Why I am Voting No

Submitted by Anthony Clancy for use by Stop This Plan

I’m not a member of the council but I do have two kids in SK schools and one who is soon to start. I have also been a professional educator for going on 20 years. My work as an educator has focused on special education program development and implementation. Growing up with an IEP myself and then as the parent of a child with an IEP it has felt natural to spend my energies there. I have signed into IEP meetings as a Student, Parent, Regular Educator, Special Educator, Principal and Special Education Administrator.

I have held building and district administrative credentials for 13 years in multiple states during which time I have had the opportunity to lead a total of 14 schools and as many as 11 schools, encompassing grades K-12, simultaneously. It has been my further good fortune to lead teams of professionals consulting with school districts in 15 states to build highly specialized education programs. I have also been responsible for rehabbing two early 1950s school buildings into modernized learning centers over the years.

After much reading of meeting minutes and plans and budgets, watching zoom meeting videos, talking with my neighbors and carefully considering all the information I could find (to the point my wife worried I was becoming obsessed) ,

I plan to vote to REJECT this bond.

This will be the first time in my life I have voted against a bond referendum to support public education, an environmental cause, or public parks. I sincerely hope it will also be the last. Our TC President made, I think, the strongest possible case for approving the bond. But the preponderance of reasoning he presented spoke primarily to why now would be the best time to move forward with a bond not why THIS plan is the right plan to proceed upon. I agree: it is past time to invest in our schools. The fact, as cited by our TC President, that over 76% of SK’s voters supported the recent statewide bond initiative should be all the evidence anyone needs that the people of this town are overwhelmingly in support of well-funded public education. The problem is absolutely not the price tag nor the cause. The only problem is the plan we are being sold.

I wish we had a plan that made sense to me to support so we could take advantage of all of the opportunities this moment presents. I think most of the other people I have spoken to in the community agree. Many of us feel sad and frustrated that after all of this time and energy this is what we have been offered and that the only mechanism left for us to prevent it is to go against our collective grain by ostensibly voting against public school monies. Speaking plainly, this plan seems to have been reverse engineered to achieve a pre-ordained vision of a large, campus-style HS facility with an ultra-modern, show-piece building at its center. Planning for the realization of this pre-fabricated vision was then complicated by an additional artificial constraint once it became clear that closing an elementary school was politically untenable.

Perhaps this is the best possible plan we can afford if we insist on both a campus-style HS and having four k-5 elementary schools operating. Perhaps it isn’t. But why should comprehensive long-term planning be subject to those particular artificial constraints? Shouldn’t building the best most responsible educational facilities we can afford here for this town and its students for years to come be the only goal? As it became increasingly clear that we couldn’t afford the full realization of the campus-style vision on those terms rather than adjust the constraints or alter the vision the evolving plan became to realize as much of the dream-plan as we could scrape together to afford. Now we have a plan that literally everyone agrees will cost more than our existing quotes and will therefore require even more ‘scaling back’ as we work through the building process to even just partially achieve the vision.

We are allowing our reach to exceed our grasp and risking extending ourselves only to come up empty-handed. The best metaphor I can achieve is going to the grocery store with all kinds of fancy recipes in mind and filling up a cart only to discover at checkout you are short. So you start pulling items out based on cost until you get down to what you’ve got only to get home and discover you spent every penny of your food budget but are missing at least one item from each recipe you hoped to create. Sure, you can get creative and whip somethings up not to starve but is that an acceptable alternative to having had an achievable comprehensive plan for a thoughtful series of delicious meals?

In my experience communities (and individuals) are best served when they invest in the most expensive version of a realistic vision they can afford to fully achieve vs the cheapest, most-cut-rate version of a dream-vision they cannot fully afford. The latter path leaves you ‘house-poor’ and inflexible while the former means you can easily augment the plan as new opportunities arise. Furthermore, while we indeed have the opportunity for these matching state funds it is important to remember this is not magical money conjured into being. These are also our dollars and those of our fellow citizens. I no more wish to see our resources as RI taxpayers spent on the wrong plan than I wish to see our resources as a town spent on the wrong plan.

Approving this bond in support of this plan is, heartbreakingly, not a bold stroke towards the sustainable, comprehensive plan our schools clearly need but rather a blank check towards a sad type of limping mediocrity. I wish that was hyperbole but I am merely seconding the sentiments of our TC President when he observes: “For decades, SK has rightly taken immense pride in its school system...but in truth we are no longer in the top-tier.” The quality of our schools were a major factor in my family’s decision to move here. I feel we have seen a precipitous decline out of the top-tier just in my seven years here; the shining exception being the amazing DLI program.

I can’t claim to be a lifelong resident and I’ve never been involved in town politics. I have no “dog” in the fight and no connection to any of the sacred cows. I also am NOT saying anyone involved in this plan acted in anything other than the best of faith. My only priority is educational excellence achieved in a way that practices responsible stewardship of our shared community values and resources. While it may be tiresome and expensive to pursue the right plan for our schools it will pale beside the pain and expense of going further down the wrong path. It’s hard work but it needs to be done because one thing we can all agree is our kids do deserve it.

Submitted by Anthony Clancy for use by Stop This Plan

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