McKee, school board find tentative common ground

McKee, school board find tentative common ground

CUMBERLAND - School Committee Chairwoman Lisa Beaulieu called Mayor Daniel McKee "juvenile" at last week's school board meeting.

But only after McKee reminded her for the eighth time that she and her committee had dropped the ball a year ago on his offer to discuss a school funding referendum for this year's ballot.

Still, all-in-all, the mayor's hour-long appearance before the School Committee last Thursday did push the conversation reset button for two sides that struggle regularly over the town's spending priorities.

McKee had come to the School Committee meeting to answer Jeff Mutter's inquiry about whether the town was complying with the state Basic Education Plan funding statute, a question that Mutter, vice chairman of the School Committee, had posed to Finance Director Brian Silvia on March 12.

Interpreting that statute - Chapter 16-7.2-3 - has dominated recent School Committee meetings and prompted a last-minute $4.34 million increase to the school board budget request that was already seeking $1.5 million more from local taxpayers. If approved - and no one seemed to think it would be - the average tax bill would have increased by some 10 percent, McKee has said.

Last Thursday's back and forth ended without a solid answer for Mutter, but did lead to:

* Beaulieu and McKee agreeing to put aside admitted personal conflicts to begin exploring options together. They later set up a Tuesday, April 15 appointment.

* McKee assuring all that his recommended funding for schools this year will not exceed the state's 4 percent cap on levy increases.

He said several state officials are telling him that even balloting by town residents couldn't dislodge the state's clamp on tax increases.

* Supt. Philip Thornton making a quick pitch for must-have programs and supplies including a middle school band instructor and media center coordinators and textbooks. Books are so scarce in some classes, he said, that students can't take one home or so old that the latest news was the falling of the Berlin Wall.

* Beaulieu agreeing that a so-called performance audit might be a way to review and document the financial strains on the system and whether efficiencies might be found.

* McKee saying that state funding, while improved, still lags behind the support communities in nearby states get from their state government. His comments included a call for stepping up state support, now heading to the 40 percent range, to closer to the 50 percent level.

Three conflicting state statutes are in play as school board members confront their funding dilemma again this year:

1. The so-called Senate Bill 3050 passed in 2006 that prohibits communities from raising the tax levy - the amount billed to local residents - by more than 4 percent a year.

2. The BEP statute Chapter 16-7.2-3 that mandates communities fully fund basic education and pins the total state and local amount at about $9,000 per student, not counting items like lunches, transportation and utilities.

3. The funding statute prohibition that limits a school board to requesting no more than 104 percent of last year's budget.

McKee did suggest that although schools can't request more than 104 percent, the town can provide more if cuts were made in municipal spending.

School board member Linda Teel wanted to know why the tax cap, S-3050, always wins.

She suggested being "brave" and complying with the BEP statute instead of the tax cap, noting the kids' education ought to "trump" adherence to the state tax cap.

"I just find it interesting that everyone is so willing to comply with one set of regulations but no one is willing to think about the best interest of students. They're all general laws. Why is the only discussion we can have is the one that says 'No we can't do it.'"

But it was the McKee-Beaulieu exchange that the night will be remembered for.

"I don't want to start off on a bad tone," she began, "but I have to say it. It's been eight times you said my door's open, that I'm this, that I'm that.

"My door's open, too," she went on. "You have my cell number, I have your cell number."

She suggested that they both were obligated to move ahead with conversation about funding schools.

"That conversation doesn't sit squarely on my shoulders, it sits squarely on our shoulders," she said.

"I don't think we can use that excuse anymore that 'Gee you didn't call me.'"

McKee ran down a list of efforts on behalf of the schools while Beaulieu reminded him of the financial strain his Blackstone Valley Prep charter school causes the Cumberland district.

But she conceded, "I appreciate that you're here. It shows you're willing to work with us and I respect that.

"I'm ready to do this. And the committee is ready to have this conversation," she said.

Mutter, whose BEP question triggered McKee's appearance, played peacemaker, reminding the mayor of past efforts when he was on the Town Council. "There is always an answer and there is always a way," he suggested.

Agreed Beaulieu, "We are on a journey for students and we want our students to be enormously successful. And when we hand a diploma to a kid, we want it to have meaning.

"I know it hasn't been easy for you and me," she told McKee, "and I don't know why. Maybe we're both very headstrong. And maybe we're very deliberate, you and me, and that's not a bad thing."

Overall, McKee was striking a supportive stance throughout the conversation, but those listening carefully heard his repeated funding caveat. He supports more dollars to schools, he said, if it means more classroom time for the students.

Asked later about that seeming contract-busting concept, McKee said he'd like to explore the idea of exchanging a longer teaching day with giving teachers Social Security coverage in addition to their retirement pensions. (See related story at right.)

Comments

It may come as a surprise to many (Maybe Not) that there is no real financial accountability within the School System as it comes to 'Line Item Budgeting....more-so Expenditures.

Granted, every year as the Administration's Bureaucrats put forth their budget (by Line Item)....but rarely do they then spend those line item dollars only for what it is they claimed they desperately needed those dollars for.

Rather, many expenditures are made way over and above what should have been spent....while year, after year, after year many items, claimed desperately needed, go un-purchased.. or in the case of facilities, un-maintained.

Then, after the years go by, and the dollars have been, as they almost always are, irresponcibly spent, the 'Crocodile Tears of Caring and Concern' are spewed forth wherein excuses are made and our administrators then try to place blame elsewhere for their past irresponsible and deplorable behavior.

Such is being done again this year wherein one of the oldest excuses known is being employed....that being the claim that our textbooks are so out of date they do not yet cover 'the Fall of the Berlin Wall? (Whatever)

So, you ask: Why are the textbooks so out of date?

Because even though $$$$$ were budgeted for every year....the money was spent (wasted) elsewhere.

Until such time as MANDATORY 'Line Item Budgeting and Expenditures are enforced to the letter....the problem is not going to go away.

Also, the time has long since come and gone for the so-called School Department Business office and its Business manager and its cast of thousands be combined within the Town's Finance Department....with the Town's Finance mgr. calling all of the shots, paying the bills and enforcing the expenditure of our tax dollars to the line items they were budgeted for.

REMEMBER: I spent 6-years sitting on the School Committee's Finance Subcommittee, reviewing all of the School System's expenditures, questioning them and seeing the waste and irresponsibility....wherein I also found out that I was fighting an entrenched monster impossible to defeat!

The time has come for the lies and financial irresponsibility to come to a roaring, screeching, halt!

No such thing...just ask the people paying the bills in Woonsocket.

First, let me say that I firmly believe that the only reason that a Mayor McKee made an appearance at the recent School Committee is because of his candidacy for Lt. Governor. Doesn't make him look attractive to voters statewide if he doesn't have the support of his own local voters.

Secondly, I tend to view the BEP and the budget dollars allocated to comply as a "quantity" vs "quality" in spending. We can certainly compare the local per pupil expenditures to the statewide average but that does not tell the whole story. You have to look at HOW those dollars are spent. It may certainly be possible to comply with the BEP and not be the top spender in the state. We would need to do a drill down on each line item to see how dollars are spent. Two school systems can both be compliant and be at opposite ends of the per pupil expenditure measurement. One system could be very top heavy in administrative costs while another is more fiscally conservative in that area. It is how you deliver the education with the dollars available that is important and not necessarily how much you are given to spend.

I concur. It is a “entrenched monster impossible to defeat”! I have concluded that they can’t “be beat” and realized my choices were to “join them”, or try to ignore them. As a tax paying citizen, it is my prerogative to abstain from the dialogue that supports this ongoing extortion plot. What is truly upsetting to me is that the quality of education has long been suffering, as the results across the nation have clearly indicated. Our country is suffering due to the lack of priority for our children’s future, ultimately ALL of our futures. Greed has no conscience. The public school system will have to fall before it can be rebuilt. I believe the charter schools were formed to begin this process.

First and foremost, Cumberland's per pupil cost is one, if not the lowest in the state. If the mayor want to level the playing field, instead of creating another tier of education, then he should do so.
If he needs to compare traditional public schools to BVP, then let's begin to compare apples to apples by spending $13,000 per pupil like BVP. WE MUST put things in perspective.
1. Cumberland parents do not have to sign a contract in order for the child to attend
2. If traditional schools had 100% participation! scores would be significantly higher
3. BVP does not service,severe and profound students,ELL students who don't speak one word of
English, behavioral classrooms, and low percentage of IEP students
4. Traditional public schools MUST educate ALL students
5. Cumberland schools do not have state of the art equipment,two educators per small
Small classroom, numerous field trips, as well as new books
6. Traditional schools cannot "counsel" students out who do not adhere to rules or standards
7. Problematic students return to traditional schools
8. Big money, corporations, federal & state funding support BVP,unlike traditional schools

With this being said,,Lisa Beaulieu should be commended on her views. There is too much complacency. Parents,as well as educators need to take a firm stand. Our children are our future and they need supporting voices to be heard, loud and clear.

Yes, our children are our future. But at what cost? Yes, there is a cost! There are many families in Cumberland that don't worry about $, but I guarantee you that there are many more who are living week-to-week and are on the brink of insolvency. Your ascertain that our future is compromised by not spending more may be true, but to find out, it's certain that many of us will have to suffer. Furthermore, it has been the same argument for awhile now (WE NEED MORE $!), I'd be more apt to support the teachers if they were willing to show some "good faith" and agree to increase their time in the classroom. I need to see better results.

I am so tired of the money = student education . What is the figure? Would $25k per student do it. I think it is time to get back to the basics. Hold on mom just take 1/4 of that pill they need more money.

First and foremost, please use facts not opinion to make your point. I don’t agree or disagree with you…but I do know that:
1. Cumberland Parents DO agree to a contract….they get the rules when a student enters schools, you may not physically sign it, but you SHOULD agree with it and enforce it; as most don’t.
2. Well you are right on this one.
3. DO you know the process for which a Mayoral Academy fills its rolls? There ISN’T ANY TESTING. In fact the first round of selections consists of any student who qualifies for free lunch; in the school world that puts them “at risk”. The second round is the balance of the applicants AND THEN THOSE who were not picked in the first round are AGAIN put into the mix. If anything the Mayoral Academies lack the service for the higher level students. But then again, they treat all scholars the same.

WHY IS IT THAT BVP HAS GREAT SCORES SO EVERYONE THINGS THEY ARE STARTING WITH THE BEST STUDENTS?????

4. The future of schools, BVP, has to educate every student that enters their system. NO SCHARLOR is removed due to learning abilities.
5. Cumberland could have the state of the art equipment; if they had the same business model and success rate as the Mayoral Academy schools.
6. That’s the problem; I don’t know what you mean by “counsel”, but traditional schools DON’T handle problem students OR PROBLEM PARENTS.
7. Mayoral Academy schools catch a “problematic student” and counsels and helps them mature.
8. Cumberland schools receive grants. But just as much as their success rates warrants. If their success rates were equal to the Mayoral Academy schools they would get more private funding. BUT even if the Cumberland schools had the success (as some CPS schools do) private funding sources wouldn’t give because they don’t have the input as they do with the Mayoral Academy schools.

I don’t see where Ms. Beaullieu made the views: too much complacency or that parents and educators need to take a stand; as you presented in your comments. She said was we need more money and the darn BVP is hurting us.

We need good schools. We need school options. We need fair funding. BUT more importantly we need success in our public schools. This argument didn’t just start after the Mayoral Academy system came along, it has been heard for decades! But now all of a sudden there is a big bad wolf to blame. The Mayoral Academy system is here because of the lack of success and municipal involvement in our schools.

Show results; get funding. That’s how the Mayoral Academy schools work.

First and foremost, please use facts not opinion to make your point. I don’t agree or disagree with you…but I do know that:
1. Cumberland Parents DO agree to a contract….they get the rules when a student enters schools, you may not physically sign it, but you SHOULD agree with it and enforce it; as most don’t.
2. Well you are right on this one.
3. DO you know the process for which a Mayoral Academy fills its rolls? There ISN’T ANY TESTING. In fact the first round of selections consists of any student who qualifies for free lunch; in the school world that puts them “at risk”. The second round is the balance of the applicants AND THEN THOSE who were not picked in the first round are AGAIN put into the mix. If anything the Mayoral Academies lack the service for the higher level students. But then again, they treat all scholars the same.

WHY IS IT THAT BVP HAS GREAT SCORES SO EVERYONE THINGS THEY ARE STARTING WITH THE BEST STUDENTS?????

4. The future of schools, BVP, has to educate every student that enters their system. NO SCHARLOR is removed due to learning abilities.
5. Cumberland could have the state of the art equipment; if they had the same business model and success rate as the Mayoral Academy schools.
6. That’s the problem; I don’t know what you mean by “counsel”, but traditional schools DON’T handle problem students OR PROBLEM PARENTS.
7. Mayoral Academy schools catch a “problematic student” and counsels and helps them mature.
8. Cumberland schools receive grants. But just as much as their success rates warrants. If their success rates were equal to the Mayoral Academy schools they would get more private funding. BUT even if the Cumberland schools had the success (as some CPS schools do) private funding sources wouldn’t give because they don’t have the input as they do with the Mayoral Academy schools.

I don’t see where Ms. Beaullieu made the views: too much complacency or that parents and educators need to take a stand; as you presented in your comments. She said was we need more money and the darn BVP is hurting us.

We need good schools. We need school options. We need fair funding. BUT more importantly we need success in our public schools. This argument didn’t just start after the Mayoral Academy system came along, it has been heard for decades! But now all of a sudden there is a big bad wolf to blame. The Mayoral Academy system is here because of the lack of success and municipal involvement in our schools.

Show results; get funding. That’s how the Mayoral Academy schools work.