To save this district, isolate Sarah Markey

Brousseau and Hansen will bring an end to the dishonesty *

By finishing second in the voting for five openings on the South Kingstown school committee in November 2018, Sarah Markey, vice-chair of the committee, and full-time union organizer for the National Education Association of Rhode Island (NEARI), won an exemption from having to face the voters this year. That’s unfortunate because Ms. Markey is, for all intents and purposes, the superintendent of our school district.

One month into her reign, an article written by Erica Sanzi entitled, With R.I. schools, fox guards hen house, about Ms. Markey’s election to the school committee, appeared in the Providence Journal. Ms. Sanzi, who writes for Education Post and, wrote that “While the school committee has a duty to be focused on student achievement, communication with families, data informed practices and responsible stewardship of taxpayer dollars, teachers’ unions prioritize none of these things. Unions want to secure the biggest piece of the pie they can, and that will always mean keeping schools open and employing as many members as possible, with no regard for declining enrollment or the fiscal realities facing the town.”

This is the graph of a dying town.
(Enrollment data taken from latest PK-12 student population forecast for each district.)

Her piece was a forewarning of what has taken place since Ms. Markey’s first public meeting, but it requires consent from 4 people on a 7-person committee to get things done, and committee chair Stephanie Canter, Emily Cummiskey, and Jacy Northrup have eagerly provided their concurrence to Ms. Markey’s NEASK agenda in meeting after meeting. It’s Ms. Markey’s agenda because it’s developed behind closed doors with Ms. Canter, Superintendent Linda Savastano, and on occasion district CFO Maryanne Crawford. And most of the important and often contentious agenda items are now “end-loaded” after public comment, hampering examination.

Given that a vast majority of the items on these agendas directly or indirectly affects members of the NEARI locals, mainly teachers (NEASK) and teaching assistants (SKESP), Ms. Markey has no business being in that room, regardless of what the toothless R.I. Ethics Committee has stated twice in absolving her of violating conflict-of-interest laws. In their advisory opinion handed down in January of 2019, the commission wrote:

“As to other issues that may come before the School Committee, such as budgets, facilities, administration evaluation and contracts, personnel appointments and leave, and staff lay-offs, the Petitioner (Markey) represents that NEARI does not generally make an appearance before, or presentation to, the School Committee. Even in the absence of such appearance or participation, the Petitioner is directed to recuse from any discussions and decision-making which is likely to result in her employer, NEARI, deriving a direct monetary gain or suffering a direct monetary loss. “

Now, every time the membership of NEASK or SKESP changes NEARI is gaining or losing hundreds of dollars in union dues, and where do those dues go – to pay Sarah Markey’s $180k+ salary and benefits for one. So, unless this district can supply audiotapes of those closed-door confabs, then I believe Ms. Markey violates that Ethics Commission directive every time that door latch clicks shut.

Toward the end of Erika Sanzi’s piece, she noted, “only two members showed themselves to actually represent the community they were elected to serve.” She was referring to Michelle Brousseau and Kate Macinanti. Michelle and Kate always put the interests of students first – every student. They don’t condone the favoritism in staffing that goes on in this district or the complete lack of accountability and transparency.

In an April 23rd commentary to the Providence Journal James A. Kadamus, of Westerly, a former deputy commissioner of education in New York State said, “…every successful school in Rhode Island that I visited …earlier this year started with a deep analysis of student assessment data.” Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen here. Instead, information which should be shared with parents and taxpayers is withheld, covering for very expensive, but ineffective, K-12 instruction.

One of NEARI’s legislative positions posted right on their website concerns Standardized Testing of Students, specifically their opposition to “the use of standardized tests and/or assessments when the results are used to compare students, teachers, programs, schools, communities, and states.” Keep reading and you’ll see why.

When school starts next month the AVERAGE salary for SK’s 290 certified employees, which includes the teachers, will be $91,000 + $39,000 in benefits. Now, good teachers are worth that kind of money, and more, but our students per FTE ratio of 6.1 to 1 is the lowest in RI, so why don’t our students’ assessment test scores reflect that kind of investment? That’s the $64.75M question for which this Markey/Canter led committee has no answer. Where’s the cost-benefit? That answer unfortunately is – there doesn’t seem to be one.

Where’s the COST|BENEFIT in spending $23,000 per student in S.K? There isn’t one, yet the school committee is negotiating a new contract with NEASK, when the data shows a lot of our Step 10 certified staff don’t warrant one.

For instance, did you know our district’s School Star state ranking improved from 20th to tied for 17th place last fall when the 2019 RICAS and PSAT-10 results were released. That’s right, 17th puts our district in the bottom half of RI’s 32 public-school districts.

The Achievement + Growth results in ELA and Math of All Students determine each school’s final Star Rating.

The #1 reason for that is the disappointing results of this district’s 3rd through 8th and 10th-grade students on the Math assessment tests, a clear indicator of a systemic problem with mathematics instruction.

2019 RICAS + PSAT-10 Math Assessment Results

The reason you didn’t know is because this district buries unfavorable data and, as we saw this year, falsely blames students with disabilities and our Native American students instead – appalling. It didn’t make sense that scores of a small number of students would have that much effect on the ELA and Math scores of an entire school, so I contacted Scott Gausland, the Director of the Office of Data and Technology at RIDE. In his reply he said, “…the scores that make up the star chart are always calculated using the entire school population, with the exception of the far-right column. Subgroup scores only count for targeted (TSI-ATSI) or comprehensive (CSI) support identification, and a school cannot be a 5-star school if one or more subgroups are identified as needing support.”

Place the blame where it belongs – on ineffective instruction – not on our students. Chronic teacher absenteeism is defined as missing 10% (18 days) or more in a school year. In 2018-2019 11.2% of West Kingston School teachers and 11.4% of Matunuck School teachers were chronically absent (see pg. 12 of their RIDE School Report Cards).

This won’t stop unless Sarah Markey is in the minority after the votes are counted on November 3rd. For that to happen, Kate Macinanti needs our help in getting Michelle Brousseau and Cadence Hansen, both running unendorsed, onto the November ballot. Their first and maybe most challenging hurdle is to be in the top 4 of 6 candidates for the school committee in the S.K. Democratic Primary. So, I’m asking dissatisfied parents, fed up taxpayers, people on fixed incomes, and disillusioned teachers to vote, by mail, or at the polls on Tuesday, September 8th, and get BROUSSEAU and HANSEN on November’s ballot. I know I will be.

Dorald W. Beasley – Kingston

* Melissa Boyd contacted me this morning (9/2/20) to let me know that she had received messages from people telling her they didn’t like the tone of this article and were considering not voting for her in the primary because of my support for unendorsed Democratic candidates. In response I said, “Candidates for public office in South Kingstown have been harassed and intimidated for years by people who disagree with their positions. And it does not end if you’re elected – it gets worse.” I have honored her request and removed her name from this post. db

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