To the Editor,
In June, the East Greenwich Town Council adopted a budget that level funded the school district, regardless of known increases in school expenses due to contractual agreements and health insurance premiums. As a result, and with the recommendation of then-consultants Linda Dykeman and Gayle Corrigan’s “One Town” reorganization, the school district’s budget underfunded student support services (including special education) by more than $300,000 with the assurance from the town that unexpected costs could be eligible for supplemental appropriations and that the town was holding off on any capital expenditures that weren’t required (like the new street sweeper) to provide the needed financial buffer.
After the town’s budget was adopted, Ms. Dykeman recommended the East Greenwich School Committee underfund student services line items. School Committee members expressed concerns that the district is legally obligated to provide Individualized Education Plans, 504 Plans, and other support services, such as Response to Intervention, as required by state regulation. It seemed fiscally irresponsible to make cuts when the district knew these costs still existed. The idea of the “One Town” plan relied heavily on the trust that both sides would uphold their end of the agreement. Yet, on October 23rd, Ms Dykeman stated that the town has purchased the street sweeper, a dishwasher, a new stretcher, and leaf blower: All that remains of our “buffer” is $193.000.
Not surprisingly (since costs vary based on students moving in and enrollment), the district has already encountered unexpected costs as preschool special education enrollment was higher than projected. Earlier this month, the School Committee went to the town, per the original agreement, to request the supplemental appropriation to pay for the additional preschool teacher. Town officials denied the request due to lack of “demonstrated need,” which town officials said could only be authorized after a fiscal audit. This new demand for a fiscal audit of student services appears to be blackmail (for this and any future unanticipated student service costs) until the School Committee does as the Town Council demands. In addition, on Oct. 23, Ms. Corrigan recommended “shelving” the agreement entirely.
Why should this matter to you, residents of East Greenwich? Student services, the budget area targeted, is not just special education. This budget area serves approximately one out of every three East Greenwich students, and likely serves your children or children you know in some way, even beyond the obvious IEPs, 504 plans, and interventions. Many parents do not even know their children are assisted from this budget “bucket.” For example, if your child appears in class struggle with focus, teachers and support staff may address the need by adding strip of velcro adhered below their desk for stimulation or try a special sensory seat top added to their chair in an effort to find what works.
We presume the School Committee and district employees will continue to fulfill their legal and ethical obligation to all students – to not do so would only end in expensive litigation. However, because this budget area was intentionally underfunded, the contingency unethical spent, and now supplemental appropriations are being denied for blackmail, there will be a deficit – so where will the money come from?
It will come from things our district isn’t legally required to provide, as we essentially “rob Peter to pay Paul.” We may have to cut sports, more librarians, a foreign language, and certainly the much needed Director of Curriculum, who would act as the leader of teaching and learning, will not be hired. The result will be outrage in the greater school community as the cuts become real and more apparent. This anger will lead to blame, and blame will divide our community, once again ostracizing the families of our most vulnerable.
The true blame belongs squarely on the Town Council. The Town Council contracted with (and then hired) Ms. Dykeman and Ms. Corrigan, who recommended we underfund the schools. The Town Council has not held up the town’s end of the agreement and has allowed the president and town manager to overstep their bounds by demanding a fiscal audit of student services. We didn’t elect Town Councilors to run our school system. They don’t get to have a say in what the school district should prioritize, and they don’t get to back our elected School Committee members into a corner. Hold them accountable, East Greenwich. Tell them to keep their politics out of our schools.
Co-Chairs, EG Special Education Advisory Committee