Submitted by Eugene Quinn.
While I believe partisan politics has no place in public education, as a member of an elected body charged by statute with the care, control, and management of public school interests I want to acknowledge the important role our current Town Council and representation in the Rhode Island legislature, Justine Caldwell and Bridget Valverde, have played in helping the East Greenwich School Department meet its obligations.
Using a wildly inaccurate claim that the median property tax bill had risen 51 percent between 2011 and 2016 (tax rolls proved the correct number to be 14 percent), and an “Independent Budget Analysis” conducted by then future Town Manager Gale Corrigan’s Providence Analytics company as justification, the town cut the school appropriation to the minimum allowed by law for FY2018 and a provided only small increase in FY2019.
This had a disastrous impact on the East Greenwich School Department, to the point of threatening accreditation. In November 2018, a new Town Council was elected and implemented a plan to restore adequate school funding. Rep. Caldwell and Sen. Valverde, also elected in 2018, played an important role in obtaining the necessary approvals at the state level.
A supplemental appropriation the FY2020 appropriation allowed the process of repairing the damage to begin, but recovery was threatened when the state uncovered a $143,000 overpayment in their FY2019 education aid to East Greenwich. Rep. Caldwell worked with the Town Council and School Committee to get the state to agree to hold East Greenwich harmless for their error.
To put this in perspective, by law year-over-year increases in the school department appropriation must be between 0 percent and 4 percent. In round numbers, this puts the upper limit of the annual increase at $1.6 million. East Greenwich has never hit the 4 percent cap, and typical increases are in the 2 percent to 2.5 percent range, with no large spikes or runaway trends. A 2 percent increase is roughly $800,000, which has to cover any increase in operating expenses as well as funding the continuous improvement requirement of the Basic Education Plan (BEP).
Stable funding is critical to maintaining the quality of our schools. The School Committee relies on local and state elected officials to provide this, and I think our current Town Council, and Rep. Caldwell, and Sen. Valverde have proven they are up to the task.
Eugene Quinn is a member of the East Greenwich School Committee.
Photo of Eldredge Elementary School by Ray Johnson.