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Richmond and Hopkinton to discuss joining forces to change Chariho Act

February 5, 2014

RICHMOND — At its Tuesday night meeting, the Richmond Town Council responded positively to the Hopkinton Town Council's invitation to get together and discuss possible changes to the Chariho Act. The invitation was extended during Hopkinton's town council meeting the previous evening.

Richmond Town Council President B. Joseph Reddish III said that Hopkinton wants to discuss changing the school committee membership from eleven to nine members as well as opening up residency matriculation district-wide so that elementary students could attend schools in their own neighborhoods, which are issues that Richmond has proposed to change legislatively.

One catalyst for the two towns joining forces may have been a letter that Charlestown sent to Chariho Superintendent of Schools Barry Ricci, and copied to the General Assembly and the towns of Richmond and Hopkinton.

The letter stated that the Charlestown Town Council had voted unanimously on Jan. 13 to request a referendum that parents be allowed to voluntarily request that their child to attend a Chariho elementary school in one of the other district schools depending on available space.

Richmond Town Council Vice President Henry Oppenheimer commented that it is Chariho school policy that parents can request that their child attend a different elementary school within the district, so no referendum was necessary.

“That ability has been around for at least 15 years," Oppenheimer said. "I don't want to waste any money on a referendum that is already policy. The town deserves better than that."

The letter also stated that the Charlestown Town Council had voted unanimously that the “current Chariho School Committee makeup based upon each of the Chariho town's population, as defined in the Chariho Act as section 10.(1) (a.) should remain as written,” and that Charlestown declined the request that a nine-member Chariho School Committee be adopted.

Oppenheimer said that Charlestown hadn't stated a reason why they didn't want to change the membership from 11 to nine.

“I think Charlestown is misunderstanding the proposal to change to nine member committee," said Finance Director Dave Krugman. "It wouldn't be three-three-three – it would be nine members based on population."

Oppenheimer said that the proposed change would have the same wording as the present document except that there would be nine school committee members instead of 11.

Lastly, the Charlestown Town Council's letter stated a request that the Chariho School Committee solicitor comment on whether the school committee or any Chariho town council has the authority to request a change in the Chariho Act.

“Perhaps I didn't do very well in my civics class in elementary school, but was my impression that any person or legally constituted body could request a change in any state law at any time,” Oppenheimer said.

“You got that right,” said Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth.

“So I did better in civics than I think I did. I'm just totally aghast at this,” Oppenheimer said, to general laughter.

He added, “The Richmond Town Council made a legal request: we want a state law changed. The question whether it's lawful what we did – we had every right to request the change."

As for getting together with Hopkinton, Councilor Erick Davis said that he had spoken with Hopkinton Town Council President Frank Landolfi and the two had agreed that two representatives from each council would meet and that later the full councils could get together.

Davis said he planned to meet with Hopkinton in the next seven to 14 days.

“I was surprised because I've asked for discussions in the past and they haven't occurred," Davis said. "I was very happy that they extended [the invitation], which is why I got in contact with Frank right after because I didn't want to lose the opportunity."

Reddish commented that he was very pleased that Hopkinton wanted to look at how making these changes could affect all three communities.

“We're going to reach out and see what they want to do," he said. "We'll meet with two members of each council and move forward from there."

In related business, the council decided it would attend the Chariho School Committee's annual Regional School District Meeting on Tuesday, March 4, which conflicted with Richmond's regularly scheduled town council meeting. The council agreed to move that week's meeting to Thursday, March 6.

Southern Rhode Island Newspapers
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