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.