Letters

Corrente portrayal of schools `theater of absurd'

Posted

To the Editor:

I write this letter in direct response Richard Corrente’s letter from 2/23/17. As a School Committee member, I need to be clear that these are my views and not those of other committee members or the committee as a whole. While I feel that our community needs to have an open and honest discussion about schools and their role in the community, Mr. Corrente’s letter, coupled with his recent online comments to Beacon articles relating to our schools, seem to have entered into a kind of “Theater of the Absurd.”

He evidently has no understanding of what our Charter says with respect to schools, their governance and their financing. Like the overwhelming majority of cities and towns across this country, school departments are run as separate entities from other municipal departments like Police, Fire and Municipal. There are a myriad of good reasons for this that, for the sake of room I will not go into, but suffice it to say that our system of school governance is the preferred system across this country. He states that the schools receive “… more than the other three departments put together… and are not accountable to anyone.” While it’s true that schools receive most of the allocation from local property taxes, if Mr. Corrente cared to do even a modicum of research, he’d find this to be the case in virtually every city and town across the country.  In fact, approximately 85% of the schools budget goes to salaries & benefits. Of the remaining 15% the large majority of that is fairly restricted in its use by State and Federal rules & regulations.

As far as accountability is concerned, again, if he had taken the time to do the research, he’d find that the overwhelming majority of school committees in this country are elected by the voters – the same voters who elect their council people and their executive. So if a Council and Mayor are accountable to the voters, how can anyone say that a school committee, elected by those very same voters, is not accountable to anyone? And yet he goes on to say “…they got legislation enacted to make it illegal for anyone to question what they do with ‘their’ money..” This statement is ridiculous in its entirety and also fantastically wrong on its face. The Warwick schools receive approximately $119 million (51.57%) from property taxes. The remaining 48.43% goes to the City side of the ledger. Mr. Corrente conveniently fails to mention that over the last 8 to 9 years the City has essentially level-funded the schools while during that same time the City’s share of our property taxes has risen over 50% - and we’ve received a property tax increase in every one of those years.  During that same time, the school department has closed buildings and reduced staff, among other things, to live within their means. That’s a simple fact and, while Mr. Corrente chooses to ignore it, one could easily argue that this makes his fiscal accountability argument a bit misdirected. The simple truth is that Mr. Corrente fails to recognize that public schools take up the lion’s share of property tax dollars primarily because they are usually the single largest entity of a municipality in terms of manpower and infrastructure. Also they frequently are allocated a much higher percentage of local tax dollars than Warwick currently allocates. At the end of the day, School Committee meetings are open to the public, their budget, which by law has to be balanced, is a public document and, perhaps more importantly, the school budget is audited annually by an outside third party and that audit is also a public document. More significantly, Mr. Corrente states that “accountability can be a voluntary gesture from the School Committee themselves, or … can be mandated by the City Council.” To be clear, he’s not calling for “accountability” – rather, he’s calling for control and one wishes that he would be up-front and call it what it is. Control comes from an appointed school committee and that would be disastrous for public education in this city, in my view.

Mr. Corrente then goes on to conflate the recent $85 million bond request with the regular operating budget. The two are not linked and I’m sure that any of our high-school business students could make that distinction for him. We have neglected our schools for the past twenty-five plus years by kicking the capital improvements can down the road. The problem now is that we’ve run out of road.  In case Mr. Corrente is unaware, major capital improvements are always done via bonding as there’s simply no way that a school department – any school department - could fund such improvements out of its operating budget. He asks where the “need” is and then implies that the funds from the $25 million 2006 bond approval, the last of which are in the process of being requested for release, were somehow misdirected. Again, If he took the time to do the research, he’d find that the majority of those funds went toward state-mandated fire code improvements in all our schools, and other capital improvements such as a new roof at Pilgrim in ’09, a new roof at Vets last year, athletic fields, ADA work, and will also go towards the replacement of the both the Vets heating system and the Vets elevator. Further displaying his lack of understanding of our schools, he goes on to lament that since 2010, one “result” of school spending “… is a student population that has crashed from 17,000 to less than 9,000.” Our student population hasn’t been at 17,000 since the late 70’s. Again, another fact that Mr. Corrente doesn’t let get in the way of his argument. Lastly, he adds the $85 million bond request to the current total school budget of $160 million to somehow claim or imply that the school budget will grow to over $240 million! It’s difficult to find the words to describe that one!

To reiterate, we should have an open and honest discussion about our schools, their role in our community, and what kind of local support we’re willing to provide them. Unfortunately, the ideas contained in Mr. Corrente’s letter will not lend anything of substance to that discussion.

David Testa

Warwick School Committee member at-large

Comments

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Thecaptain

Very intelligent and articulate letter, as are all of Mr. Testa's letters. He, along with so many other people continue to point out the fact that Mr. Corrente is so completely inept, unpolished with research, and lives in a world of fantasy. His comments seldom make any sense to the discussion and they are put forth simply to confuse people who either aren't paying attention to the issue, could care less about the issue, or who are just removed from the aspect of civics. In any event, each time he opens his mouth he exemplifies the buffoonery by which he lives, and fails to pay taxes. How can a man who doesn't pay his fair share of taxes of which, go to support the schools, dare make any comment on the management of any department in this city?

Thursday, March 9
davebarry109

Very well written Mr. Testa but there is one argument I have. Overall, you are correct.However, the school committee, whether in its current form or previous membership, has not been a guardian of the publics hard earned tax dollars. It has been well known by the school department for 15 years that the enrollment was dropping and re-districting needed to be done. It is only in the last few years that any school consolidation has begun. Many years have been wasted and therefore, millions of dollars in taxes. The early 2000's saw the excuse of 'we have to see what the airport is going to do'. That was a convenient excuse for a decade. Until people get taxed to death, they won't pay attention. Keep your eye on the tax dollars, not just the education. Maybe we can reduce the per pupil cost to somewhere under 12,000 per child.

If you can read this letter and you observed errors in punctuation or grammer, thank a Warwick teacher.

Friday, March 10
DannyHall82

Prior administrations knew if they pushed consolidations that they would have the fight with the Teachers union that the current administration has now. Also why they have language in the contract that other towns don't...no one wanted to be the bad guy.

Friday, March 10
richardcorrente

Dear Dave Testa,

You state how wrong I am and then you can't help but agree with my facts. You also state that "85% of the schools budget goes to salaries and benefits" but you omit the part that shows the School Committee is growing its' staff by 30% while the teachers are receiving a reduction in staff of about the same percentage. You want your power to increase and the teachers power to decrease.

You then say how the City Council people are elected as well as the School Committee. I don't disagree with that, but the Council is responsible to the TAXPAYERS for every dime they vote on. The School Committee, by charter, is NOT.

They should be.

I stand by my comments and believe that the taxpayers (the people who are paying the $160,000,000 tab) agree with me.

Call me David. I'll buy the coffee.

Rick Corrente

The Taxpayers Mayor

Saturday, March 11
richardcorrente

Dear Dave Testa,

One more thing.

You said at the end of paragraph 4, that when I added the $160,000,000 of taxpayers money that we already gave the School Committee to the $85,000,000 that they are currently asking the taxpayers to pay for, that I "somehow claim or imply that the school budget will grow to over $240 million". What total do you get when you add those two numbers together Dave? Also, why do you find it "difficult to find the words to describe that one"?

$160 million plus $85 million = $245 million taxpayer dollars. Even with "a modicum research", that's over $240 million, isn't it ?

Let's discuss this over coffee. I'll still buy.

Regards,

Rick

Saturday, March 11
davet1107

Mr Corrente,

To say that I agree with your facts is one thing because some of your facts were correct. To try to imply that, by doing so, I somehow support your argument (in part or in whole) is quite another. What you did, in my view, is attempt to mislead with facts. Anyway, the increase in Admin positions and decrease in teacher positions is another such example. A year or so ago a consultant was hired to look at the WPS and they gave an historic assessment. In that, they did find that there was roughly a 20% decrease in students over the last 15-20 (I think) years, a 20-25% decrease in teachers, and a 20-25% increase in Admin staff. But here is where I think you mislead: A 20-25% reduction in teachers is roughly 150-200 teachers. An increase of 20-25% of Admin staff is, maybe, 10-12 positions. It's called the 'Law of Big Numbers'. Also, I'd add that School Departments have had many new regulations hoisted upon them by both the State and Federal governments as well as RIDE which often necessitates more staff at the Administration level. When student population declines, common sense tells you that you'd shed more teaching positions because there are less students to teach BUT that doesn't lessen what a District has to do Administratively. Also your attempt to somehow say that I, or any other committee member wants to derive more power to themselves is baseless.

With respect to SC members not being as responsible to the taxpayers as Council members, I think you are very wrong. How is an elected Councilperson more responsible to the taxpayers than an elected School Committee member? They're both elected by the same voters and if they do a bad job the voters have the same remedy to voice their displeasure and change things - they vote them out. Lastly, I'd remind you that three SC members run across three city wards and two run at-large, or across the whole city so, by definition, they have to appeal to a larger share of the voters than any Council person does. Sorry, sir, that dog won't hunt.

Saturday, March 11
davet1107

Mr. Corrente,

With respect to your last comment. You say that the schools current $160 million budget ($119 million of which comes from our property taxes) plus the $85 million bond request would equal a total budget of $245 million. You're in the mortgage business, correct? So when someone comes into your office for a $200,000 mortgage and their current annual household budget is, say, $30k, do you then tell that person that, after they sign those mortgage papers, their annual household budget will then become $235,000? You wouldn't tell them that, right? So why would you suggest that would be the case with the school budget when, clearly, you know that would not be the case?

Saturday, March 11
davet1107

Sorry, meant to say a total household budget of $230,000k. (Fat fngers...)

Saturday, March 11
Reality

Mr. Testa's letter speaks for itself. His facts are irrefutable.

The bigger issue is this " you have to pay to play " If you don't pay your taxes you have no skin in the game. The comments for those deadbeats have no relevance.

Sunday, March 12
WwkVoter

The definition of propaganda is to mix some true facts with the false message. Corrente spews some kind of bizarre propaganda. The scary part is that even though we see that, he doesn't seem to. The only way he can ever be called the taxpayers anything is if he checks into the IMH to get the help he needs..

Sunday, March 12
Thecaptain

Yet even as of 3/13/17 Corrente still has not paid his car tax or utility taxes. I'm beginning to think he is cousin to Travis. It runs in the family.

Monday, March 13
richardcorrente

Dear Dave Testa,

"mislead with facts"?

What? You accuse me of misleading with facts??

I ask the readers to read your comments and I defer to you for the "facts" clarified by you.

Your factual numbers are just as damaging as my estimates even though they are more fine tuned.

Can we now agree that the number of teachers is going down while the number of Admin staff is going up as I stated?

Can we now agree that you want "your power to increase and the teachers power to decrease" as I stated?

Can we now, finally agree that $160,000,000 plus $85,000,000 equals $245,000,000?? (to be paid by Warwick Taxpayers)

Do you still think that I would "mislead with facts" if you did? Better yet. How much do YOU believe 160 plus 85 equals?

I still stand by the facts whether they are your description or mine. The point, that can't be ignored, is that the taxpayer is paying way too much and getting way too little, and the Warwick taxpayer is paying the tab.

Can we agree, at least, on that David, or did I add those numbers incorrectly?

Rick Corrente

The Taxpayers Mayor

Wednesday, March 15