Targeting Caruolo from All Angles

Back on the fourth, I mentioned Sen. Leonidas Raptakis’s legislation to suspend the Caruolo Act, which empowers school districts to sue their towns for more money. Saturday’s Providence Journal brought news that Governor Carcieri’s got a plan of his own:

A proposal to suspend the law that empowers school districts to sue cities and towns for more money is one of the measures Governor Carcieri has proposed to help plug the state’s multimillion-dollar budget gap. And, this week, it picked up the support of the presiding judge of Superior Court.
A three-member panel should settle financial disputes between cities and school districts in tough budget years — not the courts, the governor said.

My initial reaction was to question why a small unelected panel ought to have that sort of sway, but I’m not sure reporter Katie Mulvaney’s paraphrasing captures the plan, which she describes thus further down:

The governor’s proposal would bar districts from suing cities or towns over budget issues in any fiscal year in which state aid has been cut. Instead, a town or school committee could petition the governor for relief.
That concern would be heard by a three-member panel convened by the governor and consisting of the education commissioner, director of revenue and auditor general, or their designees. The panel would develop a “corrective action plan” within 60 days that could include the suspension of contracts, including collective-bargaining agreements.

The suggestion, in other words, is for a mechanism whereby state-level financial experts would help school districts reconcile state funding cuts with their budgets, perhaps restoring some money, but with the possibility of loosening logjams that school committees lack the power and/or political will to address (such as teachers’ contracts). The governor’s plan does not supplant Raptakis’s legislation; if the state level-funds or increases assistance, the school committee could still turn its legal guns on the town.
The state most definitely requires practices and mechanisms that take responsibility for the effects that its policies have on municipalities, but it also should take its thumb off the scale balancing the interests of each town and city.

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15 years ago

What we really need to do is quit this half-assed stuff with having one body set the fees and raise the money and a different body negotiating the cost. We need to either remove the school department from the town council’s billing and give that to the school committee, meaning everyone would then get two tax bills, one for the town and one for the school department. Or, remove this responsibility from the school committee completely. Have the town council negotiate the teachers contract and be responsible for the school department. Or at least, one of my other ideas is to have a joint negotiating team for the teachers contract. 3 SC members, 3 TC members and the mayor. Those seven negotiate the teachers contract. Put the school department budget right in with the town’s budget and tie it all in together. It’s just ridiculous.
Suspending Caruolo might sound good, but what happens when the town council then decides to intentionally underfund the school department? What recourse does the school committee have but to sit there and tell the teaches, “sorry, that’s all the money we have, we’re broke”.

15 years ago

Exactly right, Patrick.
The Caruolo Act is a sneaky end run around the system that the General Assembly itself set up: that of the City/Town Council determining the budget of the school department.
This is one of the few times I disagree with the Governor. The GA needs to either give School Committees the power to tax and spend or they need to eliminate Caruolo altogether. Vesting tax and spend power to three man panels – who don’t answer to the taxpayer in the voting booth – is not an improvement over the current system, which sneakily confers tax-and-spend power jointly to School Committees and the court system.

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