|When residents get upset about an
increase in their property tax bill, they typically hold accountable
the people responsible for setting the tax rate on their properties:
members of the city or town council in which they live.
But there’s another culprit. They’re typically a step
removed from the direct wrath of angry taxpayers, although anyone who
has attended a municipal council meeting on a budget knows just how big
a part they play. They are the local school committees, who under
today’s system of government enter into contracts that consume
maybe 50 percent, sometimes more, of a city or town’s budget.
I would not expect school committee members to be thrilled with
legislation I have submitted to shift some of the control over
non-educational matters pertaining to the schools, such as the setting
of salaries and the maintenance of buildings, to city and town
councils. So it wasn’t a huge surprise when Rhode Island
Association of School Committees Executive Director Timothy C. Duffy
went on the attack against me. In an email to all school committee
members in the state, he attacked me personally while seeking to rally
the troops against my bill, saying, “Like many of Senator
Tassoni’s proposed legislation it is not well researched nor is
his intent especially clear.”
Perhaps Mr. Duffy didn’t read the bill very carefully, because
the intent is pretty evident and is explained in the legislation
itself. The bill seeks to have school committees work in conjunction
with city and town councils, with school committees overseeing matters
pertaining to the direct provision of educational services, such as
curriculum, hiring of personnel, and educational administration.
From Central Falls to Woonsocket, communities across the state are
learning the hard way what happens when those responsible for paying
the bills for the entire city aren’t working in conjunction with
the education side of the equation. Some Rhode Island communities are
in crisis in no small part because the left hand doesn’t know
what the right hand is doing.
Fortunately, even while Mr. Duffy plays the obstructionist, some Rhode
Island communities are taking step to find efficiencies and facilitate
coordination. The East Providence School Committee on March 14 passed a
Resolution asking the General Assembly to study reorganization and
consolidation of Rhode Island’s education system. On the same
day, the North Kingstown School Committee voted to share the positions
of finance director, buildings director and information director
between the town and school department. Under the North Kingstown plan,
the town will oversee maintenance of school grounds.
To me, and I believe to most Rhode Islanders, this is just plain common
sense. The school committee was elected to oversee education, and this
bill ensures they do that. We look to our city and town councils to
oversee budgetary matters – and we hold them accountable for the
decisions they make. This bill gives them control over this major
portion of local budgets.
Most importantly, however, the bill requires that the school committees
work in conjunction with city and town councils. They are serving the
same constituency. We all want to see quality education provided at a
cost we can afford.
Rather than deriding me personally while seeking to hold on to all the
power he can, Mr. Duffy should explain why the legislation is anything
other than a great idea to make our government more efficient and more
(John J. Tassoni Jr. is the Democratic State Senator from District 22, Smithfield, North Smithfield.)