NORTH SMITHFIELD – The annual joint meeting between the North Smithfield Town Council and the North Smithfield School Committee on Tuesday kicked off with a sense of gratitude and camaraderie from Chairman James Lombardi III, who highlighted the past six years of cooperation between the council, committee, and town administrator.

From there, tougher discussions ensued surrounding potential budget increases from the school district in the coming year.

Supt. Michael St. Jean said the areas of financial concern for the School Department are the same as the town: “Inflation, and an increase in fuel prices.”

Council member Claire O’Hara spoke of her desire to see students psychologically cared for as a result of trauma caused by the pandemic, and said she wanted to know whether or not there were funds set aside specifically for these needs.

This led to Assistant Supt. Clare Arnold’s full brief on incoming ESSER III funds from the government. North Smithfield’s application was approved on Monday, and it will go through more drafting phases in the next few months.

ESSER III is the third round of pandemic relief funds from the federal government targeted specifically at schools. North Smithfield’s proposal for this round includes two years of summer programming for students, adding middle school and high school assistance counselors, and expanding high-impact tutoring, among other things. Complete information about the ESSER III application is available on the school website.

How the town’s new track and field will be used, and who will use it, was discussed from various points of view. St. Jean noted the difficulty of weighing conflicting parties’ interests in scheduling the field, and underscored the fact that the facility must be maintained properly if it’s going to last. He also added that they’re working on expanding the facility to include throwing areas for full track and field events.

St. Jean brought up issues of littering on the fields, unknown people jumping the locked fence, and one scenario where someone brought bolt cutters and broke into locked lacrosse equipment. He also shared one instance where facility grooming equipment was thrown out of a parking space and into the woods by a father and son who needed a place to park.

“What about pricing? What is the correct rate for usage?” St. Jean asked, adding that there are town members who don’t want to pay to use the field, and also out-of-state adult leagues who would pay top dollar for it. He asked the same questions of bathroom use, how often it would be open, and who would maintain them.

Councilor Paul Vadenais, who once sat on the school board, spoke to the fact that the track and field is a school facility, and should be treated as such, making the point that the public doesn’t expect to be able to use school buildings regularly, even if students aren’t there.

The School Committee is currently working on a request for proposals to find a management company to handle the details and operations of the field. Most, if not all, agreed that the track should be available to students first and foremost. The order of priority from there is still being discussed.

At the end of the meeting, Councilor Stephen Corriveau addressed the prior differences in opinion shared between himself and the school board, laughing with St. Jean about how they’ve recently joked over email that they need to get a drink together.

But when Corriveau then addressed committee member Paul Jones, he was not met with warmth. Jones had submitted a letter to the editor in The Breeze last August where he called a resolution put forth by Corriveau at a prior council meeting to have the School Committee stop paying its membership dues over a federal response to local school board incidents an “embarrassment for our council and our town.” The letter was written during a fraught period of heated school committee discussions around mask mandates for children in schools.

“What do you expect me to say?” Jones asked Corriveau at the end of the meeting. “No, I don’t apologize, and I know exactly who you are.”

After some back and forth where Jones made it clear he wasn’t interested in reconciliation, Corriveau said, “We’re just the exact opposite.”

“I suppose that’s true,” Jones agreed.

(4) comments

SteveC

Mr. St Jean with inflation and rising fuel cost, which you should have hedged, you will need to reduce cost in other areas such as reducing staffing to match the reduction in the number of students over the last 10 years and benefit costs by increasing the deductible. The school department has many areas to be more fiscally responsible they just have to make it happen or we need new management and leadership to run as efficiently as possible. Based on numerous management studies we all know that throwing money at a problem does not increase productivity or output. Just look at the low math test scores.

Icculus

There's a lot to unpack here.

Even though the track is school property, it is distinct from other assets under the school's purview. For example, taking a walk on the track is not the same as taking a stroll through the middle school hallways. It is a fundamentally different kind of asset that does not present the same risks to the community as the school buildings. We need to keep these things separate. I suppose we're to forbid the tennis courts, too?

Tracks are a public good, financed in this case by the public, that builds community and encourages a healthy lifestyle. Towns that have assets like tracks, bike paths, and other places to recreate are considered more desirable. This town has, in my estimation, failed to produce any meaningful quality of life improvements for its residents since I moved here eight years ago. Prior to the renovation, everyone had access to the track. Now, it appears, we have no access. This is completely backward and cuts against the putative goodwill about community building and providing for the citizens we hear from local politicians.

When the renovation was being considered, the track was never at the heart of the issue; it was not what motivated the conversation. I wish there were more runners and walkers in the town, but there aren't, and the group of us that exist are not sufficient for causing lasting damage or significant wear. Opening the track to walkers, runners, and joggers will not put the town in a situation where premature repairs will ever need to be scheduled. And even if there were more–I guarantee that wear that is accrued from regular use with regular running or walking shoes (not competition spikes), is minimal. Do you know what's more likely to damage the track? All the stuff you haul over it to get to the football field during foot and soccer season.

The righteous indignation instantiated by those opposite me on this issue can seriously take a breath. Some administrators and politicians in this town act like using the track is a crime against humanity. It's pathetic. I grew up in Barrington where a bunch of well-to-do people were always pissed off about the dumbest, smallest issue. I see that behavior on full display here, and the town should be embarrassed.

Let me also note that there will always be bad actors and people who will break the law or violate a policy. Just because people in the past have broken the law (cut open bolts, moved town property) doesn't mean that everyone will cause similar harm. Just because someone could break a law is not itself a sufficient reason to prevent a law from passing. In this case, just because someone could, in theory, use the track in a way this is inconsistent with a policy is insufficient for restricting resident access.

And finally, where is the creative problem solving? Why hasn't every single issue around the track and field been resolved at this point? How long does one need to solve easily solvable problems? Don't know how to thread the needle of how to open a track and field to the public? Try calling one of the other approximately 13,800 school districts in the country. I'm sure someone can get you an answer. There is no plan, there was never a plan, and the people charged with owning the plan clearly have no idea what they're doing. Or they don't care. Which is worse? Both.

I am so sick of this. To all involved–please do your job and solve this very, very easy problem.

SteveC

As a taxpayer who paid for this fiscally irresponsible field and track I can walk or run whenever I would like with no fee. I do not agree with Mr Vadenais and would like a discount on my tax bill as a football does nothing for education and the value of my property. I also find it disturbing that we are going to use federal funds on sports fields instead of building maintenance as intended by the funding. Let’s stop spending on sports and focus more on education and the low math scores. If we taught more about finance and sound business practices we might make better decisions for the town. Maybe in the next election the votes will elect more qualified leaders.

MCC

I believe that this new field and the track around it belong to the taxpayers of the town. Our usage of both should take precedence over any outside group. I have used the track exclusively on days to run as have others. It is my understanding that the new running club in town would also like to use it. It should be locked only after hours, but should remain open, as it has been in the past.

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