Valley Breeze

The Valley Breeze Pawtucket 05-15-2019

The Valley Breeze Newspapers serving the Northern Rhode Island towns of Cumberland, Lincoln, Woonsocket, Smithfield, North Smithfield, Pawtucket, North Providence, Scituate, Foster, and Glocester

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16 OPINION MAY 15-21, 2019 | VALLEY BREEZE | PAWTUCKET EDITION So few educational sys- tems teach the Classics nowadays that it is some- what daunting to quote Virgil's Aeneid, Book 2, 19 B.C., lest people misun- derstand: "Do not trust the Horse, Trojans. Whatever it is, I fear the Greeks even when they bring gifts." No lesser luminary than Sophocles (495-406 B.C.) reiterated the same senti- ment. No, it is not a "diss" on Greeks; rather it was a historic reference to the wooden horse of Troy used by the Greeks to trick their way into the city and to wipe out their opposition. The idiom came to mind when I read about the edu- cational "reforms" put forth by the General Assembly in the waning days of the legislative session. Citing it as a "game-changer," the pronouncement by politi- cal officials doesn't make it so. The principal and the "school improvement team" (GLRI16-53.1-2), which has been around since 2014, will now make the hir- ing decisions. Given the existence of the "team" for about five years, and the dismal test scores in some communities, one has to wonder about the efficacy of this input. Can you see more dues-paying union members being hired to swell the ranks? While legislators and the National Education Association of R.I. (NEARI) union's educa- tional leaders compare the "reform" to Massachusetts, they are leaving out the heart of Massachusetts reform, i.e. teacher evalua- tions tied to the high-stakes testing. Without these components, taxpayers may very well continue to throw money at the state's educational morass. Already, the executive director of NEARI has tied the poor performance of students to a gap of pay of $14,000. This was the same claim he made on Lively Experiment when he and I were both panelists. Noting the higher cost of living in Massachusetts I challenged his figures. He cited a study that I asked he send me. I am still waiting for it. Nonetheless, other stud- ies like the one from the R.I. Center for Freedom and Prosperity noted that teacher salaries were about $6,000 less in Massachusetts while the Rhode Island teacher average was about $11,000 more than he cited. After being rebuffed on the facts, the executive direc- tor diverted attention from the educational deficien- cies by producing a video claiming mental health issues and student hunger as a basis for poor perfor- mance. While, no doubt, that is a factor, when the Massachusetts scores were compared to Rhode Island's performance it was an apples-to-apples comparison with poverty districts in the Bay State being compared to low-income-area schools here. It's always disconcerting when the "reform" com- mences amidst a flurry of excuses before any- thing begins. Time will tell whether the General Assembly just handed off another sop to unions as it did earlier by extend- ing teacher contracts and lowering the threshold for overtime for firefight- ers or whether the solons on Smith Hill are serious. Right now, it is just as like- ly that a bonanza has been handed to union-building. Some might read this column as an indictment of teachers. It is not. Their own unions handcuff them, although they should get some guts and chal- lenge the status quo. The Leadership of NEARI has been an obstacle and their preemptory excuses they are bandying about bode poorly for students. If they want any credibility, they should stop the public rela- tions campaign and get to work! Violet is an attorney and for- mer state attorney general. Claiming 'reform' doesn't make it so Cumberland fixed lunch woes without Hollywood's advice Four years ago, Phil Thornton left as Cumberland's superintendent of schools for greener pas- tures in Warwick. I wonder if he wishes he was back here, following last week's national backlash against "lunch shaming," where in Warwick the School Committee had the audacity to ask parents to actually pay for their kids' school lunches. Warwick, it seems, had a shortfall of $77,000 in unpaid lunch bills, costs that would eventually have to be passed on to local taxpayers. Cumberland went through the same angst only two months ago, and mercifully, national media and busybody Hollywood types didn't pick up on it. The much smaller town of Cumberland had more than $50,000 in lunch debt when we first reported on the problem March 7. At the time, School Committee member Mark Fiorello told fellow committee members that some in the community had the resources, but simply didn't want to pay for lunch. Ethan Shorey reported: Fiorello told colleagues that this trend isn't about "people struggling financially," though there is some of that, but about a segment of the population that doesn't believe they should have to pay for their children's lunch. Some of the biggest offend- ers, said Fiorillo at the Feb. 28 meeting, are in the most affluent sections of town. These parents are posting on Facebook stating that they're not paying their lunch bill balance "just because they don't feel like paying for meals." We also reported a week later that one mother placed some of the blame on the School Department, in that her son was allowed to charge for junk food – as much as $6 or $7 per day – well beyond his necessary school lunch. She asked that it be stopped. The lunch pro- vider, Sodexo, claimed they did stop it, but her son kept on using his card for junk food. Only by stopping pay- ment could the card be shut off. While the debt grew, she explained to us that she fully intended to pay her bill, as she always had. As you can see, this is pretty complicated. It's not about children from poorer families, who still get free and reduced cost lunches. Hollywood's "lunch-shaming" and uninformed dunces like Michael Moore and Alec Baldwin need not apply. As for Chobani, the yogurt maker who couldn't resist a publicity stunt and donated $40,000 to the town to pay off the lunch debt, thanks for giving a big win to those who refuse to pay, or kids who refuse to slow down their eat- ing. (And then, of course, we have last month's childhood obesity stories, right on cue.) Cumberland has now revised its program with a new lunch policy that shuts off accounts if they get to $50 in arrears, and a lunch switch to nut butter or cheese sand- wiches when that happens. Hollywood stars are advised to butt out. That's awkward! Well, that's awkward! As police in nearby Blackstone, patrol their community, they get constant reminders that many in town are not on their side in a tussle with longtime Police Chief Ross Atstupenas, who has been placed on administrative leave by Town Administrator Daniel Keyes. Reasons for the Atstupenas suspension have not been made pub- lic, but last week residents turned out in droves to a Town Council meeting look- ing for answers, but none were offered. The police officers' union in town has made it clear: A vote of no confidence they took last July still stands, according to Patrolman David Laudon, union president. Still, those same officers have to patrol a town with scores, if not hundreds, of yard signs that tell of residents' support for the chief. Ward is publisher of The Valley Breeze From the Publisher TOM WARD Poli-Ticks ARLENE VIOLET ABOUT US The Valley Breeze Newspapers are a locally owned and operated group of free weekly newspa- pers serving the people of Cumberland, Lincoln, North Smithfield, Woonsocket, Smithfield, Scituate, Foster, Glocester, North Providence, Pawtucket, R.I., and Blackstone, Mass. Each Thursday, 58,500+ copies are distributed to retailers, banks, offices, and restaurants and other busy spots. Circulation is audited by the Circulation Verification Council of St. Louis, Mo. and has earned its "Gold Standard Award." OUR MISSION It is the Mission of The Valley Breeze to facilitate a positive sense of community among the res- idents of Northern Rhode Island by providing a forum for the free exchange of ideas, and to provide information of local events and neighbors. It is our further Mission to provide the highest quality advertising at the lowest possible cost to retailers, professionals, tradespersons, and other service providers in order to enhance the economic well-being of our community. Thomas V. Ward, Publisher James Quinn, Deputy Publisher Ethan Shorey, Managing Editor Barbara Phinney, Controller Volume X, Number 39 May 15, 2019 @ Breeze THE VALLEY

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