Monday, March 29, 2010

Joint Finance School Budget meeting

The Bristol Warren Joint Finance School budget meeting was held last Thursday evening March 25, 2010 after a visit from RI Education Commissioner, Deborah Gist. The meeting was attended by the full Town Council and about 500 people in a packed auditorium at Mount Hope High School. (Good idea to move it from Town Hall to the High School!) Unfortunately, I could not attend but heard it was extremely productive (in the end, the vote was to give the schools a 2% increase) and that the kids were the stars of the evening. Here is an account of the meeting from Diana Campbell, School Committee member, who I understand (but not from her!) gave an amazing and impassioned speech. Also included is a response to Diana's speech from a young Bristol Mom, Samantha Faria. Thank you both for sharing your perspectives with the Preserve Bristol blog.

• Here is Diana Cambell's take on the evening in response to my request to hear about it:

"It was a wonderful meeting last night.

The night didn't start out too well. Education Commissioner Deborah Gist was not going to budge on her proposal to cut aid to Bristol Warren by $9m over 10 years. Her premise was that this should not be seen as a punishment for our efforts to be prudent in developing our wonderful district to what it is today. She said that her proposal should be seen more as an attempt to provide support for those towns that have not had the support in the past that Bristol Warren has had from state funding.

Our Town officials were excellent in their efforts to move Ms. Gist off her position. Their defense and complimentary words re: the students, teachers, administration, and school committee were good to hear and many members of the school committee and Melinda Thies did mention that in their own presentations later in the evening.

The regular Joint Finance meeting went very well. The crowd filled the auditorium. It was inspiring to see and I think that the committee was taken a bit aback at the passion that was present in the form of residents from both Warren and Bristol, young and old.

Bill O'Dell, Melinda Thies, and Pauline Silva did a awesome job of presenting the district's budget proposal. Ms. Thies, especially, really brought to light the breadth and depth of the accomplishments that the district is celebrating. Students in the arts, sciences, business, and sports are all being recognized -- some nationally -- for their achievements. And so are our administrators and teachers.

I think Ms. Thies' presentation and the crowd, which broke out into applause often, made the committee think twice about their plans to level fund the budget for this year.

And then came the speakers. John Bento and I both spoke about the importance of providing for the education of our most precious resource, our children. I linked education to the committee's efforts to bring about economic development to the region. But it was the students who took the evening over the top. One by one, and there were many, spoke about how much the school and their chosen path made a difference in their young lives. They were poised, articulate, proud of their accomplishments, optimistic about their futures, and very moving. One young man even brought a tear to my eye.

One mother who spoke mentioned that by her calculations, with the tax increase that a 4.5% increase in the budget would involve, her annual tax bill would go up $80. She said that she would be willing to pay the extra $80 -- $800 even -- if it meant that the budget could be fully funded. She got a standing ovation!! People in the audience were agreeing with her that they, too, would be willing to pay a little more to fund the schools.

She was followed by more students, who spoke about band, the arts, business, science, sports, teachers, and so on. It was a winning combination.

In the end, they voted to give the schools a 2% increase, after an initial attempt by Halsey and Mary to give us a 3% increase. It was not what we wanted, but it was more than we were expecting. We still have to cut our budget, but not as drastically as we had expected."

• And this from Samantha Faria in response to Diana Campbell's speech:

"Diana-- your comments were very necessary. You were 100% correct in
making the connections between the town's interest in bringing in
industry. Without a well educated potentional workforce the citizens
will leave as will the businesses. You made important connections
between education, industry and the town. Unfortunately, not everyone
looks at the big picture and how everything is interconnected and not
isolated bubbles. Thanks for all of your hardwork and big picture thinking.
We need more of this.

1 comment:

dbc said...

Thanks for publishing this update. Just as a explanation, the 2% amounts to a $600,000, which will still mean that we have a $1.8m shortfall, but that's less than the $2.4m shortfall that we would have had to deal with if we had been level-funded.