On May 19, the City Council approved a budget that slashed education funding. Different reasons were provided and I would like to respond to reasons given for defunding Pawtucket students.
Reason 1: We must lessen the tax burden.
This is the reason for budget cuts. We must all tighten our belts and go without some extras during tough times. However, this wasn’t a collective tightening of belts. $734,400 of expenses were identified and $499,900 came from the schools. This is asking our children to bear the primary burden of cuts.
Reason 2: This was an increase in funding for schools.
While the education budget reflects a 1.5 percent increase, Pawtucket schools are underfunded by the city of Pawtucket by $13.5 million. The way to close this gap and ensure our students eventually receive equitable funding is through incremental growth.
The state funds their portion of the funding formula but the city doesn’t allocate the money that our students deserve, and as a result, every student in Pawtucket currently learns with $1,500 less than is appropriate.
Reason 3: If we give it this year, we will have to give it next year.
Yes, if you move closer to equitable funding for students this year, you can’t yank it back next year, nor should you want to. This isn’t asking for any money beyond that identified to educate a student in Rhode Island.
Reason 4: We don’t know why the schools need the money.
Lay aside the fact that a detailed budget was submitted to both council and the administration. Lay aside that in emails these bodies were “satisfied with getting the information” and told PSD, “you do not need to attend” budget workshops. Lay aside that when you are confident in your decisions you do not operate in secrecy.
Instead, focus on reality: Strong leadership in our schools may make it possible to think our schools are fully funded. Our administration, teachers and staff have time and again worked to ensure that our students don’t feel less than, or underfunded, just as parents often shield their children from money woes.
It may be easier to ask for increases that our students deserve if we were constantly in crisis and running deficits instead of quietly managing with less, but I don’t believe this chaos serves our students.
Reason 5: Federal money is coming.
By the same logic, the city shouldn’t be raising taxes, as they will have an influx of money. All in charge know the difference between an operating budget and stimulus funds.
There is no way to sugarcoat what was done on May 19. With flawed reasoning, the city looked to our children to shoulder the burden and pay the price during tough times.
On June 9, the City Council will vote on second passage of this budget. I urge citizens of Pawtucket to speak up. This isn’t extra money; this is money that our students deserve and we as a city need to do better for them.
Pawtucket School Committee, deputy chairwoman