Roland Benjamin: $23,000/Student is Already More than Sufficient Funding


[On Tuesday, South Kingstown residents will vote on two budget reduction referenda. Click here for a ten year overview of South Kingstown’s school budgeting and student enrollment trend (spoiler: downward).]

I have been close to these budgets. Very close.

A “lack of funding” cannot be the culprit for every decision from local officials that change services or reconsider programming. When a 1% or 2% fiscal nudge in anything is blamed, I seriously question the competence and/or the integrity of those using the argument.

Imagine raising kids in South Kingstown. Imagine also that you learn next year’s raise will be 2% instead of the 3% you were hoping for. Imagine then, in response to this “shortfall”, you tell your kids they won’t be getting Brickley’s next year due to a lack of funding. Ludicrous, right?

At $23,000 per student, or similarly with the 5% increase in municipal spending, there is more than sufficient funding to do whatever the municipality wants. Sure, hired officials want as much as possible. That way there is less pressure to identify priorities. But pretending that we are anywhere near “underfunding” our programs is absurd.

According to School District reporting, our most expensive elementary schools spend more than $25,000 per student. Monsignor Clarke’s tuition is nearer to $8,000. Peel the onion in any number of ways, but that is quite a disparity.

On top of all this, COVID ravages South Kingstown just as final budget votes were being cast. Instead of making a reasoned and moderate adjustment to next year’s budget based on this unparalleled health and economic scare, they stood hard and fast to protecting their budgetary turf. Then the rhetoric kicks in to protect that position. Even the simple term “Protect the Schools”, implies that the opposition wants to attack them. That a 1% trim to growth is some broadside attempt to cripple the institution. Come on.

We are neighbors looking for pragmatism, not marauders raiding local coffers. On July 14th, at the Rec Center, I will be voting for both the reductions on the ballot. I do so without a shred of doubt that South Kingstown will have everything it needs.

Roland Benjamin is a resident of South Kingstown and served two years on the town’s School Committee, one as its Chair. This post originally appeared on the South Kingstown Spotlight.

  • Lou

    I love Justin tagging this as “Union”. Unions aren’t mentioned in the essay.

  • Northern Exposure
    • Lou

      If it’s the author thinks it’s relevant, he should put it in the article. The reader isn’t going to be able to guess what their thinking. Irrational anti-tax rants are a dime-a-dozen on this site. Data helps filter out the most irrational from ones that have merit.

  • Joe Smith

    Comparing a private school (that’s part of a larger network of schools with external administrative support AND public textbook and transportation subsidies) partial *revenue* with another school’s *expenses* is not quite apples to apples.

    Should we infer St. George’s is an even more poorly run school because it’s tuition (for commuters, not boarding students) is 6 times MSG Clarke or Prout?

    That said, SK has spent more because, well, it could. Look at its tax base compared with say North Kingstown that spends considerably less yet has better RICAS results and school star ratings (to the extent those have flaws) – especially given SK has far lower minority and *poor* student rates than North Kingstown and thus statistically should be performing better.

    Let’s face it with SK – the downward enrollment trend was not out of the blue. SK’s FY 20 budget shows SK with 444 FTEs; North Kingstown’s shows with almost 600. SK’s per FTE salaries and benefits are 20% higher than NK. SK’s purchased services (with 30% less students) is 40% higher than NK.

    Those disparities just didn’t happen overnight, especially the purchases services. Yours and prior committees and town councils didn’t do the hard work to consolidate, innovate, and cut – plus you had some people (talk about term limits) who were on the committee for *years* through all this and yet want to blame the “newcomers?” It’s not like SK’s budgets miraculously went on a spending spree over the last two years..