Finally, some good news for Aquidneck Island public school students and the Portsmouth school district.
An 11th-hour, emergency education federal bill passed Tuesday with $32.9 million in aid going to the state of Rhode Island may be instrumental in saving the jobs of hundreds of teachers and support staff throughout the state.
But because school systems in cities serving larger populations of disadvantaged students – among them Providence, Central Falls, Pawtucket and Woonsocket – stand likely to gain the most from the aid, and a specific breakdown of funds and a criteria for how they should be spent has yet be determined, Portsmouth School Superintendent Dr. Susan Lusi stated, "While this is an important effort ... this won't mean a lot of money for Portsmouth because we're not recognized as a comparatively needy district."
Portsmouth, serving just under 3,000 students, has trimmed 12.6 certified and non-certified positions, and an additional three part-time positions during the current fiscal crisis. Certified positions comprise teachers, while non-certified indicates clerical personnel and teaching assistants.
Dr. Lusi was cautiously optimistic about the federal money restoring laid-off teachers and assistants to their jobs.
"We need to receive information on the dollar amounts and the formula for how it can be spent before we can make such determinations," she said.
The formula Dr. Lusi refers to is the rather byzantine path by which students from low-income areas receive money under the federal government's Title 1 program.
When asked about Aquidneck Island as a whole, Lusi explained that since Newport has a different demographic than Portsmouth, it may well qualify for using the Title 1 funding whereas Portsmouth may not.
The alternative is for schools to use an education financing formula, but since Rhode Island's education financing policy won't go into effect until next year, it's unclear how schools caught in the middle between poor but not poor enough will be affected.
Elliot Krieger, a spokesperson for the Rhode Island Department of Education, was not able to give hard figures or estimates as to which school districts would receive just how much cash, or how the state and school systems would be directed to spend it.
"We don't know," said Krieger. "We're still waiting to hear from the federal government."
Meanwhile, a referendum question will go before voters at a special election to be held in September or October. Voters will be asked to approve an additional $765,301 for the school budget.