EGHS Wall of Honor Celebrates Community

From left, Diane McDonald (with a granddaughter), Matt Plain, John Chandler, Bernice Pescosolido, and Guy Asadorian – the 2018 inductees of the EGHS Wall of Honor.

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

EGHS Wall of Honor inductee Bernice Pescosolido had to leave East Greenwich before she could understand the its power.

“The most important thing that EG High School and the Town of East Greenwich and – I have to say – the state of Rhode Island provides for people … is a sense of community and a sense of belonging,” said Pescosolido.

“I’m so proud to be from East Greenwich because we really were this working class community,” she said. “I had no idea that what we were was so special and so different. I’ve come to understand and believe that.”

Pescosolido graduated from the high school in 1970 and is a distinguished professor of sociology at Indiana University. (You can read more about Pescosolido and the other four inductees here.)

John Chandler, Class of 1966, lived in East Greenwich a mere five years. He spent four of them at EGHS and it made its mark. He made his mark too, serving as class president for two years, among other distinctions.

Chandler, who had an illustrious career in information technology, almost didn’t finish high school in East Greenwich. His family, after moving to EG from California before his 8th grade year, moved to Oklahoma the summer before his senior year.

He ended up staying with the Forscht family for that final year of high school.

Chandler’s life has been elsewhere ever since 1966 but Chandler’s love of EGHS came through loud and clear Wednesday.

“I feel like I’ve come  home,” he said before launching into his prepared remarks.

“I’ve been the fortunate beneficiary of an enormous amount of support from this community and love from my family for my entire life,” said Matt Plain, the youngest of the night’s honorees. He graduated in 1994.

Plain, a member of the EG School Committee, made his love of the EG schools clear, recalling all those who taught or guided him in elementary school, including the school custodian.

“Who could forget Bobby Taylor, keeping our school clean and safe for everybody to enjoy,” Plain said.

Plain started out as a teacher himself. A lawyer now, he continues to work on education issues.

Diane McDonald spoke about how she got to live out her childhood dream, riding horses and then owning her own stable (Dapper Dan). For McDonald, the daughter of teachers (her father, Norman Monks, taught and coached in East Greenwich for decades), being a horsewoman was not a given. But it was something she always wanted to do, she said.

If she could tell young people anything, she said, it would be to “follow your passion. Don’t settle for a job that’s just a job.”

Guy Asadorian, Class of 1982, spoke lovingly of this town he’s never left.

“It’s that whole deep sense of community that, really, gave me the foundation to try and be successful as an adult,” he said. Asadorian works in financial services.

“I’ve done a lot of volunteer work in this town and I’m 100 percent certain that it’s that connection that I have to the community that’s really motivated me to want to give back.”

There was a sixth person honored Wednesday night, if not officially. That was Dominic Iannazzi, who died in 2017. Iannazzi was a teacher, school administrator and coach in East Greenwich from the 1950s into the late 1970s. He wanted no fanfare upon his death but Wall of Honor organizer Bruce Mastracchio recounted a couple Iannazzi stories and that seemed to prompt others.

John Chandler said before he was able to find a permanent home for his senior year (his family had moved out of state), Iannazzi actually took him in for six weeks.

Bernice Pescosolido recounted how she’d tried hard to stay off Iannazzi’s radar since her brothers were definitely ON his radar.

“I just thought if Mr. Iannazzi knew my name I would automatically be given detention,” she said.

Diane McDonald DID get detention.

She’d asked if she could take a day off school to compete in a horse show. Iannazzi said no, but she went anyway. When McDonald turned up at school the next day with a note, Iannazzi held up the newspaper announcing that she’d won a trophy at the horse show. He gave her two days detention.

If you know of someone from EGHS you think should be put on the Wall of Honor, contact Bruce Mastracchio at thebrooker23@yahoo.com.


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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.





 

Advocates of Religious Holidays, Feb. Break Speak Out to School Committee

Several people came out for the School Committee’s second reading of the 2018-19 school calendar Tuesday night, fearing that religious holidays – particularly the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and the weeklong break in February – might be on the chopping block.

The draft calendar being looked at by the School Committee doesn’t touch either of those but even the discussion of such moves at the School Committee meeting two weeks ago was enough to rally the troops.

For School Committeeman Matt Plain, discussion of calendar alternatives, including how to handle religious holidays, is an important part of his job as an elected official. But, Plain said Tuesday, he may not have been sensitive enough to the concerns of some people when talking about religious holidays.

The draft 2018-19 calendar would start school on Wednesday, Aug. 29, before the Labor Day weekend, as in past years. But both Rosh Hashanah (Monday, Sept. 10) and Yom Kippur (Wednesday, Sept. 19) fall on weekdays next year and there is the likelihood of a state Primary Day, which is currently slated for Wednesday, Sept. 12.

For some, that makes for a very disruptive beginning to the school year. With weeklong breaks in February and April, the cumulative impact means the final day of school is Monday, June 17. That is, unless there are unexpected days off for snowstorms and the like. The district has been averaging about four storm-type days off in recent years. If that were the case next year, the last day of school would be Friday, June 21.

Is this a problem? It depends on who you speak to.

Jeremy Weinberg said the fact that the schools were off for the Jewish holidays made a big difference to his family. “When my wife and I and our three children were looking for a place to live in Rhode Island, seeing that North Kingstown didn’t have those days off sent a signal to us. Seeing that East Greenwich did sent a different signal,” he said.

Rabbi Aaron Philmus of Temple Torat Yisrael on Middle Road said it would send the wrong signal if the Jewish holidays were taken away now, just three years after there was actually a Jewish place of worship in town. (See video for more.)

Carla Swanson took a different view.

“It breaks my heart that the school calendar is seen as a bellwether of how welcoming our community is,” she said. “The public schools should not have any religious holidays.”

But, she added, “I certainly would not like to see the Jewish holidays taken off and Good Friday staying on.”

School Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Mark said she wanted to hear from the Administrative Council, which is made up of school principals and other administrators.

“I’m very interested in hearing what the Administrative Council thinks is in the best interest of teaching and learning,” she said.

Two high school students and some parents spoke in favor of retaining the February break.

“It would just be too long from Christmas vacation all the way to April vacation” to go without a vacation, said EGHS sophomore Caroline Hollingsworth. “I think we should have a break in there. A long weekend is not enough.”

Freshman Emily Brooks said she spent the first few days of the vacation last week catching up on school work but then, she said, “I was really able to put my books down and relax.”

If homework – too much of it – is the issue, said Committeewoman Lori McEwen, that can be addressed. Teachers could be told “no homework” if a long weekend were to replace February break, for instance.

“It struck me that we almost take that as gospel that there has to be so much homework that we can’t avoid it,” she said. As it happens, the district is in the midst of evaluating the homework load.

February break has also been a valuable time for high school students to visit college campuses, several people told the School Committee.

The calendar will be on the agenda again on March 6, possibly for a vote. You can watch the whole debate from Feb. 27 here.


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School Committee Questions Town’s $200,000 Sewer Debt Claim

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

Finance Director Linda Dykeman at the Nov. 21 School Committee meeting.

At the Town Council meeting Nov. 6, Town Manager Gayle Corrigan said the school district was $200,000 in debt to the town’s sewer enterprise fund. That was news to the school district. But it turns out Finance Director Linda Dykeman hasn’t yet resolved what the district might owe on sewers. That’s what she told the School Committee during their meeting Tuesday night.

“There’s a possibility that payments might not have been applied properly. There are invoices people don’t think are accurate,” Dykeman said. She said she was in the process of listing all invoices and all payments made by the school district to figure out what the balance actually is.

“There are two pieces of this puzzle. The first is what is owed and then why is it owed. I’m hearing from Mr. Wilmarth [director of facilities for the schools] that there’s different theories of what the agreements were regarding the deduct meter that was put in for the irrigation system,” said Dykeman, referring to the fields irrigation system at the high school that was installed in 2011. “People aren’t remembering these conversations the same is what I’m hearing. So once we get the actual invoices and know the payments and know the amount due, then we can sit down with those invoices and figure out if was there an anomaly, were there problems with the billing and go from there.”

Dykeman said Wilmarth told her he’d asked “repeatedly” for the invoices but did not receive them and that she was looking into that as well.

“It sounds to me that it’s not accurate to make the statement that the school owes the municipality $200,000,” said Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Mark. “We actually don’t know the actual number.”

Councilman Matt Plain pressed Dykeman harder on that point.

“The notion that $200,000 is owed is merely an allegation, until it can either be confirmed or dispelled,” he said, then asked, “The $200,000 is not verified, correct? That’s a yes or no.”

Dykeman declined to answer that directly.

“I haven’t done an audit to trace the payments and the lack of payments that produced that $200,000,” she said.

Committee member Michael Fain said he thought getting the real information should be a priority for the district, “if the town’s going to stand up there and say we owe them $200,000.”

The challenge for Dykeman is that, under the recent town-school consolidation, she is both the finance director for the town and for the schools. Her priority is to prepare for the town’s audit, which is to begin in soon.

The School Committee is also looking to Dykeman to supply an updated budget picture for the current fiscal year – and to find out if the district will have to dip into its fund balance as much as it had budgeted. So far, Dykeman said, it looks like it would be.

Chairwoman Mark asked Dykeman to get to the bottom of the sewer questions by the next School Committee meeting on Dec. 5 and get other information to the committee before it meets in joint session with the Town Council Dec. 18.

You can watch video of the meeting here.

Can School District Afford Curriculum Director This Year?

If they decide they can, school officials agree they need to commit to the position, even if the town level funds the schools.

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

School Committee members Jeff Dronzek (left) and Matt Plain (center) both advocated pressing the Town Council to address additional funding for special education, which could help pay for a curriculum director.

When the School Committee approved a final budget last June, they voted to approve hiring a director of teaching and learning (in old parlance, a curriculum director) in January, halfway through the year to make the addition a little easier to bear budget-wise. But the vote was contingent on the town taking over the district’s $45,000 sewer bill, which in theory anyway would line up with the town’s stated “One Town” policy.

With January a mere number of weeks away, some on the School Committee are pushing to fill that position, even though the town said no to paying the district’s sewer bill.

The Town Council level-funded the schools this year, but their One Town consolidation plan saved the district $530,000. The district, however, had requested an additional $1.3 million so the council’s decision to level fund the schools ultimately cut the district’s budget request by $770,000. [Ed. Note: figures in this paragraph had been incorrect in an earlier version.]

Hiring a director of teaching and learning would cost upwards of $100,000 for a year, half that if the new director started in January.

“I think we should figure out a way to get those on board [curriculum director and HS librarian] and if we don’t get paid what we’re owed, that’s not on us,” argued Councilman Jeff Dronzek, head of the committee’s finance subcommittee.

Dronzek was referring to the state’s failure as of now to pay all that it had promised in state aid because of the delay in passing the state budget, as well as the town’s promise to help with unexpected and unbudgeted special education costs. The district has already seen such an expense, with a bump in preschool enrollment for children with special needs. The district hired the extra teacher in August. The town has not, as yet, agreed to give the schools anything extra for special unexpected education expenses such as the preschool hire.

“We’ve got to get this in our budget or we’re never going to get these positions,” Dronzek said. “If we wait until we get all the fund balance info, we’re not going to get these positions in this year.”

Matt Plain suggested that School Committee members press the Town Council directly to get an item about supplemental appropriations on the council’s agenda through “a letter for all of us, a letter from each of us, repeated letters and emails from each of us. Letting the public know we’re requesting that…. Something to ensure that it’s getting at least an opportunity to be discussed and voted on by the Town Council.”

He added, “We need the money.”

Chairwoman Carolyn Mark did not disagree with her colleagues but she said the committee would need to be ready to cut other things if the district was level funded in fiscal year 2019.

“What’s going to go so that we can keep that position?” she said.

“We couldn’t look to hire someone for five months and five months only,” said Councilwoman Lori McEwen. I think we would have to take a vote, we would have to commit that that is a line that stays in – a position in the org chart that is very clear.”

McEwen added that hiring someone to fill the director of teaching and learning position would not, in and of itself, solve the district’s curriculum-related issues.

“Hiring a director of teaching and learning will not categorically change the district,” she said. “There will be major changes for the good but … that role alone, that person will not be coming in with a cape.”

Chairwoman Mark asked Supt. Mercurio to try to meet with Town Manager Gayle Corrigan to learn exactly what the town considers is a special education “demonstrated need” before the committee’s next meeting Dec. 5. In addition, Mercurio said he would write a draft job description so the district would be ready to go with a search.

Consolidation Will Take Time, Say School Officials

Two aspects of the “One Town” consolidation effort were on the School Committee’s agenda Tuesday night – a review of the memorandum of agreement (MOA) between the Town Council and the School Committee memorializing the town’s new financial commitments, and a discussion about the rollout of the consolidation itself, including the timeline, job descriptions for consolidated positions, and an organizational chart for who staff will report to.

School officials continue to argue that consolidation between two separate elected bodies is challenging and will take time, despite the town’s initial fast action June 30 when Town Manager Gayle Corrigan laid off three town employees and said in a memo that two school employees were now in consolidated positions, without first getting agreement from the School Committee.

That agreement still has not been given and the school department employees continue to work in their school jobs*. But the School Committee did decide Tuesday night to turn the consolidation particulars over to their personnel subcommittee and take them off the shoulders of Supt. Victor Mercurio, in acknowledgement of his current considerable workload. In addition to the start of school less than four weeks away, the district is also down a special ed director and a principal at Frenchtown Elementary.

Committeewoman Lori McEwen, who chairs the personnel subcommittee, was blunt in her assessment of the organizational chart presented July 24, saying she could not sign off on an organization chart that has a dotted line between the superintendent and the finance director but a solid line between the town manager and the finance director.

That turned the discussion to matrix managing, the method behind the chart that was lauded by Councilman Nino Granatiero July 24 for how well it worked in business. Matrix management is the practice of managing individuals with more than one reporting line, for instance, someone in sales who works under a district manager but reports to the regional manager. School officials question how that can work when there are two completely different elected bodies sharing the same employee.

Mercurio said in his research on matrix management, he had not found a model that depicted such an arrangement.

As for the dotted and solid line reporting structure, “some of the best practices are to ban the dotted/solid line approach,” said School Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Mark, referring to an article from the Harvard Business Review Mercurio had shared.

Committeewoman Yan Sun again questioned the speedy timeline for the consolidation and, after the meeting, Committeeman Matt Plain said that consolidation had to be done carefully.

“Figuring out the job descriptions and who’s going to evaluate and who’s going to supervise … that shouldn’t be done in haste,” Plain said.

The discussion over the revised MOA hinged largely on what would happen when the School Committee needed to ask for more money from the town, which has promised to reserve $500,000 for special education cost increases instead of funding the School Committee as it requested.

“The Town Council must appropriate the amount of money to meet our legal and contractual obligations,” said Plain.

McEwen agreed.

“If we decide that we need more, we make that presentation to the Town Council and there’s no discussion,” she said.

Committeeman Jeff Dronzek was wary the town would give over any additional money.

“I don’t have a high level of trust on this. This is the first time we’d done this.”

Plain said if the Town Council were to respond to a request by saying, “Let’s see how your school year goes,” the School Committee could then explore legal options.

He also had a problem with the inclusion in the MOA of “One Town,” the phrase adopted by the Town Council to describe the town-school consolidation.

The clause under debate was a new one sought by Town Solicitor David D’Agostino:

“Whereas, the Council and Committee agree to work collaboratively to further the One Town approach, which is partially codified in the budget appropriation as part of the FY18 budget as approved by the Council and the Committee …”

Mark said she accepted the new clause because of what she saw as the importance of enshrining the idea of working collaboratively.

But McEwen also objected to the “One Town” inclusion.

“If the Town Council were trying to further a ‘One Town’ approach they would have given us the appropriation we asked for,” she said, referring to the 4 percent funding increase the School Committee had requested in April. “I would be in favor of removing that term of art.”

Plain argued including the phrase was unnecessarily confusing since it could mean different things to different people. As for working collaboratively, “that’s not a bad idea but that’s not what this MOA was about.”

Rather, the MOA was intended to outline in a formal document exactly what expenses the town will cover.

In the end, the School Committee decided to strike the new clause completely, and to remove all uses of “One Town,” from the MOA.

As for the town’s assuming the school department’s $45,000 sewer bill (the sewers are a town service), that is not included in the MOA.

“D’Agostino could not commit to that at this point so we are leaving it for now,” said Oliverio.

– Elizabeth F. McNamara

* Linda Dykeman, who was named by Corrigan to serve as consolidated finance director, had already been working for the EGSD for 10 hours a week, sharing that job with another person while the School Committee was going to conduct a search for a permanent director of administration. Dykeman continues to give 10 hours of her week to the school department and has assumed the duties of the town’s finance director for the other 30 hours a week.

You can watch videos of the entire School Committee meeting here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HpkQPG6qKUU.

School Officials Seek Clarity in Consolidation Draft, Worry Reporting Structure Could Get ‘Messy’

July 27, 2017 – Town Manager Gayle Corrigan and School Superintendent Victor Mercurio unveiled a consolidation status report at the Town Council’s joint meeting with the School Committee Monday night. The joint session, before a crowd of around 190 people at Swift Community Center, took place at the start of the meeting, before the council voted to remove “acting” from Corrigan’s title and before the council’s executive session, where they voted 3-1 to approve a contract for Corrigan.

The report (find it here) outlined a two-phase timeline for consolidation, a draft finance director job description, and an organizational chart of the joint town-school finance department. Among the proposed “next steps” for the finance department consolidation would be an audit of the current school and town departments, coordination of human resources, and union and legal input. For the IT department, the plan calls for hiring a consultant to analyze school and town IT departments and report back by October or November, with implementation “effective 1/1/2018.” The plan also calls for an in-depth spending analysis of both the town and the schools.

School Committeewoman Lori McEwen immediately questioned the use of solid and dotted lines on the finance department organizational chart, in particular the meaning of the dotted lines.

“That raises red flags for me,” she said. “I’ve worked in a number of environments where they’ve had dotted lines … and they can get messy.”

She noted there was a solid line from the finance director to the town manager but a dotted line to the superintendent, even though the finance director would be overseeing four school-side positions.

“I would prefer a direct line to the superintendent,” she said.

School Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Mark agreed.

“In terms of the decisions around hiring, firing, and evaluating, the difference between a solid line and a dotted line perhaps requires some discussion,” she said.

Town Councilman Nino Granatiero said in his experience, the solid line represents who an employee reports to and the dotted line represents who an employee works for.

“You can’t have two “report to’s” because then you have confusion – who do you take your direction from?” he said. “One [person] you’re getting your direction from, your objectives, you’re doing your performance appraisals, the hiring and firing – that’s who you report to. The work for, you know you have an obligation to that person to help them meet their objectives. So when we talk about the finance role, it reports in to the town manager but it also works for the superintendent. He has to have someone to support his objectives.”

Granatiero said this system works very well in business.

Mark pushed back.

“It seems that in order to be able to work through the details … you almost have to go to hypotheticals,” she said. On the one hand, it could work well and everyone would be satisfied. “I think that in order to really get to the heart of some of the questions that we have, you have to go to the other hypothetical, which is that nothing goes so well. Or, it goes really well on the town side, but not so well on the school side. So the question really goes to the heart of, who has the authority and the responsibility to make hiring and firing decisions and what is the … dispute resolution process when the people who are being served and the people in charge disagree about the job performance of an individual?”

Town Council President Sue Cienki said these issues had been addressed back in 2004, when consolidation was first discussed (Cienki was on the School Committee at that time). “If the schools are not represented in this, it won’t work,” she said in apparent agreement with Mark.

School Committeeman Matt Plain said in his experience as an employment lawyer, he saw potential conflicts in the proposed reporting structure.

If there were a critical assignment for the School Department with a deadline, Plain proposed, what if the employee also had another assignment for the town – which would get precedence. He argued there would need to be considerable time set aside to clarify such potential conflicts.

Another area of concern for School Committee members was the IT consolidation timeline. Committeewoman Yan Sun called it “very aggressive,” and warned that IT disruptions during the school year would hurt students.

Chairwoman Mark said the School Committee would review the plan at its meeting Tuesday, Aug. 1, and come up with recommendations for the next draft.

Town Councilman Andy Deutsch was encouraged by the report but admitted the process so far has been rocky.

“I hear the School Committee’s comments today and I feel optimistic,” he said. “There’s a reason it says draft. The group of people here today can solve these problems. I don’t think everything’s been done perfectly. I’m not that naive. But … I don’t think the sky is falling. I think we have concerned people who are going to make this happen – 1.0 is great; 1.1 will be better.”

Councilman Mark Schwager, alternatively, took a much dimmer view of the process thus far.

“We essentially hired a school department employee to work for the town without the consent of the school department,” Schwager said, referring to Linda Dykeman, who was appointed to a shared interim finance director position at the school department after Gail Wilcox left her job as director of administration for the district.

“She only works there 10 hours a week,” Cienki said of Dykeman’s school department role.

“I don’t know if she has other responsibilities as well,” Schwager said. “Is she working in other capacities outside of the town of East Greenwich?”

He also questioned how the hiring took place.

“Ordinarily there’s been a process where you post those positions…. We didn’t go through that process. What is the reason for that?” he said, prompting loud clapping from the audience. “Why wouldn’t we give an opportunity for those people who had been in those positions a chance? … We never had a job description. What credentials would be required? What the salary range would be. Once you have those things, you could take time and interview.”

Consolidation may be a good idea, he said, “But this has been a flawed process.”

Schwager continued, “So here we are now, with the two principals of our consulting firm occupying the two most important administrative positions in town government, again, prompting loud clapping from the audience.”

“It’s not a good process.”

The Town Council meets next on Monday, Aug. 7; the School Committee on Tuesday, Aug. 1.

– Elizabeth F. McNamara

Town’s Consolidation Effort On Hold – In Part – After School Committee Balks

July 7, 2017 – Not so fast, the School Committee told members of the Town Council and Acting Town Manager Gayle Corrigan Wednesday morning (7/5), during a two-hour session held in response to Corrigan’s June 30 firing of town personnel and her decision to move school employees into new joint school-town positions.

“It was my understanding that a proposal was going to be put forward at the Town Council meeting June 26 as to … what was being recommended for town consolidation and I went to the meeting … expecting that to be discussed,” said School Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Mark on Wednesday. “I heard that agenda item had been shifted to July 10. When the memo came out [Friday], it was very surprising.”

Mark said Town Council President Sue Cienki called her after the vote to say that the Town Council had met in executive session and made the personnel decisions.

“I thought the school side would have the same opportunity … and that we would jointly vet the proposal, jointly make decisions about consolidated positions, and that we would jointly follow the process which in my experience is the appropriate process,” she said. “I was very much of the opinion that decisions about shared staff would be made collectively.”

Council President Cienki, who attended the first part of the meeting Wednesday, defended Corrigan’s actions Thursday.

“I had met with Carolyn and School Supt. Victor [Mercurio] and the meeting went very well about the consolidation plans,” Cienki said. “I took the plan back to the Town Council to vet and I’m surprised that Carolyn didn’t talk to the School Committee about the plan.”

Cienki cited the start of the new fiscal year, July 1, and the need to “begin the year on track” as the reason for the June 30 actions.

“The Town Council was not usurping any authority or responsibility from the School Committee,” she said.

Carolyn Mark wasn’t the only school official to see things differently.

“If there’s consolidation of a position that would alter a school department position, we need to take action on that,” School Committee member Matt Plain said in an interview Thursday (7/6).

That’s because the school department is required by state law to have an organizational chart that’s approved by the School Committee – changing the chart means getting School Committee approval.

“Regardless of the desire of the Town Council and or jointly of the School Committee and the Town Council to consolidate certain services, there needs to be a discussion as to how that’s facilitated because there are a lot of legal ramifications,” schools lawyer Matt Oliverio said during the meeting.

At issue is one position in particular – that of administrative assistant to the school finance director – because the person holding that job, Rose Emilio, was named human resources director for the town and schools on June 30. Emilio has been doing human resources work for the school district as one part of her job. While school officials recognized that Emilio’s job would be one of those potentially affected by consolidation as laid out by the town June 26, they said they expected to be part of the decision-making process in how that unfolded.

Not only were school officials apparently caught off guard by the June 30 announcement. Emilio, one of the employees directly affected by the decisions, was also surprised, according to Oliverio.

“She said she’d had a conversation with Ms. Corrigan asking if she would be interested in additional responsibilities from the town which would come with additional pay,” Oliverio said of Emilio. “I don’t think she committed one way or another. She did tell me there was no discussion about her becoming human resources director. So she was just as shocked as all of you were shocked that she was named human resources director.”

By the end of Wednesday’s meeting, Committee member Plain said he was feeling a re-set button had been pressed and that school employees were still holding the same job descriptions they had before June 30.

Town Solicitor David D’Agostino agreed.

“As I understand it, Rose Emilio continues to do her school work with no added municipal responsibilities,” he said Thursday, “pending School Committee agreement or buy-in to the One Town model.”

For the other school department employee affected by Corrigan’s June 30 announcement – Providence Analytics colleague Linda Dykeman, who Corrigan named finance director of the town and schools – she will continue to work 10 hours for the school department but dedicate the rest of her time to the town, D’Agostino said. Dykeman had been appointed by the School Committee in June to serve part-time as overseeing finance director for the EGSD.

One other area to be consolidated is IT, but no actions have yet been taken to combine the town and school IT departments.

Cienki outlined the process for that work.

“The IT consolidation piece involves having School Committee and Town Council representation, with the town manager and superintendent and an independent fifth person to develop an organizational chart for IT,” with implementation set for the fall, she said.

As for the School Committee, member Jeff Dronzek was happy that they met Wednesday and had a conversation.

“I’m glad we had it so we could get out in the open what was going on,” he said Thursday. “I think it’s important to show the town as a whole that we are willing to have our discussions out in the open.”

The Town Council meets next on Monday, July 10, at 7 p.m. at Town Hall. D’Agostino said consolidation would be on the agenda and that School Committee members were welcome to attend, but that it would not be a joint meeting.

The School Committee meets next on Tuesday, July 11, in the library at Cole Middle School, at 7 p.m.

– Elizabeth F. McNamara