My take on the news

Gist smoothing way for reappointment

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PRIMARY RESULTS: This column goes to production Tuesday morning in order to print in all three Beacon Communications papers. Therefore, nothing will be found about the primary results. There will be plenty of time between the primary and the general election for the views of this columnist to be heard. More to follow ...

HAS GIST BECOME A POLITICAL HACK? There seems to be only one reason why Rhode Island Education Commissioner Deborah Gist has decided to further postpone high-stakes graduation testing for an additional three years beyond the already-pushed-back 2017 date established by the General Assembly. She wants to keep her job when a new governor takes office in January.

With the controversy over high-stakes testing that shook the state this year, Gist surely realizes the next governor won’t stand for the same controversy in 2017, only half way through his or her administration. With Gist pushing the testing requirement off until 2020, until after the next governor’s term is completed, she is smoothing the way for the next governor to reappoint her as education commissioner. Otherwise, she would almost certainly be fired.

Though many of us, especially education administrators, saw Gist’s appointment a few years ago as a sign of progress in a state whose education system has historically been a failure, those same administrators now see her simply for what she has apparently become – just another political hack who is holding a very important office that now seems destined for further failure.

PROPERTY RIGHTS FINALLY WIN IN RHODE ISLAND: Superior Court Judge Brian Stern has issued a ruling in a Westerly land-use case that favors private property owners. Several seaside property owners near Misquamicut Beach in Westerly had erected snow fences at the high tide line to protect their yards from trespassers who use the shoreline but who stray onto private property. The Attorney General’s Office contended in court that the public has the right to use the private owners’ property beyond the high tide line, even when the property is clearly a part of a property owner’s yard.

There are 12 rights-of-way running between properties in the area, so the public has clear access to the water and the beach below the high water line – the line that has historically separated private property from public property along the water. The judge ruled that the public doesn’t have, and shouldn’t have, the right to hang out on private property above that line. The attorney for the homeowners said of the property in dispute, “These are basically the front yards of these property owners.”

In our era of rampant misuse of eminent domain, with government frequently taking private property from one owner and transferring it to another private owner, it is extremely refreshing to see a judge realize that private property owners also have a few rights.

MOST HYPOCRITICAL COMMENT OF THE YEAR: President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron, meeting with other NATO leaders in Wales last week, issued a joint statement that said, “Those who want to adopt an isolationist approach misunderstand the nature of security in the 21st century. Developments in other parts of the world, particularly in Iraq and Syria, threaten our security at home.”

Obama, our country’s Isolationist-in-Chief, clearly doesn’t understand the impact his isolationist policies have had on the world. He doesn’t understand that his vacillating indecisiveness about Syria, Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Russia and Ukraine has branded the U.S. as isolationist and has undermined the trust our allies used to have in us; and worse, it has emboldened our enemies.

Yet, Obama signs a hypocritical statement implying that he hasn’t adopted an isolationist approach to world problems.  What a bunch of crap!

IT’S NO WONDER PROVIDENCE IS IN FINANCIAL STRAITS: Because she failed to file an ethics commission filing, even after three reminders, the personal financial condition of Doris M. De Los Santos has become public knowledge. She is the Providence School Department employee who ran in the Democratic primary against incumbent Providence state Sen. Frank A. Ciccone.

Besides her two bankruptcy filings and evidence of debts to 80 creditors, what stands out the most in the news articles about her is that she worked until 2012 in the governor’s office making $58,417 a year. The Providence School Department now employs her as director of development and partnerships at the salary of $113,642 per year.

Surely, this must raise some eyebrows among Providence taxpayers. Why would the city hire someone at a salary rate that is more than $55,000 above what she made in her last job?  Maybe she’s that good, and maybe she was seriously under-appreciated by Gov. Chafee. Most of us, however, would say such hiring is what has put Providence in its current financial straits.

NEW BLACKSTONE PREP CHARTER SCHOOL: Blackstone Valley Prep Mayoral Academy will move its middle school into a new facility in Central Falls funded by a grant from the Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation. Central Falls Mayor James Diossa and Superintendent Frances Gallo support the move and the increase in charter school in general. Central Falls teachers’ union president Jane Sessums opposes the expansion of all charter schools.

Sessums said that instead of advocating for charter schools, the mayor and superintendent “should be advocating for our public schools.”

Of course, charter schools are public schools. They are funded with taxpayer dollars but don’t have to operate under the draconian labor rules imposed by teachers’ unions on non-charter public schools – rules that favor teachers, cost taxpayers dearly and greatly detract from students’ educational experiences.

Unions and their ridiculous dictates are the very reason charter schools have flourished in Rhode Island and throughout the country. The sooner unionized public school teachers realize this, the faster they will force their hard-line union leadership to back off on anti-education workplace rules so that teachers can become more responsible educators whose primary interests are less self-centered and more student-oriented.

HEALTH CARE SPENDING INCREASING RAPIDLY: A new report from the federal Health and Human Services non-partisan Office of the Actuary says that health care spending in the U.S. will grow by 6 percent per year from 2015 to 2023, much of it due to the expansion of Medicare and Medicaid, the giant programs that now cover over 100 million Americans and are paid for by taxpayers. Of course, Medicaid participation increased dramatically under President Obama.

So, what’s the name of that new federal health insurance mandate that was going to save us so much in health care costs? Oh, yes – it’s called the “Affordable” Care Act, isn’t it?

THE EBOLA VIRUS AND RHODE ISLAND: Should Rhode Islanders be concerned about spread of the almost incurable Ebola virus that is spreading like wildfire in West Africa, including Liberia? If the very respected medical organization Doctors Without Borders is to be believed, “The world is losing the battle against Ebola,” with over 1,500 killed by the disease and more than 3,500 infected in Liberia and three other West African nations. And the disease is spreading rapidly.

There are over 200,000 Liberians in the U.S., with as many as 15,000 Liberian immigrants in Rhode Island, mostly in Providence. Indeed, we have the highest per capita number of Liberians than any other state.

Since the virus travels with its hosts as they fly from West Africa to other countries, including the U.S., it makes sense that the Liberian community in Providence might face exposure to the virus from visiting relatives or from newcomers from Liberia.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says, “It’s true that anyone with an illness (in West Africa) is just a plane ride away from coming to the U.S., but we have protections in place.” Airline employees are trained to spot symptoms among travelers and quarantine centers are ready at 20 major U.S. airports.

However, the symptoms take three weeks to manifest themselves. So, according to an ABC News medical editor, “There's nothing to prevent someone traveling here asymptomatically during the incubation period” No one in our country should panic about the virus, but we should be concerned. It just makes sense to be cautious about contact with anyone who has recently traveled from Liberia or anywhere else in West Africa.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: Dr. Stanley M. Aronson, the Providence Journal’s most literate and insightful commentary contributor, after outlining the history of newspapers, had this to say about the mission of today’s newspapers: “By today, the established mission of the newspaper is to entertain, to cause a sense of wonderment for a credulous audience, provide items of authentic news, and finally to comfort the troubled and trouble the comfortable.”

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