Numbers, Facts, and Another Budget Battle


Over in Tiverton, we’re engaged in our annual budget debate, during which I have the new-to-me experience of being on the Town Council, this year.  This budget year is also unique because the full $3 million in minimum revenue from the new Twin River casino is in the budget for the first time.

Given these realities, I’ve been pushing for a compromise that would allow the town to reset local politics and spend the next year developing a long-term plan that allows us all to get our expectations on the table.  Maybe, just maybe, we could move forward from that exercise working together like a community rather than lurching from election to budget to election in a whipsaw of factions.

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Unfortunately, given the recent history of the town, trust is an issue, and (from my perspective) it seems as if the old familiar strategies are difficult to move beyond:

During his initial pitch to the Budget Committee, Tiverton’s new superintendent, Peter Sanchioni, suggested that people had to trust him to set our school system aright.  He is correct that trust is critical, and distrust is the major hurdle facing anybody who wishes to bring Tiverton back to a place of compromise and cooperation.  That is why the superintendent’s final presentation to the Budget Committee before it voted on a budget for his department was so disappointing.

At the highest level, the School Committee never really compromised.  They asked the town for the highest budget they could possibly request by law.  (Actually their request exceeded the maximum by $3,624.)  On top of that, they appear to have overestimated state aid by $92,004 (which local taxpayers would have to make up for) and added $311,000 in “critical” capital expenses that they’d planned to fund out of their own reserves but now want the town to cover.

Two more-specific parts of the presentation, however, are where trust really takes a hit.

The closing sentiment of the post is key for Rhode Island as well as for Tiverton:  numbers have to be seen as an area of common ground rather than as an opportunity to mislead.  If I present numbers that lead me to a particular conclusion, somebody who opposes my position should explain which statements are incorrect or why they should lead to some other conclusion.  We at least have to share the the goal of agreeing on what the facts are, even if nobody changes his or her views because of them.

QUICK SURVEY

Of the following two issues related to Rhode Island’s public schools, which one is a greater concern?

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