2015-04-16 / Opinion

A Practical Proposal


After another three-hour Newport School Committee meeting on April 14, the time has come to consider twice-monthly meetings for this important city board.

The committee considers too many issues that are vital to the wellbeing of every Newport citizen for the panel to be deciding weighty matters once a month as the clock moves closer to 11 p.m.

The problem: The first hour or so of these monthly meetings is dedicated to student recognition matters and minor committee business. We don’t say that to diminish the importance of recognizing students across the city who’ve accomplished great things at school. The fact that we have students whose effort stands out should always be heralded.

But that also means that significant business matters concerning the operation of Newport schools, such as the current budget deficit, linger on the sidelines until 8 p.m. or later.

The news emerging from the April 14 session was of great importance— the committee learned that the 2014-2015 deficit has grown from $1.15 million in February to $1.42 million just two months later. That’s nearly $300,000 in a short time—no small thing in a city of Newport’s size.

The two biggest culprits? The same problems that are afoot in many other municipalities—retiree benefits and a medical buyback program.

One result of the burgeoning deficit could be to derail hopes to turn the vacant Triplett School on Broadway into an early-learning center for the city’s younger children.

By the time the committee voted 5-2 to postpone until May 12 a decision on whether to relinquish Triplett and earmark its capital account for deficit reduction, the time was 10:15 p.m.

For some people, the night is still young at 10:15 p.m. However, for most adults who have worked all day and probably hurried through supper, this is way out of line.

Let us propose an alternative.

The Newport School Committee should meet twice each month. One of those meetings can be used to recognize student accomplishments and consider less formal committee matters. If current circumstances prevail, that should take perhaps an hour. The second meeting would be devoted strictly to business.

It's worth noting that the MIddletown School Committee also meets once monthly. Let’s make these meetings more productive, and hopefully more civilized, by bifurcating the proceedings.

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