Our Father Who Art In EG

The original Our Lady of Mercy church was on Main Street.

By Bruce Mastracchio

Growing up Catholic is quite an experience at any rate. I make fun of my Episcopal friends and friends of other religious persuasions, along with my Catholic experiences, but, when you really study it, growing up on the knee of Mother Church is an experience beyond experiences. If she gets you before age seven, she has you for life. Even if you quit going to Mass it seems that something from those Catechism days pops up in your life again and again.

Most Catholics who have varying opinions of this experience, do, though, have one thing in common. They usually hold a mental picture, or a real one, of their favorite priest. Usually it is someone like Bing Crosby in “Going My Way” or Spencer Tracy in “Boys Town.”

Recently, though, the Church and its priests have come under attack and the memories of current day Catholics and some from parishes with a darker side in their past, may not be so good. They should have let priests marry and that would have gone part way to solving some of the problems. That subject gave root to one of my greatest lines and will be revisited later in this piece.

We were lucky in East Greenwich in those mockingbird years of the mid-fifties. We had Father Joe and The Barn!

Neither will ever be forgotten, even though they are now gone from our midst, but not our minds or memories. They will always have an apartment there to be visited from time to time. The visits will always be good.

This column is dedicated to The Barn Gang: To Lu and Flute, Deacon and Bubba Joe, Big Hop & Lil’ Hop, Young Gun and Bird and especially to Karen & Gail, Linda, Elaine, Claire and Sandy, so that they may never forget. . . . 

Father Joe came on the scene in 1955. He was your not so typical, typical Irish-Catholic priest, stepping in at over 6 feet and 260 lbs. He was imposing, to say the least, and had an impact immediately, if not sooner. He got our attention and he got it fast. He also gave us memories. Memories that still last.

There are all kinds of priests. In those days, it seemed, most of them were content to do their jobs. Some were overly religious. Some were more like regular guys. Some were teetotalers. Some liked their booze, uh, holy wine. And some were bean counters. Most stuck to the dogma of our religion, and those bothered me the most. They would stick by the book. Even when the book was wrong.

In general, they were all looked at as stern, unbending, and not really in touch with the people. Especially, the pastors.

When Father Joe came on the scene all that changed. He touched our lives, and us, in more ways then one. But, NO, not THAT one!

He was a People’s Priest, the likes of which we have not seen since.

The Mass became his particular vehicle. We had never seen a priest stop in the middle of the mystical Latin service and threaten parishioners who were trying to leave Mass early so they could get a head start on the coffee and donuts down at the local cafe, or get early tee time at their country club.

He also left the pulpit and roamed the aisles giving us the gospel, or what for, or whatever, or whatever was needed. A little of that old, good-time, roll up your sleeves religion.

He seemed to be everywhere. He showed up at people’s houses to visit the sick, or just visit, or maybe to sample some of Mom’s coffee and apple pie. He came to the ball games and even played softball in the local town league. He went to wakes and funerals and dinners. You might look up from reading a magazine at the local variety store, and he’s be standing there. He was everywhere. That magazine had better have been about sports or Norman Rockwell or else!

It was awesome as kids to watch him play softball, He played for OLM in the local league. To some of the parishioners, this was sacrilegious. But we kids loved it. We had never seen a Catholic priest play softball before, and this guy not only played, he knocked the stuffing out of the ball.

Ironically, many of his home runs landed across the street outside the ballpark and ended up in the Protestant cemetery. One time, in winning a bet from us kids, he  got down on his knees at the Little League Park and knocked balls over the flagpole.

Sort of ” praying home runs ” so to speak.

He was a hands on priest, even if that meant putting hands on Deacon and TabCat, who had the audacity (and stupidity) to get into a fistfight during the middle of our CYO meeting one Monday evening.

He rolled up his sleeves and gave us a practical look at religion. One we have never seen, before or since. Whether it was a physical lesson, like the one Deacon and TabCat got, or a practical one in the form of a lecture, or just an old fashioned talk, Father Joe usually got the job done and in a way that stuck in your mind, your soul or your body!

“Don’t get the Big Guy mad” sort of became our password.

Yet, we knew he cared. In more ways than one. Today, when priests go on vacation, be it normal or the “collars off” type, they usually go alone, with another priest or with family, or maybe someone else. When Father Joe went, he took us!

He had a farmhouse at his disposal in New Hampshire near Echo Lake. He would fill his station wagon with gas and food, and then with the altar boys, basketball team or the baseball team. Then off we’d go for a week of fun at a place that was like our own private camp.

As I said the farm was near Echo Lake, The Flume, The Tramway and the Old Man in the Mountain at Franconia Notch. We had a ball and those trips made an indelible impression on many a boy, most of whom had never been out of East Greenwich, never mind Rhode Island.

We had apple fights, milked cows, dared one another to touch the electric fence, swam in freezing cold lakes, met the tenants, who were Hungarian Freedom Fighters who had stared down and shot at the Russians, and at night rolled up in our blankets and sleeping bags filled with a day of adventure and happenings. We slept well and hard.

We lived more of this life that we had come to know and love. It was idyllic. It was fulfilling. It opened our eyes to other ways.

One time Father Joe took six of us down to Philadelphia to appear on American Bandstand with Dick Clark. We had won dance contests at the church-sponsored dance and the trip was our prize. It was his treat to us for winning. We saw things that, once again, were new to us. Guys putting on rouge and lipstick so they would look better on TV. How different the real thing was to what we saw on TV. Grafitti on the records you saw behind Dick Clark’s podium on the show. The smallness of the set.

But, we were up close and personal with Dick Clark. We danced our time away. We had a hell of a time, thanks to a heaven of a priest.

Still, the best thing Father Joe gave us, aside from the present of himself and his time, was The Barn!

It was just an old horse barn located behind OLM when that church was on Main Street. If it were here today it would be approximately where Back to Basics is.

Word had it that the local teenagers needed a place to go in East G. A place to occupy them and keep them off the streets.

Father Joe had an idea and he got John and Jerry and Joe and a bunch of the male parishioners to turn that idea into a reality. The men donated time, tools and physical effort and they made a priest’s vision come to life!

For us it was our own magical, mystical, mystery show.

What had once been an old horse and buggy barn got converted, just like water to wine, from a dusty, cluttered, unused edifice into The Barn, a monument in our memory

What had once been an old horse and buggy barn got converted, just like water to wine, from a dusty, cluttered, unused edifice into The Barn, a monument in our memory!

After the workmen were done with it (all volunteer labor), it held a dance floor with jukebox, a card playing area, a ping pong room, a pool room, a games room and a TV room. Outside there were two basketball courts, one full court and the other half court.

When Father Joe put his mind to it, he got ‘er done, as they say today. A lot of equipment was donated. After all, who could refuse a priest? Especially one, who stood 6 feet and 260 pounds. No one! Kind of like a religious Godfather, if you get my drift.

He made them an offer they couldn’t refuse. And, they didn’t!

He was not Bing Crosby (a dark figure in real life) or Spencer Tracy, or Barry Fitzgerald, but he was a lot more real. We never wailed that plaintive cry, especially the one I heard from my own kids that there was “nothing to do in East Greenwich. It’s so boring!”

We had a lot to do and a place to do it in! If the streets, the cove, the woods or the farm didn’t provide us with diversions, there was always The Barn!

Father Joe left EG in 1962. He, like others, eventually left the priesthood (their loss). He married and is living happily somewhere on the planet. As a priest he knew all the answers (as a marriage counselor). Now he is finding out the questions. He gave me cause to use two of my best, and in one case, prophetic lines:

He wanted me to be a priest. I answered, “Father, if they let priests marry, I’ll be a priest tomorrow.” (Uttered  in 1959.)

On asking me about marriage I told him: “Father, when you were 33 you knew all the answers. Now you don’t even know the questions.” Of course, he loved me for my wit and wisdom. He, and the church, should have listened.

The Barn burned down in 1961. One of the guys bunked school, snuck into the Barn and fell asleep in the TV lounge with a cigarette burning “tween his fingers.”

He survived. The Barn did not.

It was never rebuilt.

Now it only exists in those corners of our mind that are reserved for good memories, good times and good friends. Trips down shadowy mental hallways to those bright spots that bring us joy and pleasure.

Even that is better than never having it at all.

I do hope, good friends, that this tale has helped you to open that doorway that opens on that hallway, that leads to the corners of your mind when the times were good, as were your friends.

With Much Love and In the Spirit of Crazy Horse,


Poetry Night Invitation, by Way of a Poem

By Bob Houghtaling

Poetry has been a way of expressing our deepest thoughts and emotions for countless years. It can be light. It can bring a tear. It can take us to places beyond words.

While I cannot pretend to be an accomplished poet, it has been a way for me to convey messages in an alternate form. In addition, writing poems can be fun.

I thereby offer this piece as both a reminder of how wonderful poetry can be, as well as an invitation to an evening of poetry, Jan. 18 from 6:30 to 8 p.m., in the East Greenwich High School library. The program is sponsored by the EG Library Lions and is open to all.

The poem, Books, is a drug counselor’s attempt to extol the virtue of poetry and learning. Sure, I am seeking to challenge readers regarding educational priorities. We offer no greater gift to our young people than to ensure that they are given the opportunity to learn. Learning is at the core of creating capable people and an informed citizenry.  


Gather round ye people
A story must be told
The moral is of the present
Though by practice very old

For once a tiny village
Stood high upon a hill
Until the day it happened
When time started to stand still

A deeply valued mission
That countless might embark
Would fan the flames of inquiry
Brought on by Promethean spark

But frowns came to the Titans
When confronted with a choice
Board up the mighty pages
Or hear the muses’ voice

The dilemma demands a choosing
In the end it’s up to you
But, remember the clock now ticking
So listen for what to do

History stood there waiting
With poems and distant tales
For hands and minds to open
That which should prevail

The air now long silent
Where once miners eagerly searched
Excavating knowledge’s treasures
And tending wisdom’s church

Somewhere on the journey
The track has lost its train
Shiny rails are sitting pretty
But they won’t be used again

Sworn keepers of the magic
Are nowhere to be found
Since edicts tossed from mountaintops
Have turned things upside down

Adults were playing checkers
While the students practiced chess
All hoping that the chorus
Would help untangle the mess

And those lonely waiting
Praying that one might look
Collect a little dust today
Because we’ve now closed the book

Perhaps in the near future
Souls might unearth the crime
Bringing light to all the subjects
Which sought such things sublime

An educated populace is essential for our nation’s continued growth. America’s system depends on our many freedoms that come from being informed. Enjoy the poetry. Enjoy the prose. Most of all enjoy the possibilities created through education.

See you soon. 

Bob Houghtaling is East Greenwich’s drug and youth counselor.


Police Log: Horses on the Loose, Scam Emails

Wednesday, Dec. 13

2:15 p.m. – Police arrested a Johnston man, 27, for driving with a suspended license after police saw him using his cell phone while making a right turn onto Main Street from First Avenue. He was also warned against texting while driving.

Thursday, Dec. 14

Noon – The accounts manager at East Greenwich Housing Authority told police she’d received an email asking her to send a $19,850 wire payment to a Bank of America account in Batavia, New York. The email came from the EGHA director’s email address but when the accounts manager asked the director about the amount (which was unusual), the director said she had not sent such an email then reported the incident to the police. The accounts manager got second email, this time requesting $19,300 be sent to an account at Key Bank in Troy, New York, which they also reported to police. No money was sent.

12:53 p.m. – The manager of Ocean State Veterinary Hospital on South County Trail told police someone had taken a laptop computer sometime in mid-November. The computer had a location finder on it and it showed someone had used it to go online Dec. 6-7. With a police report filed, the location finder company would now be able to release location information on the laptop to the police.

Saturday, Dec. 16

12:56 a.m. – Police arrested a West Warwick woman, 41, for driving with a suspended license after she was stopped because one of the tail lights on her car was out and she had been seen drifting out of her lane of travel on First Avenue in front of police headquarters. After police stopped her, the woman told police she had drifted in the lane because she’d dropped her cigarette and was reaching down to get it. A passenger in the car told police the car was his but that he’d just had eye surgery and couldn’t drive. When routine checks turned up the license violation, the woman said she knew it was suspended but was just giving her friend a ride home. In addition to the license charge, she was cited for leaving the lane of travel. The car was towed from the scene.

11:14 p.m. – Police were called to Middle Road west of Tillinghast Road for a report of horses in the road. The horses were found in a Shippeetown Road backyard. The horses’ owner got two of the horses and took them back to the stable, leaving two other horses, which the police managed to corral until the owner returned. She got the remaining horses and walked them back to their stable.


Police Log: Noisy Restaurant, Main Street DUI

 By Bethany Hashway

Monday, Dec. 4

10:31 a.m. – An East Greenwich man who lives next door to Rocco’s Bistro on Main Street complained about the noise he hears through their shared wall. Since the restaurant was closed, police said they would return in the evening and speak to the management about the complaint.

3:09 p.m. – Police arrested an East Greenwich man, 46, on outstanding warrants after someone at the Greenwich Hotel called police because the man was unresponsive. By the time police arrived, EG Fire was on the scene and the man was conscious and alert. He told police he had two warrants out for him and police confirmed the warrants out of Warwick. He was arrested and Warwick police picked him up.

Friday, Dec. 8

8:12 p.m. – Police arrested a Providence man, 52, for driving while intoxicated after they were alerted to an erratic driver on Main Street near the East Greenwich Fire Station. According to the report, the car ran several red lights before stopping in the road in front of the East Greenwich Fire Station. When police made contact with the driver they found him sitting with his head back, asleep in the driver’s seat. Police had to knock on the window many times before he woke up. When he opened the door, he said, “What’s going on?” The car was still in drive and he had his foot on the brake pedal. Police told him to shut off the car. The man smelled of alcohol, was slurring his speech and his eyes were bloodshot. Police asked him if he had any drinks and he said, “Yes, a lot.” Specifically, he told them, he’d had “4 to 6 drinks of hard liquor.” The man took the field sobriety tests and failed, so police took him into custody. He was released with a District Court summons.

School Committee, Paraprofessional Union Reach 3-Year Agreement

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

The School Committee voted Tuesday to approve a three-year contract for the paraprofessionals union, including 2 percent raises in years two and three and the adoption of HSA (health savings account) health coverage for the union’s 87 members.

The group is officially known as the educational support professionals (ESP) union because it also includes school secretaries and members of the IT department.

The agreement represents a marked contrast with last year’s difficult negotiations between the school district and the teachers union, largely over the move to an HSA plan. Teachers eventually agreed to adopt the plan midyear, but continued “working to rule” through the rest of the school year. (Working to rule means completing that work that is specifically stipulated in the contract.)

For the teachers, the HSA deductible is $2,000 for an individual, $4,000 for a family, but the school district agreed to pay half of that deductible.

According to union president Joanne Capaldi, the paraprofessionals knew the HSA was going to be part of the negotiation. Their emphasis, she said, was on the fact that their union members make considerably less than the teachers – between $15.35 and $19.14 an hour.

“Part of it going into the negotiations was making everyone understand that we’re not the teachers,” Capaldi said, in reference to the salary gap.

They asked for extra help with the HSA transition and the district agreed. The HSA does not go into effect until 2019 and the district will pay 60 percent of the deductible that first year. It drops to 50 percent after that. The paraprofessionals also give up the health care buy back by the end of the contract – that’s money a member would get if they did not need health care insurance. Union leadership also made sure to get information to the members.

“There was a lot of compromise,” said schools lawyer Matt Oliverio.

The paraprofessionals also asked for a mentoring program, in which more senior paras would mentor newer paras and receive a slight stipend.

“Who’s going to benefit from that? The kids,” said Oliverio. “It’s a recognition of [the union’s] professionalism … it’s internal professional development.”

“The repertoire was great, the discussions were great,” Capaldi said. “We felt they were listening to us, we were listening to them. We understood their predicament. They didn’t asked for the zero percent [from the Town Council]…. It was up to us to work with them and to make sure that we could afford what we were going into but that we weren’t breaking the bank on them either. I thought everyone worked beautifully together.”

The paraprofessional bargaining unit was Capaldi, vice president Nancy DiSanto, secretary Sherry Mong, and treasurer Diane Dyer.

The contract will be made public in January, Oliverio said. Next up for the School Committee are the custodians – their contract is up this year.

Cole Best Buddies Chapter Named ‘Outstanding’

The Cole Best Buddies club was recognized by the School Committee Dec. 19 for being named an ‘Outstanding Chapter’ by BB International.

The Best Buddies chapter at Cole Middle School recently was named an Outstanding Chapter by Best Buddies International and members of the group were recognized by the School Committee Tuesday night.

Best Buddies is a school club is dedicated to  enhancing the lives of students with intellectual and developmental disabilities through peer relationships – students with disabilities are paired with “buddy” students without disabilities. 

You can watch that part of the School Committee here. Keep watching to hear Lexi Scott’s speech. Lexi is the Cole chapter president.
Cole’s Best Buddies teacher-advisor is Lexi’s dad, science teacher Adam Scott. He says he kind of fell into the role.
“Sometimes in life, you simply stumble upon something that changes your life forever.  Five years ago, I was asked to coach the Unified Basketball Team for they needed a coach,” he said. “I said yes and never looked back. This school year, I also helped to pilot the Unified Cross Country team – along with two other middle schools – and with so many schools looking to join next year, it is going to take off and be another great opportunity for our athletes and partners.”
(Unified sports teams combine students with disabilities, the athletes, with typical peers, the partners.)
Scott added, “At Cole, I feel that I have two parts of my life moving at the same time each day.  One part is teaching science and the other part is my work with Best Buddies and the two Unified Sports teams.  I look at all our kids and, the father in me takes over, and I simply want each and every child here to be treated with the respect that they each deserve.  Programs such as Best Buddies makes you aware of how easy it really is to be kind to each other.  As Lexi mentioned the other night, we are trying to find the unique abilities that make us all special instead of just looking at disabilities.”
Members of Cole’s Best Buddy 2017-18 chapter:
Alexis Baker
Andrew Blake
Faith Cabrita
Matt Carosotto
Jared Cusick
Sean Giannelli
Gabriella Giulano
Madison Cavanaugh
Allison Cazmer
Aidan Meacham
Griffen Meacham
Zoe Meier
Sienna Petorski
Lucy Rosen
Ella Saint
Alexandra Scott, chapter president
Caroline Shea
Joseph Gendron
Adam Scott, faculty advisor

At Start of Winter, Time to Think About ‘Summer’s End’

For many of us, the Summer’s End concert is something great that happens the Friday of Labor Day Weekend. We don’t have to give it much thought – it just IS.

And it has been, for nearly 25 years. But here’s something a lot of us don’t realize: Summer’s End is put on by a small group of volunteers. It is not put on by the Town of East Greenwich. While the town assists in logistical planning and provides day-of police and public works support, as well as a financial contribution, the majority of work is done by a small group of volunteers that make of the Summer Arts and Festival Organization (SAFO) board.

The Board plans the entire day’s events including hiring of the musical performers and companies to handle the stage, sound and lighting; vetting of on-field vendors; coordinating volunteers; fundraising and providing special treats for donors who have gone above and beyond.

SAFO could use people who love this event and would like to see it continue.

SAFO also provides scholarships to EGHS students who are planning on pursuing the arts at the college level. In the past, SAFO provided after-school art class scholarships and supported the sidewalk art competition in town.

Recently, many board members have rotated off because either their board terms came to an end or they moved away. Because of that, SAFO is looking to add new board members to assist with fundraising, marketing, organization, logistics, and communication. New blood always adds a spark to an existing organization. SAFO could use people who love this event and would like to see it continue.

I personally became involved with the SAFO board over 10 years ago when approached by a board member. The Summer’s End concert always brings a smile to my face.  My family has been attending the event since its inception, when our children were still very young.  It was fun to go each summer and see all the kids in town and how they’d changed over the prior year.  The whole town truly came out for the event – from toddlers and young children to teenagers to parents to empty nesters, all together for a wonderful evening of music.

Now, it’s your turn to step up and help make this end-of-summer magic happen. 

Unbeknownst to many, there were several times over the years that the concert was in danger of not happening. It costs a lot to hold this event and people need to step up to help pull it off. Happily, Summer’s End has always managed to find a way to go on. Now, it’s your turn to step up and help make this end-of-summer magic happen. It’s an amazing feeling when you are part of something this special.

If you are interested in joining the board, contact Jessica Granatiero at jessica@thesavorygrape.com or Karen Cammuso at karencammuso@gmail.com. You will be glad you did!

– Margie Ordog

Town Sues Firefighters, Ups Ante on Negotiations

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

The town filed suit against the East Greenwich firefighters union Tuesday, looking to Superior Court to decide if the town has the right to reorganize the fire department and implement a three-platoon, 56-hour work week. The town is seeking a declaratory judgment regarding its “right to decide the organizational structure, size, and appropriate staffing levels of the East Greenwich Fire Department.”

This follows two weeks of secret negotiations between the town and the firefighters.

“Currently, the Fire Department is incurring approximately 500 hours per week on overtime, which raises serious safety concerns. Clearly, something is wrong, and we are working to address that,” said Town Council President Sue Cienki in a press release sent out at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday. “The Town is asking the Court for guidance and direction to ensure East Greenwich resolves this situation in a manner that is fair and equitable to both the union and taxpayers.”

The firefighters and the town are in the middle of a three-year contract (2016 to 2019) but town officials have been complaining about the contract and what they call excessive overtime since June, when financial consultants Gayle Corrigan and Linda Dykeman (now EG’s town manager and finance director, respectively) focused on the fire department in particular as a potential budget problem area.

Three of the current town council members signed the 2016 agreement – Cienki, Vice President Sean Todd and Councilman Mark Schwager. Cienki and Todd have said they didn’t really know the implications of the contract. Officials have laid blame for the contract on former Town Manager Tom Coyle, who separated from the town in June and whom Corrigan replaced, and former Fire Chief Russ McGillivray, who was dismissed in November.

In her presentation in June, Corrigan highlighted a change in the contract that added a firefighter to each shift, going from eight per shift with a “floater” to cover absences, to nine with no floater. Without the floater, if someone on a shift was sick, on vacation or injured, that shift would have to be filled by someone working overtime. Keeping the floater wouldn’t eliminate all overtime – often there is more than one person out per shift – but it would lower it.

According to union president Bill Perry, during the recent negotiations, the union and the town came to an agreement to forestall implementation of a 56-hour work week (right now, the firefighters work a four-platoon, 42-hour work week).

“We were blindsided by reading the press release on Facebook,” Perry said Tuesday evening, noting that the town had wanted the negotiations to be “hush-hush” and kept out of social media and news outlets.

Perry said he and other union representatives sat down to negotiate with attorney Tim Cavazza (who has made a name for himself getting municipalities to force fire departments into a 56-hour work week), Town Manager Gayle Corrigan and members of the Town Council  for several hours in recent weeks, following Corrigan’s recommendation to restructure the fire department.

“We negotiated in good faith. We came to an agreement – both parties agreed,” said Perry. “Attorney Cavazza sent over a tentative agreement last week and our lawyer has been reviewing the language and making some revisions. Then, lo and behold, this happens.”

He added, “We were basically at an agreement. Nothing was signed yet. It just takes time. They understood it was going to take some time.”

The town is also asking the court to weigh in on whether or not the town has to pay elected union officials for performing services on behalf of the union. It will delay implementation of a three-platoon structure, according to the press release, “while it awaits guidance form the Superior Court and continues negotiations.”

Middle Road West of Rt. 2 Reopens

Middle Road is closed Tuesday between Route 2 and Stone Ridge Drive.

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

This story has been updated since it first appeared.

Middle Road reopened Tuesday evening  after being closed for more than 24 hours between South County Trail and Stone Ridge Drive. The closure was for the long-awaited installation of a culvert under Middle Road at Frybrook Drive.

WA Excavation started the project Monday, closing the road at around 5 p.m. and working through the night.

Middle Road being excavated Tuesday to make way for the concrete culvert at Frybrook Drive.

The culvert is the final piece of work to be done on the Frybrook condominium development largely completed in 2008. The Town Council granted Frybrook developer Tom Primeau a number of deferrals – Primeau cited the poor economy as his reason for the delay – but finally required him to complete the culvert as a stipulation for getting a permit to continue another development on Middle Road, just a quarter mile to the east of South County Trail.



School Committee, Town Council Spar Over School Spending

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

School Committeeman Matt Plain

Monday night’s joint Town Council–School Committee meeting was the Town Charter-mandated start of the 2019 budget session (yes, we are still in 2017, but we are nearly halfway through fiscal year 2018 and the town must adopt a FY 2019 budget by the end of June). The two bodies swapped financial projections, but the joint session also included an extended discussion over how and if the school district should receive extra money from the town for unforeseen expenses.

The Town Council level-funded the 2018 schools budget, but also took some expenses off the schools’ books. That left the School Committee with a $700,000 hole to fill on the budget they had passed in April, but the Town Council said they would set aside $300,000 from their capital expenses budget in case the schools needed extra money for special education.

When the School Committee learned they needed to add an additional pre-K classroom because of an enrollment increase last summer, they assumed that was the sort of unexpected expense the Town Council was talking about. According to Town Manager Gayle Corrigan, however, that’s not quite the case. She outlined reasons why the school district should be able to get additional funds, including new students requiring out-of-district placement. Corrigan said the additional pre-K classroom was, instead, a salary increase.

“When you’re looking at salaries in a budget, a lot of things happen in a year,” Corrigan said, suggesting that two additional salaries could be a wash with the amount of turnover the district might experience.

But when Councilman Mark Schwager asked Corrigan if salaries were not something she would consider important to put forward for supplemental funding, however, Corrigan protested.

“I didn’t want to be so restrictive,” she said. She defended the letter she sent to the School Committee in early December that the School Committee interpreted as a narrowing of possibility for supplemental funding.

“The idea of this letter is not to say no,” she said. “The idea of this letter is to say yes.”

Town Council President Sue Cienki said the Town Council didn’t act on an earlier request for supplemental funding because they wanted to give new Special Education Director Lisa Hughes a chance to review the program, suggesting that perhaps the School Committee would learn the district actually needed more than the money associated with the additional pre-K classroom.

Cienki confirmed that there was indeed money set aside for supplemental school funding – an issue raised Monday night after Town Manager Corrigan repeatedly said she would have to do extensive budget work to identify additional money for the schools.

That did not stop Corrigan from pointing out – again – that if the schools needed more money, that would mean the police wouldn’t get new cruisers this year.

“It’s going to affect the town,” she said. (The Town Council cut taxes in June.)

School Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Mark told the council that the high school could be put on warning status in coming months by school accreditation organization NEASC because it does not have a library media specialist. Council President Cienki said the old Cole Middle School was on warning status for years because of insufficient facilities. School Committeewoman Lori McEwen, asst. superintendent in North Attleboro, said warning status for curriculum-related reasons was far more significant than for facilities reasons.

Councilman Nino Granatiero questioned why, if the School Committee was so worried about accreditation, it had not yet hired a curriculum director (also known as a director of teaching and learning).

“I think it’s disingenuous to say that because we level-funding the schools you can’t hire a director of curriculum and have all these problems,” he said. “Suddenly we’re in a dire situation.”

Granatiero said maybe the School Committee needed to look at the entire budget and make room for a curriculum director, which, he said, could bring savings in the long run.

He then asked what structural changes the School Committee had made in its budget since it was level funded in June, looking at things like class sizes.

That prompted School Committeeman Matt Plain to launch into a history of public education in the U.S., – including Horace Mann (famous 19th century advocate of public education) and Brown v. Board of Education (the landmark civil rights U.S. Supreme Court case) in his outline of how public education was a relatively recent phenomenon and one that was constantly improving.

“We’ve gotten better at providing a free and appropriate education,” he said. “We can’t just look at, ‘Well, it used to cost less.’ That’s because we have more opportunities to do better by the students we serve…. This is about service and this is about investment.”

Plain’s treatise did nothing to deter Granatiero

“You still haven’t answered my question. Dr. Mercurio, what major, meaningful changes have we made in the last five months?” he asked.

That prompted School Committee member McEwen to jump in.

“We don’t operate in our own vacuum,” she said. “And we can’t say, let’s just change everything. Let’s maybe not have a superintendent or maybe let’s not have a School Committee or maybe let’s try and have 60 kids in one classroom. We have union obligations. We have state and federal mandates.… I’m confused about what else we can do. This is not a corporate restructuring.”

“If a director of curriculum makes sense … how is it that you don’t find and move things elsewhere,” Granatiero asked. “I’m just trying to understand.”

“Our only opportunity to do that is to cut other programs and services,” said Chairwoman Mark. “This is not a community that should have to choose between French, between a library media specialist, between a choral director and whether or not we have a director of teaching and learning. Those are the choices that would be required for us to be able to make that investment that nobody wants to make more than every single member of this committee.”

The Town Council and School Committee will revisit the question of additional money for the schools in January.