The North Kingstown School Department is prohibited from making any expenditures out of the ordinary course of business without the authorization of the town until its project budget shortfall is resolved, following a ruling from a Judge Brian Stern at Washington County Superior Court.
Attorneys for the school department and the town spoke in chambers with the judge Thursday afternoon following a complaint filed by the town against the school department – including School Superintendent Phil Auger, School Finance Director Ned Draper and the members of the North Kingstown School Committee. Though the suit sought a temporary restraining order, the judge ruled on a consent order that would bar the school department from making purchases that were outside of ordinary business (i.e. paying utility bills, buying day-to-day supplies, etc.) without seeking the approval of Town Finance Director Patricia Sunderland and providing backup information.
According to Town Solicitor James Reilly, the judge opted to not rule on whether the town had the legal right to halt school spending and instead "encouraged" both sides to work together for a resolution.
"Both sides, I believe, are hopeful that this will all be worked out," said Reilly.
Reilly also indicated that an independent auditor may be brought in to look at the school department's basic education program (BEP). According to Town Council President Elizabeth Dolan, the Town Council is willing to foot the bill for a "quick" audit to analyze the school department's finances. Dolan estimates that the cost of the audit would be in the neighborhood of $20,000 to $40,000.
The school department, along with attorney Mary Ann Carroll, is crafting a corrective action plan to submit to the auditor general by Tuesday. If the estimated $1.2-million deficit is not resolved, a preliminary injunction will be scheduled in later January, said Reilly.