Forget attacks – bill to give councils control over financial matters makes sense


When residents get upset about an increase in their property tax bill, they typically hold accountable the people responsible for setting the tax rate on their properties: members of the city or town council in which they live.

But there’s another culprit. They’re typically a step removed from the direct wrath of angry taxpayers, although anyone who has attended a municipal council meeting on a budget knows just how big a part they play. They are the local school committees, who under today’s system of government enter into contracts that consume maybe 50 percent, sometimes more, of a city or town’s budget.

I would not expect school committee members to be thrilled with legislation I have submitted to shift some of the control over non-educational matters pertaining to the schools, such as the setting of salaries and the maintenance of buildings, to city and town councils. So it wasn’t a huge surprise when Rhode Island Association of School Committees Executive Director Timothy C. Duffy went on the attack against me. In an email to all school committee members in the state, he attacked me personally while seeking to rally the troops against my bill, saying, “Like many of Senator Tassoni’s proposed legislation it is not well researched nor is his intent especially clear.”

Perhaps Mr. Duffy didn’t read the bill very carefully, because the intent is pretty evident and is explained in the legislation itself. The bill seeks to have school committees work in conjunction with city and town councils, with school committees overseeing matters pertaining to the direct provision of educational services, such as curriculum, hiring of personnel, and educational administration.

From Central Falls to Woonsocket, communities across the state are learning the hard way what happens when those responsible for paying the bills for the entire city aren’t working in conjunction with the education side of the equation. Some Rhode Island communities are in crisis in no small part because the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.

Fortunately, even while Mr. Duffy plays the obstructionist, some Rhode Island communities are taking step to find efficiencies and facilitate coordination. The East Providence School Committee on March 14 passed a Resolution asking the General Assembly to study reorganization and consolidation of Rhode Island’s education system. On the same day, the North Kingstown School Committee voted to share the positions of finance director, buildings director and information director between the town and school department. Under the North Kingstown plan, the town will oversee maintenance of school grounds.

To me, and I believe to most Rhode Islanders, this is just plain common sense. The school committee was elected to oversee education, and this bill ensures they do that. We look to our city and town councils to oversee budgetary matters – and we hold them accountable for the decisions they make. This bill gives them control over this major portion of local budgets.

Most importantly, however, the bill requires that the school committees work in conjunction with city and town councils. They are serving the same constituency. We all want to see quality education provided at a cost we can afford.

Rather than deriding me personally while seeking to hold on to all the power he can, Mr. Duffy should explain why the legislation is anything other than a great idea to make our government more efficient and more accountable.


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