Why should the citizens of Newport and Middletown consider the possibility of forming a Unified School District?
School districts in Newport County are faced with major issues related to sustainability that are irresolvable within the current structure including:
1) Increasingly inadequate funding that affects the quality of the academic programs,
2) Diminishing enrollments that negatively affect the ability to serve the needs of all students.
3) A declining competitive workforce that promotes economic growth, and
4) A declining and aging population.
A. Governance and Administration
A.1. What would be the governance and administrative structure of a Unified District?
The school unification process must abide by Rhode Island State Law and a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) will probably be required between Middletown and Newport to clarify the process.
State regulations require a Superintendent for each school district. A Unified District would have its own Superintendent.
A. A unified district could be organized with its own Middletown-Newport school committee district with equal representation from each community. To avoid tie votes, a majority would be required to approve any Committee action.
B. A unified district could be governed by either the Newport or Middletown Superintendent and School Committee. The host School Committee would include representation from both school districts.
B. Finances, Affordability and Debt Obligation
B.1. How would a Unified District be funded?
A unified district budget would be developed based on per-pupil costs as defined by the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE). The process would be based on successful financial programs developed by other Rhode Island Unified Districts. The funding from each community would follow the student.
The budget would be presented to the municipal Councils using the method currently employed for municipal K-12 school districts. The Councils would have bottom-line approval. As is presently the case, disagreements would be resolved by negotiations. All debt obligations would remain with Newport and Middletown as is presently the case.
B.2. How will the Special Education Needs of students be met in a unified system?
There are two approaches that would be considered by a unified school committee. Special Education services would be provided by the school district as is now the case in Newport, or; Special Education Services would be provided by Newport County Regional Special Education Services as is now the case in Middletown.
The decision of which approach to take would be based on an analysis of costs and benefits by the unified school committee. Costs would follow the student, that is, the residence of the student would determine which municipality would pay for the needed special education services. These costs would be included in the budgets submitted to the respective Councils for approval.
C. Staffing Changes
C.1. Would there be reductions in teachers and staff?
It is unlikely that there would be reductions in teachers and staff as programs and course offerings expand with the increased student population, it is more likely that there would be modest increases in staff and/or changes in content areas and programs that affect staff.
C.2 What would happen with employment contracts?
There would be negotiations involving unifying and consolidating existing contracts. Present Middletown and Newport employment contracts are similar but not identical. The differences could be reconciled with “hold harmless” provisions for existing employees.
D. Educational Program Changes
D.1. How would education programs be enhanced?
A larger student body would result in class enrollments that enable an expansion of advanced courses as well as career development courses and meaningful electives creating a fully comprehensive course of studies.
D.2 How would unify the student bodies of both schools make a difference?
A student body of 1,300 (instead of 600 or 700) would support classes and programs that cannot be offered now because there are insufficient students to fill the seats.
For example, a class selected by only 6-8 students must be canceled, but it could be scheduled if 15 or more students selected the class.
D.3 How would the curriculum be enhanced?
A larger student body would enable staff to be used more efficiently within content areas enabling opportunities for curriculum expansion. As the Unified District School Committee continues its work, it will listen to what the constituents would like for children responding with additions to the curriculum as identified.
D.4 How would career education be enhanced?
Career education would be expanded in multiple ways. Newport Area Career and Technical Center programs would join with existing programs from Middletown and Rogers High Schools. This expansion would enhance opportunities to developed partnerships with post-secondary institutions as well as connections with business and industry. Students with specific career aspirations could commit to full programs while other students could explore the career field as well as participating in meaningful electives.
D.5 Would there be changes in the elementary or middle school curriculum?
Collaboration would take place to develop a common curriculum so that all the students entering the unified high school would have the same curricular preparation and would be fully prepared for high school studies.
D.6. How would unification affect elementary and middle school students?
Unification does not alter current middle school or elementary school arrangements.
E. Transitions, Facilities, Transportation, School Spirit
E.1. Is a new high school being proposed as part of unification?
Yes. If full district regionalization is achieved, the State would reimburse 80.5% of the cost of a new high school.
E.2. What would be the financial benefits of constructing a single regional high school?
Both existing high schools are in need of expensive renovations. In addition, the operating costs of one building would be lower than the costs of operating two buildings. For a Middletown-Newport Regional High School, the RIDE reimbursement rate would be 80.5%, significant savings for the taxpayers in both Middletown and Newport.
E.3. How would the two high schools be transitioned to one school?
Community, parental and student involvement are the key to successful unification. A committee including stakeholders from both communities would be formed to study models of successful school unification and to develop a plan unique to the needs of the unification of Middletown and Newport Public Schools.
E.4 What is the timeline for the transition to a single high school?
A transition period would allow the combining of students to form a critical mass for curriculum expansion and development. There are a number of different options being considered, but a committee would need to hear ideas from the school committees and the public.
E.5 What transition plans are under consideration for unification while a new regional high school is in the planning and development stages?
Currently, there is no transition plan. At this time, the goal would be to begin to create larger enrollments that would make possible the development of new courses or the restoration of opportunities that have been lost as the enrollment has declined.
E.6 How would transportation be managed?
The communities would continue to transport their students. Collaboration within each town (9-12 and Prek-8) and across towns (common geographic areas) would ensure efficiency.
F. Extracurricular Activities and Sports
F.1. Both MHS and RHS have built reputations that foster loyalty within the communities. What would make me want to change the status quo?
The goal of public education is to provide an opportunity for ALL students to reach their greatest potential. A unified school district would provide the opportunity for ALL students to explore a variety of diverse educational, extracurricular and athletic programs that could not be supported in two schools’ districts with low enrollments.
On the high school level, a new loyalty will take shape based on the strong histories of both Rogers and Middletown High Schools, the support of the combined student body and the community.
F.2. How would unification affect the athletic programs?
The number of athletic teams and individual sports opportunities would increase due to the number of students available to participate.
F.3. How would unification affect extracurricular activities?
The number of teams, intramural, and individual sports, as well as extracurricular opportunities, would increase as staff could be used more efficiently.