2008-05-22 / Front Page

Legislation may zero fund schools

By Rudd Hall

Last Thursday, the House Finance Committee held lengthy testimony on a new piece of legislation, bill H-7957, which seeks to redistribute state school aid for the state's 36 districts, and if passed would result in a complete elimination of aid to Jamestown and eight other districts.

Jamestown Representative Bruce Long attended the hear- ing and vehemently opposed the bill. "This legislation is totally outrageous and unconscionable," said Long. Jamestown already receives the third lowest school aid in the state, he said.

Rep. Edith Ajello, of Providence, and Rep. J. Russell Jackson, of Newport questioned the bill's sponsor and argued the funds appropriated should be proportionate to the "wealth" of the community, and Long agreed. For example, in the 1970s a special education law was passed requiring every school system in the state to develop programs for special needs children, an individual education program, or IEP. "If Jamestown loses all funding and theoretically speaking, coincidentally has an inordinate amount of special needs children, where's the money going to come from?" Long asked.

"We receive $531,908, that's it, that's the total amount of education aid, and if you have say two, three, or four children with special needs the remaining amount must be made up entirely by the Jamestown tax payers," Long said, adding, "This legislation amounts to a state imposed property tax increase on Jamestown, because that's exactly where those dollars will be made up in our local budget."

The bill is based on a proposed formula developed by a joint legislative commission, which argues the formula has worked in the past; factoring in the number of students in the system, and the assessed value of community property. But Long countered, "You can develop any formula

you want. Before 1995 the amount of money each community

got was based on a function of how much money they spent; the more money you put in, the more money you received."

The loss of funds would also hit the school budget hard since many families send their children off the island for schooling, and the state is required to pay for transportation to the schools that fall into their regions. The burden would again be placed on the Jamestown taxpayer, Long said.

In a written statement, Jamestown School Committee Chairwoman Catherine Kaiser said, "While the bill sets goals for state funding of extraordinary education costs, such as out-of-state district busing or special education costs in excess of $32,000, it does not guarantee the funding. In other words, for Jamestown and eight other districts, the only predictable aspect of the formula proposed, is that we will receive no state aid, no guarantee of state funding for expenses and no relief from the statutory (property) tax cap."

Long agreed. "The legislation says we're going to try to fund it, we'll do our best to come up with the money but there's no guarantees, the best we can guarantee is your aid from the state will be zero. They want a predictable formula that will be fair, and the money is just not there, like I said the only thing that is predictable is zero funding," he said.

"The net budgetary result of this legislation will be that twelve school districts will benefit at the expense of twenty-two districts. Every school district deserves a predictable funding formula that is fair and equitable," Long said.

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