School Committee Passes $39 Million Budget

 

The budget includes a librarian at the high school and a director of teaching and learning.

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

In a 7-0 vote, the School Committee passed a $39.1 million budget Tuesday night, which includes asking the town for $35.4 million, a nearly 4 percent increase – the maximum possible under state law – over last year’s allocation.

Originally, the School Committee had asked “budget owners” – building principals and other administrators – to level-fund their budgets, which resulted in a 2.9 percent increase for the town’s part of the budget due to contractual salary and transportation cost increases. But at their meeting March 20, the panel asked Supt. Victor Mercurio to revisit the budget with those budget owners to add in those items they deemed critical for the integrity of the district’s educational offerings.

On Tuesday, Mercurio presented $340,000 in additional budget requests, including $200,000 for maintenance (both ongoing and deferred), and $80,000 for a reading program for the lower elementary schools Frenchtown and Meadowbrook.

“It’s not that we’re trying to fill every possible percentage of what we’re able to ask for to fulfill a wish list,” said Chairwoman Carolyn Mark. “We’re trying to regain some ground.”

Mark was referring to the current (fiscal year 2018) budget, which fell short of what the committee had deemed necessary. A year ago, the School Committee asked the Town Council for a 4 percent budget increase ($1.3 million). The Town Council budget level-funded the schools but took around $530,000 in administrative costs off the district’s books. That resulted in the School Committee cutting the library media specialist position at the high school among other things.

In the current budget, the high school librarian is restored and there is money for the long-desired position of director of teaching and learning (i.e. a curriculum director).

“This isn’t a wish list, these aren’t luxuries,” said Committee member Matt Plain. “The suffering compounds over time” without sufficient budget money.

Plain suggested that school administrators attend the School Committee’s presentation of its budget to the Town Council since they are the boots on the ground who really know what’s needed.

“Everything we’re going to put before the Town Council we can back up,” he said. “Not just that it’s something good – we can back it up that it’s something that’s necessary.”

Committeeman Jeff Dronzek – chair of the district’s finance subcommittee – said he thought the committee should pass a budget even just slightly below a 4 percent ask from the town as a show of good faith.

“To push the limits because we can isn’t necessarily the best thing we can do,” he argued. “Yeah, if you don’t ask you don’t get it but I think we need to be cognizant of the entire situation…. I think if we put something out there that’s a little bit lighter than 4 percent, that puts us in a better negotiating position.”

Dronzek also expressed frustration that the committee still did not know the district’s fund balance (i.e. surplus). Typically, the town’s audit is completed by now and the district knows how much money it has in surplus. This year, for a variety of reasons, the town sought extensions through March 31 to submit audit figures to the state. While town officials said during a Town Council meeting March 26 that the audit was on track for state submission by the end of the week, town Finance Director Linda Dykeman did not offer any new information at Tuesday’s School Committee meeting about the school district’s fund balance.

Mercurio said he would have more information about the fund balance at the  April 24 School Committee meeting. However, that wasn’t going to help in the current budget discussion since, by Town Charter, the School Committee must submit its budget request to the town by April 15.

After the committee approved the budget request, Chairwoman Mark stressed that this was just the start of the budget process and that there would be a lot more discussion before the Town Council votes on the final town budget in June.



 

How Much Does EG Owe for Extra Legal Work?

Attorney Tim Cavazza at the Town Council meeting Sept. 11.

Town paid Whelan, Corrente $104,000 for work through November – no bills have been received since. 

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

Sometime before last November – when Gayle Corrigan was named town manager –  the town contracted with the law firm Whelan, Corrente, Flanders, Kinder & Siket for legal work centered on the town’s effort to reduce costs at the fire department. That work cost the town $104,518 through Nov. 30. Although legal work has continued apace since November, the town has received no bill.

Four months have passed and, according to town officials, “The town does not have any bills from Whelan, Corrente, Flanders, Kinder & Siket, LLP, [for December through March] in their care, custody or control. . . . ”

It’s unclear what arrangement the town has with the law firm since the town has declined to release the letter of engagement it signed. The City of Providence has released a copy of its letter of engagement with Whelan, Corrente from 2015. In that letter, lawyer Tim Cavazza stated the firm would bill the city monthly and would charge a monthly rate of 1 percent for any bill not paid within 45 days.

Cavazza is the lawyer who has been negotiating and acting on behalf of the town on firefighter labor-related issues. Since November, Cavazza has spent hours in negotiating sessions with the firefighters and the town has filed suit against the firefighters in Superior Court. Without the letter of engagement, it’s not known what Cavazza’s firm is charging. In Providence in 2015, Cavazza charged $230 an hour.

Billing clients monthly is the norm, according to several lawyers EG News talked to for this article.

Some clients could have different billing cycles, they said, but it was not typical for a public entity to request anything other than monthly billing.

Cavazza’s work is in addition to work done by Town Solicitor David D’Agostino, who is paid $11,500 a month for his services, as well as lawyer Andrew Teitz, who works for the Planning Department and bills $195 an hour.

The total 2018 budget for legal work is $322,500, with $145,000 going to fees and services (and at least of that $135,000 going for the town solicitor); $100,000 in claims reserve(money earmarked for an eventual claims payment); $2,500 for incidentals; and $75,000 for professional/arbitration.




 

 

 

Corrigan Continues Assault on Fire District Merger

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

Town Manager Gayle Corrigan (left) presented another chapter to her look back at the 2013 merger of the East Greenwich Fire District into a town department, continuing her argument that it took place without due diligence and with grave financial consequences for the town. (Find her report here.)

As she has done several times in the months since she’s been town manager, Corrigan said the fire department was too expensive and needed to be fixed.

Her solution: restructure the department into three platoons that work 56 hours a week from the current four platoons and 42-hour work week. The town has sued the firefighters to be able to impose the restructure immediately; firefighters say they have a valid contract until 2019.

Corrigan’s report, while repeating arguments made in earlier reports, did take more exact aim at some of the people in charge in recent years. In particular, she cited what she said was the inexperience of former Town Manager Tom Coyle, former Town Solicitor Peter Clarkin and former Fire Chief Russ McGillivray in negotiating contracts.

However, Coyle served as police chief before becoming town manager and negotiated contracts in that position; Clarkin negotiated several rounds of contracts for three unions during his tenure in East Greenwich before adding the firefighter contract; McGillivray came from the larger West Warwick Fire Department and served as deputy chief in EG for three years before becoming chief. McGillivray and Coyle both hold master’s degrees in public administration.

Corrigan questioned the increase in the number of “service calls” (i.e. miscellaneous calls) between 2013 and 2014 (when the district became a department). As she said, the increase was due to the decision to classify alarm box resets as service calls.

In a phone interview Thursday, McGillivray (who took over as chief in 2013) offered this explanation for the classification change: “We were just trying to account for the hours and the work that the fire department was doing. When we went from the fire district to the fire department, I saw that social services and police department were very data driven and I wanted to get a better accounting of the work we actually did.”

Meanwhile, the total number of incident calls (including service calls) has risen steadily in recent years.  Even if service calls are subtracted, the fire department had more than 1,000 additional incidents in 2017 than it had in 2006, the year the fire district topped out at 36 total firefighters. In 2006 there were 2,386 incidents; in 2017, there were 4,121 (665 of them classified as service calls).

Corrigan also highlighted a jump in rescue billing rates between 2015 and 2016, but said she had not yet looked into the cause for the increases.

Former Fire Chief John McKenna (who served as chief from 2005 to 2010) was at the meeting Monday and during public comment he said that spike came after the billing company – Comstar – went from using a base rate and subcategories in its billing charges (for instance, separating out fees for starting an IV or using oxygen) to having one blended cost. McKenna, who now works in private industry, said the change was for all Comstar clients, public and private. McGillivray gave the same explanation Thursday.

In her report, Corrigan spoke about raises, saying some firefighters got a 48 percent raise in the current contract, while everyone else in town got 2 percent raises.

According to firefighter union president Bill Perry, the firefighters got a 2 percent raise like everyone else but he acknowledged that six so-called lateral transfers (firefighters hired from other departments) were given the salary of a second-year firefighter instead of a first-year firefighter, which came out to about $3 more per hour for those six firefighters (a 2 percent raise that year would have been in the range of 50 cents an hour).

He said he did not know where Corrigan got the 48 percent figure.

During public comment Monday, Perry urged the council to talk to other municipalities where they have put in a three-platoon system. There have been four.

In North Kingstown, town officials imposed a three-platoon system that was fought extensively and expensively in the courts; firefighters there lost after it was ruled they did not have a valid contract. A three-platoon system was also imposed in Providence, but the city abandoned it after years of litigation and went back to a four-platoon system. The city had to pay Providence firefighters several million dollars in overtime accrued during the three-platoon, 56-hour work weeks. Tiverton and Central Coventry Fire District also have three-platoon systems – Tiverton’s through negotiation and Central Coventry’s was imposed after that district went bankrupt. Corrigan runs Central Coventry.

“Do your due diligence. We have an active contract,” said Perry. “I would hope that everybody would be adults and sit down instead of having attorneys become wealthy off the community. Nobody benefits from that.”

“Bill, we’d be happy to sit down,” Council President Sue Cienki said.

The last attempt to negotiate failed in December; both sides blamed the other side.

Corrigan said she would present “phase one” of her restructuring plan at the April 9 Town Council meeting.



 

Firefighters Sue Town, Allege Fair Labor Standards Act Violations

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

East Greenwich firefighters have filed suit in U.S. District Court against the town, alleging violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act, in particular with regard to overtime pay.

“We have been trying to get answers from the finance director for months now regarding what we believe are errors in how the town is calculating our FLSA overtime pay,” said union president Bill Perry in a press release. “The town went from paying us what we believe is the wrong amount, to not paying us FLSA overtime at all.”

Perry said he has been asking about FLSA payments since December.

FLSA is a federal law that dictates that employees who work more than 212 hours over a 28-day period are due time and a half for every additional hour. FLSA payments are distributed quarterly and for EG firefighters average around $2,000, said Perry. But recent payments have not listed the number of hours worked and Perry said looking at the payments, it was hard to know if the town was following the law. He said repeated requests for more detailed information have gone unanswered.

The town has seen a flurry of litigation since Gayle Corrigan was hired as town manager last June. While many have been filed by the firefighters – including one resolved in their favor – there have also been four suits filed by former town employees suing for wrongful termination. In addition, firefighters have filed numerous grievances and the town filed a lawsuit against the firefighters in December, seeking permission from the court to break their contract, which doesn’t expire until 2019.

The town has already spent more in legal fees than was budgeted, and that’s only for legal work through November.

The firefighters say they offered to open the contract earlier this year and make concessions; the town says the firefighters did not negotiate in good faith. Both sides say publicly they are open to continued negotiation.



 

Council Reverses Course, Approves Community Resource Position, 4-1

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

Just two weeks ago, the Town Council voted 4-0 against adding a new position of community resource manager as part of Town Manager Gayle Corrigan’s restructuring of the parks, recreation and human services departments. Monday night, the council voted 4-1 in favor of such a position, then approved hiring Rachel Longo to fill it.

In the intervening two weeks, Corrigan beefed up the CRM job description to include 22 specific items, including serving as a community liaison to provide wraparound services to at-risk populations, work with the EG Housing Authority, create a team to engage with individuals who are homeless or are at risk of becoming homeless, and develop a marketing plan to increase outside rentals of Swift Community Center, to name four. Find Corrigan’s memo to the council and the job description here:

Direction for the shift appeared to come from President Sue Cienki, who came late to the March 12 meeting, missing the original discussion and vote on the CRM position.

“We want to make sure that we’re not only taking care of our citizens from a tax perspective but making sure that services are provided…. One of our missions is to make sure our disabled citizens are being taken care of, our low income citizens are being taken care of,” she said to begin the discussion. “I have suggested that they hold off putting in a park and rec manager so that we can get a community resource manager in place so that we can get this process moving.”

Corrigan’s restructuring came after the departure earlier this month of Erin McAndrew, who served as senior and human services director for the town. After reviewing the applicants, Corrigan decided no single person could fill that role. She named longtime Parks and Rec Director Cathy Bradley to serve as the director of the new director of community services and parks, with three “managers” serving under her – managers for parks and rec, for senior services and for community resources.

Two applicants for the original senior and human services director job were identified to fill two of the manager positions: Charlotte Markey was hired to serve as the new senior services manager and Rachel Longo was pegged to fill the new community resource manager job. Only, when Corrigan laid out her vision at the meeting March 2, the council questioned adding staff at a time when most of the news out of Town Hall is how difficult the financial picture is for the town.

At that meeting, Councilman Nino Granatiero suggested waiting several weeks to see how everything was going before adding the position.

To that end, on Monday Corrigan stressed that the new position would be “revenue neutral.”

With the community resource manager salary at $45,000, the restructuring would cost around $37,000 more than is currently being spent in these areas. The majority of the money to make up the difference would come from the parks and rec salaries and wages line item, which has been running a surplus for several years, up to around $32,000 this year. Corrigan said she would use $26,000 to fund the CRM position. Other money would come from the nonunion continuing education budget line, which is $10,000 but will drop to $500 in the next year with $9,500 going toward the CRM position. Finally, Corrigan said she was going to take $2,500 out of the unemployment account (currently at $133,000).

Councilman Mark Schwager said he remained unconvinced.

“I was concerned at the last meeting and I’m still concerned,” he said, taking care to add that he has nothing against Rachel Longo, the person up for the position. “I think the consolidation was a good idea but I think the position of community resource manager, those duties could be allocated to other staff.”

For instance, he said, many of the items in the CRM job description are also part of Bradley’s job description and the senior services case worker already does a lot of human services work. The marketing and social media could be done by the chief of staff, he said.

Corrigan and Bradley had stressed the need for the town to do a better job anticipating resident needs, particularly in the areas of housing and social services – to be less “reactive.”

Schwager said he didn’t think the town was reactive in these areas.

“I don’t see this as a major blind spot of the town,” he said.

Addressing Schwager, Granatiero said, “I’m usually making that argument that you’re making but I’ve learned to trust the people on the ground. Cathy’s come back and said, ‘I’ve done the assessment on the ground.’ This is why we have these really good department heads.”

Charlotte Markey, EG’s new senior services manager.

The council voted 4-1 in favor of adding the position, with Schwager voting no. That vote was replicated in approving Longo’s hire. Before the vote, Schwager said he thought there should be a new search for that position rather than just filling it with someone who applied for a completely different job.

Meanwhile, the new senior services manager, Charlotte Markey, started last week. In a brief interview Tuesday, Markey said she was thrilled with her new job.

“There’s so much going on here. It’s amazing. Erin did a wonderful job. I just want to continue with that,” she said. “People have been so friendly. I’m just enjoying it so much. There’s such a variety of support and community involvement!”



 

Town Stops Payments to Union Leaders for Most Union-Related Business

Corrigan calls such pay “unlawful.”

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

East Greenwich, R.I. – Town Manager Gayle Corrigan has notified the town’s unions that the town will no longer compensate union officers for most union-related work – known as bargaining pay – calling such payments “unlawful.” She cites R.I. General Law 28-7-13(3)(iii).

Union heads were sent the letter in January. The firefighters union has since filed an unfair labor practice complaint on the issue with the state Labor Relations Board.

Corrigan’s letter was ambiguous. After first saying the town “will no longer compensate employees for services performed on behalf of a labor organization,” she writes, “employees may still permitted[sic] to confer with the town during working hours without loss of time or pay, to the extent such conferences are authorized….”

“It is a direct violation of our collective bargaining agreement,” said firefighter union President Bill Perry. “Just more litigation the town has chosen to take which will cost tens of thousands of dollars in litigation costs.”

Find Corrigan’s letter here (exhibit 2): Exhibits in FF Response.

Although the letter was sent to all four town unions, these sorts of expenses typically are only accrued by police and firefighters. That’s because police and fire have minimum-manning levels so if a union official attends a grievance hearing or an arbitration during his or her regular shift, the department must bring in someone to cover.

While the amount of money that costs in overtime will vary depending on the level of contentiousness in a given year (i.e. the number of grievances filed, litigation, etc.), Perry said the added expense averages around $5,000 a year for the fire department. He added the overtime expense only happens when something is scheduled when a union official is on duty. If an arbitration or grievance hearing is scheduled during a time when the union official is not working, there is no need to incur the expense of bringing in someone to cover.

Meanwhile, the town – which filed suit against the firefighters in December –filed a “motion on the pleadings” earlier this month, looking for Superior Court Judge Susan McGuirl to rule on bargaining pay as well as the larger issue of the town’s ability to impose a 56-hour work week on the firefighters. If the judge grants a motion on the pleadings, she would make her ruling only on the town’s original complaint (and the firefighters response, which has yet to be filed). In other words, there would be no additional “discovery” (i.e. information) and no trial. (Find the motion here: Town of EG Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings.)

There is a hearing on the town’s motion scheduled for Monday, April 23.

The main thrust of the town’s argument on the 56-hour work week is that it is a “management right” to make such schedule changes. Under such a change, the motion argues, the town and the union would then need to negotiate “the effects of the town’s decision to implement a three-platoon structure.” That would come down to compensation. According to Town Manager Corrigan, the reason to go to a three-platoon system is to cut down overtime expenses. It’s unclear how the town would be willing to compensate the firefighters for the additional work hours expected under the three-platoon structure. The firefighters have said they would expect to be paid for the extra hours.

The town’s motion relies heavily on what happened in North Kingstown a few years ago, where that Town Council voted to implement a three-platoon system and the state Supreme Court eventually ruled the Town Council acted within its rights because the firefighters were without a contract at the time of the vote. In East Greenwich, the firefighters’ contract is not up until 2019.

The town’s motion also argues that the section in the firefighters’ “current collective bargaining agreement stating the town must compensate up to three elected union officials ‘for bargaining unit business in connection with conferences with its attorney or union representative regarding contract negotiation matters and/or arbitration matters concerning the collective bargaining agreement,’ is unlawful, unenforceable and void.”

It makes the same argument regarding other union-related business, such as grievance arbitration and hearings, conferences with union membership, and any state or national union meetings.

With the town’s motion in Superior Court and the firefighters’ complaint before the state Labor Relations Board, it’s conceivable that there could be two different rulings.

The motion was signed by Town Solicitor David D’Agostino and outside lawyer Tim Cavazza. D’Agostino receives a monthly retainer of $11,000 for his East Greenwich work. Cavazza and his firm (Whelan, Corrente, Flanders, Kinder & Siket) were hired in late summer 2017 to work on firefighter labor issues. The town has so far paid $104,000 to Whelan, Corrente, for legal services through November.

Meanwhile, last week the town paid firefighter lawyer Wiens $41,905 in legal fees for the six-day trial last fall in which, among other rulings against the town, McGuirl said it had illegally fired firefighter James Perry. Town Council President Sue Cienki had said the town would consider an appeal but no appeal was filed before the deadline earlier this month.



 

This Week in EG: Town Council, Planning Board & Egg Hunt

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, March 26

Town Council meeting – The meeting will be held at Swift Community Center at 7 p.m. You can read a preview of the meeting here.

Tuesday, March 27

Schools Transportation Subcommittee meeting – The panel meets in the Superintendent’s Conference Room at 111 Peirce St. at 9 a.m. Here’s the agenda.

Zoning Board meeting – The board meets in Council Chambers at Town Hall at 7 p.m. On the agenda, the board will hear an appeal by an abuttor of the approval by the Historic District Commission for a fence on Rector Street. Also, the panel will weigh parking relief among other things for the property at 205 Main Street (at the corner of Armory Street).

Wednesday, March 28

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.

Planning Board meeting – This is a special session to continue review of the town’s Capital Improvements Program (CIP). The Planning Board is charged with recommending annually a 6-year capital plan. Year 1 of said plan becomes the capital element of the Town’s overall budget for the ensuing fiscal year. Anticipated expenditures by town departments and the EG School District will be discussed. Also on the agenda, an executive session at 7 p.m. on specific safety spending included in the CIP; the public part of the meeting will begin following the closed session. In Council Chambers at Town Hall.

Thursday, March 29

Schools Finance Committee: The meeting takes place at 9 a.m. in the Superintendent’s Conference Room at 111 Peirce St. Here’s the agenda.

Friday, March 30

Good Friday – No school.

Saturday, March 31

EG Egg Hunt – Main Street Association’s annual egg hunt at Eldredge Field starts at 10 a.m. (and ends about 5 minutes later to don’t be late!). There are different hunts for children age 3 to 5, 4 to 8, and 9 to 12.

OTHER ITEMS OF NOTE

Recycling is OFF this week.

EG Police Union Is Fundraising – This is an “all points bulletin,” if you will, to let you know the EG Police Union is soliciting sponsorships to its 2018 Yearbook and Business Directory, so don’t be surprised if you get a phone call. This is in advance of their Comedy Night at Quidnessett Country Club June 28 – the directories will be available then.

LOOKING AHEAD

Register for Race to the Stage – Music performers are invited to enter. Winners will get a chance to perform at the annual Summer’s End concert as well as win cash prizes. But you need to register to compete by April 1. Here’s more information.

Thursday, April 5

A Talk w/Providence Dep. Police Chief – Friends of the EG Free Library presents Providence Deputy Police Chief Thomas A. Verdi, who will share what it takes for our community police departments to maintain peace and order in turbulent times. Topics will include “red flags,” active shootings, gun violence, mental health issues, and community partnerships. From 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the library, 82 Peirce Street.

Friday, April 6

Wine and Wonderful – Tickets are available for the East Greenwich Rotary’s annual food and wine extravaganza at Swift Community Center. Support EG Rotary and all the great programs and organizations it supports. Buy tickets here.

Saturday, April 7

EG Track Club’s 7th Annual Bunny Hop 5K & 1 Mile Fun Run – The East Greenwich Track Club’s 7th Annual Bunny Hop 5k and 1 Mile Fun Run is coming up on Saturday, April 7, starting at 9 a.m. at Goddard Park. Proceeds go towards fully funding the popular Summer Track Series for ages 4-14 (do not have to be an EG resident to participate) on Wednesday nights in July at the EGHS track. We’ve been able to provide the series for free for 6 years. Last summer, 300 children came out during the first week! Find out more and register here.

April 12

“Wonderful Women” – The EG Chamber of Commerce presents an event for women focused on “wisdom, wellness, and beauty” at Quidnessett Country Club. There will be workshops, food, entertainment, and expo tables. Tickets are $35 ($40 after April 9).

April 15

History at the Varnum Armory Memorial MuseumPresented by docent Patrick Donovan and presented by the EG Historic Preservation Society, return to Revolutionary War days, when then-General Washington visited, and experience the historical militia scene of that period. Refreshments will be served. 2 p.m. Varnum Armory is at 6 Main St.

And …

Interested in Running for Office? Here’s a pamphlet from the Secretary of State’s office with everything you need to know. While the period to file to run for office isn’t until June 25-27, there are earlier deadlines, say if you want to change party affiliation before filing to run (that’s March 27-29) or if you plan to run for office but are not yet registered to vote (May 26-28). If you are planning to run and are ready to go public, contact egreenwichnews@gmail.com.





 

Town Council Agenda: Corrigan Tries Again to Add Employee

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

Town Manager Gayle Corrigan will try for a second time Monday to add a position to her consolidation of the parks, senior and human services and the substance abuse counselor, even as she has been repeatedly beat the drum of a pending municipal fiscal crisis.

The Town Council, minus President Sue Cienki, voted 4-0 against adding a new position of community resource manager when Corrigan presented her restructuring plan March 12. At that meeting, Councilman Nino Granatiero suggested taking a wait-and-see approach to that position and revisiting the issue in two or three months.

Instead, it is back on the agenda for Monday’s meeting, with an expanded job description. (Find that and the resume for the candidate Corrigan wants to hire for the position, Rachel-Lyn Longo, here: Corrigan Memo on Community Resource Manager).

Also on the agenda for Monday night’s meeting, the Town Council will vote on the memorandum of agreement approved Tuesday by the School Committee that spells out specifics of a town-school finance and human resource consolidation.

They will also discuss formation of an opioid abuse task force and Corrigan will again discuss her review of the impact of the Fire District’s merger with the town.

Find the full agenda here. The panel will be back at Swift Community Center for the meeting, at 7 p.m. (with an executive session starting at 6:30).

 

 

 

 

 

With Misgivings, School Committee Approves Finance Consolidation With Town

Several members argue district can’t afford to say no, but others say town is forcing an unnecessary choice.

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

After significant debate, the School Committee voted 5-2 Tuesday to approve a plan originally proposed by Town Manager Gayle Corrigan in which the school and town finance and human resources staffs will be consolidated and work as one.

Committee members Jeff Dronzek and Michael Fain voted against the plan, arguing that no change was really needed and that the past year of compromise with the town has yielded nothing positive for the schools.

“I don’t believe we should be essentially blackmailed into one way or the other,” said Dronzek. “We’ve been put in a difficult situation but we’re continually put in difficult situations by this Town Council.”

He said in the past year the Town Council had given the schools far less than they requested and had, as yet, not come through with additional funding as they had promised they would last June. He referred specifically to the extra preschool classroom that had to be added last August due to an unanticipated uptick in the number of students needing preschool services.

“How many times do we walk down the same road?” he said.

Chairwoman Carolyn Mark acknowledged the risk.

“This is uncharted waters. We don’t know if this is going to work,” she said. But she said she was going with the fact that Supt. Victor Mercurio supported the plan. “I’m hearing him say that not proceeding with this is worse than taking the risk of proceeding.”

She said the memorandum of agreement worked out by Mercurio and Corrigan had three important protections for the school district: shared responsibility between the town and schools; a dispute resolution process; and the ability given to either side to walk away from the agreement for the following year with 60 days notice.

“I’m not comfortable with this … but I have to balance what the superintendent says,” Mark said.

Corrigan proposed this all-or-nothing approach – either the town and schools consolidate finance departments completely or the town withdraws the support it already provides and the school district is forced to recreate a standalone finance department – in a joint meeting last December. The School Committee rejected it initially in February

At that February meeting, Mercurio said building a standalone finance department was a non-starter. When asked to estimate what rebuilding a full finance department could cost, Mercurio said it cost $200,000 to $300,000.

Committeeman Matt Plain said it struck him “odd” that the status quo couldn’t be maintained. Ultimately, though, he said he wasn’t willing to risk the loss of school funding if the committee were to vote against the consolidation and subsequently had to spend a big chunk of budget money to build a standalone finance department.

“Complete separation would be painful. We have to take steps to stand up, [but] we also have to protect our kids,” he said, adding, “We have over a year’s worth of evidence that they may venture down this path.”

“The Town Council has not explained why we need to go to these extremes,” said Committee member Michael Fain. “I’m not willing to agree to something I don’t think is a smart move.”

Dronzek said he didn’t think the committee needed to make the choice at all.

“We didn’t propose this. We are our own governing body. The town has to force us to change. This is us playing along,” he said. “We should be able to just table the whole thing.”

Plain acknowledged a level of coercion by the town. “The remedy is political,” he said. All five seats on the Town Council are up for election in November (as are four of the seven School Committee seats).

“We’ve been backed into the corner for reasons that don’t seem reasonable to any of us…. We’re caught between a rock and a hard place,” said Committee member Lori McEwen. Based on that, she said, she had to go with what the superintendent thought was the best option.

Committeewoman Mary Ellen Winter said the School Committee was in this position because the state Auditor General had to be called in last year because of a structural deficit and changes needed to be made.

Dronzek pushed back, arguing that the council’s decision to cut funding to the school district this year wasn’t helping to solve the deficit. He also argued that the cost savings was not comparable to what the School Committee would be giving up.

The consolidation is projected to save $70,000 in salaries. Dronzek said plans to redo the school department central office would eat into any savings (although the salary savings would extend yearly).

Committeewoman Yan Sun said she thought rejecting the consolidation plan was too risky.

“Our risk is one year,” she said, referring to the walk-away clause if either side decided the consolidation wasn’t working. “On the other side … I see that the risk of complete separation is much higher.”

A motion to table the plan failed 2-5, with Dronzek and Fain the lone supporters.

Now that the School Committee has approved the memorandum of agreement on the plan, it goes to the Town Council for a vote.





 

This Week in EG: School Committee, Blood Drive, Rabies Clinic

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, March 19

Exploring Mindfulness Meditation – Meditation at East Greenwich Free Library on first and third Mondays. No experience necessary; all are welcome. Free. 6:30 p.m. at the library. For more information about this program or the Friends of the Library, contact: friendseglibrary@gmail.com.

Coffee With Your Councilor – Town Councilman Mark Schwager will be at Felicia’s from 6 to 7 p.m. to meet with constituents.

EG Tree Committee meeting – Love trees? This is your group! It’s a volunteer group committed to protecting and expanding the urban and suburban forest in our town. Felicia’s Coffee at 7 p.m. [Full disclosure: Editor Elizabeth McNamara is a member.]

Tuesday, March 20

Blood Drive – The town is hosting a blood drive from 1 to 5 p.m. at the Bloodmobile parked to Swift Community Center. Consider giving a pint – it will help more than you know. Just show up, or make an appointment here.

EG Chamber of Commerce’s Business After Hours – At Providence Coal-Fired Pizza, 6105 Post Road in North Kingstown this month, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Members $5; non-members $10.

School Committee meeting – On the agenda, possible votes on the 2018-19 school calendar and the town-school consolidation plan. In the library at Cole Middle School at 7 p.m.

Municipal Land Trust meetingOn the agenda, a report from Patrick McNiff, the tenant of Boesch Farm, and discussion of upcoming events. In Council Chambers at Town Hall at 7 p.m.

Wednesday, March 21

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.

Planning Board meeting – On the agenda, the board will review preliminary plan for “Castle Street Cottages,” a 9-unit residential redevelopment and a final plan review for “Frenchtown Place,” a 11-lot cluster subdivision.

Friday, March 23

Hairspray! Jr. – Hanaford is putting on this musical at the auditorium at East Greenwich High School at 7 p.m.

Saturday, March 24

Rabies Clinic – You can have your dog or cat vaccinated against rabies for only $12 (cash only) at the police department from 10 to 11:30 a.m. Residents and non-residents are welcome. Rhode Island State Law requires that all dogs and cats over the age of four months be vaccinated against rabies.

Hairspray! Jr. – Hanaford is putting on this musical at the auditorium at East Greenwich High School at 4 p.m.

OTHER ITEMS OF NOTE

Recycling is ON this week.

LOOKING AHEAD

Register for Race to the Stage – Music performers are invited to enter. Winners will get a chance to perform at the annual Summer’s End concert as well as win cash prizes. But you need to register to compete by April 1. Here’s more information.

Thursday, April 5

A Talk w/Providence Dep. Police Chief – Friends of the EG Free Library presents Providence Deputy Police Chief Thomas A. Verdi, who will share what it takes for our community police departments to maintain peace and order in turbulent times. Topics will include “red flags,” active shootings, gun violence, mental health issues, and community partnerships. From 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the library, 82 Peirce Street.

Friday, April 6

Wine and Wonderful – Tickets are available for the East Greenwich Rotary’s annual food and wine extravaganza at Swift Community Center. Support EG Rotary and all the great programs and organizations it supports. Buy tickets here.

Saturday, April 7

EG Track Club’s 7th Annual Bunny Hop 5K & 1 Mile Fun Run – The East Greenwich Track Club’s 7th Annual Bunny Hop 5k and 1 Mile Fun Run is coming up on Saturday, April 7, starting at 9 a.m. at Goddard Park. Proceeds go towards fully funding the popular Summer Track Series for ages 4-14 (do not have to be an EG resident to participate) on Wednesday nights in July at the EGHS track. We’ve been able to provide the series for free for 6 years. Last summer, 300 children came out during the first week! Find out more and register here.