Interview: Dave Talan for Mayor of Providence

Anchor Rising had the opportunity to interview Dave Talan — Republican candidate for mayor of Providence — about his candidacy and his plans for improving the City of Providence. Mr. Talan’s plan is based on the idea that the focus should be on cutting spending, rather than raising taxes�
Anchor Rising: How is your campaign going?
Dave Talan: I’ve always said that one of the signs of success in building the Republican party organization in Providence would be when we started having primaries. I just never dreamed the first one would be against myself!
Certainly education is the #1 issue. There are 36,000 students of school age, kindergarten through grade 12, in the city of Providence. 8,000, a staggering number, have already left the public school system to go to private or parochial schools. I believe that there are another 10,000 that would leave in an instant, if only they could afford the tuition.
The total cost to go to one of those schools is only about $4,000, with the parish or the diocese subsidizing the cost, whereas it costs $12,600 to educate every child who remains behind in the public school system. This is a real opportunity to save money for the city and to provide a better education for everybody.
My main issue is making available a $4,000-per-year school voucher for every child that wants to leave the public school system. I believe that, in the end, we’d have 18,000 students in the public school system and 18,000 in the parochial system, saving 25 million to 50 million dollars for the taxpayers, giving a better education to the students, and really benefiting the kids who stayed behind in the public school system. We’d reduce overcrowding. Since there really isn’t enough space for all these kids right now, we end up with musical-chairs forced busing where kids from my neighborhood (Reservoir Triangle) can’t go to the neighborhood school. They get bussed to Robert F. Kennedy in Elmhurst, while you’ve got kids from other neighborhoods being bused into my neighborhood. That’s total insanity.
If my plan went into effect, we’d eliminate that. Every kid could go to the public school in their own neighborhood. We’d introduce competition, so the teacher’s unions couldn’t refuse to attend PTA meetings or have parent teacher conferences for not getting paid overtime. It would really improve things right there.

Right now, we are looking at having to spend a phenomenal amount of money to bring the public school buildings up to code. They’re talking about $80 million or more. Under my plan, we could close some building that wouldn’t be needed anymore and sell them for public housing or other businesses and help balance the city budget.
Other things I’d like to do beyond the voucher plan is eliminate the limit on the number of charter schools in the city of Providence. Right now, under law, you can only have four. We hit that limit many years ago. Now, they’re actually starting charter schools in neighboring committees like Cranston or Pawtucket just to take in Providence students.
Actually, no new charters can be opened anywhere in the state, because the legislature put a freeze on them. We are the only state in the nation that has frozen charter schools. I want to lobby to put an end to that. If there were no artificial limits, we’d probably have about 24 charters in the City of Providence.
Charters run independently of the teachers’ union. They are semi-autonomous, which means staff can’t be bumped. Bumping is a major problem with the public schools in Providence. There’s no continuity. Teachers keep getting bumped every year on the basis of seniority. Even prinicipals get bumped. We change principals and teachers in the middle of the school year….
AR: What do you think of the “Shape of the Starting Line” report, which says there’s no hope for educating students who are poor, so there’s no point in education reform?
DT: The reason the poor have no hope is because the teachers have destroyed the schools that the poor kids have to go to. Yet, you have poor kids whose parents find a way to send them to schools like like San Miguel or Community Prep, and these kids are thriving in those schools. There’s no reason the public schools can’t create an environment where poor kids could thrive. But until we have competition, it’s not going to happen in this city.
I’d also like to make it easier for parents to volunteer. The teachers unions won’t allow parents to volunteer and, in many cases, it’s hard for parents to volunteer, when their kids are being bused across the city. Under my plan, the kids go to school in their own neighborhood, the parents can volunteer, and the teachers’ unions would have to allow them to volunteer, whether they like it or not. And we should allow scientists and mathematicians, without some nonsense teaching certificate, into our education system; this is both one of Governor Carcieri’s plans and one of my plans.
My plan is the only plan that any candidate for mayor is offering up to balance the city budget, not by raising taxes, but by spending less money, while still providing better services.
I’ve got a lot of other ideas on reducing spending in the city, adopitng a lot of Mayor Laffey’s taxpayer relief act of 2006, eliminating all of the unfunded mandates, most of which do absolutely nothing, eliminating the prevailing wage law which forces the city to spend double what it should be spending on contracted services. It costs double what it should to construct a ballfield or a playground because of these rules. That really hurts poor people, because they’re the ones who need new ballfields and playgrounds more than anybody else and they’re getting screwed by being separated from their tax money and having to do without.
I do agree with Mayor Cicilline on refusing to take money from city workers or people who do business with the city. I think that’s got a lot to do with all of the new condominiums and businesses and hotels being built in Providence. They wanted to come into Providence under the previous Mayor, but refused to pay bribes, kickbacks, or campaign contributions, which in Providence are all one and the same. Any honest mayor was going to bring these people in, and I give Mayor Cicilline credit for being honest. But it hasn’t spread down to the city council level, where they take money from people who do business in their ward or who need zoning variances or licenses or building permits. We need an ethics law in Providence, and that’s something I’m going to work on.
That, in a nutshell, is the Talan plan for making everything fine and dandy in the City of Providence.
Anchor Rising’s interview with Mr. Talan’s primary opponent, Dr. Dan Harrop can be found here.

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