2012 Ward Letters

  • October 2 Ward Letter

           Tonight, the Public Works Department will present information about the proposed $40 million infrastructure bond.  The meeting will take place at the Nathan Bishop Middle School at 7:00 p.m.  From my discussions with the City’s engineers, I have learned that two major, controllable causes of the sorry state of our City’s roads are a lack of basic preventive maintenance (such as filling cracks) and shoddy patching by utilities.  The City and the utilities reached an agreement about this work, which is subject to regulation by the Public Utilities Commission.  I will be pressing the administration to add resources in the next budget both to conduct the basic maintenance and to be more vigilant in having the utilities meet the standards of the agreement. 

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  • September 24 Ward Letter

           This past Wednesday night, the School Department reported to the Education Committee on student enrollments and the registration process.  The population of kindergarten-age and 6th grade children is increasing.  This fall, the School Department opened more new kindergarten classes than originally planned (including one at Vartan Gregorian Elementary School).  The sixth grade increase resulted in last-minute displacements.  These increases will continue next year, including a projected increase of 350 middle school students.  The Central Office staff are walking each building to re-confirm the actual number of classrooms.  The Central Office is also reviewing the systems and the operations of the Registration Office which, as parents related at the hearing, needs to be more “user-friendly” and transparent for families.  The School Department also plans to review with the School Board the student assignment plan, which as implemented is producing several cases each year where a neighborhood child is not assigned to the nearest school.  You can see some of the details in the Power Point Presentation the School Department made at the hearing.

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  • November 18 Ward Letter

            At tomorrow (Monday) night’s meeting, the City Council will vote on a Resolution urging the School Department to preserve the City’s network of neighborhood schools.  As described in my November 5 letter, the King Elementary School is at risk of losing its neighborhood identity by applying to convert to an “in-district charter school.”  This would be a major loss for our neighborhood.  Following the City Council meeting, the School Department will answer the Education Committee’s questions about the “in-district” charter program, including a clarification of the School Department’s view of neighborhood schools.  The School Department also will make a presentation about “displaced teachers,” i.e., those teachers who do not have a regular classroom assignment, but retain their employment under the current contract’s “no-layoff” clause.  The School Department will explain the assignments they have developed for this group of educators.

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  • November 12 Ward Letter

            While the major focus of last Tuesday’s election was our choice of President, Providence voters approved a series of ballot questions that will affect our City going forward.

            By approving Question 8, Providence voters authorized the City to borrow $40 million to repair roads, based on a priority list developed according to a rubric of engineering criteria (rather than politics).  This represents around 30% of the total cost required to repair all of the City’s roads, but will deliver tangible benefits in our neighborhood, such as along Olney Street.  At a hearing at Nathan Bishop, some of our neighbors noted that we should do a better job maintaining our roads on an ongoing basis, and I intend to urge the CIty’s Public Works Department to increase its budget allocation for such items as crack sealing.

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  • December 2 Ward Letter

            The Education Committee met this past Wednesday night to discuss federally-funded programs and proposed changes at the Martin Luther King Elementary School.  Two weeks ago, the original King application could not move forward because the faculty failed to support it in sufficient numbers.  In a surprising development, the school revised its application and submitted it to the School Board on Monday night as described in this Newspaper Article.  Under the new application, the King School would remain, but the school’s current principal, vice principal and several teachers would leave next year to start a new charter school.  If implemented, this proposal would disrupt King next year, and parents of children currently enrolled at the school are worried about the future.  While I support the concept of parental choice, I am concerned about how the School Department’s encouragement of charter schools has impacted our neighborhood and this school, and I will continue to advocate for a strong neighborhood school at King.

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  • December 9 Ward Letter

            On Wednesday night, the City Council met to review the voting experience in Providence during the most recent Election Day, which was marked by long lines and frustrated voters.  From presentations by the State Board of Elections and the Providence Board of Canvassers (as well as your comments), we learned that a cluster of factors contributed to this result.  The State published a new rule to increase the number of voters at each precinct.  Larger precincts can work if the State provides more voting booths and local communities provide more poll workers, but neither happened in Providence this year.  Also, the Providence ballot was particularly long due to a series of proposed City Charter amendments, and many voters were not informed about the content of those ballot questions before arriving at the polls.  (I wish to thank the College Hill Neighborhood Association for its efforts to inform voters, which offers some hope for the next time.)  The ballot itself was hard to read, partly because it featured English and Spanish versions of the ballot questions stacked on top of each other.   Both the State and City voting organizations indicated they would learn from this year’s experience to make the next election more convenient for voters. 

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  • December 16 Ward Letter

            Last Thursday, the Providence Fraternal Order of Police voted to accept the compromise version of pension reform that was negotiated to resolve the litigation challenging the Providence retirement ordinance.  The settlement agreement will now go to the City Council for review.  The administration has calculated that the settlement will save the City $18.5 million in annual cost, as opposed to the $22 million projected from the original reform ordinance before the compromise.   In other words, the settlement delivers the City around 85 cents for each dollar of savings anticipated by the ordinance.  If we validate these figures, I will vote to approve, because the expense, ordeal and uncertainty of litigation exceed the cost of compromise.  With that said, the current budget assumes savings based on the pre-compromise ordinance; therefore, if the City Council approves the agreement, it will ask the administration to present a revised budget.

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  • October 22 Ward Letter

               The November ballot will include seven State questions (numbers 1-7) and eleven City questions (numbers 8-18). Question Number 8, if approved, would authorize the City to borrow $40 million for infrastructure repairs.  Question 18, if approved, would amend the Home Rule Charter to reform the redistricting process.  I worked with Common Cause to draft and advance Question 18.  The Providence Journal published an op-ed piece by John Marion and me to make the case for approving this ballot question.  You can read the op-ed by clicking on this link: Redistricting op-ed.  You can read background information about the eleven Providence ballot questions by clicking on this link: Providence Ballot Questions Memo.  As the memo indicates, Questions 9 through 17 propose a series of technical revisions to the Home Rule Charter to make the language more consistent.  I plan to vote in favor of all eleven City questions, and I urge you to as well.

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  • September 16 Ward Letter

    This Wednesday, the Education Committee will meet at 5:45 p.m. at City Hall to review the probable final draft of the Hope Academy Report.  At the same meeting, the Chief of Staff from the Providence School Department, Colleen Jermain, will discuss the Department’s review of the Student Registration Office.  For many parents, the Registration Office represents their entry point into the Providence Public Schools, and the process has faced a number of pitfalls in recent years.  For example, the Vartan Gregorian Elementary School had a particularly long waiting list this past year, which included surprisingly low placements for children living very close to the school.  The School Department resolved this issue by introducing a third kindergarten class for this year; however, building capacity issues prevent this solution from being repeated.  In the meantime, the Registration Office assigned an extra class of 26 students to the sixth grade at Nathan Bishop in the final week before school opened, creating dislocations.  Ms. Jermain will discuss the School Department’s investigation and possible reforms for these issues and other similar ones across the District.

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  • October 28 Ward Letter

              Tomorrow night (Monday), the Ways and Means Committee will hear a report from the City’s pension consultant.  As you may recall, the City set its budget for the current year assuming full pension reform as enacted in ordinances last Spring.  The retirees filed a court challenge, and the parties compromised to settle the case.  This means that we will need to contribute more to the pension fund than we included in the budget, and Buck will help to calculate the amount.  Because this year’s budget already is very tight, the Committee likely will ask the administration for a plan to close the anticipated deficit once the consultant provides an estimate.

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