[my letter published on Ot. 11, 2012 in Newport Daily News]
Discussions are underway regarding financing the renovation/construction of school buildings across the state. Certainly emergency measures related to health issues demand immediate attention. However, in attempting to solve immediate problems, the state must not lose sight of the big picture, the quality of education, something seriously affected by decreasing enrollments within existing facilities.
Unfortunately, the focus on renovation/construction can be misplaced when education itself should be the primary concern.
In short, this letter advocates for the restoration of financial incentives for school district regionalization, a giant step to comprehensively address both education and the economy in Newport County.
Prior to the ballot question on school regionalization in 2012 - approved by Newport voters but defeated by Middletown voters - local districts explored the potential educational and financial benefits. There is reason to believe that the measure would have been approved by the latter if the financial incentives had not been discontinued.
Meanwhile, the financial costs of education have substantially increased, and the educational opportunities for students have continued to decrease in contrast with the historical record when the enrollments of the individual districts supported broader and deeper options for all the students.
Simply, current enrollments of 600-650 at local high schools do not allow the same opportunities as enrollments of 1,250, but the combination of the two could restore an educational program that would benefit not only the academically-oriented student - who gets the most attention now - but also the hands-on student who needs exposure to the possibilities in the service industries, an area where all will suffer as the current crop of tradesmen nears retirement.
Who will fix the cars, build and wire the houses, install the plumbing, repair the pipes, and do all the other necessary jobs that students are no longer being prepared to do well? The basic hands-on experiences students need to interest them in the trades or to encourage decisions to attend the career & technical schools are no longer offered to them. Consequently, even many of the programs at the Newport Area Career & Technical School have been eliminated for lack of interest.
Enrollment is the problem, and regionalization is the answer although common sense and logic are not enough when people resist change. If this state truly wants to promote job preparation for workers across the entire economy, it must do more than ask for funds to fix buildings. Education is much more than buildings.
The state must restore financial incentives leading to the lower costs of regionalization, something validated in the recent analysis of the Newport County Regional Special Education Program showing cost savings for shared services.