The dramatic school referendum result is an epic failure. The defeat of an educational bond in a town like this is rare. Town officials have to be working on the immediate fallout, including how to begin a new planning process, but this is also a time for critical reflection on how they could have so completely missed the mood of South Kingstown.
Could they have misjudged the times we are living through? Did they think their plan was so self-evidently great that they refused to see the evidence? Or was this simply a case of inexperienced leadership?
The pandemic has created enormous suffering but also pervasive uncertainty about the future. The dramatic national downturn in birthrates should give us pause about our own demographics. Building costs are through the roof.
Before telling voters that they have been “hoodwinked” our officials should consider whether they put themselves in an information bubble. The engineering redo was transparently bad and disingenuous. The implications for car use and suburbanization were given short shrift. While there was a formal process of citizen involvement, in practice it was mostly the cheerleaders for this project.
Leading the cheer was the relatively new school superintendent and town manager, strongly supported by a somewhat inexperienced school committee. Sometimes newcomers can see important things that long timers like me have stopped looking at. Not in this case.
Our appointed officials should go through some serious critical self-reflection now. Elected officials will face the voters in Nov. 2022. There has to be criticism and reasoned public debate in such a situation, it is the only way through as we know in our personal lives. I do hope we find a way to come together for both education and civic engagement in South Kingstown.