Town Council, School Committee sit down to combined sessions

Town Council, School Committee sit down to combined sessions

CUMBERLAND - Given a chance to explore together any topics they'd like, members of the Town Council and School Committee picked five during a rare session of kinship last Thursday evening.

Come the beginning of December, they later agreed, they'll schedule another session with plans for sharing information about:

* State and local school funding, including the charter school tuitions;

* How services might be shared between the town and School Department;

* Ideas for long-range planning;

* Taxpayers' willingness to fund schools;

* The divide between charter and district schools.

The five topics were culled from a couple of dozen ideas that members of both boards identified during a round-table forum facilitated by psychologist Peter Langton, a Cumberland resident who teaches industrial and organizational psychology at Wheaton College and holds a corporate human relations position.

Topics were divided up and one school board and one council member assigned to each.

The decision by councilors and school board members to voluntarily increase their meeting workload seems to be an unprecedented undertaking in Cumberland designed to bring the two sides together at a time outside of the usual tension-filled budget cycle.

The sessions are open to the press and public, although the school board's Craig Duffy did express concern that The Breeze's presence would hamper candid dialogue.

While all seven school board members attended, the council had called just a meeting of its finance subcommittee. Absent were Councilors Manuel DaCosta, President James Higgins and Jeff Kearns, who called to say he was not injured but couldn't attended after an auto accident.

School Supt. Phil Thornton attended but Mayor Daniel McKee did not, saying later he wasn't aware of the meeting.

Councilor Craig Dwyer, who heads the finance subcommittee, indicated the entire council and mayor would be invited in the future.

School Committee Chairwoman Lisa Beaulieu was the catalyst for the roundtable session and reminded the gathering that many had expressed an interest in meeting at a time outside of budget season.

"When folks elect you, they elect you for a reason," she said. "I think we have big responsibility."

Langton called on the group to identify their key issues, whether a misunderstood issue, an area for collaboration or a perceived problem. "What are real issues we want to spend time on? The goal is not to make a political statement or talk about pet peeves," he said. "What's worth spending time on and what's the best way to do it? These will be the issues we spend our resources on."

With the five topics selected, Beaulieu and Dwyer were assigned to plan the school funding discussion.

Councilor Bill Murray is working with school board member Paul DiModica on the shared services topics. Murray is also assigned to the charter/public divide with school board member Linda Teel.

School board member Jeff Mutter is working with Councilor Scott Schmitt on long-range planning, and Councilor Art Lambi and school board member Craig Duffy are teaming up on the taxpayer issue.

The town's elected officials voted on the topics of highest interest, but omitted one with the most votes - trust between the two boards. Instead, several said, trust would come as the two sides learned to understand each other better, several said.

Some ideas were broad, such as shared services, and others were narrow, such as funding technology or understanding the BEP, basic education plan.

Thornton wanted to talk about long-range budgeting "instead of going year to year."

The town's finance director, Brian Silvia, asked about collaboration on purchasing, while the school's business manager Alex Prignano said, "I don't feel the Town Council, when they vote, really has an understanding of school budgeting. It's a very complex budget."

The town's growing charter school, the Blackstone Valley Prep Mayoral Academy, which Councilor Murray called "the white elephant in the room," was mentioned several times both in terms of funding and as a local competitor.

Comments

They've identified 5 topics that are of the highest priority. They are: 1. How come the charter schools are getting OUR money? 2. How can we get OUR money back from the charter schools? 3. When will the money that we lost to the charter schools be replaced in OUR budget 4. When can OUR union get into the charter schools? 5. Who supports the charter schools so we can identify them for defeat in the next elections? Now that the money has been appropriated away from the public school system, they want to meet to discuss things going forward? THE FIRST order of business should be to ENSURE the existence of the charter schools WITHOUT the union's involvement!! This meeting should NOT be considered as an action of cooperation, but of infiltration! And I'm sure that the Mayor absolutely knew of this meeting and made a decision to purposely stay away. Political posturing at its best!

In reading the below comment when the town's finance director, Brian Silvia, asked about collaboration on purchasing, while the school's business manager Alex Prignano said:

"I don't feel the Town Council, when they vote, really has an understanding of school budgeting. It's a very complex budget."

OH, REALLY?

You can tell right here and now that you are looking at "The Epitome of Job Justification and Creation"....and, also, a person that is not in the least really interested in discussing the issue of much-needed cost cutting and consolidation!

Out of the Northeast, in most school districts across the country, they are 'County School Districts' and such consolidation is de Rigueur!

The time has long since come and gone for cities, towns and RI School Districts to seriously considering combining many of these duplicated, and overly costly positions, and departments, such as Attorneys, Personnel Managers and Departments....and especially the combining of, for all intents and purposes, the School Department's 'So-Called' Business Manager into the office of the Town Finance Director!

Having sat on the Cumberland School Department's 'Finance Sub-Committee, for almost 6-years, I got to see up close and personal just how unneeded, when all is taken into consideration, that that over-paid position IS NOT NEEDED!

More-so, wherein the bulk of the expenditures are for salary....something that, in most instances, is handled by an outside 3rd-party, payroll service....leaving an amount of money to then be managed, and spend, of a lesser amount, and less complicated process, then that of the Town's Finance Department.

Again, something that was looked into, and proven-out, years ago.

However, even though the proof was there that these kinds of consolidations should be considered....did you ever try to dismember and empire whose specialty is a well known fact: "EMPIRE BUILDING"!

Need Proof?

Look at the Blackstone Valley Prep Mayoral Academy!

Just under 1,000-students.....and the staffing, already, in total, is now up to a little over 120!

Do the division!

School Departments of all kinds, especially here in Rhode Island, while proving they are not very good at educating our children, have proven time and time again that they are the masters of unnecessary, and irresponsible, expense and job creation!