LTE: Let the people vote on sewers

Received this letter to the editor from Rich Gottlieb, who lives in the Common Fence Point area of Portsmouth.

To the Editor:
I say let the people vote! Council candidates Gleason, Correia, and Staven all handed out literature this weekend telling me that if elected they will implement a wastewater management district in Portsmouth. I have followed the wastewater issue in town closely since the first "wastewater survey" was completed in 2003. Although different officials have voiced diverse opinions, one thing has always remained constant: the PEOPLE WILL VOTE on any proposal.

Now these Independent/PCC candidates (all three have been previously endorsed by the PCC) have evidently decided we the taxpayers will not get to vote. They, the candidates, in their infinite wisdom, have chosen the option for us and will simply impose it. That means they tell you and me whether my (or your) septic system meets THEIR standards (not DEM’s), how often I (or you) must pump our system out and how often the system is to be inspected, etc. They’ll hire a squad of town employees (the poop police?), with nice pensions no doubt, to trespass on my (and your) property and inspect my (and your) toilet. If I (or you) don’t behave they’ll have the power to fine us and have the ability to take homeowners to court.

In addition, the wastewater management district will either become its own entity such as the Portsmouth Water District which will allow them to charge fees without resident input or recourse. Another option is for the wastewater management district to increase our taxes to raise money so they can loan it back to us at "low interest." This will allow them, for example, to dictate if a new system is necessary and the type. Our participation you ask? We get to pay for it. Wow, what a deal! Thanks. Mrs. Gleason’s literature also promises to "end the good ol' boy network" and "stop all backroom deals." Looks like the "good ol’ gal's network" has already cooked up a backroom deal of their own. Ironically, their slogan is "vote for the people." I say LET THE PEOPLE VOTE.

Richard Gottlieb

Localblogging, 02871, Elections, LTE

Carpender fact-checks King

Dick Carpender, current chair of the School Committee's Finance subcommittee, sent me this over the weekend for publication (a version of this appeared in the Saturday Newport Daily News.)

Fellow Portsmouth Voters:
In a recent Letter to the Editor, Marilyn King discusses the school system in Portsmouth and what her experience would bring to the Committee. There are several misstatements that require clarification and correction so that the citizens of Portsmouth have accurate information.

Statement — "How can we negotiate a contract in good faith with NEA Portsmouth after giving the superintendent a 16% pay raise?"

Fact — The increase in the Superintendents base pay is 7.6%. In addition an advanced degree stipend of $4,550 dollars was added to her contract to make it consistent with the Portsmouth NEA Teachers and Administrators Contracts. This compensation package now places the Superintendent just below the State average for Superintendents. Also, the fact is the Superintendent's total percent increase over the last 3 years lags significantly behind the teachers.

Statement — "Morale must be at an all time low since teachers are being told that money is not available."

Fact — At the staff orientation last week morale was very high with one teacher saying, "she is pumped about this year."

Statement — "Teachers are being told money is not available, resulting in layoffs, increased teacher load and no pay raises for some teachers."

Fact — All teachers received a pay raise in the current contract year. Steps 1 through 9 received raises between 4.2 and 6.4 percent while Step 10 teachers received 3.1. The teachers agreed to give up the additional cost of living increase. No teacher went without.

Statement — "I pledge to give teachers a fair and equitable contract within our Town’s ability to pay. It will not take a Caruolo action to ratify a teacher contract."

Fact — A Caruolo action has absolutely nothing to do with the ratification of a teacher contract. Caruolo actions have to do with whether or not the School Department is appropriately funded to run a legal school system.

Statement — "The School Committee looked far and wide to find a qualified Ph.D.-educated Superintendent."

Fact — The School Committee looked far and wide to find a qualified superintendent. They found one in Sue Luis who just happened to have a PhD. A PhD was not a requirement.

Statement — "We find ourselves hiring outside consultants to do the various jobs that we know the superintendent is capable of doing"

Fact — While the superintendent is extremely qualified and capable there are a several concerns in this area. The first is time; the superintendent already puts in 50- to 60-hour work weeks. Secondly, internal resources are sometimes too close to the action and don’t have all the required skill sets. Third, credibility; these consultants were engaged at a time when the school department was going through some difficult times. Any report done internally would not have been believed. Finally, some of the outside consultants referenced were hired when high-level positions in the school department were vacant for an extended period of time.

Statement — "The expense of Prudence Island School is merely the cost of one teacher and utilities."

Fact — This statement ignores the costs of transportation, insurance, extracurricular subs, supplies, professional development days, and maintenance beyond the scope of what volunteers can do. The budgeted cost this year is $90,957 with a per pupil cost of $30,319.

All members of the sitting committee want to keep Prudence open and that is why we have worked with the Town Council over the last 2 years to do that. However, our responsibility is to the entire community and at some time it may not be fiscally possible to keep it open due the current State and Local financial situation. Sometimes as a committee member you need to make difficult decisions even though it may not be what you want to do in your heart.

E. Richard Carpender
Portsmouth School Committee

Localblogging, 02871, Elections, LTE

Letter from Portsmouth Superintendent Dr. Susan Lusi

This went out on the Portsmouth Superintendent's listserv this afternoon, debunking a letter from School Committee candidate Marilyn King which appeared in both the Newport Daily News and today's Sakonnet Times. I am working on my personal response, but wanted to share what Dr. Lusi had to say:

Dear Members of the Portsmouth Community,

I have had the privilege of serving this community for just over three years. During my tenure in Portsmouth, I have worked to ensure that public debate regarding our school system is factually based.

In this vein, I have read the coverage of political discussions regarding my compensation over the past few weeks with interest, but also with disappointment because some of the information that has been presented regarding the overall amount of my salary increase and how it compares to that of teachers is simply incorrect.

The purpose of this communication is to provide you with the facts as you are forming your own opinions.

Overall Compensation
In my first three years as a new Superintendent, my raises comprised cost of living increases equivalent to the increase in CPI [consumer price index] only. There were, and are, no salary step increases in my contract. As many of you know, there are salary step increases, in addition to COLAs [cost of living adjustments], in our teachers’ contract and in the contract for our school-based administrators. In addition, for my first three years, I was the only certified employee (teacher or administrator) who was not paid a stipend for my higher degree. I was also one of the lowest paid superintendents in Rhode Island.

Informationally, a teacher entering the Portsmouth system in my first year (2005-2006) as a new teacher would have received salary step increases in addition to COLAs, and would have been paid for higher degrees. In addition, teachers at the top step of the salary scale are in the top 10 districts in the state based on salary. It is true, that Portsmouth’s first step was low when compared statewide; the School Committee and NEA Portsmouth agreed to increase step 1 in the most recent contract negotiations in order to assure that Portsmouth continued to attract superior teaching candidates.

Comparing the Numbers
The compensation and increases a new teacher serving the same years I have served, and those that I have received as Superintendent, are outlined below. To summarize, the increases I have received are less than half what teachers have received over the same time period. Let me be clear, I in no way begrudge our teachers their compensation or their increases. They are well deserved, and we are in different jobs with different pay scales which are not entirely comparable. However, since these comparisons are being made in the public discourse, I do want them to be factual.

Finally, for information, my total compensation for this current school year places me in the bottom half of statewide superintendents’ salaries for last year as reported by the Providence Journal in January of 2008.

In Closing
Overseeing a system that educates children is serious and vitally important business, and it is important that we work together to oversee the Portsmouth system starting from a base of factual information. Reasonable people may well disagree after understanding the facts, but I hope that you will hold everyone engaged in the dialogue of how our schools should be run accountable for presenting you with information that is accurate.


Susan F. Lusi, Ph.D.
Portsmouth School Department

Localblogging, 02871, LTE

A letter from Terri Cortvriend

Current School Committee member Terri Cortvriend is running for re-election in the Democratic Primary next Tuesday, and sent me this note for publication.

Dear Portsmouth Friends,
I would like remind all Portsmouth residents interested in education to vote in the Democratic primary on as September 9th as the 3 winners will run unopposed in the general election in November.

I would first like to explain why I am running as an "unendorsed" Democrat; due to personal reasons I was unable to commit to the nominating committee when they spoke to me earlier in the year. After the Town committee endorsements were made I was strongly urged by my fellow committee members and others in the community to reconsider my decision and since of my personal issues had resolved themselves

I would also like to comment on several topics that have come up in the two candidate forums that have been held in Portsmouth. The first being the budget; my opponents have suggested that they will comb through the budget "line by line" to determine what we really need. Hmmm, if any of these interested candidates had ever attended a budget meeting they would know that is exactly what the finance sub-committee, which I have sat on for the last two years, does during every budget cycle. Since I have been on the committee we have made many difficult decisions that ideally we would not have chosen to make.

I also have to address the statements made by two of my opponents regarding the Caruolo Action filed by the school committee during the 2007 budget cycle. Both Ms. King and Ms. Volipcelli have proclaimed how terrible it was for the school committee to sue the town and that they would never be able to support such an action. These emotional and politically motivated statements reflect their lack of understanding of how education laws work in the state of Rhode Island. After auditing the books, a CPA firm specializing in educational matters advised us that there was no legal way that we could sustain the more than one million dollar cut made at the tent meeting on August 19th 2006. The school committee then followed the step by step protocol laid out in RI law. It would have been illegal for us to have done otherwise. Neither Marilyn King nor Angela Volipcelli have said what they would have done, at least PCC member Thomas Vadney gave us the benefit of the doubt!!

Serving on the school committee is becoming increasingly complex and requires an understanding of all the various moving parts including contracts, state and federal mandates, use of restricted funds, labor laws, operations vs. capital improvements, the appropriate use of warrants and our own issues specific to Portsmouth such as the findings in the Berkshire Performance Audit and how all this affects how we develop our future budgets. It is also very important for committee members to be able to respectfully work with each other, as decisions are not made by individuals but collectively as a group. I respectfully ask the Democratic and Independent voters of Portsmouth to consider the past four years of service and experience of Sylvia Wedge and myself as incumbent candidates and the value we can bring to the school committee for the benefit of both students and residents when you vote on September 9th, 2008.

Respectfully Submitted by,
Terri Cortvriend

Localblogging, 02871, Elections, LTE