Do School Districts Have Leaders or Managers?


The question of this post’s title is never actually stated, but it screams out from Linda Borg’s Providence Journal article about Rhode Island public school districts that have already thrown in the towel on attempting to reopen schools:

Eight Rhode Island schools superintendents have written Gov. Gina Raimondo and said that they are prepared to move to remote learning next month because they don’t have the time to fully prepare to open safely in person.

“In the absence of firm guidance, we feel it is our responsibility to notify our state leaders that if we, as the district leaders, do not feel that we can confidently and safely meet the metrics above, then schools in our communities will open in a virtual/distance learning environment,” the letter said.

Here are the eight districts, along with their unrestricted annual expenditures, as reported in their communities’ FY19 audits:

  • Coventry: $70,021,300
  • Cranston: $157,376,542
  • Johnston: $59,349,202
  • Lincoln: $56,685,406
  • Pawtucket: $120,939,516
  • West Warwick: $58,118,801
  • Warwick: $166,767,001
  • Woonsocket: $81,716,345

Combined, that’s $770,974,113 — approaching a billion dollars.  And these organizations can’t figure out how to serve their customers without CYA guidance from Gina Raimondo?


If these were private companies, they would not be small, and they would be expected to figure out how to stay open.  They would have to!  Why are our expectations for the professionals who operate something as important as our education system so much lower?

  • Lou

    How’s the Kool-Aid, Justin? I see you have fallen in line. All schools should fully open at all costs (at least until election day), right?

    • Joe Smith

      The Governor doesn’t even have a consistent position. In its essence, this is a logistics problem. Transportation is designed for efficiency; classroom space and teaching loads (with the constraint of contractual limitations) are allocated (in theory) to get the most within those constraints. Costs are step functions — one more kid over the limit is not at the average PPE; one more kid might mean another bus run. Lunch is run to get the most throughput in the shortest time.

      The system isn’t designed for social distancing and slack and now she wants to tell districts to operate like normal but with all her constraints. When she says the “5 metrics”, she is ignoring all her playbook constraints.

      CT got everyone back every day because they took the reverse approach — operate normally and tell us the risk. Gina started with minimize risk and then figure out how to operate normally.

      I don’t think it’s fair to criticize school leaders – remember they were told (and incentivized) to get “newer and fewer” and “regionalize” (economies of scale). Recall the Gov went from 33 to 50% on buses simply because it allowed the charters to save from having to add buses.

      And when is anyone going to call her on the $250M bond — $175M spent and Providence schools still are a mess? Where’s her “generational transformation of every district?”

  • Joe Smith

    Justin – The problem in “figuring it out” is you have to either violate the Gov’s (RIDE/RIDOH) guidance or have the luxury of unique circumstances (remember the Gov pushed “newer and fewer”?) regarding available spaces and yes, smarter planning years ago about technology infrastructure.

    It strikes me as odd to criticize the battlefield generals when the Commander-in-Chief from her ivory tower (remember her kids go to private schools exempt from her guidance, only having to do a “plan” and showing it “if” an outbreak occurs – and I doubt her kids – or others around the tower – ride public school buses) not only sets the objective, but then outlines the strategy, develops the parameters to such details it dictates the tactics, and then gives no resources nor focused “theater level” support (like mass testing capacity like the colleges did on their own).

    Go back to July when most districts said with her rush to get plans done that transportation (and what hard science was behind 33%, then 50%, then kids having to ride motionless in possibly driving rainstorms, in state fixed seating spots with state mandated windows open?) was an issue. Why is 15 the limit for gatherings but not applied to private schools?

    Why didn’t she just say “hey get as many kids back in person but have an option for those with parents who aren’t comfortable” — and say come back with the plans that make that work and let’s talk where you push the safety protocols. Nope.

    She said here is the goal, here are your strategy and tactics, here are your restrictions, and now make it happen (lol, tents?). Oh, and to make it worse, I’ll bring in an expert (from out of state no less) who will muddy the water even more (uh, Gina, don’t bring in someone who’s going to say something you didn’t know in advance).

    Want kids in school? Follow CT’s guidance. Say you can have 80-90% on bus because guess what, those kids are already socializing all summer, hanging around the bus stops, etc. Relax the certification for teachers to push the college education majors who need their practicums, allow folks with some sufficient education background (remember the old troops to teachers) to fill in, redirect the RIPTA fleet, repurpose some state vehicles, etc. Get mass testing done in August.

    Redierct CCRI, RIC, and URI adjunct faculty to teach HS courses — imagine if RI had a statewide LMS so any district could put low density kids (like say 5 Tiverton kids in AP calculus) into a statewide classroom. Eliminate any non-COVID related research at those colleges so professors focus just on teaching and thus free up those adjunct faculty members.

    Gina has known for months the supply chain issues were transportation, classroom space, meals, technology, and testing. She didn’t do anything to address those.