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Why the mayor should budget $3M more for Warwick schools
Lonnie Barham

WARWICK'S BUDGET PROPOSAL: At first blush, the budget for next fiscal year submitted by Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian appears to be reasonable. It addresses critical components of good municipal fiscal management – minimal tax increases, minimal spending, and planned concessions from unions. The problem lies with school department funding. Avedisian seems to be shorting the schools by about $3 million, even after he agreed to bond the schools' required fire code improvements. The mayor's proposed budget funds schools with 55.8 percent of the total city budget. Good school departments are funded by much larger percentages. Barrington and East Greenwich fund their schools with 71 percent of their municipal budgets. Conversely, cities with poor schools tend to funnel far more money to municipal services instead of to their schools. Providence schools receive only about 51percent of the total city budget. Why should school departments receive a greater share? Almost invariably, school departments have nearly double the number of employees than their municipalities – with most positions mandated by state and federal laws. Thus, schools are burdened with almost double the salary and benefits expenses experienced by their municipalities – costs that constitute the major part of any budget. Across the state, there exists a correlation between student success and municipal funding percentages. Schools with greater funding produce greater success. While we should try to reduce spending for schools and city services, let's at least get the sharing formula right. We get what we pay for. If Warwick wants gold-plated city services but schools that perform more like Providence schools than Barrington's, then this budget is acceptable. Otherwise, let's further reduce the costs of city services and restore the $3 million shortfall to the schools' budget.

LANGEVIN CAMPAIGN DEBT: The Providence Journal's PolitiFact reminded us of the $125,000 fine levied against Congressman James Langevin last year by the RI Board of Elections for accepting improper campaign contributions to pay off a campaign debt. The primary slant of the story was that while Langevin indeed violated Rhode Island election rules, the improper contributions were being used to repay a loan he made to himself during his Secretary of State campaign back in the ’90s. He hasn't been a "deadbeat" trying to avoid a debt to another person or organization. Owing himself a lot of money and trying to pay it back is not disturbing. What is disturbing is that the folks he asked to make the contributions were his fellow U.S. representatives. They ponied up $63,500 before the election board put a stop to it. Was there a quid pro quo involved? If so, what did Congressman Langevin give to these other congressmen in return? Might he have supported bills that he would otherwise have opposed – bills that were not in the best interest of Rhode Islanders? It is entirely acceptable for congressmen and congresswomen to band together in congressional caucuses and support each other because of common interests among constituents. It seems highly improper, however, for a congressman to ask his peers for money. Congressman Langevin seems to be a very conscientious and honest representative. But in this case, his actions smell of selling his vote!

BARRINGTON'S OUT-OF-DISTRICT ENROLLMENT: It seems illegal and immoral on its face for the Barrington School Department, a public school district, to allow enrollment of out-of-district, tuition-paying, regular education students while denying enrollment to non-resident special needs students. Not only is it unfair to disabled students, it constitutes an overcharge to the fully-functioning students from out of town. Barrington's annual per-student cost of $12,800 is based on the total cost to educate all Barrington students, including special needs students. If non-resident students with disabilities can't enroll, then those students enrolling without special needs should be charged only the amount it costs to educate the average "normal" student – an amount somewhere south of $10,000 per year when special education costs are factored out. This was a very strange decision by Barrington.

GIVING AWAY THE STORE: State Rep. Anastasia Williams has introduced a bill that would allow immigrants with green cards to vote in local and state elections, something that U.S. law specifically forbids in federal elections. What is wrong with left wing, urban politicians today? Are they actively trying to take our democracy from our citizens and give it to immigrants – both legal and illegal. Do they feel so oppressed by the American majority (soon to be the minority) that they are compelled to "punish" them by opening our political decisions to virtually any breathing being who happens to be standing on U.S. soil – legal, illegal, or just visiting for a short time? Does anyone think this would be considered at all in Germany, France, Russia or Japan? Left unchecked, this movement will lead to millions of voters on our rolls who shouldn’t be voting, and to “majority” votes for even more government-forced redistribution of wealth from the workers and producers of our country to the non-producers who identify with the philosophy of Rep. Williams.

PAWTUCKET CRIME REPORTING: The Pawtucket Police Department has implemented an Internet reporting system for minor crimes, claiming it will save countless police man-hours. In the 1980s, police departments began intensively investigating minor crimes such as vandalism and graffiti tagging with the philosophy that reducing minor crimes would cause more serious crimes to also lessen. The practice worked and many cities reversed their rising crime rates. The primary reason for the program’s success was the presence of uniformed police officers at the scenes of minor crimes. A Pawtucket youth who breaks a neighbor's window will no longer see a police response. Thinking nothing is being done about his minor crime, the youth may be emboldened to repeat minor crimes or even move on to more serious crimes. A police car at the scene might have gotten the young man's attention and deterred a future crime. Deterrence is the most important objective of any police department. In the case of Pawtucket, deterrence seems to be losing some of its luster.


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