Chariho School Parents’ Forum

July 7, 2008

Charlestown Options

Filed under: Charlestown — Editor @ 9:34 pm

Today’s Sun outlines Charlestown’s 12 options per the ad-hoc committee (personally, short of total choice through vouchers or tax credits, I like option 12):

The Sun Staff
Members of the Ad-hoc Withdrawal Update Committee examined 12 options for Charlestown’s educational future.
Their findings are listed below:
Option 1: Stay in the Chariho Regional School District.
While staying in Chariho offers several educational advantages, committee members believe that longstanding political differences between Charlestown, Hopkinton and Richmond will continue — and prevent much-needed improvements at the district’s main campus in Richmond.
“As long as the per capita [or student enrollment-based] formula under which the three towns pay for education remains intact, staying in the district would be cheaper for Charlestown than a withdrawal effort,” the committee wrote. “However, the physical facilities of the district are old and failing, to the point where education is negatively affected. The high school is in danger of los­ing [New England Association of Schools &
Colleges] accreditation due to the infra­structure problems. It is more difficult for students at the high school to feel proud of their school when that school is literally falling apart.”
Paying for capital repairs through district operating budgets will shift funds away from educational programs, and it could become increasingly diffi­cult to manage under a state cap on annual spending increases. Even if the three towns agree on a sizeable school improvement bond, “the same debate over how to pay for school improve­ments will go on, and Charlestown in the future will continue to find itself pressured towards tax equalization as facilities go through new cycles of dete­rioration, and bonds continue to fail.”
Option 2: Negotiate with Hopkinton and Richmond to pass a bond.
A negotiated agreement between the three towns could result in concessions from Charlestown, including the equal division of annual school operating budgets; tax equalization based on the number of homes in each town; or some other financial compromise — all of which would likely increase Charlestown’s yearly contribution to the district.
“The negative economic impacts of [these options] will depend on the amount of added money that Charlestown agrees to pay for educa­tion within the district,” the committee wrote. “A further concern is that any agreement less than full tax equaliza­tion may ‘pave the way’ for subsequent requests by Hopkinton and Richmond for yet more financial concessions from Charlestown, until full tax equalization is achieved.”
According to committee estimates, full tax equalization would result in a $7 million annual increase in school spending for Charlestown — a “very serious financial hardship.”
Option 3: Construct buildings for middle school and/or high school students in Charlestown, but remain in the Chariho district.
“Charlestown would fund the cost of building new facilities in town, but would still be bound under the Chariho Act to share in all costs of educating the children of all three towns,” the com­mittee wrote. “The concept of ‘double payments’ does not seem politically appealing within Charlestown, particu­larlyif we would be constructing a building for [high school students] while simultaneously paying for improve­ments to [Chariho High School] that benefit children of the two other towns.” To be eligible for state aid, school con­struction work would have to be done through the Chariho district, “requiring the independent ‘yes’ vote of all three towns — another hurdle to overcome,” the committee noted.
Options 4 through 7 (partial withdrawal options): Withdraw pre-kindergarten through grades 5, 6, or 8; or withdraw grades 9 through 12.
In a 2004 survey, Charlestown par­ents indicated that bringing younger students back to Charlestown was a priority. Similarly, a committee in Hopkinton favors the return of fifth and sixth graders to local elementary schools, while Richmond’s Education Advisory Committee has recommended withdrawing pre-K through grade 5 students from Chariho.
Currently, there is no provision in the Chariho Act for partial withdrawal, so “any agreement between the towns and the district would probably then need approval by the voters of all three towns.” Removing high school students from the district “would be extremely difficult to negotiate with the other towns, who have never expressed any interest in this option.”
“These negotiations would be much simpler if all three towns agreed to withdraw the same grades from the dis­trict at the same time,” the committee wrote. “Students in grades that are withdrawn under these options would be attending smaller schools, which are generally recognized to provide more attention and a better education in many ways.”
However, committee members acknowledged that partial withdrawal could create differences in curricula between the three towns, resulting in potential difficulties for students.
Option 8: Form a pre-K through grade 12 Charlestown School District based on revisions to the 2004 withdrawal plan.
This is the committee’s primary rec­ommendation to the Town Council, and is considered to be the best economic solution for the long-term health of Charlestown. Much of the proposed withdrawal plan was drafted in 2004, and several legal questions have already been resolved.
“Withdrawal lets Charlestown con­struct
appropriate facilities, and gives Charlestown complete autonomy over education in the town,” the committee wrote. “Charlestown students would also experience a smaller number of dis­ruptive school transitions. Further, withdrawing Charlestown students cre­ates space at the Switch Road campus to alleviate crowding issues for Richmond and Hopkinton students. All withdrawal options save Charlestown large sums of money when compared to tax equalization.”
“It is the perception of this committee that many people who voted not to withdraw from the district in 2004 would now vote in favor of withdrawal because of their frustrations with the inability of the district to agree on bonds and construction.”
Option 9: Form a pre-K through grade 8 Charlestown School District, and tuition grades 9 through 12 into another district.
Offered as a secondary option for review by the Town Council, the com­mittee suggested this alternative in the event that councilors or the public do not support full withdrawal from Chariho. It would require a smaller bond, and offers the possibility of form­ing a joint district with another town such as Westerly — which has declining student enrollment and a similar eco­nomic base.
“The tuitioning-in option does not, however, provide the continuity of edu­cation that building pre-K [through] 12 facilities in Charlestown do,” the com­mittee wrote. “Further, this option does not offer the same opportunities to craft an exceptional high school education. This alternative also relinquishes some degree of local control, does not provide a clear and predictable funding formu­la, and sacrifices a sense of Charlestown identity in merging with another town.”
Option 10: Form a pre-K through grade 12 Charlestown-Richmond School District.
Though both Charlestown and Richmond appear to agree on educa­tional issues, Richmond’s withdrawal from Chariho under existing state law would prove “financially and politically difficult.” Because the central campus is located in Richmond, the town would either have to turn it over to Hopkinton, or a buy-out agreement would have to be brokered and approved by voters in all three towns.
“Moreover, Charlestown and Richmond have very different tax
bases, and at least one prominent Richmond politician has been an out­spoken advocate of tax equalization,” the committee wrote. “It is not clear that a Charlestown-Richmond District would eliminate the specter of tax equalization that has been a problem for the district.”
“Further, a Charlestown-Richmond District would leave Hopkinton stu­dents with no clear avenue to educa­tion,” the committee added. “Although these students might be tuitioned-in to this new district or to another existing district, it is possible that [the Rhode Island Department of Elementary and Secondary Education] would step in to protect the educational welfare of Hopkinton students.”
Option 11: Form a pre-K through grade 8 Charlestown School District, and a Charlestown­Richmond High School for grades 9 though 12. Annual funding for the high school could be based on an equalized tax rate, as an incentive to Richmond.
“A Charlestown-Richmond High School would educate students in a school size that many find appealing for sports programs and for a diversity of classroom offerings,” the committee wrote. “Further, this proposal would unite Charlestown and Richmond, two towns that seem aligned on certain edu­cational issues, with both towns gener­ally voting in favor of bonds and operat­ing budgets.”
Equalizing taxes with Richmond to fund a high school, however, would cost Charlestown an extra $2.7 million per year — and would be less cost effective than a pre-K through grade 12 district in Charlestown.
Option 12: Form a privately run, pre-K through grade 12 Charlestown School District.
The town would contract private cor­porations — such as Edison Schools or Mosaica Education — to manage all aspects of local schools, implement their own teaching systems and provide staff. Considered to be a fairly new industry with “mixed results,” committee mem­bers felt the proposal would bring oppo­sition from the state’s educational establishment — including unions and professional organizations.
“The legal team at RIDE has told us that this would be ‘an uphill battle’ and it is easy to visualize the strong opposi­tion that this effort would generate from many fronts across Rhode Island,” the committee wrote.


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