Portsmouth High School to call in drug sniffing dogs

In an email dropped on a Friday afternoon during school break, buried in the fifth paragraph of what starts as an innocuous and boring memo, PHS principal Joseph Amaral announced the school would be "coordinating with the Portsmouth Police Department and other local police departments, including K-9 units, to sweep the high school to make sure that marijuana/or controlled substances are not present on campus."

While the goal of maintaining a drug-free school may be laudable, I have concerns about turning our educational institution into a space patrolled by multiple police forces and K-9 units. It seems disruptive and not conducive to the environment of collaboration and trust that our Portsmouth PD had worked so hard to achieve. I can accept the notion of a school resource officer, but this feels like it goes way beyond that.

A message from PORTSMOUTH HIGH SCHOOL

Dear Parents/Guardians and Students:

Portsmouth High School consists of a community of learners who attain 21st century skills and prepare for career and college. We have the fastest growing number of students who select rigorous Advanced Placement courses while also balancing the whole student by offering a plethora of athletic and club activities for students to explore. Our students are well served with a dedicated faculty who continue their professional development in numerous curriculum areas throughout the school year as well as in the summer.

Several members of our faculty have spent time engaging in profession
A message from PORTSMOUTH HIGH SCHOOL [Repitition in original -- Editor]

Dear Parents/Guardians and Students:

Portsmouth High School consists of a community of learners who attain 21st century skills and prepare for career and college. We have the fastest growing number of students who select rigorous Advanced Placement courses while also balancing the whole student by offering a plethora of athletic and club activities for students to explore. Our students are well served with a dedicated faculty who continue their professional development in numerous curriculum areas throughout the school year as well as in the summer.

Several members of our faculty have spent time engaging in professional development with students as part of Patriots Committed. This group of students and adults provide chemical free activities and ongoing substance abuse prevention and health information to our students and community in hopes of students gaining optimal performance in all that they do. Our school continues to implement a positive behavior intervention program called MTSS (Multi-Tiered Systems of Support). Our MTSS committee has organized several programs to reward students for making good choices that contribute to a positive learning community. “Pride Bucks” have been implemented as recognition, by their teachers, for students demonstrating these behaviors. Teachers also recommend students as “Students of the Month” to the Principal for a celebratory breakfast. We continue to reflect and revamp our discipline code to support a balanced approach to respect and appropriate behavior.

As you may know, we have invited many organizations and groups to provide knowledge and guidance to our students on how to be safe and drug free. The State Attorney General’s program has come to our school to share with students real life stories and how we can help those who are afflicted with drug abuse. In addition, we recently hosted the F.A.C.T. program (Fostering Alternative Choices & Thinking) through the Department of Corrections for all of the Freshmen and Sophomore students in an effort to help them reflect about the best choices for themselves and how substance use/abuse will impact their life choices. We have also held assemblies and events to give students the tools to prevent bullying and intolerant behavior. This effort requires the support of the entire community including parents, teachers and students.

We are concerned with the proliferation of illegal substances, such as marijuana and other controlled substances among young people. In order to maintain a substance-free high school, we are coordinating with the Portsmouth Police Department and other local police departments, including K-9 units, to sweep the high school to make sure that marijuana/or controlled substances are not present on campus. These fully trained K-9 units will be used to do periodic searches throughout the remainder of the school year. K-9 units will not engage with students.

Finally, if you have concerns about your child regarding substance abuse, our Student Assistance Counselor, Kelly O’Loughlin, is available to provide additional support options. Her email contact information is oloughlink@portsmouthschoolsri.org . Working together we can make PHS an even better learning community.

Sincerely,

Joseph N. Amaral
Principal - Portsmouth High School

My testimony against Rep. Mendonca's sub-minimum wage bill

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What it looks like when I testify. Photo courtesy Sen. Jeanine Calkin

Just got back from the State House where I testified before the House Labor Committee on Rep. Ken Mendonca's bill H5594 which would freeze the minimum wage for those under 20 at $9.65/hr, no matter what the general assembly does this session. He complained that people were "lighting up his twitter feed," so if any of his Portsmouth constituents are inclined to tweet at @ElectKenRI and provide feedback, you definitely should.

Here's what I said to the committee this evening:

Chair Craven, members of the committee. I’m John McDaid, a retired parent of a 17-year-old from Portsmouth. I’ve worked since I was my son’s age, and a fair minimum wage is important to me and my neighbors in Island Park, an area that committee member Jay Edwards represents.

I speak in opposition to H5594, which would limit employees under 20 years of age to the current minimum wage, no matter what increases other workers receive. This is grossly unfair. I believe in equal pay for equal work. If a 19-year-old is doing the same work as someone just a year older, they deserve to be paid the same rate. I oppose H6052 for similar reasons. The narrow purpose these bills is to deny equal compensation based solely on age. If the general assembly decides to raise the minimum wage, why would it not extend young Rhode Islanders equal protection?

Representative Mendonca’s concern trolling about the impact on jobs is disingenuous. Anyone who has studied the data should know the correlation between minimum wage increases and job loss is tenuous and inconclusive. Included in my written testimony is a study conducted by the National Employment Law Project analyzing 75 years worth of data. Quote: “basic economic indicators show no correlation between federal minimum-wage increases and lower employment levels, even in the industries that are most impacted by higher minimum wages.” I urge the committee to consider all the facts.

As a semi-senior-citizen, I also urge the committee to consider the impact on older workers. This bill tacitly encourages age discrimination. If employers are as motivated by the bottom line as Rep. Mendonca suggests, why wouldn’t they always choose younger workers to get a lower rate?

And as a parent of a child approaching college age, I can tell you I want my kid to get every penny he deserves at his jobs. This committee understands paying for college is no picnic. I want any member of the general assembly who supports for this bill to look my son in the eye and tell him “An hour of your life is worth less than an hour of mine. And I think that is fair.” If this bill passes out of committee, I promise to bring him back and introduce him to you all so you can tell him that personally.

Honestly, I am ashamed that a representative from Portsmouth sponsored this bill, and I urge this committee to treat it with the contempt it deserves. As my 17-year-old would say, “kill it with fire.”

References
National Employment Law Project Summary
National Employment Law ProjectFull report (pdf)

Rep. Canario announces State House joins Hasbro ‘Good Night Lights’ tomorrow

canario.jpgRep. Dennis M. Canario (D-71, Portsmouth, Little Compton, Tiverton) is pleased to announce that the Rhode Island State House will be participating in the “Good Night Lights” program this Wednesday night through Friday night. The program involves businesses, buildings, and groups within the sightline of Hasbro Children’s Hospital whom blink their lights on and off for one minute at 8:30 p.m. every night. Often, blinking room lights can be seen in the hospital as reciprocation to the nightly ritual.

“This is truly a heartwarming gesture that so many have become involved in over the past year and I would like to thank Governor Raimondo and her administration for allowing the State House to hopefully brighten the spirits of the children in Hasbro,” said Rep. Canario.

Representative Canario had written to Governor Raimondo and the Department of Administration about the possibility of the State House joining the other buildings, businesses, and groups who are in view of Hasbro Children’s Hospital and participate in the nightly gesture to the children residing in the hospital. The Department of Administration informed Representative Canario that the State House will be flashing its lights at the children in the hospital for three nights starting tomorrow, April 12.

Editorial note: Written from a news release.

John McDaid featured at Sandywoods April 25

I'll be doing the feature performance at the Sandywoods Center for the Arts in Tiverton, RI, on Tuesday, April 25 at the open mic hosted by Gary Fish. My 40-minute set starts at 8pm (doors open at 7). No cover, BYOB/BYOF (pass the hat). And here's a new song I'll be doing that I wrote for the Rhode Island Songwriters Association (RISA) Songwriters in the Round. It's called (Time to) Face Facts, And it doesn't even invoke Kellyanne Conway (until the fourth verse...) Enjoy!

AIPC legislative forum rescheduled for April 27

Screen Shot 2016-09-12 at 12.27.46 PM.pngThe Aquidneck Island Planning Commission (AIPC) has rescheduled its 2017 Newport County Legislative Forum. Previously scheduled for March 15 but postponed due to weather, the event will be held Thursday, April 27, from 8:30 – 10 a.m.

The 2017 forum is AIPC’s second annual legislative forum and part of its ongoing “Smart Island” series of public events. The event is free and open to the public; however, space is limited and registration is required. Anyone registered for the original event date must re-register. Tickets are available through AIPC’s website, www.aquidneckplanning.org.

More info in prior post here.

Editorial note: Written from a news release.

RI Foundation offers $10K community-building grants

13sep30_rif.pngThe Rhode Island Foundation is offering local libraries, schools, municipal agencies and nonprofit groups grants of up to $10,000 to fund proposals that bring people together as a community, the group announced in a release.

“We believe that community is created at the intersection of people, places and traditions. Our goal is to make unique and important things happen that will enliven their communities,” said Jessica David, the Foundation’s senior vice president of strategy and community investments.

Potential uses include improvements to parks and other public spaces, the creative use of art in public spaces and staging programming that invites people to experience community in public spaces.

Priority will be given to proposals that include community support such as matching grants, the participation of volunteers and donated space or other forms of in-kind contributions.

While new initiatives as well as enhancements to ongoing projects are eligible, the grants are intended to support one-time costs and expenses. Projects will not be eligible for renewed support in future years. The deadline to apply is March 31.

This is the second consecutive year the Foundation has offered the Community Grants program. In 2016, the organization awarded grants for bike lanes, walking tours, community gardens and public artwork and historical markers among other projects.

Last year, the Town of Portsmouth received $10,000 to create a dog park in a 2-acre section of Melville Park. An estimated 1,600 dogs are licensed in town.

The Rhode Island Foundation is the largest and most comprehensive funder of nonprofit organizations in Rhode Island. In 2016, the Foundation awarded a record $45 million in grants to organizations addressing the state’s most pressing issues and needs of diverse communities. Through leadership, fundraising and grantmaking activities, often in partnership with individuals and organizations, the Foundation is helping Rhode Island reach its true potential. For more information about the Community Grants program, visit rifoundation.org.

Editorial note: Written from a news release.

AIPC to host Aquidneck legislative forum March 15

Screen Shot 2016-09-12 at 12.27.46 PM.pngThe Aquidneck Island Planning Commission (AIPC) has scheduled its 2017 Newport County Legislative Forum, to be held on Wednesday, March 15, from 8 – 10 a.m., in the auditorium of the Community College of Rhode Island in Newport, RI.

The 2017 forum is AIPC’s second annual legislative forum and part of its ongoing “Smart Island” series of public events. The event is free and open to the public; however, space is limited and registration is required. Tickets are available through AIPC’s website, www.aquidneckplanning.org

“We’re delighted to host this event for the second year in a row,” said AIPC’s Chairman, Richard P. “Dick” Adams. “It’s one of many ways that AIPC facilitates communication between state and local leaders, and members of the public here on Aquidneck Island.”

More than half of the state’s Newport County delegation will participate in the forum, including Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed, Sen. Louis P. DiPalma, Sen. James A. Seveney, Rep. Marvin Abney, Rep. Deborah Ruggiero, Rep. Lauren Carson, and Rep. Susan R. Donovan. The event is expected to draw 150-200 people, and will provide an opportunity for questions from the public.

The event will be moderated this year by Neil Steinberg, President and CEO of the Rhode Island Foundation, the state’s largest charitable foundation. “Community engagement is a positive force for change. State lawmakers, the Planning Commission and local stakeholders deserve credit for coming together to share their vision for moving the area forward,” said Steinberg.

2017 is shaping up to be an active legislative session, while the state faces added uncertainty presented by the new administration in Washington. The forum will provide an opportunity to discuss how new state initiatives may affect Aquidneck Island.

For more information about AIPC and the 2017 Newport County Legislative Forum, see www.aquidneckplanning.org

Editorial note: Written from a news release.

Portsmouth ad-hoc citizens committee mulls planning "coup"

17feb28_Comp_plan_committee.jpg
Committee meeting at the fire station.



Last night's meeting of the Portsmouth "Citizens Interested in the Comprehensive Planning Process Committee" saw members of this ad-hoc group voice a desire to wrest control of drafting the Town's revised comprehensive plan from Town Planner Gary Crosby.

For much of the 90-minute meeting at the conference room in the fire station, members of the 16-person committee, which was created last April by the Town Council solely to "provide comments and/or input to the Planning Board, Town Planner and the Town Council," expressed frustration at what they perceived as the slow pace of the process and the level of input they were allowed to provide.

Full disclosure: This reporter ran for Town Council against members of this committee (Harding, Kesson, Staven), which voted 11-1 to remove "all references to sea level rise projections" from the first two sections of the comp plan. That they later agreed to revisit that every five years to assess "if sea level is decreasing, increasing, or remains at the predicted level" is not something I find at all reassuring.

The committee's limitations were explicitly laid out during its creation in the minutes of the April 11, 2016 Town Council meeting: "President Hamilton stated that this is a committee to take what Mr. Crosby has drafted, review and they can report back to Mr. Crosby as a group or they can report back to the Planning Board as a group. But again, they do not have any more input that any individual citizen."

Last night, the committee ended up settling for a resolution to send several members to complain to the Town Administrator about what they see as a lack of progress, but their rhetoric during much of the meeting was significantly more grandiose.

Town Councilor and committee member Paul Kesson said, "We haven't got Gary's attention on this one, but three people [could go and] tell him. We want to take this over on our own." Kesson was clear that he understood this was not within the committee's remit: "Way it [this committee] was chartered by Town Council was to review what Gary wrote. You're talking about a coup."

Arguably, Kesson was using a figure of speech, but the positions advanced by other members during the discussion were clearly in line with the desire for a takeover. Currently, they receive the updated document a section at a time and then provide feedback to the Planning Board, which they felt did not offer them enough control over the end product.

"All we can do [now] is comment on the plan," said committee member Fred Marano. "We do not have any authority to say, 'This you haven't touched on.'"

"[We should] Take Gary's outline, go section by section, mark it up however we want. Then hire a consultant," said committee member Conni Harding. "If Gary doesn't have a section ready, we just take charge."

"I almost think we should consider starting over," said member Ann Fiore. "This group should take three comp plans we really like, and maybe we would be best suited to starting something like that."

A comprehensive, or "comp," plan is the overarching framework that controls land use, resource management, and development within a community -- as well as interactions with the State -- and the update of the document is required periodically. While citizen input is encouraged -- in fact, required -- responsibility for creating a town's comp plan is governed by RI General Law 45-22.2-8 (a)(1): "A local planning board or commission has the sole responsibility for performing all those acts necessary to prepare a comprehensive plan for a municipality."

Chair Judi Steven acknowledged "State law says it's the Planning Board's baby," but noted that there was nothing stopping the group from taking action on their own. "We're a citizens' group, we really don't have to go by any pattern," said Staven, "It's not out of the realm of possibility that we would just take the old comp plan and go through it. As a group, we have the right to go before the Planning Board and tell them how we want this to be."

After more than an hour of discussion, the group voted to empower a 4-person working party to "express our dissatisfaction with the current state of the comp plan" to Town Administrator Rich Rainer. They attempted to vote on this in principle and have one of the members provide the language to the chair later via e-mail, but took the time to draft the actual text after a reporter queried about a potential Open Meetings violation.

While the revised comp plan is unlikely to be ready in time to meet the state deadline set for all municipalities — July 1 — Town Planner Gary Crosby said in an e-mail that he believes many towns are in similar situations and that the statewide planning department is most interested in seeing progress toward delivery. As to the pace of the effort, Crosby noted that he and the Planning Board decided to tackle the three most difficult sections first: Services and Facilities, Economic Development, and Housing.

"The first two sections were 'camera ready' with charts and graphs, ready to go to the State," Crosby told harddeadlines. "Housing will be [done in a simpler fashion with] all the recommended elements, stripped down, so we can get them out a little quicker and stay on schedule."

"Housing will be published [for review] this Friday," said Crosby, "And then we'll aim to be back on schedule."

You can #Resist in Portsmouth tonight -- support the ALT and AIPC

AIPC2017.pngThere are two items on the Portsmouth Town Council agenda this evening that could use the support of folks who want to promote a progressive agenda. Back to back items for consideration are a request by the Aquidneck Land Trust (ALT) to help conserve the Spruce Acres Farm, and a plea from the Aquidneck Island Planning Commission (AIPC) for the Town to pay up on their support.

The ALT proposal is $300K (to be split over two years) to enable purchase and conservation of 22.6 acres of farmland on the Portsmouth/Middletown line. This is not just good for environmental reasons (although it does help protect our watershed), it also makes good sense economically, since a subdivision at this location would add to town infrastructure costs.

For AIPC, the case is even simpler: the town has been withholding its promised annual payments to the island-wide planning group, demanding an audit. Voices on the right have objected to the AIPC on tin-foil-hat conspiracy grounds (basically, anything that smacks of "planning" triggers these folks). The AIPC has been responsible for bringing in over $2.5M in government and private funding for island planning efforts over the last two years, and yet the Republican-led Portsmouth town council has been stiffing them for $36,000.

You can read the briefs linked above, and if you can make it to the meeting to support these items, it will make a big difference for our town.

If you can't make it, you can always drop an e-mail to our Town Council. Here's a sample you could copy and paste to get you started.

To:
khamilton@portsmouthri.com, kaguiar@portsmouthri.com, dgleason@portsmouthri.com, pkesson@portsmouthri.com, epedro@portsmouthri.com, jryan@portsmouthri.com, lujifusa@portsmouthri.com

Subject:
Please support ALT and AIPC

Dear Town Council members:
As a resident and taxpayer in the Town of Portsmouth, I'm writing to urge you to support the requests by the Aquidneck Land Trust and Aquidneck Island Planning Commission scheduled to be heard on Monday, February 27.

The ALT proposal would be a valuable addition to the conserved properties in Portsmouth, and would help to maintain the character of our town.

The AIPC has done great work supporting all the communities on Aquidneck Island, and deserves our support. Now that they have provided audited financial statements, there is no reason not to release their funding.

Thanks very much for your support of these important efforts.

Best Regards,

RIDE reaffirms protection for transgender students

Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Ken Wagner released the following statement this morning in response to the Trump Administration’s decision to rescind federal protections that allowed transgender students to use school bathrooms corresponding with their gender identity:

“Yesterday, the federal government rescinded guidance that was previously issued regarding transgender and gender nonconforming students. The rescinding of this federal guidance does not change our policy – there is no room for discrimination in our schools, and we will continue to protect all students, including transgender and gender nonconforming students, from any type of bias. Rhode Island has a strong history of encouraging safe and supportive learning environments, and we intend to continue that practice. It is imperative that all education professionals continue to be strong role models and advocates for the safety and well-being of the children entrusted to their care.”

As a result, it will continue to be the Rhode Island Department of Education’s expectation that all schools and school districts will:

  • Foster an education environment that is safe and free from discrimination for all students, regardless of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression;
  • Comply with all federal and state laws concerning bullying, harassment, and discrimination;
  • Reduce the stigmatization of and improve the educational integration of transgender and nonconforming students, maintaining the privacy of all students, and fostering cultural competence and professional development for school staff; and
  • Support healthy communication between educators and parent(s)/guardian(s) to further the successful educational development and well-being of every student.

For more information, please read the Guidance for Rhode Island Schools on Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Students [PDF].

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