All Schools To Reopen Wednesday

Power to Hanaford was restored late Tuesday

School resumes Wednesday for all East Greenwich schools. Families heard from Supt. Victor Mercurio twice Tuesday, first at around 6 p.m. saying that schools would reopen except Hanaford, which was still without power. But in a second robo call just after 9:30 p.m. Tuesday, Mercurio said National Grid had restored power to Hanaford, so all students would be returning to school Wednesday, Nov. 1.

The power cable hangs low over the sidewalk on Cedar Avenue near Cole.
The tree down on Cedar closer to Division Street.

Power outages across town continue, with estimates of Friday, Nov. 3, for restoration.

Power Outages Force 2nd Day of School Closures

By Elizabeth McNamara

Tree limb on Somerset Street (ok, from a tree on this reporter’s own property!) fell on a power line at 12:30 a.m. Monday morning. The pole will need to be replaced.

Supt. Victor Mercurio alerted families at 7:30 p.m. Monday night that schools would remain closed for a second day after a heavy rain and wind storm swept through the area Sunday night.

In a text Monday night, Mercurio said National Grid was working to restore power to three schools – Hanaford, Meadowbrook and EGHS – but had told him power would not be back on until late Tuesday at the earliest and that they characterized the outages as a “multi-day event.”

The storm’s severity caught many by surprise.

“We figured there would be gusts of wind,” said Public Works Director Joe Duarte.  I don’t think anybody expected this.”

He said the storm wasn’t as bad as hurricanes Irene (2011) and Sandy (2012), it approached them because of the heavy rain and sustained winds.

Public works employees reported to work late Sunday as calls about flooding and downed trees began to come in.

“The guys were out all night long,” Duarte said. “If it wasn’t flooding that we had to clear, there were trees.  It was all over town, trees and big branches down all over.”

But there’s a limit to what the town can do. If trees or branches fall on power lines, National Grid must deal with the lines before the trees are dispatched. Duarte said as of late afternoon Monday, there were still downed trees and power lines on Carrs Pond Road, Middle Road, Cedar Avenue and Somerset Street.

Avengers Wallop Johnston, 51-14

Photos by Mary MacIntosh

Grant Driscoll (15) Goes for Touchdown Pass
Avenger Pride
Avenger Cheerleaders Perform at Halftime
EG Varsity Captains Await the Coin Toss
Johnston Dragon Defense Pressures EG Back-Up QB Conrad Swanson (12)

Avenger football took the crown at Friday’s Homecoming game, beating the Johnston Panthers handily, 51 to 14.

Stands were filled with a large contingent of vocal EG students showing lots of patriotism and spirit with flags, songs, and costumes.

EG took control of the game from the second quarter on despite many penalties.

FYI, Senior night is next Friday at home on Carcieri Field starting around 6:30 p.m.!

Murder in a Small Town – The Dusza-Reynolds Story, Part 2

By Bruce Mastracchio

(Find the Part 1 of this story here.)

The Pawtuxet Valley Daily Times, Aug. 31,  headline screamed out:

REYNOLDS PLEADS GUILTY TO FIVE MURDER COUNTS!
CONFESSED SLAYER OF DUSZA FAMILY  AWAITING MENTAL TESTS AT CRANSTON PRISON !

Edwin Reynolds, 27, confessed slayer of a family of five (again no mention of unborn baby), today languished in a Providence County jail cell under special guard awaiting the arrival of alienists, who will conduct mental tests.

The emotionless father of three, whose estranged wife described him as a guy “who wouldn’t even kill a chicken,” pleaded guilty to five counts of murder.  He was arraigned before district court judge James W. Leighton, in the council chamber of the East Greenwich Town Hall (since razed for a parking lot) on Main Street.

He maintained an icy nonchalance as he stood charged with the slaying of his former friend, his friend’s wife and their three children.

The judge ordered a plea of innocent given as he held the rubber plant worker for a Grand Jury hearing Oct. 23. Reynolds confessed that he beat Dusza to death and then used a chair, axe, rope, silk stocking, necktie and his hands to take the lives of the rest of the family after he learned that Mrs. Dusza told her husband of the affair she was having with Reynolds.

Then, to cover up his crime, he saturated the home, where he was a boarder, with gasoline and turned it into a funeral pyre. HIs capture came when his collie dog led police to his hiding place in a Quonset hut.

His estranged wife, Betty Reynolds, 28, expressed a wish that he never “be turned loose on society again.” She wanted him dead to her children so they would never know the horrible thing their father did.

She said she would stick by her husband to a point  but it was also learned she was making plans to move out of East Greenwich to another community.

Still later:  DRAMA PACKED COURTROOM EPISODE LASTS 8  MINUTES !

While a curious, but restless crowd gathered around the entrance to the Town Hall (I was there just one week shy of my 8th birthday). As I said I remember my Grandmother Ucci being particularly agitated. My house was down the alley just the other side of the police shed behind the Town Hall. There was a door in one of the stalls that opened up on my backyard.  Reynolds stood there, flanked by two police officers, one local, one a state trooper and was brought in to be arraigned on five counts of murder.

In the drama packed courtroom the episode lasted 8 minutes with police and news reporters as witnesses as Judge Leighton read five warrants charging Reynolds with murder. Reynolds pleaded guilty to each count.

When the legal proceedings were complete, Judge Leighton left the courtroom, and cameramen were given time to take pictures of Reynolds standing at the rail flanked by the two police officers. He was still wearing the soiled white T-shirt and dungarees he had on when captured. He calmly leaned against the rail and stared as flashbulbs popped from all corners of the small room. He made no comment and kept the same dead-pan expression throughout the proceedings.

Before he was taken out, police went out and moved the agitated crowd back enough to give a wide path from the courthouse to the waiting cars. Waiting to take the mass murderer to prison to await trial. When Reynolds appeared the crowd shook fists and yelled at him. As he was put into the car the crowd broke and surged around the vehicles.  Some to get a peak, and some to scream their thoughts at the killer at least one more time.

Edwin Reynolds was given a life sentence  but just a year or so ago, he either died, or was released from prison.

He was 92 years old.

Writer’s note: Interesting things I learned from this story were:

1. The fact that the baby’s death was not noted as another person killed by Reynolds as today it would have been included and he would have been charged with 6 murders.

2. The newspapers back then were a third again wider than today’s paper.

3. Though the headlines were big and multiple this was not spread all over the front page.

4. The reporting was succinct, factual and not sensationalized.

5. I always thought it was Dooser and could never keep straight which was the murderer and which was the family.

Hope you enjoyed the trip back to August 1950.

 

 

Dear East Greenwich

By Bob Houghtaling

The polarization we are experiencing on a local and national level is painful, troublesome and confusing for most of us. Despite having a wealth of information at our fingertips, we find ourselves, in many situations, diametrically opposed to opinions espoused by others. Why isn’t black, black? Why isn’t white, white? Why aren’t we able to come to consensus? Perhaps, sadly, facts do not matter. Perhaps, feelings, fears and the inability (or unwillingness) to consider options are greater considerations.

Remember, Galileo was locked away due to his temerity in substantiating findings first espoused by Copernicus. Remember, millions opposed Lincoln’s stance on slavery. Remember, Rosa Parks was arrested due to her stance on where African Americans should sit on a bus. History is replete with events and opinions that in retrospect seem “dumb.” How and why could anyone believe in witches? How and why could anyone believe that blacks were only 3/5 human? Looking back, it all appears so simple.

It seems that what we believe in impacts the information we choose to embrace. Religion, race, social status, education levels, peer groupings, family history and other factors all play roles in how we view the world.

From time to time most of us fall into the trap of thinking, “If I can’t understand it, then it can’t be understood.” This then sets in place a dynamic that asserts “Others who think differently than me are wrong.” In the most egregious form of this thinking an additional step follows – “Something is wrong with them for thinking that way.” It is hard to build consensus with this going on.

It has been an honor to have worked in the town of East Greenwich for decades. Over time I have met a number of talented and caring people – many who have become friends. Hopefully this continues a while longer for I truly love the town and its people. All of which makes writing this article difficult. All of which makes writing this article necessary.

The anger, polarization, marginalization and closed mindedness that has manifested, in many different ways, throughout the town is far worse than anything I have witnessed since 1983. Sure there have been arguments, significant disagreements, questionable tactics, etc., along the way, but nothing so entrenched like we are witnessing these days. Issues go from topical to personal almost immediately. To make matters worse, people run to the internet and pour kerosene on the fire. It’s counterproductive. It’s hurtful. Nothing gets accomplished except creating winners and losers. Unfortunately, even the victories are Pyrrhic in nature.

This article is not a call for ignoring major issues or placating things that cause pain. Just the opposite  – advocating for the town’s people is essential. However, there are ways to do this. Finger pointing, disrespect, shaming, threats and subversion should not be on this list. We have courts, elections, the media and public forums to address our differences.

Some of you who read this know me. Whether or not we have always agreed, I am convinced that the vast majority of residents want what is best for the town. I am also convinced that all of this bickering makes you wonder about how we must be perceived by others. On top of this, what do the young people think about the daily diatribes they have become privy to? There is often a difference between being right and doing the right thing. Kindness, understanding and what is best for all need to be factored in. Steamrolling over others leaves many hurt. Along with everything else I have written about, it appears that poor communication and lack of transparency are at a premium. We simply do not trust each other.

Please consider how we are treating friends and neighbors. Please consider the many appropriate avenues available for recourse and change. Please consider that different points of view do not necessitate the creation of enemies. We have all been granted many gifts by living in East Greenwich (and working here). One of the ways of paying back should be treating each other with respect. Another should be showing tolerance for attitudes different from our own. Why have we spent more time creating foes then solving the town’s problems?

Perhaps facts do not matter. Perhaps feelings and beliefs are as important. If that is so, we certainly have established a “mine are better then yours” dynamic. How is that working out? Is it time to push the reset button?

Please, East Greenwich, let us each try to employ those things that make for community. Let us use our talents to better the town rather than to belittle each other. As was stated previously, I love this place. I am sure you do as well. Let us heal the wounds created through discord by listening to each other. That would be a start. There is much work to do, but fragmentation keeps us from accomplishing many important goals.

Quick fixes and scapegoating might provide for populist enthusiasm, but what ensues can hardly be called solutions. Neither are intimidation and threats. These are totally uncalled for. Thoughtful consideration, open dialogue, give and take discussion, creativity and a desire to promote the public good are necessary in times like these. It is so easy to paint rivals as evil and less than. It is so easy to dismiss challenging opinions as off base or ill informed. It is so easy to retreat to like-minded souls. Abraham Lincoln selected a “Team of Rivals” for his cabinet. Why can’t we, too, engage with those whose views differ?

It is disturbing knowing that people you admire and work with have gathered so much distrust. When hurt, many look for reasons to remain so. While this is not unusual, it is counterproductive. I know you. I know how much you care. There would not be so much anger if people did not care. Who that anger is focused on is a concern. What to do with that anger is as well. We need to raise our voices for a solution. This can only come when we can trust and respect each other. Watch out for those ideas that promote division. Embrace those that welcome inclusive interactions. Sadly, at present, we cannot even engage each other for viable dialogue. The “hunker to the bunker” attitude of misinformation, intrigue and a lack of transparency has to stop. Until then it is court hearings, tweets, damaged relationships and inertia. Why can’t we admit to mistakes, forgive some shortcomings and seek common ground? We can do so much more. A call for cooler heads is in order. Will we recognize such clarity when it appears?

Finally, I would like to invite you to St. Luke’s Church, Nov. 15, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., for A Noteworthy Evening. The intent of the evening is to bring people together and celebrate the town through some wonderful music.
On top of this, refreshments will be served. So, come listen to some talented singers and musicians from our schools and community. You might find that you all have so much more in common than one might think. If we can start simple, bigger things will follow. We are all responsible for the changes necessary to heal. In the end, perhaps getting involved with community matters will make a difference. It is the day-to-day cultivation of our community garden that will keep East Greenwich vibrant. Hope to see you soon.

Bob Houghtaling is the East Greenwich substance abuse counselor. He is also head of the Academy Foundation and is on the board of East Greenwich News.

 

This Week in EG: Planning Dept. Open House! Town Blood Drive!

A weekly article that lists happenings in East Greenwich and nearby. If you have something you’d like to add, send your information to egreenwichnews@gmail.com.

Monday, Oct. 30

Planning Department Open House – In honor of National Community Planning Month, the EG Planning Dept. is inviting residents to stop by, learn about pending projects and developments, and find out all the things the Planning Dept. does. Their office is in the basement at Town Hall. from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Tuesday, Oct. 31

Happy Halloween!  The house shown in the photo above is at 5 Kenson Drive.

Wednesday, Nov. 1

EGSD Finance Subcommittee meeting – The group meets at 7:30 a.m. in the Superintendant’s Conference Room at the school department, 111 Peirce Street.  Find the agenda here.

Lunch on the Hill – If you are looking for some good food and company, stop by the dining room at St. Luke’s Church on Peirce Street where you will find both. A free lunch is offered every week, sponsored by various local churches and restaurants – a different church-restaurant combination each week.From 11:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.Learn more and check out the full schedule here: Lunch On The Hill Info Sheet

9th Annual Evening With Authors WAIT LIST ONLY – Robin Kall is back with Evening with Authors Wednesday, Nov. 1 at the Greenwich Odeum and the lineup is impressive. Featured authors are Alice Hoffman (The Rules of Magic), Wiley Cash (The Last Ballad) and Nicole Krauss (Forest Dark). Enjoy an evening of lively conversation moderated by Kall. Registration begins at 6 p.m. with the formal program beginning at 7. Tickets are $50 and proceeds benefit the Gloria Gemma Foundation. For more information visit Evening With Authors on Facebook and www.robinkall.com.

Planning Board meeting –  The agenda includes the twice-continued review of a comprehensive plan application for a 16-unit condominium development proposed for 62 South Pierce Road (known as the McKenna property), and a master plan review of a proposed 25-lot subdivision at the end of Princess Pine Drive off Taggert Court (the property borders West Greenwich and Exeter). Find the full agenda here. The board meets in Council Chambers at Town Hall at 7 p.m.

Thursday, Nov. 2

Special Ed Advisory Committee meeting – Parents and other with an interest in special education are welcome to attend the SEAC meeting at the library (2nd floor) at Cole Middle School, from 6:30 to 8 p.m.

Friday, Nov. 3

Town Blood Drive – If you are a regular donor, then here’s a chance to donate close to home. If you’ve never donated before, come by and see what it’s all about. Help out if you can. It matters for everyone from car accident victims to those with leukemia to people awaiting an organ transplant and those close to home, like Gianna Cirella, daughter of EG Police Deputy Chief Skip Cirella. Sponsored by the Town of EG, the drive will be held at Swift Community Center, 121 Peirce St., from 1 to 5 p.m. You don’t need to make an appointment, but you can here.

OTHER ITEMS OF NOTE

Recycling is ON this week.

Register for email updates from the town – Sign up through the town’s Notify Me system and you can receive anything from a weekly email listing meetings and events to targeted emails about specific boards and commissions you are interested in. In addition, you will be notified in case of emergencies (i.e. parking bans, other important information). Click here to get started. And, for those who signed up before August, revisit the link if you have specific topics about which you’d like more information.

LOOKING AHEAD

Saturday, Nov. 11

Veterans Day Parade – The annual parade steps off at 10 a.m. from Academy Field, then continues to First Avenue for a wreath-laying at the corner of First and Cliff streets. The parade proceeds down Main Street to Town Hall for closing ceremonies. Lucy Amat, Chaplain of EG American Legion Post 15, is this year’s Grand Marshal. Commander John Holmes, also with EG American Legion Post 15, will serve as master of ceremonies. In addition to regular favorites like “Lone Piper” Aaron Lindo, police and fire color guards, the Kentish Guard and Varnum Continentals, His Majesty’s 10th Regiment of Foot in America, a historically recreated infantry based on British soldiers from the Revolutionary War, will make its first appearance.

Wednesday, Nov. 15

Business After Hours – This month’s EG Chamber of Commerce Business After Hours takes place at New England Tech, which just opened its first dorm in September. From 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Members $5; non-members $10.

A Noteworthy Evening – Come and listen to some talented musicians both young and old(er). Come and meet new friends. Finally, come and help offer your insight into how we can create a greater sense of “town” for East Greenwich. It won’t cost you a dime, but your contribution of enthusiasm, caring, and reflection is priceless. At St. Luke’s Church from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. For more information contact Bob Houghtaling at 401-230-2246 or rhoughtaling2@verizon.net.

Police Log: Stake Out Leads to Cocaine Arrest; Dog Bites Pizza Man

By Bethany Hashway

Monday Oct. 9: Broken In Door

8:30 a.m. – Police arrested an East Greenwich man, 54, for domestic disorderly conduct and malicious injury to property after he broke down the door to his house and the door fell on his girlfriend, cutting her leg. The couple had fought the night before and after the man left, the woman locked all the doors. The man returned to the house Monday morning, banging on a sliding glass door and then breaking it down. After the woman said she was going to call the police, he left but police found him nearby. The woman’s cut was treated by EG Fire rescue personnel and police gave her information with domestic violence resources in the area.

Tuesday, Oct. 10: Cocaine and Cash

12:42 p.m. – Police arrested a Coventry teen, 19, for possessing cocaine with intent to deliver after police got a tip about a possible drug sale in the area of Main and Dedford streets downtown. The teen was the front seat passenger of a car police had been looking for. A marked police car followed the car as it turned down Dedford Street while unmarked police cars blocked in the suspect car from Main Street. According to the report, police saw a large roll of cash on the dashboard and the car smelled of marijuana. The roll of cash totaled $3,240. The teen and the driver were taken to the police department, where they were searched. Police found several “rocks” and another bag of white powder in the Coventry teen’s underwear – both bags suspected of being cocaine. The driver of the car was cited for possessing a small amount of marijuana without having a medical marijuana card.  

Wednesday, Oct. 11: Dog Bites Delivery Man

7:22 p.m. – A pizza delivery man told police he was bit by a dog while delivering pizza to a Middle Road residence. When the delivery man arrived at the home, the owner’s two dogs got out and ran toward him, one of the dogs biting him in the knee, stomach and arm. The dog’s owner told police the pizza delivery people know he has an aggressive dog and they usually wait at a distance from the door. The dog owner was told to quarantine the dog until further notice. This was the second time the dog bit someone in seven months.

Sunday, Oct. 15: Shed Fire

2:03 a.m. – Police arrested a Westerly man, 24, on a bench warrant after the car he was traveling in was pulled over for speeding on Post Road. Routine checks were done on the three passengers in the car as well as the driver and one of the passengers, the Westerly man, had a bench warrant. He was taken into custody, processed at EGPD and later taken to the ACI in Cranston.

6:16 p.m. – Police and fire were called to a house on Pardon’s Wood Lane for a shed fire. The shed, isolated from the house, was engulfed in flames by the time help arrived. The owner said he had cut his grass earlier with a rider mower, which he then stored in the shed. A short time later the man noticed flames coming out of the shed. The fire marshal said the fire did not appear to be suspicious.

Town Officials Double Down On $1.4 Million Budget Error

Dykeman Blames Previous Administration 

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

At the Town Council meeting Monday night, Finance Director Linda Dykeman presented a budget report for the first quarter of fiscal year 2018 (1st Qtr 2018 Budget Report), the first such budget report since Dykeman and Town Manager Gayle Corrigan assumed their leadership roles in June. 

Town Councilor Mark Schwager asked why the fire department “rescue billing” line item – $700,000 – was listed under “Other Income” instead of being listed as fire department income. (Rescue billing is the insurance money made from 911 calls.)

“That’s interesting because it was actually buried under expenses” in the 2018 budget, said Dykeman. “It was the only revenue line that was buried in the fire department expenses, to reduce the overall budget in appearance of the fire department. I had to physically move it up to revenue…. If I printed a report from Munis [the budgeting software], you would still see it reducing the expenses of the fire department.”

Except it doesn’t reduce the fire department’s budget. It increases it.

In the Corrigan/Dykeman 2018 budget, rescue billing is listed with fire department expenses (find it on page 33). But, it is listed as an expense.

In former Town Manager Tom Coyle’s proposed 2018 budget, rescue billing is listed as fire department revenue.

Dykeman said Monday night she inherited the problem from the previous administration. Former Town Manager Tom Coyle’s proposed 2018 budget, however, did not have the rescue billing revenue line listed under expenses, nor did budgets for 2017, 2016, or 2015. 

Instead, rescue billing in those earlier budgets is listed as fire department revenue.

In Coyle’s proposed 2018 budget, the fire department’s total budget expenses are listed as $4,162,597.

Coyle’s proposed 2018 budget for the fire department was $4,162,597. The Corrigan/Dykeman 2018 budget for the fire department is $4,863,868. The difference between the two is $701,271. 

The total budgeting error is $1.4 million, since the $700,000 rescue billing revenue – the highest revenue line in previous budgets after taxes – is not counted as revenue anywhere in the budget. 

A emailed request for clarification Monday night got this response Tuesday from Town Manager Corrigan:

“In the Town’s accounting systems the previous administration had incorrectly included rescue billing revenue in the Fire Department as expense lines. The print out of the budget from the Munis system clearly shows the $700,000 rescue billing revenue as a Fire Department expense. As Ms. Dykeman mentioned last evening, it will take several years to work out all of the peculiarities in the Town’s accounting and budget system.”

Interview requests were not returned. 

‘One Town’ Blackmail – What Will EG Schools Lose Next?

To the Editor,

In June, the East Greenwich Town Council adopted a budget that level funded the school district, regardless of known increases in school expenses due to contractual agreements and health insurance premiums. As a result, and with the recommendation of then-consultants Linda Dykeman and Gayle Corrigan’s “One Town” reorganization, the school district’s budget underfunded student support services (including special education) by more than $300,000 with the assurance from the town that unexpected costs could be eligible for supplemental appropriations and that the town was holding off on any capital expenditures that weren’t required (like the new street sweeper) to provide the needed financial buffer.  

After the town’s budget was adopted, Ms. Dykeman recommended the East Greenwich School Committee underfund student services line items. School Committee members expressed concerns that the district is legally obligated to provide Individualized Education Plans, 504 Plans, and other support services, such as Response to Intervention, as required by state regulation. It seemed fiscally irresponsible to make cuts when the district knew these costs still existed. The idea of the “One Town” plan relied heavily on the trust that both sides would uphold their end of the agreement.  Yet, on October 23rd, Ms Dykeman stated that the town has purchased the street sweeper, a dishwasher, a new stretcher, and leaf blower:  All that remains of our “buffer” is $193.000.  

Not surprisingly (since costs vary based on students moving in and enrollment), the district has already encountered unexpected costs as preschool special education enrollment was higher than projected. Earlier this month, the School Committee went to the town, per the original agreement, to request the supplemental appropriation to pay for the additional preschool teacher. Town officials denied the request due to lack of “demonstrated need,” which town officials said could only be authorized after a fiscal audit. This new demand for a fiscal audit of student services appears to be blackmail (for this and any future unanticipated student service costs) until the School Committee does as the Town Council demands.  In addition, on Oct. 23, Ms. Corrigan recommended “shelving” the agreement entirely.

Why should this matter to you, residents of East Greenwich? Student services, the budget area targeted, is not just special education. This budget area serves approximately one out of every three East Greenwich students, and likely serves your children or children you know in some way, even beyond the obvious IEPs, 504 plans, and interventions. Many parents do not even know their children are assisted from this budget “bucket.” For example, if your child appears in class struggle with focus, teachers and support staff may address the need by adding strip of velcro adhered below their desk for stimulation or try a special sensory seat top added to their chair in an effort to find what works.

We presume the School Committee and district employees will continue to fulfill their legal and ethical obligation to all students – to not do so would only end in expensive litigation. However, because this budget area was intentionally underfunded, the contingency unethical spent, and now supplemental appropriations are being denied for blackmail, there will be a deficit – so where will the money come from?  

It will come from things our district isn’t legally required to provide, as we essentially “rob Peter to pay Paul.” We may have to cut sports, more librarians, a foreign language, and certainly the much needed Director of Curriculum, who would act as the leader of teaching and learning, will not be hired. The result will be outrage in the greater school community as the cuts become real and more apparent. This anger will lead to blame, and blame will divide our community, once again ostracizing the families of our most vulnerable.  

The true blame belongs squarely on the Town Council. The Town Council contracted with (and then hired) Ms. Dykeman and Ms. Corrigan, who recommended we underfund the schools. The Town Council has not held up the town’s end of the agreement and has allowed the president and town manager to overstep their bounds by demanding a fiscal audit of student services. We didn’t elect Town Councilors to run our school system. They don’t get to have a say in what the school district should prioritize, and they don’t get to back our elected School Committee members into a corner. Hold them accountable, East Greenwich.  Tell them to keep their politics out of our schools.

Nicole Bucka
Patty Harwood
Betsy Aulisio
Co-Chairs, EG Special Education Advisory Committee

 

Corrigan Says Consolidation May Not Work

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

After coining the term “One Town” in June, Town Manager Gayle Corrigan seemed to want to lower expectations for further consolidation with the school district at the Town Council meeting Monday night at Swift Community Center.

“We’ve had several meetings now with members of the School Committee. It’s very clear that the path to consolidation will be a long one if we even get there, due mostly to concerns on the school side.”

Corrigan told the council she recommended shelving the draft Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) the School Committee had requested last June to memorialize both the town’s decision to take over the school district’s non-educational expenses and its pledge to allow the district to seek supplemental funding for special education if the need arose.

In September, the School Committee removed language in the MOA added by Town Solicitor David D’Agostino that referred to the town’s so-called “One Town” approach. School officials, according to Corrigan, said it was done because “the salaries and expenses assumed by the town in fiscal year ’18 were untethered to consolidation.”

On Tuesday, School Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Mark described the decision (made at the meeting Aug. 1) differently, saying the concern was that the expression “One Town” has no legal meaning and the MOA was a legal document.

“It can mean different things to different people – not something you want in a legal document,” said Mark. “The purpose of the MOA was simply to codify the decisions made in June.”

“We’re nearly one-third into the year,” Corrigan said Monday. “We really don’t have time to go back and forth in terms of semantics…. What’s ‘One Town?’ Define ‘One Town’?”

Corrigan added that the town was already paying the school salaries and expenses it had assumed. While that is true, the MOA also addressed the supplemental funding pledge, which has not yet been fulfilled.

One thing Corrigan said she wanted to do was to define the concept of documented need.

“What I’d like to do is shelve the Memorandum of Agreement but give a letter to [Supt.] Dr. Mercurio and the School Committee before their next meeting defining what is ‘documented need.’ I think that would go a long way to helping the School Committee and the schools’ understanding how we should work together in fiscal year ’18.”

Councilman Mark Schwager said the difficulties with the MOA could be blamed on the town’s approach to consolidation.

“Consolidation is something we’ve spent a long time talking about and trying to implement. The problem was the approach the council took to approach it unilaterally. You can’t dictate to the School Committee how they are going to spend their money…. You may have the best intentions, but there is another municipal body on the other side of the table that has the same statutory authority that we have. The only difference is, they can’t tax.”

Councilman Andy Deutsch brought up the suggestion he made the June 10 meeting when the council approved the 2018 the budget.

“I had an idea to keep a contingency fund for them because I knew they were going to have a tough time with this ‘One Town’ approach,” said Deutsch, noting that the idea had been dismissed by an unnamed councilor.

About giving the schools additional money, he added, “We’re very willing to do this but we need to show some documentation. You can’t just say, ‘We need more, we need more.’”

Earlier this month, school and town officials met to discuss having the town take over the district’s $45,000 sewer bill and to ask for additional funding (a supplemental appropriation) to cover the cost of opening an extra preschool classroom. Town officials said no to both requests – although Council President Sue Cienki did say she agreed with the idea of the town taking over the sewer bill in principle, just not this year.

On Monday, Corrigan said the reason the town didn’t give the school district extra money for the preschool classroom was because it was too early in the year to have a good sense of the school budget.

“The first quarter in a school budget – you might as well toss it away because school really only starts in September. July and August are not reflective of the monthly budgets,” said Corrigan.

According to the School Committee’s Mark, the district knew it would need additional funding in July, when enrollment spiked for the town’s preschool program – which serves children with special needs as well as typically developing peers who pay tuition. An additional class was opened – by law, the school district must provide for special education students.

“From the School Committee’s perspective, that was an appropriate request. When we met with the town to discuss the supplemental appropriation, their definition of demonstrated need was different than ours,” Mark said Tuesday.

While Mark welcomed Corrigan’s plan to provide a letter explaining the town’s idea of demonstrated need – “I was hoping she would because otherwise we’d be shooting in the dark” – she expressed concern that the town might spend the money it set aside to help the schools if the school district needed to wait until well into the year to prove its need to the town.

In June, when Corrigan, then serving as a consultant to the town, proposed cutting the special ed budget by $380,000, she said $330,000 would be set aside out of the town’s capital budget, to be given to the schools if there was a need, or else used by the town for capital projects.