January 13, 2010

Let Them Throw Coins in the Water

Justin Katz

Mike, of Assigned Reading, laments that union old-liners and their allies have taken the opportunity of hard times to smash positive education reforms:

Hope High School in Providence has been a beacon in Rhode Island school reform. It was undoubtedly the worst school in the state just five or six years ago. But with RIDE intervention, Hope has turned around. No one can deny the dramatic gains made by the students and teachers at Hope.

The city, however, according to the Journal, is seeking to significantly alter the academic model that was instrumental in Hope's success. Bureaucrats want to curb the autonomy granted to the school, and eliminate the block schedule that has brought teachers together and established a much needed school community. School leaders want continuity among schools, and claim they cannot afford the additional costs of the Hope model.

That last point, additional costs, rears its head in Mike's subsequent post:

Today, the Providence Journal reports the city has allocated $112,000 to restore the Henry Bowen Anthony Fountain. This fountain is located at the head of Blackstone Boulevard in the affluent East Side neighborhood, with the extravagant homes of some of Providence's wealthiest residents.

The same turn of events prompted the following reader email:

This just reminds me of the terrible things I used to hear about the Soviet territories in grade school, where the local political leaders would put themselves into lavish properties while presiding over hunger and poverty, all in the name of 'serving the workers'. Here is the most upper-class, liberal, educated neighborhood in Providence, a city full of crumbling infrastructure, awarding itself a monument (in the name of 'better neighborhoods' and 'fiscal stimulus'). The irony of the fountain being shut down thirty years ago to help close a budget hole does not escape me. The park's main recurring event is the new uber-expensive upper-class farmer's market, which I suppose will now be accompanied by the delightful sound of the entirety of two dozen households' tax dollars percolating through polished marble.

The takeaway for those of a reformist bent is that the governing power base in the city and state has no concern that Rhode Islanders can muster the will to turn them out. Perhaps we can rebrand the fountain as a "citizen request kiosk." Tying wishes to coins is as apt to turn the state around as following the due processes of local government.

Comments, although monitored, are not necessarily representative of the views Anchor Rising's contributors or approved by them. We reserve the right to delete or modify comments for any reason.

If the people of the Boulevard want their fountain back, can't they just take up a collection and get it done? $112,000 should be a drop in the bucket for some group of people wanting to get it done. Heck, work something out with the city where the group of people might be able to buy that specific plot of land that the fountain sits on. Only the land that the fountain is on, not a blade of grass more. So the people there own it and maintain it. The city has no responsibility to it.

Posted by: Patrick at January 13, 2010 10:24 AM

Gee, you just scooped The Hummel Report. Still this extravagance needs to be on tonight's TV news.

I have been studying the Governor's supplemental budget bill. There are several large building renovation projects in there totalling $millions that should be postponed.

When a private business is in dire financial straits, it stops all nonessential spending. All levels of government should do the same.

I want to see projects postponed, state employees laid off, and contracts renegotiated. The alternative is to reject those contracts under supervision of the bankruptcy court. It's your choice, Governor, General Assembly, Mayors and Town Councils. When will you grow up and face reality?

Posted by: BobN at January 13, 2010 11:25 AM

The Henry Bowen Anthony Fountain in Lippitt Park will be restored this summer with funds from the city ($112,000), the Summit Neighborhood Association ($10,000), and The Champlin Foundations ($58,900).

If any Republicans live in Providence, they live near this park.

Posted by: Mike at January 13, 2010 11:59 AM

"If any Republicans live in Providence, they live near this park."

What do you mean by this, Mike? Have you determined by an actual survey that all Providence Republicans live on the Blackstone Boulevard section of the East Side? If not, what is your basis for the comment?

I know at least two Republicans who live in Elmwood, nowhere near this part of town.

Posted by: BobN at January 13, 2010 12:36 PM

"If any Republicans live in Providence, they live near this park."

What the heck does that mean?

Posted by: Patrick at January 13, 2010 12:36 PM

"If any Republicans live in Providence, they live near this park."

Newsflash, friend: Democrats authorized this frivolous use of tax dollars.

Posted by: Monique at January 13, 2010 1:06 PM

I'm not sure what Mike" means either, but I hope his comments are not confused as mine. I think decisions like this are typical when wealthy liberals are in power. I remember once, while teaching in South Providence, I saw a Journal photo of city workers planting flowers along the Boulevard, while the playground near the school had used condoms and drug-abusers' needles on the ground. And Mike, there weren't any Republicans in City Hall at the time.

Posted by: mikeinri at January 13, 2010 1:22 PM

Let them eat cake!

Posted by: Mike Cappelli at January 13, 2010 2:51 PM



I don't know, that neighborhood looks pretty 'blue' to me, much deeper shade of blue than most of the state.

Posted by: mangeek at January 13, 2010 2:59 PM

Also, from the comments at the original story:


"Over the years, the cost of the fountain the cost will work out to less than a penny every time it makes someone smile. Crunch that."

Interesting. Perhaps we should just forget all about this silly 'budgeting' we all do and smile more. With this kind of economics, I can pay my mortgage for about 5,400 smiles a day!

Posted by: mangeek at January 13, 2010 3:21 PM

Alright alright, I take it back.

They should definitely clean up the parks where poor people live first.

Posted by: Mike at January 13, 2010 4:13 PM

I'll one-up you Mike. They should be fixing things that affect the functionality of the city first, not picking out new drapes.

How about unclogging the storm drains (which currently overflow)? How about replacing aging water mains? Even the sidewalk, or bus stops?

Have you used a bubbler in any of the Providence Public Schools recently? Last time I was in Hope High, it came out a murky brown, and was undrinkable.

I hope this thing gets renamed 'Farewell Cicilline Fountain'.

Posted by: mangeek at January 13, 2010 4:37 PM

Patrick, what you are proposing is voluntaryism. People want a certain service, so they organize and raise the money for it themselves. It is more moral, cost effective, and efficient than violently coercing taxes out of people to maintain public properties. It also avoids tragedy of the commons scenarios. Now extend that same logic to schools and pretty much everything else government currently does. Voluntaryism is the next great experiment.

Posted by: Dan at January 13, 2010 8:59 PM

Dan, the problem with extending it to the schools is for parents to "volunteer" to not pay for the schools and then can't send their kids to school. We end up with a really dumb society. No?

Posted by: Patrick at January 13, 2010 10:29 PM

Patrick, that hasn't been a real-life problem in nearly all societies in history. Whatever level of education the culture has, parents seem naturally to want to take on the responsibility of doing their best to raise children to do well in it. That is a global phenomenon as far as I can tell.

American in the 21st century may have a unique problem, though. After decades of dumbed-down, psychobabble public education, reinforced by shallow consumerism and the depravities of modern pop culture as demonstrated on television and hip-hop music, two generations of parents have lost their cultural bearings. Many are functionally illiterate and even worse, are amoral and apathetic about their parental roles.

To me, the most difficult problem is, "How do we save the children?" The current model of state-supplied welfare is a complete failure. What are the alternatives?

Posted by: BobN at January 14, 2010 7:59 AM

Patrick, a privatized school system (or even a voluntarily funded public school system that would have to compete and stay effective) could not possibly do worse than our current public school system, which graduates 20% of its children functionally illiterate and provides one of the most anti-intellectual and socially destructive learning environments this country has ever known. Very few students would be left out in the cold in a privatized system due to scholarships, financial aid, and the drastically reduced cost of operation. Surely a step up from our current system which fails pretty much everyone except the 5% lucky enough to go to the top public schools in the country or are so driven that they will teach themselves the material wherever they go. I do not believe for a moment that poor people would not be able to afford lower end private schools (still better than the average public school today) because there are cars, computers, clothing, and housing for poor people too.

Posted by: Dan at January 14, 2010 11:17 AM

I don't think dropping public education is a good idea at all. I'd give it one generation before we'd become Medieval France.

Public education hasn't -failed-, it's just really broken. It can be fixed without turning our society into a serfdom.

Nobody likes paying taxes, and we need to spend carefully, but eliminating public education is a huge mistake, and it's realistically not anywhere on the table.

The fact that we have literacy rates between 90 and 100% is a testament to the fact that public schools do, in fact, work. Without one, those 'few' kids who's parents don't fill out their voucher paperwork or send their kids to school will constitute (easily) 20% of the population; creating a violent, illiterate peasant class with nothing to do but 'crime' all day (you might already think we have that, but it could get much, much worse). Your tax savings on schools will rapidly be replaced by expenditures on prisons and police.

Remember this when you consider public policy: Prisons cost about eight times as much as public education per-person, annually. Welfare programs that cover the basic needs for the poor (food, shelter, heat) cost less than incarcerating the portion of the population that would turn to much less productive activities than 'freeloading' if they were desperate enough. 'Heating assistance' keeps desperate (but cold) people from breaking into my house during the day, just to keep from freezing to death.

What we -should- do is bring the public sector employees in-line with private sector ones, based on annual averages. If teachers want a COLA raise, the average income will have to go up first. Career educators will be truly incentivized to produce 'good people' with real skill that will boost their chances of retiring with a larger paycheck, instead of keeping their heads down and paying union dues to 'negotiate' one.

Of course, merit-based bonuses and slightly less inherent job security along the way would provide the more immediate carrots and sticks needed to boost results in the short-to-mid term.

Why not split the whole structure of school? Our Greek system is pretty inflexible, and it doesn't work for the students very well. We should be putting different students onto different tracks, based on their skills. The utopian (dystopian?) dream of mixing our best-and-brightest with our drooling and disabled has clearly failed; I want tomorrows engineers and scientists to get pushed towards schools appropriate to their aptitude as soon as they're identified. I want kids who never intend to go to college to learn trades starting in 8th grade. I want them all to learn how finances and budgets work before they get released to the world... I could go on and on.

Posted by: mangeek at January 14, 2010 12:50 PM

I usually kinda disagree with mangeek.Not this time.Very accurate observations from someone as opinionated as I am.Mangeek is reality based.

Posted by: joe bernstein at January 15, 2010 12:02 PM

Thanks Joe! We don't all have to see eye-to-eye on every issue. I like most of what you say, actually.

Also, as an aside, years ago I used to hang out at a cafe on East Ave. with your daughter and her (now) husband. If she's a result of your parenting, you're doing something very, very right.

Posted by: mangeek at January 15, 2010 6:22 PM
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