Educational reform
Of all the issues we hear relative to the state of Rhode Island’s economy, none is so pervasive as the quality of our educational system. It is difficult to grow an economy, to attract substantive companies, without a qualified workforce. Last year, the legislature approved an expansion of charter schools, a movement that certainly will help with a minority of students, but not the vast majority who attend public schools. In this legislative session the issue of educational reform has clearly not been among the General Assembly’s priorities, at least if you review what have become the hot public issues.

Alfred J. Verrecchia, executive vice president of Hasbro said Rhode Island has a “problem” because he believes the state is not producing high school graduates that can “go out and get jobs, and provide the kind of human resources that both small and big business are going to need.”

Verrecchia’s concerns are not unique. They have been expressed time and again by business leaders who are concerned that many graduates of Rhode Island public schools are neither prepared to enter the workforce nor have the appropriate foundation to enter colleges or universities. Verrecchia said that a survey conducted a couple of years ago found that SAT scores in only two Rhode Island school districts met the standards for admission to the University of Rhode Island.

Verrecchia and Vincent A. Sarni, the retired chief executive of PPG Industries who was raised in Cranston and educated at the former Rhode Island State College, agree that it is not necessarily money that is needed to fix the educational system, but the political leadership that will help develop a system that requires accountability.

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“The solution is better leadership, more organization, structure, standards and performance,” Sarni said. In other words, Sarni said, “let’s measure the students.”

Educational reform needs to remain a priority of the legislature and the governor if we expect to improve a system that is constantly under attack, and is far too often criticized for its failure to compete with neighboring states than praised for the quality of its graduates.

For several months the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation has been involved in a campaign to take control of the state fishing piers in Galilee – piers that have long been under the jurisdiction of the state Department of Environmental Management.

The governor would like to see the EDC spearhead dramatic changes at Galilee, upgrading the historic fishing village and making it not only a better place for fishermen, but a destination for tourists.

But EDC’s failure to communicate effectively with the area business community and Narragansett officials has brought considerable skepticism to its plans.

At a recent Narragansett Town Council meeting, two of the five council members voted to support DEM as the state agency that should manage Galilee. Two other council members were absent, one recused himself from the vote.

Business owners, residents and representatives of Galilee’s fishing community have apparently been unimpressed by the EDC pitch. Some 4,000 people signed a petition opposing the EDC takeover. Another petition with over 400 names – most of them business owners, boat owners and fishermen — also opposed the proposal.

After getting a look at the petitions, EDC came back with a revised proposal. This time, the plan calls for an EDC takeover of the port, but includes such specifics as a 99-year protective provision for “continued use of the piers, bulkheads and docks for commercial fishing.”

We wonder why such details weren’t included in EDC’s initial proposal. Narragansett officials and those who do business in the area worry that a Galilee under EDC control will focus more on tourism and force the fishing industry – the heart of Galilee – to play second fiddle.

Perhaps the EDC is best suited to guide Galilee, but having lost the confidence of the locals, it does not appear that such an approach is now possible.

DEM is sensitive to the concerns of Galilee. We see no reason it can’t continue to be while retaining its jurisdiction and working closely with EDC. That way they should be able to accomplish what is clearly in the interest of all parties – creating a better Galilee.

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