Homeowner Fights Batting Cage At Cole

The batting cage planned for Cole Middle School would sit on the west side of the school.

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

It seemed like a nice idea – the EG Little League wanted to donate batting cages to the high school and Cole Middle School that could be used by school teams as well as Little League teams. The School Committee approved the offer last spring and equipment appeared at Cole to install the batting cage last Memorial Day weekend.

Except that placement of the proposed batting cage at Cole was on the west side of the school, the side closest to Sarah’s Trace, the street on which homeowners had sued the town over construction of the school in 2011 and which resulted in a settlement in 2015. When construction of the batting cage began, a Sarah’s Trace homeowner called police, citing a breach of the settlement. Police stopped the construction.

Now, nearly a year later, Little League representatives are hoping to get the construction back on track. The double batting cage at the high school was erected without incident after the failed attempt at Cole.

The challenge at Cole is there aren’t very many place to put the batting cages, Athletics Director Chris Cobain told the School Committee Tuesday night. He said there were only two sites at the school that don’t have anything to do with drainage, sewage, or electrical lines. One is near the tennis courts, close to houses on Wanton Shippee Road. The other is the side that abuts properties on Sarah’s Trace. Cobain said they chose the area closer to Sarah’s Trace because of the generous landscape buffer there. There is no such buffer on the Wanton Shippee side.

Cobain said he spoke with the homeowners who’d called the police.

“I talked to the family and heard, “We will fight, we will fight tooth and nail,” he said.

School Committee members said they needed to know just want was included in the settlement. If it was about equipment, could EGLL use hand tools to install the batting cage, they asked.

Committeeman Matt Plain said there was a difference between whether or not the settlement contained language about construction of something like a batting cage at Cole and the batting cage itself.

EGLL representative Russ Marcantonio agreed.

“If you let the threats of lawsuits dictate how you operate, that’s a bad precedent,” he said.

The School Committee decided to have their lawyer talk to the town about the issue, since it is the town that has the settlement with the homeowners.

School and Little League officials said they hoped the issue could be ironed out before spring baseball begins in earnest.

 

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.



 

2018-19 School Calendar Keeps Keeps Religious Holidays; Feb. & April Breaks

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

If you are a fan of weeklong breaks in February and April, you may exhale. The School Committee Tuesday night approved the 2018-19 calendar, keeping both the February and April weeklong breaks as well as retaining the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. (Good Friday is not a extra day off next year because it takes place during the weeklong April break.)

The first day of school for students will be Wednesday, Aug. 29; the last day of school (barring added school cancellation days) is Monday, June 17.

But School Committee members continued to express frustration  over the length of the school year – with bad-weather days, the school year typically ends sometime after June 20.  (With this week’s added snow day, the final day of this school year looks to be June 22. The 2017-18 calendar here has been adjusted to reflect weather-related school closures and the later end of the school year.)

“I’d be shocked if we were the only district that found after the middle of June there was significantly less production,” said Committee member Matt Plain.

“It seems like every year we’re talking about it, it’s already too late,” said Chairwoman Carolyn Mark. In addition to those families who plan trips during February or April breaks, Mark said, there are families who have custody arrangements based on school vacations.

Supt. Victor Mercurio suggested deciding  the 2019-20 calendar a lot earlier, by October 2018, to give families time to plan.

Plain said parents needed to accommodate the school calendar.

“As a parent I’m required to get my child to school,” he said. “We’ve got to find ways to fit 180 school days in the best way we can.”

The challenge for 2018-19 is there are two election days (Primary Day is Wednesday, Sept. 12; Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 6) and both Jewish holidays land on weekdays.

Plain recalled the public comment at the Feb. 27 School Committee meeting, where people remarked that one reason they moved to East Greenwich was because of the respect shown for the Jewish holidays. While those residents feel welcome by East Greenwich, Plain said, what about others?

“There are two religions represented on this calendar. There are not only two religions,” he said. “What message are we sending to those who practice other religions?”

Committeeman Michael Fain asked Supt. Mercurio if there was a specific absentee rate – when it’s known that a number of students will be absent for a particular reason, such as a religious holiday – at which it was determined school should be cancelled on that day.

“I don’t know what the tipping point is,” Mercurio said.

The committee voted 7-0 to approve the calendar. Chairwoman Mark pledged the School Committee would start work on the calendar for 2019-20 in September.





 

Town-School Consolidation Takes Step Closer to Reality

Sticking point remains School Committee’s desire for a finance staff person who reports solely to the superintendent, but the panel has few alternatives other than to comply.

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

A proposal outlining town and school finance and human resources consolidation found a welcome reception before the Town Council this week, while the School Committee continues to struggle with the concept.

Both elected bodies have had a chance to review a memorandum of agreement put together by schools lawyer Matt Oliverio after extensive meetings in recent weeks between Supt. Victor Mercurio and Town Manager Gayle Corrigan.

Members of the Town Council said Monday night they were ready to go ahead with the plan, though Councilman Nino Granatiero said he didn’t understand why the School Committee felt it needed a memorandum of agreement to seal the deal.

“I read through it. It will work. But I just kind of shook my head that we need it,” he said.

Alternatively, the School Committee at their meeting March 6 tabled the MOA, still uncertain about the proposed consolidated finance office reporting structure.

“The deputy director of administration reports to the director of administration, not the superintendent,” said Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Mark, hitting on the issue that has challenged the committee since consolidation talks (under the “One Town” banner) last summer.

“I would have the same access that I have now,” Mercurio responded, noting that the town and schools have been sharing a finance director since June.

“I talk to [school department finance clerk] Christine Spagnoli now, without going through [joint Finance Director] Linda Dykeman,” he said.

Mark conceded that the access would remain the same, but wondered about the hiring process.

“The memorandum of understanding addresses most of my most pressing concerns but it doesn’t address the hiring or firing of the deputy director position,” Mark said. “I’m just concerned about that person not being a direct report to the superintendent.”

The plan, as put forth March 6, closely resembled Town Manager Corrigan’s ultimatum from December, when she said the town and the schools needed to decide whether they would “marry or divorce.” Divorce would mean the school district would need to rebuild staff that had been shared with the town since 2005. Marriage would be complete finance consolidation.

But Oliverio argued that the MOA he drafted and which was approved by Corrigan and town lawyer David D’Agostino provided safeguards for the schools, including a “non-interference clause” for positions that would report to both the town manager and the superintendent.

“In the decision-making process between the town manager and the superintendent, should they not agree, there is a dispute resolution process,” Oliverio said.

He added, “The only way that I could recommend this proposed consolidation was to have an opt-out provision that would be agreed upon by the Town Council and the School Committee.”

If either the town or the schools decided the arrangement wasn’t working, they could opt out at least 60 days before the end of the fiscal year.

However, Supt. Mercurio said at an earlier meeting – and several School Committee members agreed – that rebuilding a standalone school finance department was a fiscal non-starter; several positions were taken over by the town years ago, so it would necessitate hiring multiple staff members with money the school district doesn’t have.

Meanwhile, Dykeman said the money saved through the consolidation would be $70,000.

Another important aspect of this consolidation would be to move some school administrators over to Town Hall. If approved, the superintendent’s office would move to the second floor of Town Hall and special education would move to the ground floor. The Planning Department and IT would move to the school administration offices at 111 Peirce Street. The as-yet unrealized position of director of teaching and learning (i.e. curriculum director) would also be located at 111 Peirce Street.  Public Works would undertake the renovations with the town picking up the cost.

The School Committee will take up the MOA at its meeting next Tuesday, March 20. If the School Committee approves the plan, the Town Council will vote on it at their next meeting, March 26.

You can see details of the consolidation, including the new office plans, here.


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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 Rejects Corrigan’s ‘All or Nothing’ Consolidation Plan

The School Committee met Thursday in special session to discuss town-school consolidation.

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

The School Committee voted 7-0 Thursday to present a consolidation plan at the joint Town Council-School Committee meeting Monday that continues partial town-school consolidation efforts – a rejection of Town Manager Gayle Corrigan’s request that the committee decide on either complete separation or complete consolidation.

The action comes days before the Feb. 12 deadline proposed by Corrigan in December.

“We need to fix it,” Corrigan argued during the joint Town Council-School Committee meeting Dec. 18, referring to the current state of town-school consolidation. She said the two entities needed to decide: “Are we getting divorced or are we getting married?”

At a special session Thursday, School Committee decided against complete separation but refused to commit to a total merger, arguing that its legal duties of “care, custody and control” of the school district required that the superintendent have a finance staff member separate from the town.

In a letter Feb. 7 to the School Committee, Corrigan wrote, “I see two distinct options before us. One is relatively simple – at least in theory. The School Department will return to its pre-2005 state and take full responsibility for all aspects of managing the schools and their requisite support systems.”

Find her 4-page letter here: Corrigan Consolidation Letter 2/7/18. Find the town’s proposed total consolidation organizational chart here: Consolidated positions – duties – 01-23-2018 – Org Chart.

She was referring to efforts that started in 2005, when the town took over some of the school department’s finance tasks (payroll and accounts payable), after a performance audit was conducted and the auditor recommended town and school finance departments be combined.

In early June 2017, Corrigan’s own Providence Analytics did another performance audit and more consolidation was encouraged. Corrigan became town manager June 19 and on June 30 she hired her Providence Analytics colleague, Linda Dykeman, to take over as finance director, as well as naming a school department employee to serve as human resources director for both the schools and the town (three town employees were let go in the process).

The School Committee cried foul, arguing they had not signed off on the job change for the schools’ HR director. After a joint meeting last summer to discuss the issue, further consolidation ground to a halt.

Corrigan even seemed to distance herself from consolidation efforts (the so-called “one town” plan) at a meeting Oct. 23: “It’s very clear that the path to consolidation will be a long one if we even get there, due mostly to concerns on the school side,” she said at a Town Council meeting that night.

But Corrigan’s latest move places the School Committee in a bind, according to School Committeeman Jeff Dronzek.

“We’re basically being forced into a spot that we lose either way. We either lose control or we lose the financing,” he said.

“Right now, we can’t afford to do a standalone,” said Superintendent Victor Mercurio. A complete separation of finance functions would require the school department to recreate payroll and other finance functions at a time when the district had hoped to add a director of teaching and learning. That goal remains elusive with the high school without a librarian (and, so, a library) among other financial pressures.

Chairwoman Carolyn Mark said Thursday she had sought clarification from Corrigan’s Feb. 7 letter – did Corrigan mean just finance department consolidations or was she referring to all the functions the town has taken over for the schools in recent years, such as grounds maintenance, snow and rubbish removal, and school resource officers.

In an email response to Mark, Corrigan wrote, “I am referring to what we have collectively discussed as back office business functions. We look forward to learning of your decision … on Monday. The Town is committed to supporting the transition for either scenario by July 1, 2018.”

But School Committee members rejected the idea they had to split the baby, especially since they were in support some aspects of the total consolidation plan, such as merging the human resources role.

Combining the human resource position would be “a huge savings for the town,” said schools solicitor Matt Oliverio. The School Committee rejected the town’s unilateral decision to consolidate the human resources decision but said such a consolidation could work – if they had a part in crafting it.

But total consolidation would not work, said Mark.

“It is a non-starter for us to not have a director of administration … that reports directly to the superintendent,” she said. “We have to have a dedicated director of administration who solely reports to the superintendent – to fulfill our statutory obligations of care, custody and control of the school district.”

That said, the committee seemed open to the idea of moving school administrators from their office at 111 Peirce Street down two blocks into Town Hall in an effort to bring more cohesiveness to town-school operations.

Committeewoman Mary Ellen Winter asked Mercurio if he could work with the total consolidation as envisioned by Corrigan.

“I’d like to see us try to come together. I like the idea of ‘one town,’” Winter said. “It’s been town versus schools forever.”

“The short answer is, yes, I can make it work,” replied Mercurio. But, he added, “It’s also important that the superintendent and the town manager have a working relationship.”

Committeeman Matt Plain said he thought such a consolidation could be possible but not from the tone of Corrigan’s letter.

Mark also pushed back.

“I appreciate what an amiable person you are and how willing you are to try to make things work,” she said to Mercurio. “But I think that we have a responsibility as an elected body … to ensure that the structures are in place that will enable you to be successful…. I don’t necessarily see a finance director–director of administration who isn’t 100 percent dedicated to the schools as providing you with the support that you need…. I worry about our ability to meet that statutory obligation if you don’t have a dedicated director of administration. So, while I appreciate what you are saying, I’m not sure that compels me to have a different point of view on it.”

One big question that remains is whether or not the Town Council would be willing to discuss alternatives to Corrigan’s stark A or B approach.

“I can’t imagine a Town Council president who’s not going to have a discussion about what you collectively discussed here tonight,” said Solicitor Oliverio. “They’re going to say no? I find that hard to believe.”

The Town Council and School Committee meet in joint session Monday, Feb. 12, at Swift Community Center at 7 p.m. Find the agenda here.


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This Week in EG: School Panel to Discuss Joint Finance Director   

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, Feb. 5

Library Valentines: Engaged EG is holding a valentine-making session to express your love of libraries – especially the EGHS library, currently closed due to lack of funding for a librarian to staff it. From 4 to 6 p.m. at the EG Free Library on Peirce Street. Stop by with your kids (or without!) to make a valentine or two. Supplies and nut-free snacks will be available.

Tuesday, Feb. 6

Tech Nite at New England Tech – An open house at the East Greenwich campus. From 3 to 7 p.m.

School Committee meeting – On the agenda (find it here), the panel will approve members to an ad hoc revenue committee, which will be looking for ways to raise money for the schools. They will also discuss the 2018-19 school calendar. In the library at Cole Middle School starting at 7 p.m.

Toastmasters International – All are welcome to attend this meeting of the Ocean State Club chapter at Warwick City Hall, 3275 Post Road. From 7 to 9 p.m. For more information, check out their website.

Wednesday, Feb. 7

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.

Public Forum on Homework – All are invited to attend this conversation about homework led by schools Supt. Victor Mercurio. There will be a second forum in January. In the library at Cole Middle School at 6:30 p.m.

Planning Board meeting – On the agenda, the board will take up again the condominium proposal known as Coggeshall Preserve on 62 South Pierce Road, as well as a 16-unit residential proposal for the building at 461 Main Street (just north of Centreville Bank). The board meets in Council Chambers at Town Hall at 7 p.m.

Thursday, Feb. 8

Skating Salute to the XXIII Winter Games – The Olympic Winter Games may be taking place in South Korea, but some local skating luminaries will be performing in a special show at the Alex & Ani Skating Rink in downtown Providence. From 5 to 6 p.m. For more information, click here:

School Committee meeting – This is a special meeting to discuss the town-school organizational chart, specifically, how it is working to have a combined town-school finance director. Find the agenda here. In the library at Cole Middle School starting at 6:30 p.m.

Saturday, Feb. 10

Collegia Ancora Concert – A professional chamber choir, Collegia Ancora is dedicated to enriching Rhode Island through the choral arts, performing music from all different time periods, sacred and secular. This concert explores the rich choral madrigal, spiritual and folk traditions. At St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, 99 Church St. Tickets $20, $10 for students. 5 p.m.

OTHER ITEMS OF NOTE

Recycling is ON this week.

Town Boards Need You! – Here’s the list of town boards with vacancies.

  • Affordable Housing Commission
  • Board of Assessment Review
  • Cove Management Commission
  • Historic Cemetery Advisory Commission
  • Historic District Commission
  • Housing Authority
  • Juvenile Hearing Board
  • Municipal Land Trust
  • Planning Board
  • Senior and Community Center Advisory Council

In you are interested, go to www.eastgreenwichri.com/TownGovernment/BoardsCommissions for more information and an application or come to the Town Clerk’s Office at 125 Main Street. Submit applications and resumes to the same address or via email to lcarney@eastgreenwichri.com.


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Eying Tough Budget Talks Ahead, School Committee Seeks Bids on Pre-Caruolo Audit

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

The School Committee voted Tuesday to send out a request for a proposal (RFP) for a two-pronged audit that would encompass both the district’s finances and education program.

The committee’s solicitor, Matt Oliverio, said he thought it was a good idea to send it out now, to get an idea of what such an audit might cost.

“I don’t know of any other district that’s gone out to bid for this type of audit,” he said during the meeting. “There is a sense of urgency to kind of move it along.… It’s in preparation for anticipating a deficit, anticipating that for a second year in a row you don’t receive adequate funding from the town.”

Oliverio has referred to such an audit as a “pre-Caruolo” action.

The Caruolo Act (R.I. General Law 16-2-21.4) outlines the provisions by which a school committee can sue a town council  if it determines the approved budget appropriation is not enough to carry out its contractual commitments, as well as basic mandates under state and federal law and regulations.

The School Committee asked for a $1.3 million budget increase last year – the most it could request, 4 percent of the $34 million it got in fiscal year 2017. The town gave the district less than half of that, $530,000.

There was some discussion about whether or not the committee could vote to send out the RFP since it was not on the agenda as an action item. But committee members ended up voting 7-0 in favor of sending it out because the agenda has a standing sentence that reads, ““Any items on the agenda may be subject to a vote.”

“You can put the RFP out there and we don’t have to act on it. Why shouldn’t we just put the RFP out there? We think we’re going to need it,” said Committee member Jeff Dronzek. “We don’t have anything to lose, except time.”

The panel also discussed year-to-date spending. Town Manager Gayle Corrigan said in December she would not entertain additional money for the schools until there was a better picture of where the district stood budget-wise.

According to school finance manager Christine Spagnoli, as of the end of December – halfway through the budget year – the district had a deficit of $518,443 (FY2018 year end projections). However, Mark and committee Finance Chair Jeff Dronzek both said that number could change based on a few unknowns.

One of those relates to the new health care plan approved by teachers and paraprofessionals and how it is paid for this year. The district is picking up the $4,000 co-pay for calendar year 2018, but will be reimbursed 50 percent by teachers. The question is, does the district have to pay it all in fiscal year 2018 (which ends June 30) or can the district spread that cost over the calendar year (which comprises half of fiscal year 2019). It’s complicated, and it depends on accounting practices. Spagnoli told the committee Tuesday she is still researching that answer.

The district is also short $72,000 in state aid due to the General Assembly’s failure to pass its budget last summer until weeks into the fiscal year. It’s still unclear, officials say, whether or not the state will be paying that money.

Another unknown is when and how much the district will be reimbursed for certain insurance claims it’s seeking for miscellaneous repairs.

There have been savings in some areas, including in the salaries budget line. Spagnoli said that was due to teachers on leave who are on a higher pay scale (step) who have been replaced by teachers at a lower step.

While that might help the district’s bottom line this budget year, Mark noted, that savings won’t translate to next year, once those higher-step teachers return.

“As we look at next year, we’re going to have to factor in the returning teachers,” Mark said.

Alternatively, the line item for nursing is already at 106 percent. The School Committee’s original budget request to the town had asked for $247,000 for nursing. Under the town’s lower appropriation, the line dropped to $174,000. That is one area the committee could look to for additional money from the town, since nursing services can be dictated by the need of the student population (i.e. students with medical conditions like diabetes that require regular attention).

There’s also the more than $100,000 that was needed to pay for an additional preschool classroom (due to higher than anticipated enrollment of preschool-age children with special needs whom the district is required to educate). The district has known about that expenditure since last summer but the town has so far refused to appropriate additional money for that.

“At what point do we start making a plan, given that we’re projecting a deficit?” said Committee member Matt Plain, referring to going back to the town for more money to cover this year’s costs.

“It’s a good question,” replied Mark. “There are some outstanding issues such as not knowing how much insurance is going to be reimbursing us. And whether or not we’re going to be able to account for some of the healthcare related costs next year instead of all in this fiscal year. I’m not sure we’d be ready to do it now .… When we get to February, we’ll have all of January’s number and a very good sense of February.”

Dronzek agreed.

“We could perhaps by that meeting start to put together what would be the costs that would be documented need,” he said.

The School Committee meets next on Feb. 6. The next budget update will be at their Feb. 27 meeting.

This Week in EG: Council to Vote on Interim Fire Chief

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.

Sunday, Jan. 21

Engaged East Greenwich meeting – This new community group is holding an organizational meeting to talk about upcoming projects (including installing Little Libraries) and results of a survey they conducted. They welcome residents to come and share their concerns. Learn more about the group on their Facebook page here. In the Community Room at the East Greenwich Police Station (176 First Ave.). From 6:30 to 8 p.m.

Monday, Jan. 22

Middle Road CLOSED just west of Route 2 – Middle Road will be closed between Route 2 and Stone Ridge Drive from 7 a.m. until it is completed later in the day. Detour signs will be posted and police will help direct traffic.

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.

Town Council meeting – The panel meets in executive session at 6:30 p.m. to discuss candidates to the Town Manager advisory search committee, then will hold a brief public update on the search at 6:45 p.m. The regular session begins at 7 p.m. On the agenda, the council will vote on a new interim fire chief, approval of an employee social media policy and review of council rules and guidelines. At Swift Community Center.

Tuesday, Jan. 23

School Committee meetingOn the agenda, a schools-town discussion update, second reading of the EGHS program of studies, and a draft RFP for a programmatic audit (as discussed at their last meeting). In the library at Cole Middle School at 7 p.m.

Zoning Board meeting – The agenda (find it here) includes six items, including zoning variance request for a 9-unit residential development on Castle Street. The panel meets in Council Chambers at Town Hall at 7 p.m.

Wednesday, Jan. 24

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.

Thursday, Jan. 25

Special Ed Advisory Committee meeting – Parents and others interested in special education are invited to attend EG SEAC’s monthly meeting. Committee members encourage parents with children who have an IEP to fill out a homework survey (find a link to the survey on the meeting agenda here). The meeting starts at 9:30 a.m. In the Superintendent’s Conference Room at the School Department, 111 Peirce St.

OTHER ITEMS OF NOTE

Recycling is ON this week.

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

LOOKING AHEAD

Thursday, Feb. 1

East Greenwich Academy photo exhibit – If you’re interested in wonderful old photos and East Greenwich history, join us at the library in the Silverman Meeting Room on February 1st from 5 to 7 PM to look at the EG Historic Preservation Society’s exhibit of the East Greenwich Academy. Refreshments will be served and some former members of the Academy will be on hand. Photos will be on display for the entire month.

Friday, Feb. 2

Painting and Pastries Fundraiser – A fundraiser for the EGHS Class of 2020. In the cafeteria at EG High School at 7:30 p.m.

Wednesday, Feb. 7

Public Forum on Homework – All are invited to attend this conversation about homework led by schools Supt. Victor Mercurio. There will be a second forum in January. In the library at Cole Middle School at 6:30 p.m.

If you have an event or meeting you would like to see here, send information to egreenwichnews@gmail.com.

School Committee Considers Audit as First Step Against Council

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

At the School Committee meeting Tuesday (1/9/18), members dipped their toes into legal waters, deciding to draft a request for proposal (RFP) for a dual audit of both finances and program to prepare for what could be another tough budget year for the schools. The Town Council level-funded the schools this year, while providing some money to help pay for non-educational expenses.

The audit would be the first step toward invoking the Caruolo Act (R.I. General Law 16-2-21.4), in which a school committee brings suit against a town council (or whoever holds the budgetary purse strings) if it determines the approved budget appropriation – together with state education aid and federal aid – is not enough to carry out its contractual commitments, as well as basic mandates under state and federal law and regulations.

Schools lawyer Matt Oliverio suggested that the School Committee consider undertaking the audit.

“I’ve been having some discussions with Supt. Mercurio and Ms. Mark that really started after last year’s budget cycle closed, in light of what the School Committee had requested and the fact that the Town Council had for the most part level-funded the school department. It wasn’t a pleasant experience for any of us,” he said. “I’m not suggesting we get in an adversarial relationship with the council but I think we should be proactive and consider undertaking a programmatic and financial audit.”

He added, “I thought it would be prudent to at least open the discussion about undertaking what is contemplated under the Caruolo Act but is really a pre-Caruolo action.”

The audit would give the School Committee hard evidence to take to the Town Council, Oliverio said. But not just the Town Council.

“If you go through another budget cycle like you did last year, I’m assuming there’s going to be significant hurt to programs, to extracurriculars.”

“It gives the public an indication of what are we willing to pay to fund this level of curriculum and extracurricular activity,” he said. “If you go through another budget cycle like you did last year, I’m assuming there’s going to be significant hurt to programs, to extracurriculars.”

But the audit comes at a cost, both financially and time-wise. Oliverio estimated such an audit – which would involve both an accountant and an outside school administer or former administrator – would cost upwards of $50,000. And it would take a lot of Supt. Victor Mercurio’s time, he said.

“Even thought he’s not going to be doing the audit, he will be supporting it and it’s gonna be a time drain on him,” Oliverio said. “You should understand that. It is a pretty intense process. it’s a time consuming process.”

“What kills me is the prospect of spending a significant amount of money to figure out  what minimum looks like,” said Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Mark. “I feel like we shouldn’t even be having this conversation in this district. At the same time, I think we have to be realistic about the situation that we’re in. If we’re ultimately going to have to it anyway, I’d rather do it sooner than later.”

We don’t know if we will have to do this, Oliverio replied. “We’re just speculating…. But we can’t put our heads in the sand. That’s why I’m raising it now.”

Jeff Dronzek asked if it was necessary to do both a financial and a programmatic audit since so the school district’s financials had been explored extensively just last year (by Providence Analytics, made up of the two consultants who are now the town manager, Gayle Corrigan, and the finance director for the schools and town, Linda Dykeman).

“It really is different,” responded Dykeman. “They’re looking at it through a different lens, they really are. You’re not going to be served if you do half the project. If you’re going to do it, you need both in my opinion.”

School Committeewoman Lori McEwen agreed.

“That different lens would be looking at alignment between the programmatic and the fiscal, looking at return on investment, at waste. . . . ”

Committeewoman Mary Ellen Winters said she thought the district should ask the Town Council to pay for the audit.

“I don’t see why they wouldn’t,” she said, since it would be “for the schools, which is for the town.”

Committeeman Jeff Dronzek agreed that the committee should push the council to pay for the audit, but he said, “if we think this is important, then we should do it.”

He added, “It sure would be nice for all of us if we had [this] information at our fingertips. If we need more and it’s proven by this … then we really have something.”

Chairwoman Mark asked Supt. Mercurio to have a draft RFP for the audit at the committee’s next meeting, Jan. 23.

To watch video of this part of the meeting, click here. This story was amended since it was first posted.