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.