordinances, which allow a greater use of ranges. Whether Charlestown with­draws from the district or not, the ordinance should be amended so that money can be used to pay for a wider variety of needed upgrades.”
The town’s existing ordi­nance requires that impact fee revenues be spent through the Chariho district.

 

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23 Comments »

  1. Interesting to see the $21,200,000 estimate for the cost of a High School. On a Hopkinton blog http://hopkinton.wordpress.com/2008/07/04/why-hopkinton-does-not-want-its-own-high-school/#comments there was a suggestion that a new school would cost around $45,000,000 based on recent construction in Oxford, CT. The blog does note that the Oxford numbers may not be appropriate. Charlestown’s estimate certainly seems closer to reality and even they may be high since Charlestown is very tolerant of wasteful school spending.

    In reading about Oxford’s experience, they refer to annual bond votes for 5 or 6 years before the voters were finally worn down and voted to build a High School. Now there is much complaining about how the school proponents lied about the cost. Sound familiar?

    All these debates about costs and feasibility is easily solved by a system allowing parents to decide where their children should be educated. Yes, there will be much resistance from the entrenched union and educational establishment, but it is a battle worth fighting. For once it would truly be “for the children”.

    Comment by Curious Resident — July 7, 2008 @ 11:26 pm | Reply

  2. I encourage everyone to visit Mr. Felkner’s OSPRI website. He has links to lists of monthly invoices paid by Chariho. I spent a few minutes looking around and it was very interesting. The website could help constrain irresponsible spending in the long term.

    I now know that Chariho paid three separate invoices to Triumph Leasing totaling over $22,000 in May. This seems low. I wonder if we are leasing buildings from another company?

    Another expense was $95,000 to a place called The Compass School. They seem to be focused on early education like Pre-K. Their website doesn’t show any New England locations. Is Chariho paying this company for consultative services for Pre-K? $95,000 is a good chunk of money…could we be doing things differently to save?

    The listings also include a bunch of invoices each month to individuals. I’m guessing these are expense reimbursements to Chariho employees but I can say for sure. If it is employees there is a lot of outside spending and the listings to not give an idea of what is being purchased.

    Anyway OSPRI has done a great service for Rhode Island citizens if we decide to take advantage of their work and keep an eye on government spending. Take a gander from time to time. Transparency is making inroads whether they like it or not.

    Comment by Curious Resident — July 9, 2008 @ 10:38 pm | Reply

  3. Here’s a link – select Hopkinton – select Chariho – select Financial Reports:

    http://www.oceanstatepolicy.org/transparency.php

    Comment by Curious Resident — July 9, 2008 @ 10:40 pm | Reply

  4. http://www.fitnrg.com is a fitness and diet tracking site. It tracks your daily calories, exercises, body weight, activities, plan meals, etc. It’s a free site with many members who are committed to health, fitness, and weight loss.

    Comment by Fitnrg — July 10, 2008 @ 3:39 am | Reply

  5. The Compass School is a charter school in South Kingstown; I believe Chariho has to pay a chunk of money for each child there. It’s a K-8 Montessori type school approach.

    http://www.compassschool.org

    Comment by david — July 10, 2008 @ 9:28 pm | Reply

  6. Thank you David. Do you know if each town pays for their own children or if we all pay equally? How many children are going to the school from the Chariho area?

    Sounds like some local families already have a form of choice. Maybe giving all parents choice won’t be so difficult with this charter school already leading the way?

    Comment by Curious Resident — July 10, 2008 @ 10:38 pm | Reply

  7. I can’t speak to the accuracy of the numbers or the calculations, but someone in Richmond has exhibited commonsense and it should be acknowledged.

    http://richmondrinews.wordpress.com/

    Charlestown families can afford to concede equity much easier than budget strapped Hopkinton families can afford the status quo. Even the increased tax burden of equity, Charlestown families will be paying less than what Richmond and Hopkinton families pay right now.

    Every bond must be rejected until Charlestown gets out or agrees to equitable taxation.

    Comment by Curious Resident — July 11, 2008 @ 5:06 pm | Reply

  8. I do not know how the money is allocated, in terms of how the towns are charged. I did see numbers at one of the budget workshops saying Richmond had a very large number of kids (60?) enrolled in the two SK charter schools (Compass and Kingston Hill). If I can find the paperwork from that workshop I will post the enrollment figures from Chariho.

    There are other charter schools up North, but there’s been a statewide moratorium for the past few years, which just ended on June 30. A year from now I think we can expect some new charter schools, which I agree provide a badly needed choice to parents unwilling or unable to consider private schools.

    Comment by david — July 11, 2008 @ 11:15 pm | Reply

  9. The cost to each town would be interesting if the charter schools cost more but we all pay equally to send the children regardless of which town they live in. Richmond parents are able to choose charter schools because they are geographically closer to the schools. If the cost is the same then no big deal.

    I’m not familiar with the charter schools but the Compass school has a mission I don’t find compatible with my family’s values (I admittedly don’t know any more than what I read on the website). Why do I get the feeling that the vast majority of charter schools have a more leftist view of things as opposed to private (and privately funded) schools which can be “progressive” as Meadowbrook seems to be or “traditionalist” as religious schools tend to fall? I’d like to see charter school diversity.

    I put in a vote for a charter school which focuses squarely on traditional education and leaves out all the subjects I view as my job to teach as a parent.

    Comment by Curious Resident — July 12, 2008 @ 1:07 am | Reply

  10. The new graduation and drop out rates (national standards across all participating states) for 2007 are quite interesting. Charter schools are not as strong as might be expected if students actually want to go to these schools and work hard there. They have very bad graduation and drop out rates – much much worse than any of the local school systems.

    Graduation rates by High School (not district) Chariho is at 81%, Westerly at 90%, Exeter-West Greenwich is 88%, S. Kingstown at 87%, North Kingstown at 91%. RYSE is at 47% – it is not included in the Chariho 81% rate but I must assume that the Vo-Tech is in the Chariho number because it is not separate in the Kids Count stats. Other Vo-Techs like Davies is a separate school with separate numbers.

    Chariho has a 10% drop out rate – RYSE has a 35% drop out rate. Westerly is at 4%.

    Charter Schools – BEACON Charter 58% graduation rate, 19% drop out rate; E-Cubed Academy 57% grads, 26% drop-out; Blackstone Academy 50% grad, 29% drop out; Hope Leadership School 55% grad, 32% drop out; Alternate Learning Project 27% grads, 63% drop out.

    Comment by BarbaraC — July 12, 2008 @ 8:50 am | Reply

  11. The only fair comparison is to measure charter against the communities they serve. A charter school in Central Falls shouldn’t be compared to Chariho or Westerly. Also, is someone considered a “drop out” if they leave the charter school and go back to the mainstream school?

    From what I’ve read about the charters in Rhode Island they seem to be dominated by the teacher’s unions. I’ll be curious to see how the Mayoral Academy does with test scores and such since this will be the first charter I’ve heard of that doesn’t bow before the unions.

    Comment by Curious Resident — July 12, 2008 @ 12:07 pm | Reply

  12. Hi CR,
    Charter schools are by lottery – so any one anywhere in Rhode Island can attend. And they have huge waiting lists as well. Public school monies pay for the student to attend.

    The ‘cohorts’ (the cohort rate is based on individual student data that is tracked over time) are measured in 9-12 grades. Starting in 9th and then transferring to another school does not create a drop-out. The cohort is chosen on the second school attended (9-12). I suppose if a student changes school more than three times in four years they may become an aberration, but one at a time it is relatively rare. They are not drop-outs by changing schools.

    The teachers union did not do very well this legislative time around – Mayoral academies were opposed and they lost, specific health care providers cannot be specified in all municipal contracts any longer, the charter school moratorium is over – also opposed by the NEA and they lost again.

    Quoting the Prov Journal “But most Rhode Island taxpayers realize that the state has been very generous, paying some of the highest per-pupil costs in the country while getting generaly mediocre results in its public schools. the state’s students deserve better.”

    I hope all citizens keep paying attention, keep the pressure on until RI is in the top 20% (I would prefer 10%) across the nation using national data.

    Comment by BarbaraC — July 12, 2008 @ 10:08 pm | Reply

  13. Thanks for the explanation. Realistically, a charter school in an urban district is most likely to be attended by students transferring from urban public schools. Theoretically they may be open to anyone, but I doubt there are many children from our end of the state trekking to charters in the cities. I still would argue that comparing our graduations rates with urban charter schools is not a fair comparison nor a fair way to grade charter schools.

    I’m no fan of the union dominated charter schools and I wish there were more (any?) with an emphasis on traditional learning, but using raw graduation rate data is not an accurate test of their performance unless you measure by student demographics.

    Comment by Curious Resident — July 13, 2008 @ 2:02 am | Reply

  14. Also correct CR most would attend from the city near by.

    But the drop out rate is very high. Which may mean that the students did not get the attention or classes they thought they would get. Or, for that matter, it was harder than they thought it would be. If they transferred to another school the student would not be considered a drop out.

    Charters have to follow the NEA playcard, Mayoral Academies do not (as private and parochial schools also do not). It will be interesting to see what occurs when these are operational.

    Comment by BarbaraC — July 13, 2008 @ 10:09 am | Reply

  15. re: post 9 — Chariho has to provide bus transportation for students attending charter schools located in South County (just has the have to transport private school students, too), so there is no real advantage to Richmond residents in terms or proximity.

    As a catholic school parent, I don’t know that I agree that they’re all that “traditionalist” — although Prout did drop integrated math two years ago.

    Comment by david — July 13, 2008 @ 10:21 am | Reply

  16. An Ashaway parent is much less likely to send their child to a school in Kingston than a Richmond parent regardless of whether transportation is free. Obviously this isn’t all parent, but we’ve seen the hysterical reaction here to a bus ride of a couple of minutes more when discussing Chariho Middle School. I’d be very surprised if Richmond and Charlestown parents weren’t applying more often for the Kingston charter school. When so many people prefer to think of education by town rather than by district, it is relevant to know if Hopkinton families are being taxed even more because of charter schools servicing non-Hopkinton children?

    My understanding of Catholic school curriculum and programs is they are more traditional. This may not be true across the board, but in my exploration of local Catholic schools they strike me as unlikely to be teaching less math and more sex than public school. If I’m wrong about Catholic schools, then this is even more reason for choice as I know there are parents out there who want schools to stay out of imposing leftist values. With free markets, schools would certainly exist catering to parents like us.

    Comment by Curious Resident — July 13, 2008 @ 2:30 pm | Reply

  17. Just to follow up, the Chariho budget shows a single line item for “charter school tuition”, which suggests to me that towns do not pay for their own children, but that the district pays the bill regardless of the town of residence.

    However, CR, since presumably the charter school students would be in Chariho schools were it not for charter schools, I don’t think it’s clear that it’s an additional hardship on Hopkinton if, say, there’s a large number of kids from Richmond at charter schools. Either way, the three towns pay in their specified proportions.

    Comment by david — July 14, 2008 @ 8:45 pm | Reply

  18. I got the impression that it wasn’t a problem as long as we are not paying more than if we were sending them to Chariho. Is that correct CR?

    Comment by Lois — July 14, 2008 @ 9:35 pm | Reply

  19. I’ve tried finding the exact way the tuition is paid for by the district and/or towns. Good luck trying to figure this one out. My best understanding from conversations I’ve had in the pass is that it’s a bit of mixed up mess. That’s not very surprising. Perhaps Mr. Felkner or another member of the school committee could explain it to us.

    Comment by CharihoParent — July 14, 2008 @ 9:37 pm | Reply

  20. Yes your understanding is correct Mrs. Buck. I wouldn’t care if we funded the school like a district, but as long as we are forced to pay as townspeople, then why would we act like a district when it comes to paying for charter schools?

    What is the amount spent for “charter school tuition” in the budget? I found one month’s invoice for $95,000 for The Compass School. Is this an annual payment or do we pay $95,000 every month?

    Comment by Curious Resident — July 14, 2008 @ 10:28 pm | Reply

  21. CR, above, says: “then why would we act like a district when it comes to paying for charter schools?”

    The answer, I think, is that the school district does act like a district on the expenditure side. It’s on the income side that it does not act like a district.

    From the 3/4/08 budget document:

    charter school tuition
    actual 05-06: 368,629
    actual 06-07: 399,263
    budget 07-08: 463,386
    budget 08-09: 550,000

    No breakout available telling you what town the children are from, or which school they attend.

    Comment by david — July 15, 2008 @ 5:37 pm | Reply

  22. I agree David. We don’t consider town when it’s time to spend (like a true district), but we do consider town when it is time to pay (like a tuition program). One more reason why tax equity makes sense and is almost always the funding mechanism for school districts around the country.

    The breakdown by town really doesn’t matter. I think it is important for families in Hopkinton and Richmond to know that we spend freely without regard to whose children benefit the most, but Charlestown has objected forever to their families paying equally. I’m tired of the media and others portraying Hopkinton as uncaring when it is clear to me that it is Charlestown who puts money before our children…not the other way around.

    Comment by Curious Resident — July 15, 2008 @ 5:53 pm | Reply

  23. Its true that current Charter Schools are not much different than public schools as they have to succomb to union demands just like the publics. And enrollment is normally based on georgraphy. The Mayoral Academies can change the first issue, the second probably not.

    Comment by Bill Felkner — July 16, 2008 @ 12:42 pm | Reply


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