Cutting schools to bone
To the Editor:
Well, budget season is over and it appears that the city will be allocating an additional $432,000 to the schools. The budget hearings held true to their historical form with the school department being held up as the one requiring diligent oversight, even though over the last several years their budget has grown by roughly $500,000 while during the same time the city’s budget has grown by more than $30 million.
During that period the school department has closed schools, reduced staff, implemented a 20 percent health care co-share, and privatized special-ed bus services, further reducing staff. I don’t think anyone can deny that the schools have done more with less for a long time, nor can one deny that they know how to make cuts.
They’ve more than demonstrated that over the years. But at some point, you end up “cutting into bone” and that, I fear, is where we are now. Ask any principal in the district if they think that level funding again will be detrimental to programs. And yet, some council members displayed an incredible amount of ignorance of what their role is in the structure of school governance and of what the schools actually do. It brought to mind Churchill’s quote that “it is better to be thought of as a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.” The mayor has stated that level funding the schools still allows them to conform to the state’s Basic Education Plan (BEP). True enough, but neither he nor the City Council have any idea of what is actually in the BEP. For example, Cranston cut instrumental music and chorus in their elementary schools, but they still conform to the BEP. They must rely on fundraising and volunteers to be able to offer those in just some schools. Sure, we could drastically reduce the programs that we offer in our schools and still conform to the BEP, but is that the kind of school system we want?
Is that how we want to attract families to move here? Is that how we want to expand the tax base? Evidently the mayor and the council, through their actions, think so. Lastly, many on the council lamented that they had no control over how the schools spend their funds. Perhaps they need to be reminded that this is by design and has been so for over a hundred years in this country.
The mayor and the council are politicians who support and are supported by political parties. That is exactly the element that does not belong in school governance, in my opinion. Over 85 percent of the country has elected school committees for that very reason and, by the way, a very large majority of those have taxing authority, too. Councilman Solomon referred to the recent Charter Review Commission that recommended that Warwick appoint the School Committee. I am not a fan at all of an appointed school committee. You’ll find them in large urban area schools such as Providence, Boston, New York, etc.; not in suburban communities, so to think that somehow that model is good for Warwick shows an incomplete understanding of school governance. In fact, based on six years of virtual level funding, one could conclude that perhaps there is an ulterior motive afoot to starve the schools of funding, force them to gut programs to the point where the public outcry is met with a concerted effort to transition to an appointed school committee. In a recent Beacon advertisement for the dedication of the Robert Shapiro Educational Complex, the ad contained a quote from him that said, “You never give up on a student.” By essentially level funding the schools for another year that is precisely what the mayor and council have done.