By Elizabeth F. McNamara
According to a just-completed programmatic audit of the school district, the schools need an additional $1.2 million this fiscal year to be in compliance with the state’s Basic Education Plan (BEP).
The report was presented at a special meeting of the School Committee Thursday night. It follows years of reduced funding by the town as well as the second year in a row the district has a structural deficit. The town budget for 2018-2018 gave the schools $612,000, half of what the School Committee requested.
The School Committee approved hiring the law firm Henneous, Carroll, Lombardo LLC, to conduct a programmatic audit in May, to determine just what the district needs to operate within the confines of state law (the BEP).
From the report (which can be found here: EGSD Programmatic Audit, Sept. 2018):
“It is apparent that the district has prioritized short-term needs over long-term planning, through no fault of the school administration, but as a result of the Town’s refusal to adequately fund its largest asset – the school district. Unfortunately, the district needs an infusion of capital to support programming and long-term planning if it wishes to continue to be a high quality public school district. This audit has determined that approximately $1.2 million is needed in order to meet the BEP this year. If these resources are not put into the areas identified in this report, it is the opinion of the auditors that the district will fall further out of compliance with the BEP and the quality of instruction, ability to recruit and maintain staff and overall educational experience in East Greenwich will undoubtedly deteriorate.”
According to the report, “The most alarming and pervasive theme present in all of the experts’ reports was the lack of district wide programs, processes and long-term planning.”
“This audit confirms what many of us have known for years. Our funding has simply not kept pace with our growing school district. As a result, we have been unable to direct resources to where they are sorely needed. I hope the results of this audit are a wake-up call to our community. We have a precious asset in our town that will begin to deteriorate quickly without the proper investments,” said School Committee Chairwoman Caroline Mark.
Among the top findings, the auditors (the law firm Hennous, Carroll, Lombardo) said school administrators are over-taxed and, specifically, that Supt. Victor Mercurio was “often forced to perform job responsibilities that should be delegated to others.”
The district’s long-term lack of a curriculum director has been remedied with the hiring in August of Cole Principal Alexis Meyer to the position, but the report found major inadequacies in the area of curriculum.
“The auditors were particularly alarmed by the lack of a district-wide ELA [English language arts] curriculum, which should be the first priority of a curriculum director,” the report stated.
School facilities were identified as inadequate for the number of students currently enrolled, much less for the projected increase in students in coming years.
“Funding needs to immediately be directed toward repairs, the hiring of personnel to attend to those repairs and a full capital building upgrade plan,” the report states. “In fact, the lack of a full capital upgrade plan could cause the district to lose out on much needed state funding.”
The auditors said the informational technology department is understaffed which “has likely led to numerous IEP violations” because of failing or missing equipment.
Also noted, the need for the district to add two social workers and to refrain from cutting library media specialists (as was done at the high school last year) or nurses. Special education was also targeted as an area rife with underfunding.
Professional development for staff was another area needing to be addressed, according to the report.
Their analysis of the district’s labor contracts was in direct contradiction of the assessment from some members of the Town Council, who have said the School Committee negotiated weak contracts.
“There was nothing else the district could do to bring about cost savings under the contract and maintain a competent workforce,” the report said of the teachers with similar sentiments regarding the two other labor contracts.
“Overall based on the present personnel contracts, it is evident that the East Greenwich School Committee has negotiated contracts that will save the district money in years to come,” the report stated. “Furthermore, there is nothing else that can be removed from these contracts if East Greenwich wants to hire and retain quality staff.”
The law firm hired various specialists to examine areas of the school district, including Patricia Dubois, superintendent for Glocester public school, for elementary education; Thomas Kenworthy, assistant superintendent for Portsmouth, in the area of secondary education; Mary King, chief operating officer for North Kingstown schools, for finance; Carol Brown, a long-time special education director, including for East Greenwich, for special education.
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