Friday, October 1, 2010

PATCH response to Mr. Robicheau

We all live in a wonderful town with an incredible group of dedicated professionals in our schools. Most of you had the good fortune to send your children through the school system.

Just yesterday, the Portsmouth High School was awarded for having the highest proficiency in Rhode Island in the NECAP science assessment. This is a true achievement. We can both be proud of the education offered and the value we receive as taxpayers in Portsmouth. Do you know we spend thousands less per student than our neighboring communities Middletown and Newport. We are consistently in the bottom fifth in cost of education, yet we deliver in the top fifth year after year.

These past few days, the referendum has certainly been in the news and on our lips. As I said to Patch last night, even the negative serves the purpose of beginning a debate. I have had to spend an inordinate amount of my time these past few days being the fact police. I don't believe the average Portsmouth voter is naïve and I believe the use of misinformation is destructive to one's argument. The opposition to the referendum is misleading the community as to the risks of not voting for the additional monies, case in point Mr. Robicheau's current Opinion piece in Patch.

The school administration did report that they have ended the year with a surplus of between $200,000 and $400,000. A final figure will be reported by the auditor later this fiscal year, as often line-items are changed as part of the audit process. $200,000 of those funds will be earmarked for the FY2012 budget, as we did with a similar surplus last year. Mr. Robicheau's figure of $500,000 is exaggerated, but that's not my biggest gripe.

The school budget presently has a structural deficit of $765,000, meaning that to deliver a full school experience, we need these funds added to the core budget. Using one time dollars fills the hole for this year but not following years. Doing so this year in light of the $2,070,000 that will be cut from State Education Aid beginning next year ($207,000) would only put us in the hole $765,000 + $207,000 or $972,000 going into next year's budget.

Mr. Robicheau's argument that these one-time dollars should cover this year's deficit is financially shortsighted and politically expedient. This would leave the schools in crisis next year.

Speaking of one-time dollars, let's talk about Medicaid funds. While we have on account $428,000 we have budgeted $500,000 in revenue, so technically we presently have a $72,000 deficit. Now that will correct itself and we do expect to have a couple hundred thousand in account at year end. The problem here is two-fold: it's one-time money which will not solve a structural deficit and it is our reserve just in case.

What is a just in case moment, say a new family with a special needs child moves to Portsmouth, we will need to draw from these funds to pay for his/her education. Mr. Robicheau's argument would be advising you to take your emergency home account and wipe it out. Short term actions can have a more serious long term implication to our town.

Finally, they wish to paint the referendum proponents in the negative. But let me leave the reader with this thought: if we underfund our schools we will face a more serious and costly correction in the year or years ahead. We have been open and honest with the people of Portsmouth, there is no sleight of hand or smoke just a system that has been under attack for the better part of 10 years. If I were to see the future I see better contracts, changes in retirement, and increased revenue by being creative and entrepreneurial. We don't get there unless we have an honest investment in education.

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