2015-05-21 / Opinion

Not School Committee’s Finest Hour

Of all the municipal committees that one could aspire to serve on in Newport, or anywhere else for that matter, the School Committee may be the one that comes with the most angst.

That’s not to dismiss the role of the City Council. But, after all, what’s the biggest budget number in most municipal budgets?

Of course, it’s the bottom line cost of public schools.

Unfortunately, the recent behavior of certain School Committee members in Newport has made that body’s work much more difficult and more stressful than it ought to be.

We’ve spoken out on these pages before about the excruciatingly long Newport School Committee meetings that wind up considering “routine” topics early in the evening before taking up more difficult topics–such as million-dollar spending deficits–late when everyone is tired and cranky. We’ve even offered a solution–two regular monthly meetings instead of one, with one for ongoing administrative matters and the other for more arduous business.

However, at the May 12 committee meeting, the unnecessarily elevated rancor level among committee members was not caused by the agenda. No, in this case it was caused by a member, whose surly, unprofessional behavior sparked needlessly unpleasant exchanges involving Chair Jo Eva Gaines and other members. (This meeting can be viewed on NewportThisWeek.com or Cox NCTV-18 Thursday, May 21, at 7:25 p.m. and on Friday, May 22, at 11:25 a.m.)

And to think that this embarrassing episode was unwittingly triggered by Athletic Director James Cawley, who was there to inform the School Committee of his difficult personal decision to step down from his position.

With the committee already having been in session for more than an hour-and-a-half, Cawley attempted to explain what for him was a difficult and complex decision to resign. As he did so, and in response to questions from other committee members, David Carlin III, newly elected to the panel last November, became otherwise embroiled with Chair Gaines and other members over rules of order and proper procedures for offering a motion.

That left poor Cawley competing for the full committee’s attention while members of the panel testily argued over procedural issues that had nothing to do with the AD’s resignation.

Gaines finally sought to stifle this boorish 30-minute display by apologizing to Cawley for embarrassing him publicly. Carlin, apparently determined to get the last word, said of Cawley, “I don’t think he’s embarrassed. He’s a fine person. He has thick skin.”

Really?

We think that the School Committee, and ALL of its members, have much better things to debate than minor rules of order, what with a deficit for the current fiscal year approaching $1.5 million.

And, we do wonder, Mr. Carlin: What could you have possibly been thinking that triggered such behavior?

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