Town Officials Say No Extra School Aid … Yet

by | Oct 5, 2017

When the town decided to level fund the school budget – denying the schools’ request of an additional $1.36 million – it agreed to take on some non-educational expenses (equalling about $400,000) and promised to consider additional budget money if the School Committee really needed it.

This week, three months into the 2018 fiscal year, school officials formally requested additional money. Town officials said no.

The school department requested more money for special education – singled out by the Town Council as a potential reason to assign more money to schools – after special education enrollment in pre-kindergarten classes exceeded  budgeted expectations. (School districts are responsible for providing education for children with special needs starting at age 3.) The district also asked the town to take over its $45,000 sewer bill, as another aspect of the non-educational expenditures town officials said they wanted to take off the school district’s budget.

The sewer fee had been a topic of conversation since school officials suggested the town could take it over last June. While at first it seemed Town Council President Sue Cienki supported the transfer – she said during a joint meeting July 24 it had been left off a memorandum of understanding between the Town Council and the School Committee in error – the sewer fee transfer remained a hope rather than anything set down on paper. But, for the School Committee, that $45,000 symbolized the hope of hiring a curriculum director halfway through the school year.

At Tuesday’s School Committee meeting, Chairwoman Carolyn Mark said the town agreed to taking over the sewer costs in theory, but Town Manager Gayle Corrigan and School Committee President Sue Cienki said they couldn’t take on the sewer fee this year because of its own budget constraints. It’s unclear what those constraints are; the town’s budget for this year granted a tax decrease.

“They have essentially taken off the table that additional $45,000,” said Mark.

The town wants to wait until more of the school year has passed before it decides to grant any more money for special education, Mark said they were told.

“They’re looking … to see how the special education budget is running,” Mark said.

If by the third quarter, special ed spending continues to outpace the budget, then the Town Council may entertain appropriating additional money, she said.

Council President Cienki’s take on the situation is a bit different.

“The schools are working on letting their new director of special ed [Director of Student Services Lisa Hughes] get her feet ‘wet’ before they provide us information about what if anything their needs are,” she said via text message Thursday. “My take is we decided we would give the school department additional time and future meetings to best determine how the school department can demonstrate its fiscal needs within the ‘One Town’ fiscal year 2018 budget.”

According to Supt. Victor Mercurio and School Committee Finance Committee Chair Jeff Dronzek, the school department has known since July that enrollment numbers for the Pre-K class would necessitate hiring additional staff.

“They still have this belief that we’re going to find that money somewhere else in the special education budget,” Dronzek said, referring to town officials.

Mark said based on the town’s response to the special ed and sewer fee requests, getting supplemental funding to hire a library media specialist for the high school was more than unlikely.

“The likelihood that they will entertain a third supplemental appropriation for a librarian are zero to none,” she said.

– Elizabeth F. McNamara

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Thom Cahir
Thom Cahir
October 6, 2017 7:37 am

Funny, Gayle Corrigan comes on board and takes, takes, takes from the town from the moment she arrives, to the point her new, exorbitant salary and benefits package blocks kids in the town’s schools from having a librarian in the high school or proper special education at the elementary level. Even Tom Brady takes a pay cut to make the team around him better. Take a cue from him, Gayle.

Chris Boie
Chris Boie
October 6, 2017 8:09 am

Every time the TC takes funding out of the SC side of the budget, they are long term shrinking the School’s ability to raise the budget (if they need to for increased population in special ed for example) based on state law. For example, the $400,000 they already shifted to the town side prevents just this year $16,000 to be increased and distributed assuming the max cap of 4%. That $16,000 could be used in other parts of the budget that need it. Like a whole sport, textbooks, a new AP class, or anything you allocate. In future years, this erodes the capacity for the schools to keep up with expenses when other things disproportionally increase (think electricity, heating, or anything you’d prefer to put into place).

We are heading to some dark places on this path and we are starting to see ripples in the pond as a result.

Renu Englehart
Renu Englehart
October 6, 2017 1:58 pm

Once again, there is a lack of a consistent message between Ms. Cienki/Ms. Corrigan and another town official. This pattern is disturbing; as a taxpayer how are we to believe anything this town council president/manager states? The cries for transparency, specific questions and open dialogue by the town council is simply window dressing.

As a former school committee president (who presided over the large Cole bond), Ms. Cienki should certainly have some knowledge on how the school department’s money is allocated esp in special education . Not to mention the growing school aged population that was referenced in an earlier article.

It seems that perhaps financially, the new town manager and her company and the town council president are not looking out for taxpayers best interest.

Jody Stone
Jody Stone
October 6, 2017 3:46 pm

It is the basic and fundamental job of our schools to teach. If we aren’t doing that well, nothing else matters.

Our budget allocation should be a direct reflection of this statement.

While it is not unique to East Greenwich, Kristie Wronski Stark is dead on stating that schools already “push back” on intervention request from parents and Drs. (even for the fortunate few who can pay thousands for outside evaluations).

The bottom line on EG Special Education costs is this:

If the district doesn’t come up with the money to service their IEPs (which are legal obligations) or if children are denied appropriate intervention services outright (FAPE), the EGSD is going to have an outrageous number of outside placements and due process hearings on its hands.

This is a town full of educated parents who understand their IDEA rights under both federal & state laws. For any school district with a demographic like ours, this presents a legal, moral and $$ problem. This issue is a brutal balance for School Boards across the nation

Personally, I believe that our current situation is a HUGE opportunity. There is no time like the present for an open and honest conversation with the SC about the true state of our Special Education programs and their outcomes.

The TC will continue to deny supplemental requests until we present the reality of our situation in its unmasked totality.

We can not take on the TC if we aren’t all (parents, the SEAC, and SC) on the same page and being honest about the data, service needs and IEP $. Further, I personally believe that we need to present this reality to not just the TC but to the general public (who are thankfully all actively paying attention).

East Greenwich has one of the most educated and active Special Education Advisory Committee in the state. These “parent-led” committees are mandated for each district under fed/state laws. Their mission is to advise School Committees about district special education needs. I can tell you that ours, which is lead by fiercely educated educational advocates, is doing a fantastic job and isn’t going anywhere.

We need a coordinated plan. Who’s in?

Jody Stone
Jody Stone
October 6, 2017 3:49 pm

Also, Special Education was specifically earmarked by the council as an area that the SC could submit supplemental asks for. Understanding IEPs and Student confidentiality laws, I have no idea how this is possible from a legal standpoint. There is NO scenario where a TC member should be briefed on the service needs of any of my children! I also believe I heard a TC member say that our previous Special Ed Director, “gave away the farm.’ This is shocking because all you have to do is look at the data to see how that population’s educational achievement gap is widening. This is a scary, slippery slope…


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