Letter: Bottom line trumps excellence in school decision

To the editor: 

On Friday, Feb. 28, at 5 p.m., I attended the Little Compton School Committee budget workshop to be followed at 6 p.m. by a School Committee meeting. I was delighted to see a standing room only crowd including teachers, parents, a bevy of children, and a smattering of citizens from the community.

The workshop meeting lasted until a little after 6 beginning with a Powerpoint presentation by the superintendent then followed by an abruptly truncated public input session when the chairman of the School Committee announced that the workshop was closed.

The School Committee meeting to vote on the budget resumed a half hour later. Re-posting meetings has always been a tactic to quash attendance at open meetings and happens regularly at Wilbur McMahon School. This time there had been no re-posting on the Secretary of State’s website to indicate the School Committee would meet at 6:30 p.m. However, the audience stayed for the next 30 minutes or so. The children behaved with admirable grace and good will. No further public discussion was allowed by the School Committee during this break.

Some of the major points of the presentation were that, after four years of level funding, Superintendent Crowley was asking for a raise of 2.7 percent from the budget committee but not the full 4 percent allowed under law.

At the same time she would: 1) not fill the second grade vacancy, 2) would lay off the technology teacher, and 3) hire a half-time library media specialist without benefits (as was remarked by one observer, “a daily migrant worker”).

Needless to say, the comments during the public input session focused on these items, particularly the lack of wisdom in eliminating the computer technology teacher. The explanations for these cuts were confused at best and the reasons provided were obfuscating rather than enlightening. With no plans revealed to this audience, these cuts seem to be based on the most fragile evidence having little to do with the quality of education for the children of Little Compton.

After the half-hour break, the School Committee meeting went into session to vote on the budget and again the audience remained. After further discussion amongst committee members, in a 3 to 2 vote (Allder, Gomes, and Beauchemin vs Quinn and Bugara) the motion to recommend a 4 percent increase passed. However, a stipulation was made that the increase  could only be used as a contingency fund for unforeseen expenses.

It is interesting to note that surplus moneys from past years seem to have been expended on costs associated with the building project and infrastructure or with increases in administrative staff and their additional need for consultants.

In the opinion of parents and teachers, saving the job of a full-time technology teacher, Mrs Pineau, is a prime requirement for the school in the age of computers, digital technology, and online learning. A second need may be replacement of books, journals, and paper which have been stored at the transfer station. If, when the containers are opened there is any mold, the books and other material cannot go into the renovated school building for fear of reintroducing mold contamination.

I am extremely disturbed by the attitude of the School Committee toward the dedicated teachers and parents in our community. I am proud and delighted by LCCF for its very time-consuming volunteer efforts to bring these groups together with the larger community and to ask more from the elected officials and paid administrators for the benefit of the children. I am appalled that the “bottom line” is the standard for this school committee.

I fully support the 4 percent request and hope the budget committee will do so as well.

Johanna W. McKenzie

Little Compton

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