— Middletown —

March 16, 2011

A Lesson for the Town's Educators (and Parents)

Justin Katz

Not surprisingly, a majority of Little Compton parents would prefer to keep the town's students flowing through one of the state's best high schools, in Portsmouth, rather than move them over to Tiverton's facility right next door. I've explained why I would feel the same, were I among them, but the number of reasons that the parents gave makes for a stunning rebuke to Tiverton and its leadership:

Some factors favoring Portsmouth are its 13 Advanced Placement classes. Middletown has 11 and Tiverton has nine, respectively. Portsmouth also offers 74 extracurricular activities and sports. Middletown offers 28 and Tiverton offers 22, respectively.

Portsmouth scored 70 percent proficient on their New England Common Assessments Program tests. Middletown scored 69 percent proficient and Tiverton score 63 percent proficient, respectively.

For the 2012-13 tuition, Portsmouth offered Little Compton $9,000, while Middletown offered $9,602. Crowley said Tiverton could not provide a cost, but instead, a range of $14,187 to $15,954. For the 115 slated pupils to attend high school during that first year, with tuition at a 3 percent annual increase, Portsmouth was the lowest. Middletown's would have increased approximately $69,000 and Tiverton’s approximately $596,000. ...

Another parent said one can’t ignore Tiverton High School's 827 suspensions, while Middletown has 252 and Portsmouth has 85.

Perhaps most stinging is the impression of one Little Compton School Committee member that Tiverton High School, alone among the three, lacks a "sense of community."

Joining the most limited offerings with the highest price (by far) is not a winning combination. One wonders why Tiverton tolerates that which Little Compton looks likely to decline to accept. Yet, scarcely a word can be heard or read from Tiverton parents demanding better results from the town's public schools.

January 10, 2011

What School Choice Is Already Telling Us

Justin Katz

For several generations, Little Compton, RI, has been practicing a community school choice by sending its teenagers elsewhere for high school. The obvious choice should be Tiverton, just over an indistinguishable border, but at least since the '70s, the kids of LC have been traveling to Aquidneck Island. My Patch column, this week, looks at the probable reason and suggests that the implied changes would benefit local kids, too:

In his presentation to the Little Compton School Committee, available on his district's Web page, Tiverton Superintendent William Rearick made the case that Tiverton has the excess capacity to accommodate its neighbors. He noted that the high school is in compliance with state requirements. And he pointed out that Tiverton's students outperform the state average on all four of the New England Common Assessments Program (NECAP) tests - albeit, just barely in math and science.

Tiverton's advanced placement course and SAT data, Rearick presented without comparison, leaving no context by which to understand whether the results are admirable or unimpressive. The absence of competitive spirit only highlights the presentation's avoidance of the choice that Little Compton actually faces.

April 30, 2010

Different Towns, Different Compassion for Taxpayers' Plight

Justin Katz

According to the Newport Daily News, some elected officials in Middletown are willing to acknowledge the economy in which constituents are having to struggle:

Councilman Edward J. Silveira said he submitted a docket item to discuss the issue [of a zero percent increase] after hearing from residents and businesses about the increased hardships they're facing. Silveira, Councilwoman M. Theresa Santos and Robert J. Sylvia said this week they will recommend deep cuts to line items across the board because most people cannot afford any additional expenditures. ...

"When I look and see what residents are going through and the fact our foreclosures are the highest they've been in years and families are going through so much right now, we need to do everything we can to make sure we're being reasonable," Sylvia said. "I will say this, however: Given what's going on out there, I will actively be campaigning against any member of the Town Council who votes for any tax increase. I'm a businessperson and I look at the town like a business and we can't beat up our residents any more than we already have."

The initially proposed budget represented a 2.7% increase, although some town officials are citing decreasing state and federal aid as justification for an 8% increase. Meanwhile, in Tiverton, we're having to fight to keep a compromise budget at a 4.39% tax levy increase, with town officials like the superintendent of schools proclaiming the end of our local civilization unless home owners accept a 9% increase in taxes.

Spurred by the Tiverton School Committee, rumors are flying around town declaring to parents that their children's schools will be closed, and students as early as fourth grade will be forced into the middle school, riding the bus with eighth graders. There is simply no way that will happen. For his part, Superintendent Bill Rearick warned at a public hearing, Wednesday, that even more extreme measures may be required — like forcing a reduction in teacher pay. (The only reason I didn't put the italicized phrase in quotation marks is that he may have said, "more egregious," and I haven't had a chance to check the tape.)

Hard economic times bring such clarity about who's on whose side.

February 3, 2010

Start Installing Highway U-Turns, Now

Justin Katz

My blogging time has been constricted, this week, for two reasons: First, I've been working on a piece of writing of the sort that dangles a thread of hope that someday I may actually be able to make a living stringing words together. Second, I've been rushing to get back some of the excess tax money that the various tiers of government have been taking from my family rather than allowing me to pay all of my bills — of which I now have a large unpaid stack, with the late-fees piling up each month.

A few years ago, I figured out the necessity of redefining what I'd considered to be a normal, modestly frugal lifestyle. Per cultural norms, the prior calculation had been based on desires and expectations, not on any mathematical equations involving reality (which may be the defining error of municipal, state, and federal government, these days.) So, for small example, my lunch boxes at the time typically held a yogurt for morning break, a large sandwich, some sort of snack desert, a bottle of iced tea or something similar, and a 20oz coffee. I figured three dollars or so per day was a small expense for the comfort.

Of course, three dollars per workday is around $750 per year, so my current lunchbox now contains an apple for break, a modest sandwich, and a 20oz coffee. The savings aren't huge, but they might pay a bill each month. Introduce this:

Governor Carcieri Tuesday proposed a toll on the new Sakonnet River Bridge just like the one on the Pell Bridge over Newport Harbor, $4 each way or 83 cents for Rhode Island residents with EZPass.

For those of you way on the other side of the bay, I'll explain that, for most of us, the Sakonnet River Bridge has more the aspect of a main road than a highway. My family, for one, crosses it an average of six times per weekday and four on the weekends. At the "local" rate, that would add up to almost $1,500 per year, easily three times my lunchbox savings.

This isn't a cry not to have my own mule gored; it's advice not to gore any such beasts. Usage fees are generally preferable to broad-based taxes, but from its current position, the last thing the state should be doing is adding to the cost of a productive life in Rhode Island. Moreover, those in the thrall of regionalization should think twice about policies that would have the cultural effect of drawing lines around our communities.