Resident asks Barrington Town Council to intervene in school plans

Susannah Holloway asks for additional public forums

By Josh Bickford
Posted 10/11/22

Susannah Holloway approached the Barrington Town Council last week, asking for the group to intervene in the school district’s plans to build new elementary schools in town. 

Holloway, …

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Resident asks Barrington Town Council to intervene in school plans

Susannah Holloway asks for additional public forums

Posted

Susannah Holloway approached the Barrington Town Council last week, asking for the group to intervene in the school district’s plans to build new elementary schools in town. 

Holloway, a member of the town’s Committee on Appropriations, spoke during the public comment period of the Oct. 3 meeting. She told council members that she had applied to be a member of the school department’s visioning session for the master facilities work, but was denied. Holloway said she was not the only resident to be turned down, and felt it was wrong for school officials to exclude people from that process.

The Barrington resident told councilors that if school officials were limited by space, then they should have organized additional visioning sessions. Holloway also said that since council members will be part of the approval process for the potential school construction work, they need to consider holding some additional public forums where residents can discuss the school building plans. 

Holloway’s comments drew no response during the Oct. 3 meeting, but when contacted directly, some council members offered their opinions regarding the situation. 

Council member Rob Humm believes there should be additional community outreach meetings. He called the proposed work “a significant change to what has been in place for decades.” Option 2B of the school department’s master facilities plan calls for construction of two Grade 1-5 elementary schools, a new early learning center, and the closure of one elementary school.

“Outreach to the community is important to help people understand the proposals and the reasons for the change,” Humm wrote in an email to the Barrington Times. “Also, I would encourage setting up outreach meetings with our teachers too, who are our resident experts on all educational issues and should be included in the process.”

Barrington Town Council President Michael Carroll said the council’s role in the proposed school department work should be limited.

“…Town Council cannot, and will not, dictate how the school department utilizes its facilities,” Carroll wrote in an email.

Carroll further explained that it is up to the Barrington School Committee to complete the preliminary application to the Rhode Island Department of Education. “Only then will the Town Council have a role in deciding whether to finally approve the application submission,” he wrote.

“The School Committee has not yet completed its work, and I know they are taking the comments of the residents very seriously. We must be patient to see their final plan, which we expect early next year. 

“Residents should know that, once the School Committee completes that work, it will need affirmative votes from the Town Council, approval from the Rhode Island Department of Education, and from the Financial Town Meeting. The latter requirement is necessary because, unless they choose to do no construction, the FTM would need to approve their budget.”

Council member Jacob Brier questioned the substance of Holloway’s argument and challenged whether her voice had been excluded.

“My experience of this process is that a group of people, among whom she is one of the most prominent and vocal, have said loudly and frequently, over several months, that they have had no voice during a rushed process,” Brier wrote in an email. “That very experience contradicts the claims being made. There have been more than a dozen meetings that included public comment about the school facilities. There were multiple meetings dedicated specifically to that topic. A school committee member raised concern over the process, and when he did so, the answer satisfied him enough to vote in support of the already-controversial ‘Option 2B.’”

Brier also believes it is inappropriate for the council to hold a community forum about a school department issue. 

“Doing so would add confusion to the misconception that there is a hierarchy in our local government,” Brier wrote. “The School Committee is not subordinate to the Town Council. At a time when Town Council candidates are using inflammatory school issues as talking points for their campaign, we should be seeking to reinforce our actual roles in Barrington. Town Council responsibilities do not include oversight of the School Committee or the BPS facilities. The Council isn’t as informed about the existing challenges of the facilities, goals for changes, educational priorities, etc. It’s always concerning when folks who align with a brand of ‘less government’ are asking for government strong-arms tactics.”

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