Please Don’t Turn Woonsocket’s Finances Over to the State
This was the prospect raised at a meeting Wednesday between Mayor Leo T. Fontaine, the city’s finance director and state officials.
Granted, the state already funds 75% of the Woonsocket school budget. And yes, the School Committee has an almost comical approach to bookkeeping.
School officials, who were predicting an $800,000 surplus just weeks ago …
Except that, “just weeks ago”, the school department was already three months behind on health insurance premiums to the tune of over $2.5 million and had issued $2 million of payroll checks that were no good. (Citizens Bank made good on most of them but from now on would like the money in advance, please.) It’s not clear how how it’s possible to project a surplus as you’re looking at $4.5 million of red ink on the ledger.
And there’s no question that the multi million dollar deficits that the school department, as directed by the school committee, has been running for several years has not enhanced Woonsocket’s financial problems. Moody’s even cited the school department’s over-spending as a factor when they downgraded Woonsocket’s borrowing to junk bond status last week (ouch), one of the reasons for Wednesday’s meeting between the city and the state.
So clearly, the school committee has not been helping in all of this, which is why I would not be averse to its dissolution, presumably a side effect (see Central Falls which has a Board of Trustees rather than a s.c.) of the state stepping in.
That, unfortunately, might not be the only side effect. Another one could well be the state hauling out its own (overdrawn) checkbook to kick in even more money to the city at some point. While I’m very appreciative of the considerable efforts of the City Council and the current – emphasize current – Mayor to deal with this matter in a responsible manner and sympathetic to the plight of the city’s taxpayers, with the state’s shortfall at $220 million this year, $440 million next year and three quarters of a billion in 2012, more state aid to any municipality is simply not a remotely feasible option for the foreseeable future.