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School Committee OKs $6.4-Million Bond Issue to Repair Schools [poll]

After losing several votes 4-3, two committee members walk out before addressing a possible $1.2 million budget gap.

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.

Dark star December 14, 2011 at 09:50 PM
KIm Page only believes in "Democracy" when she can rig the vote in her favor. It was voted on two weeks ago and defeated. Now Welch and absentee committeman Ceresi decide to grace the attendees with their appearance and magically the votes are there. Hey, while the gang is all here, lets spend like drunken sailors and approve a plow truck, additional coaches and and teachers aids. Who cares that our budget is off by almost a quarter of a million dollars, we will get the taxpayers to bail our sorry behinds out once again. School attorney Mary Ann Carroll statement is like saying " how can my checking account be overdrawn, I still have plenty of checks". Page, Carrol, Avanzato, Ceresi and Welch love spending money they dont have.
Dark star December 14, 2011 at 10:29 PM
Oh yeah Mudge and Thompson leaving early? In a word, childish. They must have learned that from Ceresi Since he is know to have done that a few times in the past....when he used to attend the meetings!
Dave December 15, 2011 at 12:30 AM
Tired of NK Antics, why don't you run for office? You seem to be the kind of reasonable civil person we need in office....NOT. A majority vote is not a rigged vote! A vote on something like this bond should not happen unless all members are present. Do you think we should pull an East Providence and wait until our kids are sucking asbestos into their lungs and then try to fix these problems?? You do nothing but throw arrows. Step up and offer solutions and productive comments or just shut up and go away.
Dark star December 15, 2011 at 12:44 AM
Oh, well since "Dave the Almighty" has spoken, I suppose I have no choice. I will be on here just one day longer than you Davey boy. Hey speaking of solutions, Where are yours hotshot? All you do is slam others that do not agree with you. You obviously do not realize that just because certain members are not present at a specific meeting, agenda items still must be covered and voted on.
Dave December 15, 2011 at 01:05 AM
Tired, you're right, business should not ordinarily wait just because members are not present, but no vote should be taken on something as important as a bond for school safety repairs unless ALL are present. In the past such votes were not taken unless all members were present. I think that makes the most sense. What I object to is your tone, there needs to be a more civil and less unpleasant and attacking tone in these conversations. As to my opinion, I support the bond, although I'm reluctant to support any bond in these times, this is one that is truly safety related and we need it to protect our kids.
Dave December 15, 2011 at 01:07 AM
So says Dave the Almighty, (not a bad nickname for me)
Dark star December 15, 2011 at 01:21 AM
Yes DtA, so you agree with me that all committee members need to be more diligent in their efforts to attend the meetings. That is why they were elected, right?
Dave December 15, 2011 at 01:38 AM
Tired, I frankly think we are lucky they haven't run screaming off the stage never to return. Seriously, since when does elected office have to mean being abused and screamed at? I don't think I would be at every meeting either, under the circumstances.... DTA
Dark star December 15, 2011 at 02:13 AM
Hey, their job is to serve on the committee. That is what they were elected to to do. If it were easy, everyone would want to do it.
mark henricks December 15, 2011 at 03:08 AM
i smell another property tax increase. johnston landfill stinks. north kingstown stinks like death.
Govstench December 15, 2011 at 12:21 PM
North Kingstown is in the same position as many municipalities in this state. They have still not cut enough to pull in their numbers. They can't spin their way out of this one. Using past practices of going to the taxpayers to bail themselves out won't work anymore. People are taxed out and the protests have started. It’s starting with the car tax and it will start with the property tax. North Kingstown and others have been spending beyond their means and it is finally catching up with them. Now the school system is facing a serious problem with a school roof leaking. East Providence has their high school in serious trouble with asbestos issues. Both municipalities are looking at bonds to bail themselves out. Bonds are financed by levies placed on property owners through taxation! Are your taxes high enough yet? I personally do not think the residents in NK have the appetite to swallow another bond. The last referendum cycle was quite clear on that one. The Manager is posturing with the legal notice and police routine - stop wasting town assets on this foolishness. It's time for the politics to stop and both sides sit down and work out this problem. You either find the money to fix the roof or close the school - that simple. Leave the taxpayers alone! One thing to also remember, these elected leaders have less than year before another election - the voters are watching!
Noreswindnk December 15, 2011 at 02:04 PM
The Patch poll above already shows that many people just don't get it (yet). As of now, 41% in poll say "sure, hey, what's a few more bucks for the schools?" but do we understand what a $6.4 million bond means to the taxes we rebel against? Some (not all) of those same folks likely pass by the Salvation Army kettles or reluctantly dump in a buck (and take it off their tax return). But when an obviously dysfunctional committee says "schools need $6.4 mill." 40% of people are suddenly flush with cash? Sorry guys. I'm not. My home value is down, income is tough, investments suck, but state/local taxes, oil costs, gas costs, food costs and inflation on other expenses are all up. I also know what annual amortized principal and interest (P&I) is on 30 year $6.4 million bond.....do you? When you figure it out, divide that number by 8,000 (number of households in NK) and you'll have figured out how much you just increased your own taxes! Since it's for the schools anyway, have a kid figure it out for you. THAT'S called learning!
chucklesinri December 15, 2011 at 06:37 PM
Why did NK schools enroll fewer students than projected? This is given as a primary reason for a $712,000 shortfall How many students off were the estimates? Is this because of changes in expected Jamestown students? (which I believe pays between $10,103 - $49,991 per student, depending on the students needs). Do we have 71 less students than expected? Yikes, not good forecasting!
john boscardin December 15, 2011 at 06:52 PM
Chuckles, I think the biggest piece of the $712k deficit comes from an ESP contract that was being negotiated(and still is). This began when Thornton was still here. He estimated a savings of $500k by increasnig their healthcare contribution from the current 4% to a more modern 20%. Well Thornton left for greener pastures and the ESP union has not agreed to the new terms. The 2011/2012 school year begins with no new contract, so their employees are working under thier old contract, which contains 4% healthcare contribution, not the 20% that is closer to the norm.
Joe Smith December 15, 2011 at 06:54 PM
"It also approved the Consent Agenda without offering committee members a chance to exempt specific items." If this is true, the T/C should immediately refuse to recognize any of the decisions coming from the meeting over which the T/C has some authority/responsibility. We have a lawyer as the S/C Chair and a lawyer advising the S/C who are more than aware of the basic parliamentary rule regarding consent agenda: "if any member wants a separate vote on any item, or simply wants to discuss an item, that item must be removed from the consent agenda." Also, given the School Supt himself along with the S/C Chair has acknowledged there is a currently projected deficit, the school attorney should follow the sage guidance about a fool and keeping one's mouth shut. Would she rather wait until it's April and the school has officially busted its budget? The law, like the rule about consent agendas, are very clear. Ms. Page may want to remind herself of the difference between running an efficient and effective meeting; most lawyers don't like having their actions overturned, especially when even it is obvious even to the casual observer that callous disregard bordering on arrogance to the rules and process is occurring. And as much as I welcomed Dr. Auger's appointment, he would also do well to remind himself his job is not merely to point out the mess and say the town is responsible, but also to solve the problems without defaulting to pay up solution.
john boscardin December 15, 2011 at 10:20 PM
When businesses are facing budget deficits, department heads are instructed to submit plans/ideas to help solve the problem. The Atletic Director was asked at the end of last year by Dr. Thornton to subint a plan to reduce spending int entire atheltic department instead of the default tactic of eliminating a specific sport or two. He has yet to submit a plan. Who is responsible for following up on this? When businesses have a deficit problem, the company and its managemet team determine who wil be layed-off. Has Dr. Auger started this process? No. Instead he is going to the town with his hand out. He was quoted to say that this problem is everyones and in essence, we are all expected to pay for it. Very simle Dr. Auger. Make cuts. Insist your A.D. submit his plan. Give him a deadline or it will never happen. Eliminate underutilized support staff, quit hiring coaches and admi assistant when you already admitted that your budget is off by almost a quarter million dollars. Learn to live within your means.
Noreswindnk December 15, 2011 at 10:48 PM
Both Joe and John, perfectly said. I had really high hopes that a lot of our troubles had gone north to EG and Auger was going to be a messiah even helping correct the SC's dysfunction. I'm afraid we're only getting the first four letters of messiah and he's right smack in the middle of making it. He apparently believes budgets are variable rather than fixed. You mentioned "in business". In business there are two types of problematic employees; correctable and replaceable. He has to choose which he is.
Dark star December 16, 2011 at 01:18 AM
By not following Roberts Rules of order and 'gavelling down" any discussion on 'specific items", Chairwoman Kim Page has damaged her credibility. By following through with reckless spending items on the agenda, knowing full well there is a serious structural deficit, Chairwoman Kim Page all those that voted in favor have demonstrated they have no fiscal conscience. Chairwoman Kim Page and all those that voted to appove any spending that does not directly affect teaching and learning have proven they cannot be trusted.
Govstench December 18, 2011 at 03:27 AM
The members of this committee are too busy with their own agendas and political posturing. Page is probably becoming frustrated with the antics of a few members. The difficulty with cuts in school budgets is that there are very few pain-free areas to cut. Personnel cuts are ugly, and along with modifications to health care benefits these cuts pose the risk of emotionally charged and distracting media coverage. Deferring capital infrastructure projects is a temporary remedy at best and potentially sets the stage for more serious budgetary pressures in years to come, as regular maintenance needs, if deferred long enough, become emergency needs. Case in point, a school with a hole in the roof. With declining revenues, this committee will be faced with some hard choices, but they have to be made and the parents of students will just have to understand - it's not about them - it's about the community at large. People will learn in hard times that they have to pull together. We are not there yet.
Govstench December 20, 2011 at 02:46 AM
The town has to be very careful with bond issues. Moodys came out with a report on the fiscal shape of municipalities in this state. They expect to come down hard on many communities next year. East Providence had to use the state to underwrite their latest bond offering - junk status! Pension liabilities will be hurting many municipalities and North Kingstown is no different. People would be wise to force this town to cut spending to save your homes.
Kerri Hicks January 06, 2012 at 09:15 PM
Does anyone care about the kids, the safety, and the quality of education (and quality of life day to day) that our children are getting? Or is it just about dollars? We need to do retrofits to our schools. If we don't float a bond to spend the $6.4mm, we'll have to find money in the school budget, which has already been whittled thin. ADA requirements and health-and-safety requirements are just that -- legal requirements. You want to wait until a parent sues the district because her kid can't go to school, because the building/curriculum isn't accessible? Because the mold is so bad, they can't breathe? Because they slip and fall and break an arm on a puddle of water? This bond is a chance to get a 30% discount on things that *have to be done* for the health, safety, and civil rights of our youngest residents. Voters will be biting off their noses to spite their faces if they reject it.
Midlife Momma January 06, 2012 at 11:57 PM
Well said, Kerri. Mr. Thompson lists one of his reasons for leaving the SC is that, according to him, the need for the roof work was a "could" rather than the "should" that later appeared in some paperwork. I dont think that RIDE would approve and provide 30% back to NK for roof work that is not needed. This may be the last chance to get any money for any school repair-no matter how dire it is or isnt. It's not going to get any cheaper...
Govstench January 07, 2012 at 03:10 AM
Midlife Momma, the roof repair work is needed and is only further damaging the roof with dry-rot. Mold and mildew are issues that will arise in that building. The town is sitting on a $10 Million dollar "rainy day" fund. I don't know how much more of a downpour you need to use some of those funds to fix the roof of that school. The bond issue is not a good idea as it further levies YOUR property with high property taxes. Can you afford that? The town has debt issues and the bond rating could be in trouble if this bond was to pass. I personally doubt the taxpayers will approve it. I would ask why the town council doesn't sell the Wickford Elementary school as the voters approved last election cycle. That would be a source for sorely needed funds!!
Joe Smith January 26, 2012 at 02:35 PM
Richard Welch: “I see that there will be a request for a bond issue that will be used if passed to take care of the deferred maintenance on the school buildings and some construction on the two middle schools. Maintenance should be done with the budget moneys not with a bond. this was Welch's position in 2008..as the chair of the facilities sub-committee, what has he done to make sure maintenance is budgeted annually as he stated when he was running?

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