May 20, 2009

Singing the Union's Tune in Tiverton

Justin Katz

At the May 12 School Committee meeting in Tiverton, Guidance Counselor Lynn Nicholas gave the following advice to the committee related to the financial town meeting's $627,247 cut to the schools' budget:

You need to be serious about what you plan on cutting. I am the last person on this Earth that would want to hurt a child, but you need to make a statement. I don't know how you're going to do it. I don't know what you're going to do. But you need to make a statement to get people to the town meeting.

As a matter of content, readers should put the emphasis on that "but." Nicholas doesn't want to hurt the students, but...

At some point between that night and publication of the May 21 Sakonnet Times, Superintendent Bill Rearick told reporter Tom Killin Dalglish:

...our kids are going to be hurt. I want to be blunt about it.

Mr. Dalglish offers that quotation directly after a list of academic programs that might be on the chopping block, according to "other sources." (One wonders if Mr. Dalglish has been calling the guidance office.) At the end of the piece, Mr. Rearick sounds the note again:

I feel awful for the kids, because we won't be able to continue the current level of programs that we have now.

Mere residents aren't privy to conversations behind closed school administration doors, of course, but it appears that Mr. Rearick is singing the union's tune. The objective is to scare parents into demanding the opportunity to reinstate the requested budget amount.

I've got another solution. Adding the salaries and benefits lines in the school department budget docket yields a total of $19,568,684. An across-the-board cut of 3.2% to some combination of pay and benefits would absorb the shortage. Problem solved with no harm to students and at an employee cost that is hardly egregious in the current market.

Then, the school committee should admit its error in approving an inadvisable teacher contract that accounts for roughly three quarters of the missing money and suggest that the teachers ask their well-paid lobbyists to pressure state legislators to lighten the mandate burden in order to free up money for the next contract.