Editorial: The Joint Finance Committee goes old school

Posted 3/28/19

For one year, the Bristol Warren Joint Finance Committee behaved differently. Unfortunately for the school district, that was last year.

In most years, the folks who authorize school funding …

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Editorial: The Joint Finance Committee goes old school

Posted

For one year, the Bristol Warren Joint Finance Committee behaved differently. Unfortunately for the school district, that was last year.

In most years, the folks who authorize school funding — six leaders from Bristol and three from Warren — listen politely to everything from the school community, nod in support, and then authorize a small increase in funding, based on what the towns can “afford.” That’s exactly what happened Tuesday night, as the schools were asking for a lot, and the towns gave them a little — just what local taxpayers could afford.

Last year, the dialogue and decision were different. In 2018, the discussion was focused on what the schools need, why they need it, and how dramatic decreases in state aid were impacting the school system. When it came time to vote, the Joint Finance Committee supported a total budget for the schools — meaning, they decided to support the full budget, and to live with whatever that meant for local taxpayers.

On Tuesday night, most of that atmosphere was gone. Yes, they listened politely to folks from the schools and from the public, but when it came time to vote, Joint Finance Committee members went back to the old ways, approving a small increase to the local contributions — leaving the school department to figure out the rest.

Some will argue that the differences are purely semantics; that however the decision is made, the debate still boils down to how much these decisions affect local taxpayers.

However, for one year, the focus was on the schools, what they needed to operate, and how to pay for it — a healthy approach to evaluating the public schools and their needs.

Tuesday night was much more consistent with the long-term trend. Two years ago, the local contributions, combined with decreasing state aid, gave the school department an overall increase of less than 1 percent. This year, the same thing happened — a modest increase in local funding, combined with a big decrease in state aid, gives the school department an overall increase of less than 1 percent.

This is not a cry to support the schools no matter what. We believe their teachers’ contract has a crippling effect on school finances, as every 3 percent increase to salaries has a crushing impact on the annual budgets.

Yet it is a cry to reconsider the approach to school funding, focusing on what the schools need, and why, not on what people can “afford.” It will be interesting to see what comes out of the administrative offices in the next few months, as school leaders confront a $2.5 million shortfall. Which programs, technology and personnel can survive, and which ones cannot?

School-age families have a right to feel nervous.

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Mike Rego

Mike Rego has worked at East Bay Newspapers since 2001, helping the company launch The Westport Shorelines. He soon after became a Sports Editor, spending the next 10-plus years in that role before taking over as editor of The East Providence Post in February of 2012. To contact Mike about The Post or to submit information, suggest story ideas or photo opportunities, etc. in East Providence, email mrego@eastbaymediagroup.com.