Joint TC/SC budget work session

So here are my notes from the school committee budget presentation to the town council meeting tonight. Please note – these are just my notes and my observations. Here is the link to the meeting.

The school committee has come in with a budget that calls for a 2% tax increase despite as one speaker said a 385 student drop in enrollment and an anticipated drop of approximately 59 more. That is literally one entire elementary school.

There was no mention of faculty layoffs, no offer of consolidation of schools, no mention of programmatic parity across elementary schools, and a full thrust towards moving the high school to ccms. Zero discussion of what to do with the current high school property.

It would have been great to have had the opportunity to see the sc budget but it was not available to the public at the meeting.

There was no question upon observing the meeting that the individual almost fully responsible for this drive was Deb Kelso. If you remember from last year, when the town manager recommended a PTT of 1% to the schools, Deb Kelso drove it up in an open bid war. The discussion of over-funding of the schools last year by approximately $500,000 was quickly dismissed. No one wanted to talk about that. Abel Collins sat on the newly formed “joint sc/tc budget committee” and supported the budget as well, but Deb Kelso was the driving force.

This year, despite discussion from three other town council members, Deb Kelso persisted in pushing the agenda of a $85mm bond to build an addition onto our lowest ranked facility. These additions already exist in the current high school, which is our 2nd highest ranked building with Matunuck Elementary being the best ranked building in the district. In addition to my concerns as to potential cost overuns at the CCMS site, as an educator I have deep concerns about moving the high school out of the center of town, almost eliminating the ability of kids to walk into town for jobs and internships. These comments were made at the meeting last night by several residents. Deb Kelso is a member of the building committee.

So this is what the taxpayers are facing – a 2% tax increase and a forthcoming bond that hovers around $85 million. The push by the tc and the sc is to get the bond on the November ballot. What needs to be known by the taxpayer is that the stage 2 application WILL NOT BE APPROVED at that time. We will not know what the dept of ed will say when they look at our revised stage 2 application at the time that we vote.

This quite literally is giving this school committee a blank check for $85 million. There will not be plans to review, RIDE will not have approved our application at that time, and there will be no way to define how our tax dollars will be spent. So we have a sizable declining enrollment that has yet to result in a reduction in staff, leading to one of the highest per pupil cost in the country and one of the lowest pupil to staff ratios. All equaling an increased tax burden to SK taxpayers without having any real educational value.

Besides Joe Viele who did an outstanding job of questioning all of this, Rory McEntee also did a very nice job of speaking out, and Bryant DaCruz also did a very nice job of advocating. A simple solution is to direct the sc/tc to submit the stage 2 application for approval and to hold a referendum for the bond after approval by the state. For some reason not clear to me, Deb Kelso is determined to send this to the voters before plans are clear.

There is much more to come of this so stay tuned for more.

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