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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.

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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