April 21, 2007

The RI Legislature Plans to Close the Deficit by Reducing Education Funding: Woonsocket Gets Whacked First

Carroll Andrew Morse

At Anchor Rising, our reading of the tea leaves has led us to forecast that the Rhode Island General Assembly is planning to reduce state aid to education as a means of closing the state budget deficit.

Confirmation that this is indeed the plan arrives today, courtesy of the Projo's Kia Hall Hayes

Legislative leaders are freezing $236 million in school construction projects until they can rework how they are financed and approved.

The move is a surprise to the state Department of Education and some local senators and officials.

Woonsocket’s $80-million middle school project is the first to encounter resistance from Senate leaders, including Senate President Joseph A. Montalbano.

“To go through all these hoops and testify before the House and then to have a different set of rules and agenda laid at your feet ... at the very least it was surprising and at the very most it was shocking,” Woonsocket Schools Supt. Maureen B. Macera said earlier this week....

Citing a possible $150-million state deficit this year and an even larger projected deficit for next year, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Stephen D. Alves, D-West Warwick, said lawmakers are looking at “ways to reinvent government and the way we do business.”

“Everything is being held until we rectify and come to terms with how much money we’re looking at and what are the most vital projects. It is the Senate’s position that they are going to be put on hold,” Alves said in a phone interview.

Senator Montalbano, who represents Lincoln, North Providence and Pawtucket, said in a separate interview, “We need to look at each and every one of these projects before we rubber stamp them.”

On the House side, Paul W. Crowley, D-Newport, who serves on both the finance and education committees, called the moratorium “the prudent thing to do” during a time of increasingly tight budgets.

Are capital education outlays a budget area where there’s lots of fat to be cut? Well, a Census Bureau study released last year ranked the state of Rhode Island 51st in “direct expenditures by public school systems for construction of buildings and roads [and] purchases of equipment, land, and existing structures”. So the answer would seem to be “no”, yet the place where Rhode Island ranks 51st in a nation of 50 states is the place where the legislature thinks it would be most prudent to make cuts.

The Rhode Island General Assembly's governing philosophy of slashing already underfunded budget items so to preserve more lavishsly funded programs that aren’t producing the desired results goes a long way toward explaining why average Rhode Islanders receive so little in return for the high taxes they pay.

The article also suggests that more than technocratic budget politics may be in play here…

Angry Woonsocket lawmakers, officials and residents have questioned whether any ulterior motives are behind the resistance.

“Why us, why now?” asked Woonsocket Mayor Susan D. Menard.

Menard confirmed this week that UBS Financial Services, where Alves is a financial adviser, had sought to manage Woonsocket’s $90-million pension fund in 2003. The city decided to go with Wilshire Associates, which some have suggested could be behind the middle school project’s recent problems.

“That’s a question only Senator Alves can answer,” Menard said.

Posed to Alves, he responded, “No.”

“If they’re trying to make it like I’m retaliating, people can think what they want to think,” he said, noting that Barrington’s $870,000 plan to refurbish the district’s tennis and basketball courts is also in jeopardy, along with another project involving building wind turbines at Portsmouth elementary and high schools.

Woonsocket isn’t being singled out; it’s happening everywhere, Alves said.

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.

So, Senator Alves wants to cut school spending (mostly in the suburbs, with Woonsocket a convenient exception)to preserve for one more year RI's very generous welfare and public sector union benefits. Sounds like Richard Scrushy (who beat the rap at HealthSouth) has been advising somebody on how to taint a jury pool...

Posted by: John at April 21, 2007 4:04 PM

Actually, John, it sounds like Alves might have been more open minded about Woonsocket's $80m project if Mayor "Chief, look up those license plates" Menard had steered the city's pension his way.

However, you make an excellent point about the apparent priority of lots of Democrats on Smith Hill. Exceedingly generous social programs over education.

Posted by: SusanD at April 21, 2007 10:17 PM

Question: Who benefits the most from education facility construction funding? The Gilbanes of the area, the construction unions, and/or the everpresent "five guys named Vinnie" (probably more like 50 or 500) who oversee the projects in their roles as silent "intermediaries" or "facilitators?"

I ask because someone would seem to be taking a hit on any slowdown of school construction spending.

Is this an indicator that the influence of one or more of the above groups is weakening -- or is this slowdown just a temporary bump in the road?

Posted by: Bill at April 21, 2007 11:12 PM

School construction axed.

Roadways potholed and rutted, and getting worse with every passing year.

The "911 fee" money that was supposed to fund an improved 911 system instead diverted to the general fund.

School systems getting budget increases, yet reducing programs due to a "budget crisis."

Accountants advising their middle-class and above clients to establish residency in Florida.


Posted by: Tom W at April 22, 2007 12:37 AM

'Suburban' voters in this state get hosed up the rectum every budget year, especially with education funding, and glady re-elect their very own 'suburban' Reps and Sens who do nothing to fight for their own suburban districts. They rubberstamp outrageously unfair ed funding and blindly foolish budgets every single year.
There would be major and badly needed reform around here if the suburban Reps and Sens, both Democrat and Republican, actually started to represent their own and formed a voting block.
Something is wrong when EG gets 2 million in ed aid and Providence gets 200 million.
When are the suburban voters going to demand their own pols stand up and fight for their own communities on Smith Hill?
Insanity how they don't!

Posted by: Tim at April 22, 2007 9:22 AM

Who is John Gault?

Posted by: Michael Morse at April 22, 2007 11:07 AM

Priorities are clearly out of whack when cuts in spending on tennis courts in Barrington are used to legitimize cuts to rebuild what many consider the worse educational facility in the state. All RIers have been witnesses to the disaster that has become Woonsocket Middle School. It shouldn't only be the residents of Woonsocket who rally for the funds needed to build a new middle school, or better yet 2 new schools, to fix what is a desperate situation for 11, 12, and 13 year old students. What could be more important?

This Rep. Alves is a real piece of work. I'm sure the education leaders of Woonsocket feel better knowing RI's wealthiest won't be getting new tennis courts or wind turbines either.

Posted by: crowd surfer at April 22, 2007 11:17 AM

>>Priorities are clearly out of whack when cuts in spending on tennis courts in Barrington are used to legitimize cuts to rebuild what many consider the worse educational facility in the state. All RIers have been witnesses to the disaster that has become Woonsocket Middle School. It shouldn't only be the residents of Woonsocket who rally for the funds needed to build a new middle school, or better yet 2 new schools, to fix what is a desperate situation for 11, 12, and 13 year old students. What could be more important?

Instead of perennially demanding that people who've behaved responsibly throughout their lives be taxed even more to bail out their recklessness and irresponsibility, perhaps if the folks in Woonsocket (and Providence / Central Falls) would tell their young ladies to keep their legs crossed and stop producing hordes of little bastards they'd find that their community's situation would improve without soaking the rest of us!

Posted by: Ragin' Rhode Islander at April 22, 2007 11:24 AM

You're so judgmental, Ragin' ...

Posted by: SusanD at April 22, 2007 1:33 PM

>>You're so judgmental, Ragin' ...

Not to mention"mean spirited!"

Posted by: Ragin' Rhode Islander at April 22, 2007 2:50 PM

>>You're so judgmental, Ragin' ...

Not to mention"mean spirited!"

and just plain wrong. Don't forget that. Oh, sorry, did I not get your irony? I guess I didn't see any.

Posted by: Pat at April 23, 2007 6:30 AM

Pat, what was Ragin wrong about? Other than leaving out Pawtucket and Newport I would say he made some very accurate observations.

Posted by: frank at April 23, 2007 8:07 AM

...and Central Falls. Illegal alien spawning ground for RI.

Maybe Pat can get his union whores to make some concessions so Woonsocket can still get their new school.

Of course, it really doesn't matter if the school is new or not. The unions clearly aren't TEACHING the kids. The test scores bear that out.

Posted by: Greg at April 23, 2007 8:49 AM

>> The union clearly aren't teaching the kids.

The teacher unions certainly are not teaching our kids. Heck, it's not even about the kids. It's about their constituent's entitlements. And that is clearly coming at the expense of the kids. The kids would be much better off if the teacher unions just went away.

Posted by: frank at April 23, 2007 9:05 AM

Considering how few of them can read, they'd be better off if we sent them to the zoo and they were raised by the wolves.

Posted by: Greg at April 23, 2007 9:44 AM

Just something to consider. It wasn't that long ago that Woonsocket, like other cities, was a strong manufacturing base that fueled our state's economy. Many of those families who moved to the suburbs did so because of the success found in these mill cities. It may seem a long time ago, but now that manufacturing in all but extinct in RI, is it just to tell these communities they're on their own?

Posted by: crowd surfer at April 23, 2007 8:18 PM

crowd surfer,

Are you suggesting that the favorable treatment that the “urban core” has received with respect to the state’s funding of education to the towns had something to do with the urban areas at one time being the draw that attracted people to these towns in the first place? That’s an interesting thought. I always thought that the reason that there was such an imbalance in funding to the communities, with the rural/suburban towns carrying the load for the urban areas, was that due to population density there were simply more legislators form the urban areas and they were able to effectively steer money back to their own communities, literally at the expense of the rest of the state. It is the suburban/rural areas that have to fend for themselves (getting less money back from the state than they have put in), while the urban areas, such as Woonsocket, got more than it’s fair share of help from the rest of the state. The ones “on their own” are definitely not any of the urban districts. Either way, how can you say that the current system had been just and that this recent proposal now makes state education funding unjust?

Posted by: frank at April 24, 2007 10:15 AM
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