The rumors are true. A bill to shift budget and compensation authority from school committees to town and city councils is making its way through the General Assembly. S2239 (PDF) is currently awaiting review by the Senate Education Committee. Surprisingly, considering that many would count it as a labor reform, its lead sponsor is legislature labor darling Sen. John Tassoni (D, Smithfield, North Smithfield). Tassoni has been a top recipient of union campaign donations in the past, he operates a union-focused newspaper, and has recently been in the news because his union advertisers weren’t disclosing their advertisements therein among their payments to legislators. Moreover, his professional background is largely union-based.
So why would Mr. Tassoni make this proposal? The senator explained himself to Cynthia Drummond of the Westerly Sun thus:
Regionalization is coming. Surpluses should be a thing of the past. There shouldn’t be lines in the sand anymore. It’s time. It’s going to come. This is something I think the General Assembly needs to take a hard look at.
A cynic might call it an empty gesture, observing that there does not appear to be a counterpart bill in the House. Or suggest that this will become a negotiating chip in the debate over binding arbitration, which reformers dread. Those who’ve spent any time engaging in local politics might suggest a third possibility: School-related unions seem to have done better in many cases than their municipal counterparts, and town/city councils have a more more direct line to taxpayers. Consolidating budget authority will also allow a consolidation of labor efforts to persuade and to dominate.
Tassoni’s bill may in fact be a good idea, particularly in light of the budget difficulties that have originated with school districts in East Providence and Woonsocket. But as with the entire consolidation and regionalization project, the unintended consequences merit a careful consideration.