June 19, 2017 – The School Committee agenda for its June 20th meeting includes several eyebrow-raising items, including the “discussion of potential funding litigation” during executive session and the resignation of Brad Wilson, the special education director, during the regular meeting. But the real meat of the session will be finalizing the 2018 budget. The 2018 fiscal year starts July 1.
“The budget the Town Council approved was not the School Committee’s budget,” said School Committee Chair Carolyn Mark over the weekend. “It was Providence Analytics’ version of our budget.”
Providence Analytics was the firm hired by the town to consult on school and town finances. One principal of the PA team, Linda Dykeman, is now the interim director of administration (i.e. finance) for the district. The other principal in the firm, Gayle Corrigan, was name acting town manager for the Town of East Greenwich on Monday, June 19. Their recommendations June 5 morphed into budget reality June 8 and led to the departure of Town Manager Tom Coyle June 19 at midnight.
The Town Council level-funded the school district but took over financial responsibility for certain administrative posts (in finance, IT, personnel and purchasing) with plans to consolidate those positions with the town. That takes what Mark said was “$400,000 to $500,000 off our books.”
To fill the gap between what the School Committee said it needed to run the schools and what the town was willing to offer, various staff positions such as a French teacher at Cole and one of the six school nurses, are on the chopping block. Other positions, including several paraprofessionals, have already been cut.
“Eliminating French at Cole would be a major programmatic change in a high performing school district,” said Mark. Eliminating one nurse would affect health and wellness, she said.
During its presentation June 5, Providence Analytics said by the town’s taking on some administrative costs, the school district could now afford to hire a curriculum director, even though the savings from the administrative salaries was less than half of what the School Committee had voted it required. Instead, the Town Council voted to lower the tax rate by 43 cents for each $1,000 of assessed property value, delivering the first tax decrease in 30 years at a cost of $600,000.
While it’s true that the district has long wanted a curriculum director, Mark said she was uncomfortable with the way the town’s consultants had stepped in to that discussion.
“Honestly, it was a major overstep for Providence Analytics to be recommending a director of teaching and learning,” she said. “I thought it was odd listening to them making programmatic decisions. If we choose not to do this, it’s because we think French matters.”
As for the “discussion of potential funding litigation,” Mark said they had made that a standing agenda item. Suing the town because it underfunded the district would be an extreme step, she said, but “everything’s been so in flux that we needed to have that on the agenda. We needed to know where we were going to land.”
Mark acknowledged that the resignation of Brad Wilson was “disappointing,” said Mark. “The timing is not great for us but we can’t begrudge people for making life choices.”
Wilson, who came on four years ago, has taken a job with the Coventry school district. Mark said Coventry was going to allow Wilson to “be made available to us to ease the transition.”
His job, that of director of student services, has been posted, along with the director of administration position.
The meeting June 20 begins at 7 p.m. in the library at Cole Middle School.
– Elizabeth McNamara