An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the possible budget deficit notification came from the School Budget Subcommittee.
Drama began even before the North Kingstown School Committee was gaveled to order in the cafeteria Dec. 13.
Several committee members reported that uniformed police officers had delivered letters to their homes from North Kingstown Town Manager Mike Embury. The letters, said Lynda Avanzato, ordered them to "immediately cease and desist from spending any money on the schools."
The letters were apparently sparked by a notification about a possible budget shortfall sent to the Town Council.
According to a report by School Superintendent Phil Auger, revenue is $712,000 less than budgeted, in part because NK schools enrolled fewer students than projected. Also, personnel expenses might climb $500,000 over budget if a contract expected to save money is not reached with a school employees union.
School attorney Mary Ann Carroll said that, in her opinion, the town lacked the authority to issue the order in the letters because the School Committee has spent only $19.5 million of its $58.1 million budget and is not in arrears. School leaders decided to schedule a meeting with town leaders to discuss the budget situation.
That budget debate took place after 10 p.m. and followed a lengthy discussion of a Capital Improvement Bond and approval of that and several funding requests.
Earlier in the evening Carolyn Dias, director of the Rhode Island Department of Education Division of Fiscal Integrity and Efficiencies, urged the committee to reconsider the at the last meeting.
Dias said her agency had certified the repairs – a new roof for the l, removal of aging asbestos tiles, replacing HVAC systems at two elementary schools and retrofits to meet the Americans with Disabilities Act at four elementary schools – were required for student health and safety.
She reminded the committee that if voters approve the bond issue, the state will reimburse 30 percent. And she said her cost-conscious agency agreed that $6.4 million was the correct amount to budget for the work.
Davisville Middle School Principal Ruthanne Logan appeared early to help recognize her and stayed to make a pitch for a new roof, describing the trash barrels her staff places to catch leaks after rainstorms and a dank smell that pervades some areas.
Richard Welch, one of two committee members absent at the Nov. 22 meeting and chair of the Facilities Subcommittee, asked the board to reconsider its vote not to ask the Town Council to place the bond request before the voters.
Committee Chair Kimberly Page and Carroll quoted from manuals on parliamentary procedure to verify that Welch's request was allowed, and the vote to reconsider passed 4-3.
In the following debate, Joe Thompson, Melvoid Benson and Bill Mudge said that although they had received more details on the scope of the work, and they believed the middle school needs a new roof, they needed more information before voting.
Other committee members said they accepted the expert appraisals of the need for the work and its cost, and that voters should decide how to fund it. "I believe in democracy," said Page.
The Committee voted 4-3 to send the bond request to the Town Council.
In subsequent 4-3 votes, the committee approved a new contract for conventional phone service with Cox Communications and a lease for a new maintenance truck. It also approved the Consent Agenda without offering committee members a chance to exempt specific items.
At that point, around 10 p.m., Thompson said, "I see how this is going," and he and Mudge left the meeting before discussions on the budget deficit began. The meeting concluded around 10:30 p.m.