With the victory of the petitioner’s budget that I submitted for the town of Tiverton, the most significant question facing the School Committee was whether to go forward with plans to implement full-day kindergarten or to deprive another 120 Tiverton children of that service, which the school department has declared to be critically important. The five members — all of them endorsed by the local political action committee Tiverton 1st and (I believe) the Tiverton Democratic Town Committee — chose student deprivation.
From a budgetary standpoint, I find the move inexplicable, for reasons I describe over on Tiverton Fact Check. Even folks in other cities and towns may find the situation telling of the ridiculous way in which Rhode Island law splits local government into the school department and the municipal government.
Because the town is legally bound to whatever number it estimated for state aid, and because the estimate included a $63,000 bump in state aid based on kindergarten’s going to full day (which effectively doubles the number of children for that grade for the purposes of the funding formula), the town must now come up with that money.
As a separate matter, for its proposed budget, the school department underestimated its expenses by around $423,000. That would have been the case no matter which budget won the vote at the financial town referendum. By cancelling full-day kindergarten, the school committee effectively transfers $63,000 from the state (for full-day K only) to the town (for any purpose), helping it to close its own estimating gap.
Not counting a somewhat-protected reserve required in the town’s home rule charter, the municipal government already has a much lower unassigned fund balance than does the school department, and the Town Council and administrator are already in a quest for any dollar they can find in order to accommodate the budget vote of the people. Yet, nobody on the municipal side has commented on the school department’s decision, whether because they don’t understand the budget implications or just don’t care.
Returning to the School Committee, while it may be difficult to explain its decision from a budgetary standpoint, it isn’t at all difficult to understand from a political standpoint. From the members’ comments at their last meeting (video linked in my Fact Check post), it’s obvious that they just don’t want to prove the supporters of the petitioner’s budget right. They don’t want to admit that their scare tactics are scare tactics, so they followed through on the threat.
These are the people whom Tiverton has chosen to oversee the education of its children.