Burrillville council, committee pass resolution to withdraw participation in RISE charter school

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BURRILLVILLE – Citing funding concerns amid declining enrollment in the town’s public schools, the Burrillville Town Council and School Committee have passed a joint resolution withdrawing participation from the RISE Mayoral Academy.

According to Burrillville Supt. Michael Sollitto, the change will take effect in the 2024/2025 school year and will not affect students currently enrolled in the Woonsocket-based charter school or their siblings – who will still be eligible to attend.

The move began with a request this month from School Committee Chairwoman Silvia St. Pierre to members of the Town Council.

“This decision is primarily based on the negative financial impact associated with the funding of charter schools,” St. Pierre noted. “As RISE
Prep Mayoral Academy continues to expand, the associated loss of funding for the schools has increased each year. This loss of state aid has made budgeting for our school department problematic.”

“This goes to the funding, and how they’re allocating a disproportionate amount of money to the charter schools, and until they change that formula, it becomes more incumbent upon town to really rethink how we approach support of a program like RISE, no matter how successful it may be or how advantageous it may be for the children over there,” said Town Council President Donald Fox at the board’s meeting on Wednesday, March 13 of state aid to schools.

Opened in 2015, the academy was initially open to students from Burrillville, Woonsocket and North Smithfield, with instruction growing to include one additional grade level each year. The school aims to offer an alternative to public education, with a “highly structured learning environment,” setting up students for success in college, and a life of community engagement.

High school instruction is set to begin this year with RISE’s first 9th grade class, and in 2022, the school applied to triple in size with the expectation that by the 2027/2028 school year, it will serve grades k through 12, and a second K-8 school would be be launched in the 2028/2029 year. On the application, which has since been approved by the Rhode Island Department of Education, RISE noted that students from North Smithfield would be phased out of the program once that town’s current students graduate.

The school already closed its application period for the upcoming year with the expectation that new Burrillville students would be eligible to join in September – and several town families likely applied.

Sollitto told NRI NOW that to his understanding, students that have applied, but have not yet been accepted as students at RISE for the 2024-2025 school year will be ineligible to attend. 

“Once a student enrolls there, they’re usually there for multiple years,” Sollitto told the council last week. “The state aid follows the student with charter schools, so we lose state aid for every charter school student that’s enrolled there, and we’re also charged a tuition.”

The superintendent noted that around 75 Burrillville students currently attend RISE at a cost of around $9,000 per student.

“That number rises between 8 and 10 every year,” said Sollitto. “It’s becoming an extreme financial burden on the school department.”

Beacon Charter High School for the Arts, by comparison, serves just 16 students from Burrillville, with that number expected to decrease to 11 next year.

St. Pierre noted that the students who remain in the public school district are often the ones who are in most need of services.

“We are continuing to try to meet their needs,” St. Pierre said. “It’s getting very, very difficult, and year to year it gets worse.”

Fox was among several last week to express support for the overall charter school model, but not the state’s formula for funding such education alternatives.

“I don’t think the idea of a public charter school like this is a bad idea,” said Town Manager Michael Wood. “I think there’s got to be some way that the state comes up with a new mechanism.”

“I think the whole concept of charter schools is fantastic,” agreed Councilor Jeremy Bailey. “It’s a different side of learning, different setting and it gives parents some options. The issue is the state is inadequately funding the town and public schools that we are forced by state law to support. That state needs to figure out how to adequately fund the public schools.”

“I think charter schools have a place, but the problem is there’s no thought to the funding,” said Councilor Raymond Trinque. “The whole funding formula has to be redone fairly and so that every student in Rhode Island is getting a proper education and that’s not happening now.”

“It’s becoming more and more clear it’s to the disadvantage to the town,” said Fox. “There is a disproportionate effect I believe – a disadvantage to the town of Burrillville – with regards to how many of our children are going to the RISE Academy. There’s no intention of the town to pull back support from the students attending that school, nor would we interfere with any siblings of that student in attending the RISE Academy.”

“I believe the charter schools do provide a good alternative for many families not just in this community, but in Rhode Island,” Fox added.

The joint resolution was approved unanimously by both boards and has been sent RISE Supt. Rosalind DaCruz.

DaCruz issued a statement on the decision on Wednesday, March 20

“The Burrillville Town Manager submitted a letter of support in RISE Prep’s expansion application, which was approved by the state. The state application process included several public comment opportunities during which RISE Prep’s application did not receive any opposition from Burrillville,” DaCruz said. “Once approval for the application is received, the state authorizes the seats allowed, that does not happen at the local level.”

“Burrillville families currently enjoy school choice at a variety of charter schools within the state,” she added. “At this time, the Town Council is only discussing withdrawing from RISE Prep, no other educational options available to children within the community.”

“We look forward to the continued support of current and future Burrillville scholars attending RISE Prep, and their families who choose to send them to our school,” DaCruz said.

Editor’s note: The above article has been edited to reflect reaction from the school.

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2 COMMENTS

  1. The Burrilleville Town Council will soon learn that RISE Prep is like Hotel California; you can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave. Did they know that the Town Manager was signing the application for expansion without legal authority? Per RI General Law § 16-77.4-1. Entities eligible to apply to become, or for the expansion of, a mayoral academy. “The mayor from each city or town, or in the absence of a mayor, the city or town council via a resolution or ordinance, shall approve the participation in the mayoral academy’s catchment area for a proposed charter or an amendment to a charter for expansion. For purposes of this chapter, the term “mayor” shall include any elected town administrator.” The council will soon learn that RIDE will be letting them know that their resolution is meaningless.

  2. There is a simple explanation. Public schools have revised curriculum in order to be certain all students are treated equally regardless of ability, aptitude or desire to learn. The result is a mediocre curriculum and parents are voting with their feet moving their children to schools with more challenging environments.

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