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Candidates Speak About Education At Woonsocket High School

About 40 heard candidates speak about importance of parent's role in teaching, uniting northern RI communities to leverage fair funding.

 

Local candidates for state offices attended the Woonsocket Candidate Education Forum Monday night at Woonsocket High School hosted by Woonsocket's Parent Advisory Council. 

PAC members Cindy Stepanian and Tony Gabriele organized the event, and were set up with PAC flyers just inside the school entrance greeting people as they showed up.  

Candidates Senator Roger A. Picard, (D-Dist. 20), Senator Marc A. Cote,  (D-Dist. 24), Representative Lisa Baldelli-Hunt (D-Dist. 49) Rep. John D. Brien (D-Dist. 51) Rep. Robert D. Phillips (D-Dist. 51), candidate for Dist. 51 Stephen M. Casey and candidate for Dist. 50 Christopher Roberts attended.  

Candidate for Dist. 49 Michael Moniz did not attend the event. He also did not show up for the Candidate's Night at Chan's Aug. 28.

Superintendent Giovanna Donoyan, the moderator for the evening started off asking each candidate their views on education in Woonsocket. Audio clips of the entire evening are available at Mywoonsocket.com's "In Their Own Words" section. Candidate responses to Donoyan's opening question, taken from those recordings with Mywoonsocket.com's permission, are printed below:

"I'm quite surprised that this auditorium is not full tonight," Casey said, "I think that that presents one of the problems we're having here in Woonsocket given the nature of what's going on within our city and the nature of what's happening within the school department. I think we have a little bit of a state of apathy in Woonsocket," he said, adding that people have given up and don't know where to turn.

Casey said he would fight for more education aid for the city, and the city should prepare children for opportunities for higher education that the state's national representatives are working to provide. "I think it's our responsibility to prepare our children for these opportunities. And I think that some people may feel, residents of the city may feel that the school department is a glorified babysitting situation, and it's not." Rather, he said, it's part of the process of preparing children for a college education, one that depends on parents sending their children to school ready to learn. "They need to be well fed, they need to be able to stay awake in class, and I think a lot of the responsibility should be held to the parents." Also, he said, "Children need to be ready to go to school. They need to be taught every day that they have an opportunity and they will have an opportunity and they need to have hope."

Donoyan asked Phillips the same question. 

Phillips said teachers, paraprofessionals and administrators that are trying to teach to constantly shifting rules. "The teachers and the paraprofessionals have to keep adapting to new standards," he said.

Phillips said he agreed that education starts at home. "I think a lot of this starts with the family unit." He said that in many homes in the city, children start at a disadvantage. "They don't have a secure home that they can call, and say that they have, a very friendly learning environment. And that's what we need to stress to whichever parent or parents are there, is that they need to nurture their kids themselves and not leave it up to the teachers. The teachers are doing their job, we need everybody to equally take their part, and learn and teach the kids themselves," Phillips said.

Roberts, a current member of the Woonsocket School Committee, also took the question. He said it's important to make sure Woonsocket kids get the same access to education as those in suburban communities. He noted pencils are a big budget item for Woonsocket schools, while Barrington schools are budgeting for Ipads for their students. Making he state funding formula fair is one of his goals, he said, as is taking a look at unfunded mandates, including special education, which drains the school system's ability to serve gifted students. "Honors and AP classes will always get the ax, before special ed, because it's protected, so there needs to be a way to strike a better balance here, Roberts said.

Roberts also noted the importance of parents' role in education. "If you can't get your kid to school, or the kid misses 80 days, there needs to be a punishment."

Regarding new standards, Roberts said he favors the new Common Core standards. "I think the challenge is not that we're doing new standards, it's that the funding is not there to support the teachers in accomplishing that."

Donoyan asked Baldelli-Hunt what her plans are to make the state's funding formula more equitable for the city. Baldelli-Hunt said she is working to organize northern RI legislators to demand the formula be fully funded. "Most of the municipalities that are struggling and on the brink of bankruptcy across the state are also municipalities that are under-funded," she said.

Baldelli-Hunt said a united Northern RI delegation could ask for full funding of the state formula in exchange for their support during the vote for leadership of the General Assembly. "If we come together prior to January when we have a vote for leadership in the state of RI, and we go united as a group..." she said, they can win full funding for underfunded cities and towns. 

Baldelli-Hunt also suggested finding a way to turn Barry Field into a revenue generator to fuel sports and music programs continually in jeopardy of being cut during lean times. 

Donoyan directed the same questions (views on education and the funding formula) to Brien. 

"I agree that there has been somewhat of a devolved sense of the importance of education," Brien said, "It really does begin at home, that's true."

Brien said there's been a growing divide between the urban and suburban communities in the General Assembly, with the urban areas on the losing end.

However, he said, just advancing state aid as the formula requires won't fix everything. "We're still stuck with the same problems," Brien said, "We need to change the formula to help a district like Wooonsocket that has substantial challenges with special education, with a large, advanced number of free breakfast, free lunch programs and also with federal housing that doesn't count as Section 8 when it comes to the calculation of the funds going into the school district."

You need to look at the formula as a whole and say how can you fix the formula for the urbans, even though you know that the suburbans are going to put up a fight over this. But that's when you form partnerships like Rep. Baldelli-Hunt has said."

Roberts and Phillips also debated during an Oct. 16 event sponsored by MyWoonsocket.com and WNRI. Audio of that evening is posted on MyWoonsocket.com as well.
  

Elaine Cloutier October 19, 2012 at 04:18 PM
What do other northern RI communities want to partner with Woonsocket for? Ms. Baldelli-Hunt has a good idea, she's just looking for help from the wrong people. Woonsocket will have to partner with other urban areas like Providence, Pawtucket, Central Falls, East Providence and West Warwick, these communities also lost funding from the formula that she and Mr. Brien helped pass. Communities like Cumberland, North Smithfield, Smithfield, Burrillville and Lincoln have no incentive to help Woonsocket. And why would anyone partner with her, her last minute wheeling and dealing the last day of the General Assembly session earned her a long list of enemies and I can't see her organizing any support.
Memere October 19, 2012 at 07:08 PM
My question to Mr. Brien and Ms. Baldelli-Hunt is you both have been in office for quite some time, why have you not done more to help our city schools? You both have made wonderful campaign promises in the past (as you are making now) yet our school department continues to be underfunded. The education of our children should be our most important priority. Our children are our future. I do not believe that you have done enough to obtain the funds needed to educate our children despite many, many campaign promises. I believe that the people of Woonsocket should take your current campaign promises with a grain of salt. I think it is definitely time to elect new people to fill your positions.
Doctor October 19, 2012 at 08:03 PM
This should be the year for write in of new blood.
John October 19, 2012 at 08:12 PM
Well said Memere. I'm glad someone is paying attention!!
Steve October 19, 2012 at 09:31 PM
Well Memere, do we have a funding problem or a spending problem? Good question huh? If we have a school system that constantly runs over their budget by millions of dollars, knowing full well what their yearly allocated dollars are, where does the problem lie? When you have one special education student that enters the school system, and that school system has to go out and hire one unique teacher to meet that student's needs, where does the problem lie? When you're sending 10 + students to a "Special Ed" facility in Bellingham (the Paul J. Primavera school) to the tune of 30+ thousand dollars (over 300,000 dollars annually) a year, all on the backs of the tax payers, where does the problem lie? We've all heard that the school system is underfunded, but the state doesn't budge, the school system doesn't budge, the only people that budge are the tax payers of Woonsocket, and we have no choice in the matter! If you think this is getting any better, wait until the beginning of next year when 10 + million in up front "State" cash is due, and the school system runs out of cash again! Honestly, I'm sick and tired of hearing this same old song, same old tune, same old result. We need change from the top down, and that includes everyone in the GA, WED and School Committee so we can get this city back on track. This school system will bankrupt this city! Tax payers of Woonsocket, get ready, because you ain't seen nothing yet!
DR October 20, 2012 at 12:20 AM
Elaine,Memere,Doctor and John tell me something.If people in Woonsocket are so concerned about education and funding of education why were there only about 30 people in attendance? 42000 people in Woonsocket and more people setting up for the event than in attendance.People in Woonsocket deserve a few supplemental tax bills to wake-up the taxes must be too low.
David T October 20, 2012 at 12:43 AM
Thank you Memere. I couldn't have said it better myself.
Wu Sao October 20, 2012 at 11:55 AM
Memere is absolutely correct! The only time you ever hear about "their" plan to help the WED is an election year. On Nov 7th, it'll be back on the shoulders of the city council, the Mayor, the school committee and now, thanks to our RI leadership, the budget commission. As "Doctor" said, time for new blood.
DLB October 20, 2012 at 12:45 PM
Could someone tell me where this forum was advertised ? I would have loved to attend, had I known about it. If I missed the memo, I'm sure others did as well. This could have been a very informative meeting for many residents. Looking at the photos, I know many parents and teachers of involved students who would have been there, had they known. Good communication seems to have been the key here. Not apathy !
DR October 21, 2012 at 12:01 AM
Steve,you are correct. Taxpayers can't keep trowing more money into a bottomless pit. Many people on this site think more money(as long as it isn't their own) will solve the problem-very sad.
David T October 21, 2012 at 02:25 AM
The city will contribute about $12.9 million on education this year. That's 18% of the total costs. The state will contribute $46.7 million or 66% of the total. The feds pay about 16%. Our city government is basically on welfare folks. The city doesn't spend much on education. Taxpayers from across the state and country pay the lion share of our education costs. For me, I would characterize our problem as having multiple causes including REVENUE and COST. This is a small city with a small tax base (REVENUE) comprised mostly of moderate to low income residents (REVENUE/COST). We have an inordinate number of children whose educational costs are extraordinary (COST), like so many urban districts. Non urban schools and parochial schools simply don't have the same costs that we have and they don't have nearly as many special needs students or in the case of parochials, don't have to accept them. All the incumbent politicians at this forum made many promises to work hard to get more funding. My question is, where have they been for the last six years on this issue??? They have all let us down regarding education. The goals of all of our elected officials, at least until the city can pay most of the education cost, should be; creating more revenue, lowering the costs by (a)giving us breaks from some mandates and (b)changing the ratio of low income in the city and getting more state funding. So far, they have failed miserably, and yes it's time for a change.
Pitlover October 21, 2012 at 12:21 PM
Right on David T.
DR October 21, 2012 at 01:52 PM
David,you just don't get it-Less is More. Does Rhode Island need over 30 school districts for its population with over 30 superintendents,curriculum coordinators,principals,finance personal,legal services, etc.? The State and Feds run the show so there is no need for all the districts and duplication. With the technology today students and teachers using Ipads would be more competitive instead of wasting money on duplication.
David T October 21, 2012 at 03:24 PM
I learned about it by attending the first PAC meeting in September. As I understand, the forum date was mostly spread by the PTA/PTOs of all the schools via emails and flyers in the schools. The PAC Co-Chairs were also on WNRI to promote it. School Committee member Ellie Nadeau mentioned it on the Jon Dionne show. I don't know if it was ever advertised in the newspaper. I know that some people in my area knew about the forum but couldn't attend due to other obligations. I think there was a Council meeting that night too. I'd like to think that the low turn out was due to not getting enough promotion rather than apathy. I think there's a lot of apathy regarding the public schools but don't know if this is the reason for the low turnout. In the end, it was a very low, very disappointing turnout. I know that very few people attend PAC meetings, PTA meetings, Schools committee meetings and council meetings in this city of 42,000. The Chan's Candidates Forum was in a smaller room but probably had less than 100 people in attendance. Fact: There are about 6000 children in the schools. That means there are probably about 2500 households with kids in the schools and when you factor in the single parent households, even fewer people who are directly connected to the schools. Why aren't more people attending theses meetings and forums??? DLB, are you connected to the schools in anyway, as a parent of a current student?
David T October 23, 2012 at 12:13 AM
iPads in Woonsocket? That idea is so crazy, it just might work DR! Thanks for showing me the light!

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