In the first issue-related release of her campaign for mayor, Republican candidate Sue Stenhouse expressed her concern over funding of Warwick schools saying, “I find it extremely disheartening that funding the city’s educational system has become a political football and our elected officials are posturing, rather than engaging, in meaningful dialogue towards a solution.”
Stenhouse, who served as the Ward 1 councilwoman from 2000 to 2007 and went on to run an unsuccessful campaign for Secretary of State, also took a swipe at Mayor Joseph Solomon, a Democrat, who stepped into the post when Mayor Scott Avedisian resigned in May to accept the president and CEO post at the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority. Solomon faces a four-way primary this September as the party’s nominee.
“For someone who continuously talks about his experience with scrutinizing city budgets for the past 18 years and with four intervals as council president, I am hard-pressed to understand why acting Mayor Solomon did not engage in discussions with the school department prior to, and throughout, the budget hearings,” Stenhouse said in a release.
“The acting mayor was surely aware of the timely fiscal impact statements presented by the school department regarding the WTU and the WISE contracts. Surely the acting mayor must have been aware – or should have been – of the school department’s appropriation in the proposed budget. Yet he did nothing to address the issue,” she continued. “It wasn’t until the school department released its list of proposed cuts and public pressure and bad press continued to mount that he decided to engage. However, the acting mayor’s ‘solution’ of providing a ‘one-time’ $1.75 million appropriation on the city-side of the budget to pay a portion of the school debt does little more than kick the can down the road. It is a stop-gap measure that will place the school department in the same hole – except with more to fill in FY20 – and it does not necessarily ‘save’ the hot-button programs the school committee found necessary to cut.”
Stenhouse will formally launch her campaign this evening at a fundraiser at Chelo’s restaurant on Post Road. She said as a candidate for mayor her priority would be to engage in open dialogue with the School Committee “to find a reasonable, sustainable long-term funding plan for our schools.” She also said she would “work in a steadfast manner to repair the relationship between the City Council and the school committee so productive and relevant discussion can improve multiple issues throughout the year.”
If elected, she said she would call for a summit with the goal of long-range solutions. Members will include concerned parties such as the City Council, school administration, teachers, the school committee, RIDE and state representatives.
As for the current situation that finds the school department $4.85 million shy of meeting its budget, if the committee accepts the $1.75 million Stenhouse said she believes the city should foot the $1.75 million in school bond principal and interest costs this year and going forward.
“I also believe there may be more opportunities for additional school funding with the sale of the retired school properties, among others. There has been no progress in liquidating these assets. The city needs to aggressively promote these properties while the real estate market is favorable. I will propose discussing a shared benefit from the sale of these properties between the city and the school department,” she said. “After all, they were originally intended to be utilized for educational purposes.”
Asked how she would deal with the current situation, Stenhouse said had she been mayor she would not have agreed to put an additional $4 million into repaving roads as the council did.
She urged for a compromise, saying a suit by the School Committee would be a “waste of money.” As a last option, she said she would dip into city reserves.
“Our educational system is the cornerstone of the city’s neighborhood and economic development efforts. It must inspire confidence in local businesses that employees will invest and settle in nearby neighborhoods to raise their families. We need leadership and vision. I do not see any of that in the acting mayor’s recent ‘solution’ to the fiscal dilemma with the school department in Warwick,” reads the release.
Solomon could not be reached for comment Monday.