The Woonsocket School Committee voted last night not to close schools early, which is good news all around. But guess what? Schools were never going to close early. If Woonsocket can’t come up with the money it needs to run them by April 5, which it probably cannot, the state will step in and keep the schools running. The state Constitution says it has to.
Furthermore, under the new state education funding formula, RIDE has all but admitted that it shortchanged the cash-strapped city under the previous funding formula to the tune of $4.6 million, an amount the state will pay to the school district over the next seven years. Woonsocket, along with Pawtucket, is suing the state saying it needs that money right away. Obviously, this isn’t a bluff.
Yes, Woonsocket could have managed its finances better. A lot better. But the state mismanaged how it funds education, too. Couple these blunders with the drastic cuts to cities and towns that occurred over the past several years and you have the recipe for disaster that was cooked for Woonsocket.
Governor Chafee’s municipal aid bill will help. It will not only allow cities and towns to save money by cutting annual pension increases for retirees, but Chafee said on Tuesday it will also allow Woonsocket (and Providence, Pawtucket and West Warwick) to ignore some of the state mandates that drive up expenses.
Providence Journal State House scribe Randal Edgar, who evidently obtained a copy of the legislation, has a little more on what those are: mayors and managers would be given the power to veto line items in school budgets; teacher pay increases will be suspended, bus monitors can be replaced with cameras and allow those communities to stop busing students to private schools.
But at some point, and hopefully sooner rather than later, this state has to come to terms with the fact that top-down policies adopted during the Carcieri era, and a seemingly utter disdain for its poorest communities, has created this problem to a far greater degree than have unfunded pension liabilities.