Dig This!

Every two years, people running for office in South Kingstown all seem to have the same basic platform – support our great schools, keep taxes low, and my favorite – maintain our sense of place, which for someone living in a gated community, in say Matunuck, means one thing, and over in the Peace Dale Flats, something entirely different. Rest assured, those are not my planks.

If you, or someone you know lives on a fixed income, notice how they fared over the last 20 years compared to the SKSD.

For the last eighteen years, school committee and town council majorities, associated or aligned with, or loyal to, the National Education Association of RI (NEARI), the state’s most powerful union, have given preference to the members of that association’s two locals, NEASK and SKESP, over our community and our students. The annual property tax transfers to support South Kingstown’s schools have been mismanaged since 2002, including the final sixteen yearly budget cycles of Steve Alfred and Alan Lord. Instead of using a 1998 amendment to RI General Law § 16-7-23, which would have reduced our school district’s workforce in parallel with our cratering enrollment, our councils looked the other way.

If RI General Law § 16-7-23 had been used beginning in 2002 it would have locked in the 7:1 Students per FTE ratio and today we’d have 389 FTEs working in SK not 444. A 40 FTE reduction over the next 3 years would cover the annual costs of a $75 million bond to build an all new 21st Century high school on Curtis Corner, add one wing onto Broad Rock for 6th grade, and triple the amount of money earmarked for the elementary schools from $6.4 Million to $20 Million. It’s time for NEASK to pay it forward.

The taxpayers’ penalty since 2002 for this malfeasance is somewhere between $63 and $117 million, and today our $24,235 per-pupil-expense is the highest in the state. Astonishingly, SKs $18,413 cost of Compensation per Student this year is greater than the total $17,923 PPE – “Per Pupil Expenditure” in Barrington (adjusted for the difference in transportation costs) and their enrollment is higher by 570 students. There are eighteen school districts in CT, MA, and RI with annual budgets similar to SK’s, which stands now at $66 million, but that’s where the similarity ends. On average, those other districts each have 800 more students in their schools than SK does. In effect, we pay to staff an 800-student high school with no students, and we do this every year.

In FY 2018 (latest year available) S.K. enrolled 789 fewer students than these 18 other districts but spent as much money. When I’ve brought this up at school committee meetings and asked, “How is this possible?” the NEARI crew just sits there and waits for my 3 min to run out.

Our schools, I’m sad to report, are no longer first-rate. Our 2017 PARCC, and 2018 + 2019 RICAS and PSAT-10 results confirm it. If this is news to you, I’m not surprised. Our school district hides bad data, like the gold at Fort Knox. We used to be the best. The people who know this don’t move to South Kingstown anymore, or they send their children elsewhere. In 2018-19 401 students were sent by their parents to other schools or homeschooled. Last year 487 opted-out (pre-pandemic), including 111 to Narragansett, The Compass School, and the Kingston Hill Academy. That’s now up to 147. In Barrington only 5% or 1 in 20 students go out of district.

Two months after the “Final Four” were elected, committee chair Stephanie Canter asked the town if there was something it could do to stop or slow the proposed expansion of the “Five-Star” Kingston Hill Academy. Last month the KHA was honored by the US Dept of Education as one of the 400 best schools in the nation, public or private. 

Tom Giordano, executive director of the Partnership for Rhode Island, the nonprofit organization that paid for the $50,000 Johns Hopkins University study of Providence public schools, was quoted in a June 27, 2019 Providence Journal article as saying, “I moved here two and a half years ago, and people told me there were two towns to live in, Barrington and East Greenwich. We need to get past that there are only two towns (in RI) with good schools.” Only three public school districts have ever won the state Academic Decathlon championship for RI and gone on to compete against the nation’s very best high schools. SKHS has won it three times, but that was almost 25 years ago. 

NEARI uses students like pawns in a rigged chess game, trotting them out there when they want adulation for their own successes or treating them like hostages come budget time by threatening to cut programs, not people, unless their ransom demands are met. Any doubt about how low this district is willing to go in covering up failure, not of our students, but of the people whose job it is to teach them, ended on Dec. 10, 2019. While presenting, of all things, an “Accountability Report” to the public on the district’s 2019 School Report Cards, Superintendent Linda Savastano threw our students with disabilities under a school bus by inferring it was their low achievement and growth scores on the annual RICAS assessment tests at five schools that the district received mediocre Star Ratings for a second straight year. As I would soon learn from RIDE, it was a lie.

The Superintendent’s version of this chart ends with the Wakefield Elementary School line. The two added columns, highlighted in yellow show, that except for SKHS, every other school could have had a higher star rating with better ELA and Math achievement scores. The district’s 3.14 star rating average could have been 4.14 (3rd highest in RI). The blame doesn’t fall on the students as the superintendent intimated, and her version of this chart doesn’t point out the two schools with chronic teacher absenteeism problems.

People ask me why I’m running for a council seat and not for the school committee, where most of my attention has been focused. It’s because the council has the “power-of-the-purse” and the authority to investigate fraud. I’m also running because I’m tired of my ideas being ignored at meeting after meeting. Citizens who walk up to the microphone or raise their hands on Zoom to speak during “public comments” get 3 to 5 minutes to plead their case. They should call it “venting in a vacuum” instead, because nothing ever comes of it. It’s in one ear and out the other. You never see anyone taking notes. Committees are another tool used to appease the public. A committee for this, another for that, public forums, visioning sessions, collect lots of data and head for the shredder.

I’m the NEARI’s worst nightmare – someone who knows where the bodies are buried. The task of unearthing dishonesty is not for the fainthearted, but if you choose to put me on our town council on Tuesday, not to worry, I come “shovel ready.”

Dorald W. Beasley – Candidate for the South Kingstown Town Council

If you like what I’m trying to do in exposing eighteen years of fraud and complicity, please forward this to anyone you know who may be voting on Tuesday. The one place they can’t ignore me is on the town council. To paraphrase Marine Colonel Jessup’s dialog from A Few Good Men, “You want me on that council. You need me on that council.” There’s nothing in this for me. I’m fighting for you and your families. Thank you

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