SOUTH KINGSTOWN - The school committee is only an acting committee when the whole group is together or when one member is given permission by the whole group to speak on behalf of the school committee.
Jonathan Daly-LaBelle of the school committee was reminded this by Town Council President Ella Whaley before he made several comments to the town council as a citizen regarding declining enrollment and the town’s role in it.
“I haven’t been in front of this microphone for awhile,” said Daly-LaBelle, addressing the council. “I do have my own individual school committee hat on, and I don’t think I can take that off wholly, as I am a part of these conversations.”
Daly-LaBelle continued to bring the council back to a meeting that was held on Jan. 15, during which he tried to explain that the town is driving down enrollment at the schools by offering incentives to condominium and apartment developers to control growth, leading to less school-aged children to fill the schools. To these claims, the council and town manager claimed that the town had no hand in the population and that it was all determined by the market.
“The town does have a role to play in how many children are in South Kingstown,” Daly-LaBelle said to the council on Monday. “I’m not coming forward to be critical of previous efforts. A simple way for people to see that the town encourages development of smaller dwellings is the higher impact fee on single family units than single-bedroom multi-household units. It’s a very simple thing to see.”
He also cited several zoning and planning laws ordinances that he believes discourage families from moving into South Kingstown and encourages small-unit development, including density requirements, lot building coverage, and minimum acreage requirements.
When the town council began to sense blame, the tone of the discussion shifted.
“Are you trying to say that the impact fees for educational facilities and recreational facilities are keeping people from moving to this town? Is that what you are trying to say?” asked Vice President Carol Hagan McEntee. “I don’t understand how you are trying to tie in declining enrollment and the impact fees. The more people you have here, the more you have to provide services to them."
She continued to claim that he was piecing sentences together to strengthen his point.
“You took a sentence out of the multi-household dwellings and you piecemealed it together to make it say what you wanted it to say,” said McEntee. “If you read the whole paragraph, it does not say what you are saying it does. I’m completely confused as to what you are trying to say. If you are trying to say that somehow we are trying to not encourage families in the community, which is completely absurd.”
Councilor Paul Donnelly weighed in with his opinion on the housing market in South Kingstown.
“If someone can afford to buy a house, that is the marketplace,” he said. “I can’t afford to own a house in this town. I know a lot of people who can’t. It’s the marketplace. Go around and see how many houses are for sale and how long they have been for sale.”
When Daly-LaBelle replied with a comment that the town of South Kingstown is 30 percent open space and that that space is taking from development space and affecting supply and demand, the tone of the discussion shifted further towards frustration.
“All of those homes with 3,300 fewer children are still available,” said Councilor James O’Neill. “The reason (they haven’t been filled) is that there aren’t jobs. This is market-driven. This is economy-driven. This is nobody’s fault. I am appalled. Most of the open space is swamp. I am absolutely appalled at the direction you are going with this. Where are you coming from? You are absolutely wrong and out of place.”
“I guess your passion is back, Mr. O’Neill. I missed it,” said Daly-LaBelle on his way back to his chair. “I guess this is why the conversation didn’t happen three years ago. Because everybody reacts, they get excited. They don’t stay calm.”
Council President Whaley called an end to the conversation, stating that the issues brought forward will likely be addressed at a later date.