Judge Savage to the Cranston School Committee: The Caruolo Act Was Not Meant to Let You Ignore the Taxpayers and the Rest of Municipal Government
In her ruling dismissing the Cranston School Committee’s Caruolo Act lawsuit, Rhode Island Superior Court Judge Judith Savage reminds the CSC that the Caruolo Act is not intended as an alternative appropriations mechanism for school committees who decide they don’t want to bother with the due-diligence necessary to inform and persuade the public that increased spending is necessary…
For the reasons set forth in this Decision, this Court dismisses the Caruolo action filed by the Cranston School Committee and declines to order the City Council to appropriate additional monies of close to $4.5 million for fiscal year 2007-2008. The denial of this relief is required, as a matter of law, because the School Committee blatantly failed to comply with numerous statutory prerequisites to filing a Caruolo action. Notably, it failed to file a corrective action plan with the Mayor, City Council and Auditor General as soon as it recognized a potential or actual budget deficit, as required by law. Indeed, to date, it has never filed the statutorily required plan. This corrective action plan would have required the School Committee to address the deficit, to ensure that it spent only the minimum amounts necessary to comply with its legal obligations, under the watchful eye of the Auditor General.David Scharfenberg of the Projo has more details on the situation in Cranston here.
In addition, it never amended its budget to conform to the City Council’s lowered appropriation to it as a result of the State’s decision to level fund state education aid to the City of Cranston for 2007-2008, it failed to sufficiently minimize its expenses thereafter, it did not timely petition the Commissioner of Education for waivers from state regulations, it failed to timely alert the Mayor and the City Council about its expected budget deficit and it failed to timely file this Caruolo action. Instead, the School Committee simply continued to spend money until it had grossly overspent its budget, in violation of Rhode Island law. In what appears to have been an effort to try to force an increase in its level of appropriations, the School Committee did not file this action – which is designed to secure emergency court-ordered appropriations that a school committee must prove are necessary for it to meet its remaining legal obligations in that fiscal year — until the school year was almost over and its money had almost run out. The School Committee’s filing of this action in the latter half of May 2008 is by far the latest Caruolo action ever filed in the Rhode Island Superior Court. By the time it filed suit, it had to ask this Court to order the City Council to appropriate to it over $4.9 million to cure its budget deficit– by far the largest sum ever requested in a Caruolo action.