I hope you enjoyed your Thanksgiving. This week’s letter discusses the proposed expansion of the Achievement First mayoral academy, the proposed Fields Point LNG facility and a neighborhood initiative to improve Prospect Terrance Park on Congdon Street.
On Tuesday night, December 6 at 5:30 at the Rhode Island Department of Education (255 Westminster Street), the Council on Elementary and Secondary Education will hear the Commissioner’s Report recommending the expansion of the Achievement First Mayoral Academy from 912 to 3,112 seats. Last year, the General Assembly passed a new law requiring the Council to “place substantial weight on the fiscal impact … on the sending school district and the educational impact on the students in the district to ensure that the proposal is economically prudent for the city or town, and academically prudent for the proposed sending school district and for all the students in the sending district.” With that in mind, I submitted a Letter and Report to the Council presenting the Internal Auditor’s estimate that the net loss to the Providence Public Schools will be more than $173 million over the next decade, which will compromise the District’s ability to provide even a basic education to the 20,000-plus students who do not attend Achievement First, never mind a quality education. The Commissioner’s recommendation includes a consultant’s study projecting substantial benefits to the 2,200 students who would attend the new school, stating that their lifetime earnings have a net present value of hundreds of millions of dollars. While this is interesting, the study completely fails to perform the task required under State law, namely to assess the impact of the resulting funding cut on the 20,000-plus Providence students who do not attend the new school. Because of this, the Commissioner’s recommendation does not comply with the law, and should not be accepted by the Council. In my opinion, the General Assembly’s requirement was enacted for a very good reason – as attractive as charter school proposals may be, it would be wrong to cannibalize the education of 90% of the City’s children in the public schools to benefit 10% in charter schools. By failing to assign any value to the rights and the futures of the 90%, the Commissioner’s blind advocacy of the 10% is exactly the type of divisiveness and damage to public education we must avoid.
On Tuesday, December 13 at 5:15 p.m. at City Hall, Third Floor, the Ordinance Committee will hold a public hearing on a Resolution expressing concerns about the proposed LNG facility at Fields Point. You are invited to attend and share your views. This opportunity is a welcome development, but it is not the result of the actions of the Chair of the Ordinance Committee; instead, it is in spite of them. The Ordinance Committee Chair refused to do his job and schedule this hearing, but he was required to do so because a group of almost 100 of you signed a petition exercising your rights under Section 411 of the City’s Home Rule Charter. Section 411 provides citizens with a valuable safety valve against the arbitrary actions of committee chairs, and the current City Council leadership has been particularly disinclined to hear legislation that is not introduced by themselves or their friends. This attitude has contributed to making the current session of the City Council historically unproductive. Were this not bad enough, the City Council President recently requested a legal opinion from the City Solicitor that would have restricted the citizens’ right to petition and compel a hearing. It is unfortunate that the City Council officers and committee chairs are showing this level of contempt for the people they are elected to serve. Fortunately, the Solicitor rejected the City Council President proposed interpretation, and he will be preparing a written decision to prevent this attempted abuse of power in the future.
As many of you know, 86% of the City’s voters approved an infrastructure bond that was blocked by the City Council majority when their demand for individual Council member over expenditures was refused. Their position prevented municipal funding of improvements at Prospect Terrance Park on Congdon Street. In response, the College Hill Neighborhood Association started a $15,000 Go Fund Me campaign, which just reached the $3,000 level. To add your contribution, please click here. While I was pleased to make my own contribution, I also am continuing to work with the Mayor and fellow members of the City Council minority (we call ourselves the “Siberian Caucus”) to pressure our colleagues to take a more civic-minded view of their official responsibilities so that the City can maintain itself.