Editorial: Bristol Warren district needs long-term fixes

Posted 5/13/21

The financial woes of the Bristol Warren Regional School District are structural, systemic and cannot be fixed in the next week.

The school committee will soon make necessary, short-term decisions …

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Editorial: Bristol Warren district needs long-term fixes

Posted

The financial woes of the Bristol Warren Regional School District are structural, systemic and cannot be fixed in the next week.

The school committee will soon make necessary, short-term decisions about which jobs to eliminate in order to balance a budget that is $2.3 million in the red. Every one of them will be difficult and will impact students.

Though the financial crisis feels so unexpected, it is not. The previous school administration predicted this day would come three years ago.

Back then, Superintendent of Schools Mario Andrade and Joint Finance Committee Chairman Andy Tyska scheduled a series of public meetings to plan for the coming crisis, when diminishing state aid would wallop district funding. The conversation never went very far.

Mr. Tyska then ran for state office, lost to a fraud opponent and has not returned to public office. The middle school faculty staged an uprising over poor student behavior and eventually drove Mr. Andrade out of a job. A new leadership team took over and steered the district on the same course it was always on — to this very moment.

Of course it has not helped that the district has been without executive-level financial leadership for nearly two years. At the very least, a chief financial officer might instill more confidence in the present.

However, the structural flaws are larger than one person can fix. Current Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jonathan Brice proclaimed this district will be “top five in 5.” It’s a nice catchphrase, but difficult to accomplish when this district is in the bottom-third of Rhode Island school districts for local, per-pupil funding of education.

In addition, the district is literally shrinking. Student enrollment has been on a steady decline for more than a decade, yet the district has operated with the same footprint for many years. Its five, mostly large elementary school buildings may be more than this district needs.

There are no easy answer to this financial crisis, but there are serious questions to be asked. If taxpayers can be counted on for a steady 3 percent increase every year — thereby guaranteeing bottom-third funding — then where else might the district find revenue? Corporate partnerships? Enrollment from other districts?

And if enrollment remains at current levels, how many buildings are truly necessary?

Those conversations can’t happen in the midst of a crisis, but they should happen soon.

In the short-term, critical decisions looms. For what it’s worth, the district should continue to fund a theater program at Mt. Hope High School. We were dubious about the extravagance of having a full-time theater teacher in an era of STEM-driven education.

Then we listened to the arguments and were won over by the testimonies of students finding a “home,” a voice and a heavy infusion of humanity in theater and the arts. We are raising of generation of technology-addicted children who are more isolated and socially awkward than any in history.

A program that instills confidence, demands collaboration and teaches people what it means to be human, deserves a place in public education in the 21st century.

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Meet our staff
Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.