April 14, 2006

The Urban and Political Arrogance of David Cicilline

Carroll Andrew Morse

Yesterday, Providence Mayor David Cicilline walked out of meeting with Rhode Island Governor Donald Carcieri on the subject of improving education in Rhode Island's urban core of Providence/Pawtucket/Central Falls. Both John Castellucci of the Providence Journal and Jim Baron of the Pawtucket Times have reports in their respective newspapers.

Governor Carcieri wanted to discuss increased cooperation between the school districts. This is from the Times article...

"There was never talk about an urban school district," Carcieri told reporters after the meeting. "What I wanted to do was get together with the mayors and see if this idea of more collaboration, finding ways of looking at what could be done between the three cities had any merit. I suggested that we look at it because of all the things you've heard me say in terms of curriculum alignment, in terms of transportation, they all have building issues, all of that.
Mayor Cicilline walked out of the meeting because the only "reform" he is willing to consider is increased state funding for the Providence school system...
"My sense is that both Pawtucket and Central Falls are willing to look at it," the governor said. "Unfortunately, Mayor Cicilline wanted to talk about funding formulas and that's all he wanted to talk about. That's not what I was here trying to get at. That would all fall out of any discussion as you go forward."
This is what Mayor Cicilline had to say...
Any "serious conversation" about public education, Cicilline asserted, should focus on Rhode Island's "over-reliance on the property tax" to pay for schools. "We still don't have a funding formula" to finance education costs in the state's 39 cities and towns.

"Property taxes in every city and town are too high," Cicilline insisted, and in every budget the governor has proposed "he has shifted a greater percentage of the burden to the property tax.

The state government already is and will continue to be very generous towards the City of Providence. According to the Governor's proposed 2007 budget (see page 456), Providence will receive about $3,900,000 more in state aid this year than it did last year. This is, by far, the largest increase in state education funding that any single community will receive. The only other communities budgeted for an increase of more than a million dollars are Warwick ($1,500,000 increase), Cranston ($1,300,000 increase) and Pawtucket ($1,100,000 increase).

But a disproportionate increase in aid-per-student is not enough for Mayor Cicilline. He wants either tax increases or service cuts in the rest of Rhode Island to pay for even more funding for Providence schools. This is hypocritical. The Mayor won't consider working with neighboring communities to improve education, either through the Governor's proposals, or through the Cranston school choice proposal, but expects people in all of Rhode Island's other communities to send additional money to the Providence school system.

Part of Mayor Cicilline's attitude comes from the urban arrogance that tends to infect city officials. They fall into the trap of believing that city problems are the only problems big enough to matter, that urban pols are the only ones sophisticated enough to deal with the problems big enough to matter, and that smaller cities and towns exist solely for the purpose of supporting big cities.

But there is also a political arrogance behind Mayor Cicilline's walkout. The Mayor feels comfortable snubbing the Governor because he must feel confident that Providence's education funding will be increased at the expense of the rest of the state via the "education adequacy" proposal currently being sought by the legislature. How much more of your community's tax revenue your legislator supports sending to the Providence school system is something you may want to inquire about before voting in the fall elections.

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There is a solution in the Assembly, the Taxpayer Relief Act of 2006. This Act, along with Steve Laffey's school choice proposal, would go a LONG way towards addressing the education funding crisis gripping RI.

Posted by: Carl Elliott at April 14, 2006 2:16 PM

Too bad Cicilline didn't just keep walking and walking and walking.

Carl Elliot is on the money. Competition is the American way.


Posted by: Sol Venturi at April 14, 2006 4:07 PM

The mayor's apparant arrogance is astounding. I recently moved to Portsmouth from Central Mass. I follow Boston politics and never heard of such assinine and juvenile behavior from Mayors Menino, Flynn or White, or even Curley for that matter.
Bob Washburn

Posted by: Bob Washbur at April 14, 2006 5:04 PM

I'd like to see Cicilline behave so "passionately" about reforming the "retire on a disability" scam that has continued to occur since he was elected.

Providence gets WAY too much "aid" as it is. It's long past time for the suburban legislators to start standing up for their constituents.

Posted by: Tom W at April 14, 2006 9:08 PM

Urban and failure are too often linked with one another. In another classic example, Providence's urban schools are failing to teach kids. Is more funding needed? I'd say yes because the complexities facing the Providence school system are vastly different than those faced by South Kingstown - ethnic demographics being chief among them.

Having taught in Providence and graduated from Surburbia USA high school -the difference in the level of expectation among the two is staggering. While many of the commenters have focused on the outsourcing of cash I commend everone to take a casual glance at Information Works! website for RI. Google it and look at the stats. This one for example: http://www.infoworks.ride.uri.edu/2005/state/propvalue-taxrate.pdf

I think the mayor and the governor are diverging on critical philosophical ground. The mayor believes cash inflows and systemic changes to the property tax/education formula must be addressed first before any other discussions can ensue while the Governor isn't sold that more cash should and would reverse appalling dropout rates and/or failing standardized testing in Providence.

I tend to think that both are right and wrong. We cannot continue to have a property tax based educational system. If you look at this analysis: http://www.infoworks.ride.uri.edu/2005/state/taxcapacity-effort.pdf,
it clearly shows that providence does not have the capacity to sustain an educational system as diverse as it is right now. Providence just doesn't. Now,
if we'd like to revamp the city of Providence, then ok, but we've got to create different formulas.

On the flip side if you look at per pupil expenditures, Providence is right up ther:http://www.infoworks.ride.uri.edu/2005/state/insite-excludingOC.pdf.
The mayor is walking out on the future of Providence's kids. I don't care how wrongheaded he believes the governor's proposals are, these kids needed him at this meeting and fighting for more than just more money pumped into the school system. At the same time, the governor needs to realize that more money may be necessary for providence as the community is diverse as a rainbow and when you have kids in the system that cannot speak English, there's a problem that must be addressed by more than rhetoric.

Who loses out? The kids of Providence. Thanks, Mayor...

Posted by: don roach at April 15, 2006 2:20 AM

You know what's missing in this whole discussion? A simple question: "But why does Providence have all those poor kids?"

Gee, do you think it could have anything to do with offering the nation's most generous support programs for "needy" families (like home daycare operators making $70,000 per year), and letting them stay on them much longer than any other state in the country?

Even Kids Count found that RI Latinos have the LOWEST average income of any state in the country. And their numbers have grown by almost 15% since 2000. Gee, why do you think the poorest Latinos end up in RI?

When David Cicilline and his Democratic supporters in the General Assembly start asking these questions, I'll start listening to school funding complaints...

Posted by: John at April 15, 2006 6:20 AM

Regardless of the merits of this spat, it looks like The Don will have to live with Dave.
Food for thought, GOPers...are you that anxious to whack Cicilline that you'd get behind a campaign of the only Providence that can beat him (that is, after he's released from Club Fed)?

Posted by: rhody at April 15, 2006 9:47 PM

John brings up a good point. Throwing money does not improve public education and that's what Cicilline is recommending. You have to look at the reasons why Providence schools are in the shape they are in and I would suggest money is reason #4 or #5 on the list.

Posted by: Anthony at April 16, 2006 9:47 PM