Woonsocket school committee asks state to take over their schools

The Woonsocket school committee voted 4-1 to ask Education Commissioner Deborah Gist and the Rhode Island Department of Education for a take over.

The committee says the take over is necessary to help the city emerge from its $10 million deficit.

The letter asking the state to take control is one that none of Woonsocket's School Committee members really wanted to send, but without supplemental tax money coming in to help erase the school department's 8-million dollar deficit, asking the state to come in and take control of the schools, and pay for them, was one of the few options members had left.

Chris Roberts was one of the 4 school committee members who voted in favor of sending the letter to the Rhode Island Department of Education Commissioner, Deborah Gist.

“We're essentially in an 8-million dollar deficit that we can't overcome ourselves and in
 order to make sure that 6,000 kids get everything their suburban peers do, our hand was forced.” said Roberts.

The request is not guaranteed to be granted.

In recent memory the only other school system to be taken over by the state is Central Falls, which, like Woonsocket, is another community with severe financial problems.

Woonsocket Budget Commission Chair Bill Sequino doesn't think the request will be granted.

“I think that the state would rather have the school department run the school department. I don't think that they're in the business of running local school departments, Central Falls not withstanding.”

Woonsocket's  Mayor Leo Fontaine says that even though it's unlikely the state will come in and take over the schools, it's a request worth making.

“It's one of the only other options that we have, so how successful it will be, I'm not very hopeful it goes through, but nonetheless I think it's something we need to pursue.” said Mayor Fontaine.

Vimala Phongsavahn was the only one school committee member who voted against the idea.

She believes that it sends the wrong message, that Woonsocket can't solve its problems on its own.

“I understand the dire situation, I really do, but again, what kind of message is that sending to the community and the rest of the state.”