School Committeewoman Liana Ferreira-Fenton says Middletown schools need to find a new funding source to help give students the necessary supports to move forward to the future.
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NEW LONGTERM FUNDING SOURCE SOUGHT TO ASSIST SCHOOLS
MIDDLETOWN, R.I. (JUNE 29, 2021) – Liana Ferreira-Fenton has been on the Middletown School Committee since 1998.
For most of those years, Ferreira-Fenton said there’s been a need for more funding for the schools than the town can provide through its taxes.
With that in mind, Ferreira-Fenton is asking education officials to work with the Town to investigate creating a new dedicated funding source to make sure the schools have the money they need for the future.
Although nothing was settled during Tuesday’s School Committee online Zoom meeting, Ferreira-Fenton said she’d like to see the schools pursue something similar to the Tax Increment Financing District the Town has in place to pay for improvements to the lower Aquidneck Avenue neighborhood.
How it would work, who would pay and other questions weren’t finalized, but Ferreira-Fenton said she wanted to get the ball rolling sooner than later – for the betterment of Middletown’s schools and its students.
“I do not like all these reductions we’ve been having,” Ferreira-Fenton said. “I understand we have to keep taxes down. That, I agree with. But, I think we have to find another funding stream.”
In communities across the country, the education budget can turn into a source of significant strife.
Typically, the education budget is the largest consumer of each tax dollar. The process to set the budget leaves councils like the seven-member body in Middletown in the unenviable position of setting a bottom-line budget for the schools without having any say on where that money goes.
At the same time, the process can pit the schools – and the future generations of the community – against other departments and needs, whether it’s emergency services, road repairs or seniors without students in the system.
While that acrimony wasn’t present during this budget season in Middletown after a concerted effort by town and school leaders, such infighting has been present during other years.
Looking to remove such stress from the process, Ferreira-Fenton said she’d like to see the council allocate what they could to the schools each budget season. And from there, she said the schools could rely on the funds generated by the TIF or similar account.
Asked what they thought about the concept, everyone on the school board backed the idea. But like everything else, they said the devil was in the details.
And in putting forward the proposal, Ferreira-Fenton and others said the aim wasn’t to criticize the council, which has to consider the needs of the entire community when adopting a budget. Rather, it was to try to find another way to come up with the funding the schools need to make positive steps forward.
“I think the concept is a great idea,” School Committee Chairwoman Theresa Spengler said. “The question is where it going to come from and I think that’s the question of the day.”
“I agree that it’s a good idea,” Vice Chairman Douglas Arnold said. “The key thing is where can it come from.”
“It’s something that should be examined and looked into,” School Committeeman William R. O’Connell said. “I think we’d be foolish not to look into it.”
Christopher Logan, the Town Council liaison to the School Committee, said he was intrigued.
“Lee, I completely agree with you,” Logan said. “I think a TIF is a good idea. We’ll have to explore that obviously with the Town Administrator. The question would be revenue funding sources for that, but again, that’s details we can get to the bottom of…I think we’re setting ourselves up to think differently about how we fund these future endeavors.”
“If not, this is how it’s going to be year after year after year,” Ferreira-Fenton said. “I want a solution so that our educational budget will have close to the 4 percent…If they can do it in business, we can do it in education.”