‘It’s bad for kids’: Union leader notes Burrillville schools have lost 30 teachers in less than three years

Newly printed signs will aim to raise support for increased funding for public education in Burrillville.

BURRILLVILLE – Local union leaders reacted this week to discussion at a recent meeting between the town’s General Assembly delegation and members of the Burrillville Town Council, noting that everyone in the community will have to play a role if the school district is to avoid ongoing cuts in state aid.

Burrillville Teacher’s Union President Nick Servidio said that all those who care about public education will need to step up and play their part to solve the growing problem of what he says is inequitable funding of Burrillville schools.

“We are the lowest paid teachers in the state at every step, and that’s bad for kids,” Servidio told NRI NOW last week.

Servidio noted that over the past two and a half years, the Burrillville School District has lost 30 teachers, with most going to districts that pay more money.

“You have to put food on the table,” he said, noting that when compared to the state average, Burrillville teachers who stay in the district will end up working a year or two for free after more than a decade in town.

The union leader’s comments come in reaction to talks at a meeting last month between town councilors and Burrillville’s General Assembly delegation. Reps. Brian Newberry and David Place said local teachers should put pressure on union leadership following release of a proposed budget by Gov. Dan McKee that would see Burrillville schools lose $424,339 in FY 2025 – marking a major decrease in state aid to town schools for the second straight year.

The proposal comes amid ongoing negotiations of a new contract between the BTU and the Burrillville School District, and Supt. Michael Sollitto noted last month that the teachers are due for a well-deserved raise.

“I think we all need to do our jobs and work together to solve our problems,” Servidio said.  

Place asserted that those concerned about the issue should direct pressure to Patrick Crowley, secretary treasurer of the AFL CIO. Crowley also reacted to the statements in talks with NRI NOW, noting that while he is actively working with union members to lobby for changes to the state funding formula, it’s not a task he can accomplish alone.

“I’m flattered that they think I have the ability to single-handedly make these changes,” Crowley said. “We definitely need a joint effort.”

The state union leader noted that the AFL CIO has been trying to change the funding formula as it relates to charter schools for a number of years.

“It’s small communities like Burrillville that are getting hurt the most,” Crowley said. “We have common ground on trying to figure out how we can fix the funding formula so that rural communities don’t get hurt.”

McKee’s proposed budget includes a $34 million increase for statewide education in the upcoming fiscal year, but the formula will see some $20 million directed to charter schools, as districts like Burrillville have seen decreased enrollment. Crowley said that as a result, 55 percent of the proposed increase could be directed to 10 percent of students in 2025, while expenses in the public school system remain constant.

“We’ve been in communication with key legislators about the issue,” he said.

Servidio noted that at his last count, around 104 students from Burrillville were enrolled in charter schools at a cost of $9,000 per student – leading to some $900,000 leaving town. Town Council President Donald Fox later contacted NRI NOW with the precise numbers, noting that in 2024, 75 students from Burrillville attended RISE Mayoral Academy; 16 attended Beacon High School for the Arts; 39 went to outside CTE programs, one went to New England Laborers and 13 attended out-of-town special education programs, for a total of 144 students leaving Burrillville Public Schools. Those numbers are projected to continue their upward trend, with some 84 students expected to attend RISE in the 2025 school year.

Proponents of the charter school model point to school choice, and the ability of the facilities to provide alternatives where public schools falter. But the state’s complex funding structure remains hotly debated, with increasing calls for reform.

“This formula has to change,” Servidio said. “It’s hurting kids.”

Crowley noted that the state delegates must also play a role in resolving the disparities.

“I don’t get a vote,” Crowley said, noting that while the Republican town representatives, including Place, Newberry and Sen. Jessica de la Cruz are in the minority party in Rhode Island, they can still introduce resolutions.

“If they do, the labor movement would be willing to support them in that effort,” he said.

Servidio had similar thoughts.

“Our elected representatives are the ones who vote,” Servidio said, adding that Burrillville state representatives, “have not always been friends with public education,” with support for the growth of charter schools.

He said he was happy to hear legislators say they’ll do all they can to fix the problem.

“We’d like to work together,” Servidio said. “We have the same goals.”

Servidio said that town councilors also have a role in ensuring proper funding for public education.

“Our Town Council holds the purse strings,” he said. “I know they have constraints. At the same time, I think we all want great schools that work for kids.”

“We have a vision for Burrillville schools that they’re going to be one of the best school systems in the state,” said Servidio.

But the union leader, who has worked as science teacher for 36 years, noted it can’t be done without great educators.

“I’m not sure if the School Committee has enough money to solve the problem of teachers leaving for other districts,” he said. “We want to attract and retain high quality talent.”

The goal, he noted, is not to have the highest-paid teachers in Rhode Island, but just to get as close as possible to the state average.

“It doesn’t have to be done in one year,” Servidio said.

He pointed to the district’s achievements including nationally recognized teachers, and the growth of quality Career and Technical Education and successful athletic programs.

“We would like to do even better,” he said. “We just want to be treated fairly.”

Servidio said he worries that without changes, more could be lost, causing high achieving students to suffer or leave town.

“We may not be able to offer the AP classes that we offer every year,” he said. “We love teaching and learning. That’s why we do this job. We want a collaborative relationship because we want to pull in the same direction.”

Crowley noted that more than 100 teachers are planning to lobby on the issue.

“As the budget process unfolds, we are going to make sure our voices are heard loud and clear about why there needs to be changes,” he said.

He noted that you don’t have to work in education to advocate for students, recommending those concerned reach out to the governor’s office, as well as Senate and House leadership.

“I would encourage all of the residents of Burrillville to take an active role in this issue rather than let me take the charge,” Crowley said. “This is about the entire community trying to fix a problem.”

Editor’s note: The above article was edited to reflect precise out-of-town enrollment numbers.

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  1. Man that $5,000,000 football field the Town Council wants to build is certainly going to look great with no coaches, no teachers, and students and no fans to play on it. Mind boggling how the town has money for that, but not any money to actually pay for the school that uses the field.

    • Phil,
      The athletic field upgrades at the High School are not being done with solely operational money, but with a combination of ARPA, CIP funds (OSP) and some level of bonding. While you can argue that bonding hits the operational budget to a degree, our bond rating is top notch because Burrillville runs a tight fiscal ship. Our bonding obligations are low. The field upgrades are being done partially to help BSD in its current fight to attract more out of district students. If we have to fight under unfair conditions, where state aid can follow students anywhere, we need to make our campus attractive. I am not saying that staff do not deserve raises each year to keep up with cost of living adjustments, particularly in the era of unchecked Biden inflation and spiraling costs to live and do business. They do. Every contract has to be considered within the context of the 4% tax cap. Burrillville funds it schools very well. We maintain our buildings and facilities and we have always negotiated contracts in good faith to balance staff needs and taxpayer needs.

    • And, the field complex, which will be for soccer, lacrosse, field hockey and football, will be closer to $3 million. We have worked hard to bring down the actual cost. We authorized boding for higher, but have engineered and planned our costs down. Further, we just got word from the bond rating groups that Burrillville has maintained its AA bond rating, making the need to bond cheaper for us than many other communities in RI.

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