Powerful Taxpayers Association leading Little Compton down dangerous path

To the editor:

I am a relative newcomer to Little Compton: a summer resident since 1980, homeowner since 1986, and full-time resident since 2001 when I decided this was the ideal community to raise my infant son. Why not: Little Compton was a rural, beautiful, welcoming town with an excellent, well-rounded curriculum at the Wilbur & McMahon School.

The last two issues of the Sakonnet Times provide clear evidence of the long-term impact of the Taxpayers Association on our school system and community. In the last decade, this group has negatively impacted the spirit and vitality of this community. To their credit, the leadership of the Taxpayers Association, seemingly composed of individuals who retired to Little Compton, has worked hard to attain and then sustain their influence.

The Taxpayers Association attained power in the 2004 annual town meetings, when they defeated a town council and school board-backed proposal to raise the tax rate, by I believe 25 cents, in order to maintain the school’s language arts programs that contributed to development of our children in their most critical, early years. These meetings were bruising, dividing this town between families with children and many retired residents.

The Taxpayers Association has sustained its influence by being the only organized provider of information to the community regarding the town and school budgets. The data appears accurate, but incomplete. For example, their 2014 newsletter provided a graph and figures for the drop in school enrollment at Wilbur & McMahon over the past 20 years. The decrease has been significant, falling from 378 in 1994 to 275 in 2014, a hundred students.  However, they do not point out that the drop was only 25 students between 1994 and 2004 and 75 students, or 75 percent of the decrease, since the divisive tax battle of 2004.

Something real has happened since 2004; some families living in Little Compton have transferred their young children to Portsmouth Abbey and St. Philomena’s, other families like ours are using Providence private schools. More importantly to the long-term vitality and viability of Little Compton as a family-centered community, new residents have been increasingly retirees and summer residents. Why would a young family move to Little Compton when they can move to Barrington, Portsmouth or Dartmouth, which are clearly more family-oriented? Yes, they do have higher taxes, but they have services families desire.

The 2004 victory by the Taxpayer Association has created real apathy among year-round family residents. This has allowed the Taxpayers Association to fill the void in community decision-making.  The chairman of the Taxpayers Association, Joseph Quinn, is, in my opinion, the strongest, most vocal member of the school board.

The decision-making power and membership of the Town’s Budget Committee are now dedicated to only cutting expenditures to the bone, regardless of the well-being and social benefits to the community. In fact, the few votes in this year’s financial town meeting occurred because the budget committee zeroed out funds for two local non-profit groups; one helping victims of abuse and the economic recession and the other providing drug and alcohol preventive services, both recommended by the town council. The decisions of the Budget Committee were upheld in the voting. The tax rate would have been increased by less than one cent if these expenditures were level funded. Pretty amazing! The town Budget Committee is clearly aligned with the views of Taxpayers Association.

It is scary, but realistic to project these trends and ask what Little Compton will look like in ten or 20 years. One can hope that Little Compton will be more attractive to families with the renovation of the school. But, a clean, healthy building does not improve the performance of our schools. The population of our town is more likely to continue to age, making Little Community look more like a retirement community without walls. If summer residents find this aging environment less attractive, will their interest in coming here wane? It would be ironic, if these trends occur, bringing down the value of our homes, which would compel us to raise the tax rate.

We control what the future will look like in Little Compton and, therefore, we need a town-wide honest discussion now.

Stanley Wallack

Little Compton

Authors

4 Comments

  1. Bill Kelly said:

    We left Little Compton for Portsmouth several years ago. Both towns are wonderful. Both town halls are packed with great public service minded employees and officials. In Portsmouth, the “booster” activities are incredible and the fundraising is a big part of school life. Portsmouth students are qualifying for top colleges, such as Brown University, each year. It would be impossible for you to have a smaller class size in Little Compton (nine students per teacher). Why not have larger class sizes and more enhanced programs? The budget meeting seemed to me like mud wrestling for dollars ending with one of the lowest tax rates in America, however, each year. Everyone then shook hands and met at the barbecue at the commons each summer and had a blast. Our taxes in Portsmouth are more than double when compared to yours. We have city water, but then again we pay very high rates for the water, so there are no real additional services here compared to Little Compton, it just takes 4 minutes to get to CVS rather than 35 minutes from our home. If the families with children are saving 3 – 5 thousand a year on property taxes, don’t you think lower taxes would be a huge fund raising impetus? A teacher “costs” 60 to 80 thousand dollars a year plus medical plus additional time off, sick leave personal days and substitute teacher payments during those days away. Upon retirement there will be 80% of that salary and medical insurance for life. Unions block any sort of creativity and compromise to protect the steady stream of dues of which 100% of political donations go to elected “officials” who pledge to “bargain hard” with the teachers’ unions to “cut costs.” Home school students are surpassing public school students in test scores and problems like bullying and social justice propaganda are not present in the home school environment. To enter charter schools there are lotteries across the country. In Portsmouth there are waiting lists for the private schools despite the cost and the addition of those costs to an extremely high tax rate.
    We also lived in Tiverton for a short time. Taxes in Tiverton are exactly TRIPLE of Little Compton! They have just spent MILLIONS on a new “library” when the entire world is going paperless. The sewer systems are nonexistent and the water is horrible. The schools are broke each year (we donated cases of cases of paper every spring) and they run out of money constantly for needed services. Their test scores are low on the list annually. So the highest tax rate has resulted in a broken budget and lower scores. Speaking as an outsider, I would say throwing money at a problem usually makes it need more money as the money seems to leak out at first and later floods out… Get together, solve the problem and don’t go for broke like the rest of Rhode Island!

    Bill Kelly

  2. DMCT said:

    Mr Kelly, with all due respect, please check your “facts”. Also speaking as an outsider, the pension reform passed by Gina Raimondo in 2012 made it effectively impossible for teachers to collect the pensions you describe. The average RI teacher will work until age 65 or 43 years of service ( if hired right out of college) for between 43-45% (1% per year) of their highest 5 years. Lifetime medical has not existed for teachers for years and it is not a retirement benefit. Tiverton scores low annually? They have the number one elementary school in the state and the others score in the top third. Tiverton High School was just ranked 15th overall and top 10 for Science NECAP. Additionally, I find your claim in regards to home schoolers testing higher than public school students questionable. Home schoolers are not required to take the same assessments, state or local, as their public school counterparts so I am not sure how you are comparing the two. Throwing money at a problem may not be the answer but throwing out erroneous information into the mix is not helpful either.

  3. Bill Kelly said:

    The principal of the elementary school mentioned is from Little Compton and the high school is atrocious. If the tax rate is so high, why only fifteenth, why not first? The middle school is for the most part in dis-repair. As an outsider, I am saying, do not go down the road of higher taxes = broke towns. Raise the money. Start fundraising. Put the money where you feel it is needed. Calculate the difference in taxes you save compared to Tiverton for instance. Write a check for what you are saving in taxes perhaps. St. Philomena’s is a blue ribbon school and they spend about half per student and class sizes are almost double of Little Compton. The grounds are perfect and the parents help out with fundraising.

  4. Ron Potvin said:

    Tiverton’s taxes are slightly higher than average for the state. Tiverton’s teachers are the lowest paid in the state. Tiverton’s schools are well above average for the state. That’s bang for the buck! Perhaps we should go down the same road as Westport: crumbling infrastructure and poor schools, just to keep taxes low on the river- and ocean-front properties. Mr. Wallack is simply asking his community to decide what’s important: low taxes simply for the sake of low taxes, or a community that includes its children as a priority.

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