Critical Town Council proposes taking over care of school grounds

Critical Town Council proposes taking over care of school grounds

SMITHFIELD - In a 3-1 vote with its president opposed, the Town Council agreed June 4 to seek legislation shifting responsibility for school grounds maintenance from the School Department to the municipal side of government.

The motion to approve was made by Councilor Bernard Hawkins, who said any education money freed up by the move would leave more for the school district to spend on education.

Also, he said, with the additional resources available to the town through its Public Works and Parks Departments, the new system will "clean up the grounds in a way that's not being done now."

The lone dissenting vote, with Ronald Manni absent because of illness, came from Council President Alberto LaGreca Jr., himself a former school board member.

He said he agreed with committee member Brenden Oates, who told the council it should strive for a closer connection with his board. The two groups could decide the issue themselves rather than having the change forced on the committee through legislation, Oates said.

"Why can't we have a working relationship?" he asked, to which LaGreca replied, "I couldn't agree with you more."

The two groups have often been at odds over the past several years, especially over the council's recommended restrictions on the size of school budgets.

The two groups are in the process of scheduling a joint meeting to work through some of their issues.

Alfred Costantino, a frequent critic of the School Committee, supported the council's decision on outside maintenance, saying school grounds are "deplorable."

He also said he witnessed a school employee two years ago spending five days manually digging out a tree stump at the William Winsor School, while the town had resources to get the job done quickly.

"This is not a penal colony from the 1850s," he said.

LaGreca said he hoped for some mutual understanding between the two groups because "We are one community - it's not the town and the School Department."

The council indicated it is hoping to get the legislation enacted before the end of the current session, which is rapidly winding down.