opinion Newport Rhode Island

To the Editor:

As we move towards November, it may be important to provide a little more information to the voters so they understand the process that, hopefully, will lead to school district regionalization.

Both sides of the issue have referred to potential collaboration as a “study”.  This is a misnomer. A study is generally considered a lengthy and detailed examination of an issue leading to a summary conclusion. That is not the current objective. 

Rather, the goal of the proposed “study” is to come to a decision that will or will not be placed before the voters in a 2021 Special Election. Therefore, the proposed activity is more in the character of a “negotiation”, where the parties come together, discuss the issues, and determine whether or not they can reach an agreement that voters could be asked to consider in a relatively limited period of time.

So what would be the issues to be decided in the “negotiation”? Perhaps phrasing a few of them as questions would provide some clarity of direction:

  1. How would municipal authority be represented? Or, from another perspective, what would be the composition of the School Committee?  (Current legislation calls for population to be the determinant, although the enrollment of the high schools, for example, is practically equal.)
  2. What would be the center of the financial management? (The element of distrust must be mitigated.)
  3. What would be the composition of the Administration?
  4. How would the various union contracts be negotiated? 

These are the major issues initially related to proposed regionalization, but the first and perhaps the most important issue is location. Where could a new high school be centrally located so that transportation costs could be minimized?

Of course, the most important concern related to education is curriculum improvement. However, that is a topic that should wait to be addressed until after the voters approve the building blocks of an agreement. Rome wasn’t built in a day. 

All of these items were on the table before the 2014 referendum, so the foundation has already been laid for current discussions. But conditions have changed – including decreasing enrollment, revenue shortfalls, and the ramifications of COVID. 

It is time for action and those who look to the future education of the students must put aside their personal reservations and find a path to action. With any luck, we will eventually reach the starting point in November.

Barbara A. VonVillas