Man Bites Dog: Mayor Fountaine Files an Olourac Action Against the School Department
Mayor Leo T. Fontaine fired a shot across the bow of the School Department on Thursday while opening a Superior Court bid to win an immediate reduction in school spending.
The city legal challenge was filed with Superior Court Judge Bennett R. Gallo and seeks an immediate correction of the School Department’s projected $2.8 million deficit in the current fiscal year.
Fontaine’s administration wants a court order instructing the School Department to reduce its budget to the $62.9 million spending plan approved under the city’s overall $116 million budget.
For decades, school committees around the state have been overspending budgets lawfully set by the city/town council (often, it has appeared to the undoubtedly unsophisticated eyes of some observers, to the benefit of certain school committee members or their spouses who are themselves teachers, as “parity” ensured that the higher compensation achieved in one municipality during contract negotiations rippled across the state). If the school committee doesn’t or decides it “can’t” reduce its budget sufficiently, Rhode Island law provides the school committee the option of litigation against the city/town to compel it to cough up more dough for the school budget. (Again, to some unsophisticated observers, this would appear to severely conflict with the other state law which puts the city/town council, which solely possesses the ability to tax, in charge of setting municipal and school budget amounts.)
Conversely, however, as the Call correctly notes,
State law does not allow a school department to operate with a projected deficit and blocks a city finance director such as himself from approving any purchase requisitions or financial commitments when a potential deficit has been identified, [City Finance Director Thomas] Bruce said.
More specifically, in Woonsocket,
Since the fiscal year began, the School Department has made a significant effort to reduce an original forecast of almost $6 million in red ink but the remaining shortfall must also be corrected before school purchases and requisitions can be approved, Bruce said.
“The law says that if a deficit is projected, financial commitments can’t be made,” Bruce said.
The Woonsocket School Committee has made noises in the past year about filing another Caruolo lawsuit. Good for Mayor Fountaine for taking action (“Olourac” or other) and not waiting passively for such a litigation axe to fall as the bills pile up. Meanwhile, this unsophisticated observer would like to know when the General Assembly is going to address the substantial conflict in Rhode Island law by removing Caruolo from the books so as to fully return budget control where it belongs: to city/town councils.