First and foremost, the district now should have enough revenue to run the schools for the next five years (with or without a solution to the root cause of the problem with school finance at the state level). So, execute. Give teachers that raise. Hire more special ed teachers. Expand Career and Technology programs. Increase security. Do all the things the district said were needed. That's the obvious takeaway. But we now ought to be able to turn our attention to other matters that might have been overlooked while we were focused on solving our local funding problems. I have a few suggestions, some easy, some hard.
- November elections: Let's start with an easy one to implement. In 2016, the RISD bond election passed with a 2:1 margin. It seemed like the community was broadly on board with the RISD's roadmap. But that 2016 bond election was held in a local, non-partisan May election, when the electorate is smaller, presumably more tuned in to what's happening in public schools, and has self interest in getting "stuff" for their children's schools. The 2018 TRE election was held in the heat of a partisan national and state election, with eight times as many voters taking part, many of whom don't pay any attention to their local schools beyond wincing at their annual property tax bill. The 2018 electorate is probably a better reflection of how much the community as a whole is really on board than the 2016 election was. The RISD should consider moving all elections to the November general election, despite its partisan nature. Win the more difficult, larger electorate and you can better justify claiming a mandate for strategic plans.
- Community outreach: The 53-47% split in support for the TRE means community outreach needs to continue and strengthen. Those strategy planning teams that were put together in 2017 need to be institutionalized and made a permanent part of how RISD solicits community input. Not everyone can volunteer for regular participation in strategic planning teams, so town halls should be a regular occurrence. Alternatively, or maybe in addition to, the unsatisfying 3-minute open mic section of board meetings should be reformulated to allow for more back-and-forth dialog. (The TOMA would need to be finessed somehow to keep within legal requirements, but I'm sure something can be worked out.) In all such outreach, ways need to be found that community input is both heard and acted on. This can't just be a way to let the community blow off steam. It needs to be a way to draw on the talents of the community to find and implement solutions.
- Representation: The board of trustees needs to settle the David Tyson lawsuit, not fight it. Adopting single-member districts could very well introduce geographical turf wars and dissension into an efficiently running operation, but let's face it. The current system of electing trustees has largely failed in getting a board of trustees with anything like the diversity of the schools in the district. Change is needed. The sooner we try something different, the sooner we'll figure out what works.
- Segregation: It's the elephant in the room since the 1970s. The problem didn't go away just because the US Department of Justice released the RISD from court supervision. The RISD's introduction of the Accelerating Campus Excellence (ACE) program at four RISD schools is a welcome attempt at overcoming the negative effects of racial and socio-economic segregation, but it's also a way of avoiding doing something to increase integration, which has been shown to have a greater impact on escaping poverty than just improving schools in poor neighborhoods. Redrawing elementary school boundaries, more magnet schools and other school choice options, free busing to eliminate affordability issues for families, all should be on the table in community discussions. That leads to another issue that might be at odds with solutions to the segregation problem...
- Neighborhood schools: RISD says it's proud of its commitment to neighborhood schools. But how deep is that commitment, really? RISD's magnet schools work to draw students away from their neighborhood schools. The magnet schools might be diverse, but is it at the expense of making the abandoned neighborhood school less diverse? I don't know how to simultaneously strengthen neighborhood schools and increase integration, but I do know that it's a problem that needs more discussion, not less.
I'm sure there are other issues that escape me just now, but this list should be enough to keep the RISD board of trustees and the whole community busy for the next five years, don't you think?