Editorial: Bristol should get serious about 'deregionalization' — or not

EastBayRI.com ·

It’s not clear if the word “deregionalize” was coined in Bristol, but it might as well have been. Though not an officially recognized word in the English language, folks in Bristol (including the reporters for this newspaper) have been using it consistently for at least 20 years — ever since Bristol and Warren first decided to regionalize their public school district. (As an aside, “regionalize” is a word.)

Deregionalization talk (another unofficial derivation of the word that isn’t a word) comes up every few years when there is discord between the two towns, almost always over money. The latest episode seems serious, as some of Bristol’s top leaders, both present and former, are talking about it.

It’s on their minds because earlier this year Bristol lost a battle in Rhode Island Supreme Court. A judge favored Warren’s interpretation of the state funding formula, which means Warren has been paying too much, and Bristol too little. About $3 million per year shifts from Warren to Bristol.

The court’s decision hurts Bristol because it’s a big swing, and it happened all at once. The town and its taxpayers get a sudden, large hit, for both last year and this year (and every year thereafter). It also doesn’t help to add bruised egos and pride to the mix.

Thus comes talk of deregionalization. Two weeks ago, the Bristol Town Council held a workshop with the director of RIPEC (the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council) to get his advice on what would happen if they broke apart the district. He told them what they already knew — it’s a big deal, and you have to think about the impact politically, educationally and financially. For the last one, he offered to lead a fiscal study, if the town wants to hire RIPEC.

Nothing was decided, and so the deregionalization tease hangs out there like the silence after Mom and Dad have had a fight.

In the meantime, Warren is working in earnest to devise a new funding plan, and whether it’s the right plan or not for this district (it seems to make sense on paper), the effort appears genuine.

Instead of whispering or posturing about breaking apart this district, Bristol leaders should take action. Hire RIPEC to do a study, or not. Analyze whether Bristol schools can survive and thrive after deregionalization, or not. Either way, act. Bristol residents deserve facts, not emotions, before “deregionalization” becomes so familiar it actually becomes a word.