Mixed Messages from School Districts, and Final Decisions from the Judiciary
Doesn’t it seem that school districts somehow always just happen to find money? I mean, sometimes a car’s brake lines just happen to go the day after it’s been in the shop for a tuneup, but it’s difficult to know what to make of the Woonsocket superintendent’s claim that the district can now hire a few new teachers, as the state insists, without increasing the budget deficit:
Gerardi said those positions could be paid for with money that the district was receiving from the Northern Rhode Island Collaborative and by consolidating classes elsewhere in the system because of lower-than-expected enrollments that became apparent after the start of school.
For two other positions — an administrator for part of the literacy program and a librarian at the high school — Gerardi said the district believes it can show that more qualified people already on staff will be capable of fulfilling the responsibilities of those positions.
So was that collaborative money just going to be used for red balloons? Were those “qualified people” just going to be employed blowing them up? One begins to sympathize (just a little) with unions’ feeling that school committees and the administrations that they direct preserve plenty of fat in their budgets that they can trim when required.
That impression adds a little bite to Education Commissioner Deborah Gist’s reference, in this context, to state law requiring “maintenance of effort.” It would be disconcerting to think that Ms. Gist sees the maintenance of effort clause as license to force districts to adhere to her demands.
Meanwhile, in East Providence, the embattled school committee is seeking a 3.5% increase in the municipality’s contribution to its funding, even as the state demands that the city revise its plan for balancing its budget. Look, I’m thrilled about the list of items slated for increases:
The proposal calls for a 210-percent increase, from $250,000 to $776,962, in what was allocated for textbooks and instructional supplies this year. It also has more money for building and classroom maintenance (from $289,500 to $820,500); technology (from $214,682 to $489,682); and athletics and extracurricular activities (from $46,453 to $146,453).
But not only are these things that Rhode Island’s townspeople should be considered as already paying for, but it can’t do otherwise than leave it to judges to decide between this spending and increases in adult compensation packages. Maybe they’ll rule the right way, maybe they won’t. But it’s way too easy to envision their joining with Gist in affirming the principle that budgets may always be balanced with an increase in taxes.