Ryan Callahan

Ryan Callahan. 

WOOD RIVER JCT. — New and returning members sat down Tuesday for the first meeting of the Chariho School Committee since the Nov. 6 midterm election.

New member Linda Lyall will represent Charlestown along with re-elected members Donna Chambers and Craig Louzon. Newly elected to represent Hopkinton is George Abbott. Lisa Macaruso and Sylvia Stanley of Hopkinton were re-elected. William Day was elected to represent Richmond and Ryan Callahan was re-elected. Both Day and Abbott have served on the committee in years past..

Members wasted no time in electing Callahan as committee chair, since it is Richmond’s turn to lead the committee. Craig Louzon of Charlestown was chosen to serve as vice president. 

Looking ahead to the next two years, the new and re-elected members voiced their thoughts on the challenges they believe the school district might face.

Callahan said the district should be prepared for the new state approach to school facilities, which favors a smaller number of new school buildings as opposed to large numbers of older schools. In November, the state’s voters approved a $250 million bond to fund school housing aid and capital improvements.

“I think understanding the newer and fewer and how that’s going to impact capital budgeting is going to be a big area for us,” he said. “From my standpoint, we have an aging infrastructure and we need to start thinking five and 10 years down the road, and with the recent position that the legislature has taken, putting capital resources in play, I think it’s a great time to take a serious look at what we want Chariho to look like long term.”

Day said the biggest challenge would be meeting the demands of Ken Wagner, Rhode Island commissioner of elementary and secondary education.

“I think our biggest challenge, really, is to try to rein in the commissioner of education,” he said. “He’s not a friend of local school committees and he’s proved that with his policies that we have to send kids anyplace they want to go when we offer the same programs here, and it’s impacting us — over $100,000 this year.”

Abbott said he would focus on the district’s budget as well as state education funding, which has a profound impact on the district.

“Budget issues,” he said. “State funding goes along with budget issues. Who knows? That’s a big, uncontrolled variable.”

Lyall, a former school administrator and educator, said she understood the difficulty of providing quality education while keeping budgets reasonable.

“What I’ve learned from being on the other side of the table is to provide the community with a quality education but being fiscally responsible,” she said. “That’s always been a challenge.”

Superintendent of Schools Barry Ricci predicted that the committee would be proactive in advocating for the district at the state level.

“I think this School Committee will be legislatively active, around issues of state aid, wasteful and excessive spending related to the commissioner’s decisions involving career and technical education, and protecting the regional center,” he said. “I have no doubt about the committee’s commitment to providing a high quality and rigorous public education to the students of our member towns.”

Air quality, projects

The committee addressed an abbreviated agenda, which included a report, requested by Richmond member Murat Dymov, on air quality at Richmond Elementary School. Dymov was not up for election this year.

Ricci said that the air in all Chariho schools was tested on a rotating basis for humidity, temperature and carbon dioxide. He also noted that the results from tests at the Richmond school showed that the air quality was good.

Ricci told members that a representative from the state Department of Education would  attend a future meeting to explain the state’s school construction capital program.

At another future committee meeting, Chris Kearns of the Rhode Island Office of Energy Resources will present an overview of the state’s virtual net metering program, a bill-crediting system that would make it possible for Chariho to benefit from solar energy generated at facilities that are not located on district property.