(LOW) Near the end of January last year, St. Pius X School changed its name to St. Pius X Regional Academy, froze tuition, and restructured its course offerings in an effort to boost enrollment — which had fallen to about 160 — and attract more donors. The interior was even given a paint job to brighten things up. As the pastor, the Rev. Michael Najim, said, “People tell me all the time that we are a hidden gem.” No doubt it still is, which makes its closing at the end of this academic year all the more sad for the school’s families, past and present. The initiatives put in place a year ago did not succeed in stemming the loss of enrollment, and with only 118 students now and a large eighth grade class leaving this spring, financial realities finally forced Najim and the parish trustees to bow to the inevitable. As the pastor said, “We have exhausted all our reserves.” Some of the school’s supporters are understandably upset and feel they were blindsided by the decision, but surely this was no surprise. There just aren’t enough students in this region to fill all the classrooms. Public and private school districts have been put in the position of competing to lure students away from each other, even as their host communities suppress the development of quality affordable housing that would appeal to young workers and their families. We’ve brought this on ourselves in the mistaken belief that children are bad for the economy. What will hurt Westerly most will be the loss of a Catholic school tradition that has been an important part of the community for more than 90 years.
(LOW) The Republicans have found a good issue in Rhode Island’s diversion of fees collected from phone customers for its 911 emergency system. Last year alone, $11.6 million of the $16.8 million of fees was diverted, according to published reports — that is close to 70 percent, and most of that money went into the general fund. The practice is legal, but fire officials and other emergency responders say it’s not right, and that the money should be used to maintain and enhance 911 equipment and operations. Sen. Dennis Algiere of Westerly, the Senate minority leader, has introduced legislation that would create a restricted account for the 911 fees and would empower the Public Utilities Commission to reduce the fees should the amount collected exceed what is needed to pay for 911 services. From a consumer standpoint, this $1-a-month charge could be seen as an annoyance, no big deal. But these kinds of fees tend to multiply, and at some point they constitute a rip-off: Think of the taxes on your airport car rental and hotel bills, which are popular with politicians because they are assessed on captive audiences who aren’t their constituents.
(HIGH) If you listened to President Trumps’s comments on the $1.3 trillion spending bill that he signed on Friday, you may have been struck, as we were, by the number of times he mentioned submarines. Many of his remarks were devoted to his contention that the U.S. military has been degraded over the course of several administrations, and to his support for building up our defense capabilities by adding more ships, warplanes, helicopters, tanks, and missile defense systems, and by modernizing our powerful arsenal of nuclear weapons — which are largely carried aboard ballistic-missile submarines. Overall military spending of $700 billion has been authorized for the current fiscal year, an increase of $61 billion over the final level enacted in 2017, according to the Senate Defense Appropriations Committee. A hefty chunk of that money will be directed to the defense industry in southeastern Connecticut and southern Rhode Island. There is $5.5 billion for Virginia-class submarines that are built at Electric Boat in Quonset Point and Groton, and $1.9 billion to develop and procure supplies for the Columbia class of ballistic-missile subs, which are supposed to go into production in 2020. Non-defense spending, “everything else,” totals $591 billion. Like it or not, the preferences embodied in this omnibus measure undergird our regional economy and have shaped workforce development efforts in Westerly and many other communities.
(HIGH) There was an interesting “no comment” last week from Randy Abood, moderator of the Watch Hill Fire District, on a proposal the Town Council is considering to eliminate the tow zone on Bluff Avenue, the rather short roadway that runs past the Ocean House. The idea is that parking would be permitted for Westerly residents and property owners on the west side of Bluff Avenue. There is some support for this proposal in the council, but the fire district, which has an interest in the area’s parking revenue, can be expected to have its say, as council President Edward Morrone observed. Of course, parking, or the lack thereof, is one of the perennial issues in Watch Hill. We look forward to hearing the fire district’s opinion on this matter.