Towns May Get Control Over School Budgets

Here is some good news for school budget hawks: A state senator has proposed a change to teacher negotiations that will give town or city councils a seat at the table in teacher contract negotiations. Below is a press release from the Rhode Island state Senate press office with more information:

As school districts struggle with budget problems, so do the communities in which they are located and the taxpayers of those cities and towns who ultimately pay the bills.

“For all the great work they do, school committees sometimes operate in a vacuum, not directly involved in the overall budgetary concerns of a community and sometimes out of sync with the ability of a community to pay,” said Sen. William A. Walaska (D-Dist. 30, Warwick). “I think it would help, overall, if a member of the city or town council was involved in the one activity that results in the costliest part of any school budget – teacher contracts.”

Senator Walaska has introduced legislation again this year, 2010-S 2733, to put a member of a town or city council at the table when a school committee and teacher union are negotiating a new contract.

The bill is scheduled for a hearing before the Senate Committee on Education on Wednesday, May 12. That hearing will be held in the Senate Lounge at the Rise of the Senate (approximately 5 p.m.).

As proposed by the Walaska bill, one member of a city or town council, selected by the members of that council, would be “a part of any contract negotiations a school committee is involved in, and said council member shall have the right to vote on any such contract to the extent members of the school committee vote thereon.”

Senator Walaska said his proposal is not intended to have a council “meddle in school business, or have a council member trying to make educational policy. Educators, school administrators and school committees have the best expertise to do that.” Instead, he said, it is intended to have a member of the municipal body that ultimately approves a community’s budget be available for input and insight as the school/teacher negotiations are going on.

If communities are going to get a handle on their spending, “there needs to be much more cooperation between the entities in a town or city that spend taxpayer money,” said Senator Walaska. “They all work for the same people – the taxpayers.”

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