Woonsocket Pushed To The Brink: $2,000,000 of the School Deficit Is Directly Attributable to Unauthorized, Off The Book Hires
So last week, we learned that a seven figure deficit had surprisingly and unpleasantly materialized in the school budget in place of the small surplus that had been reported for months. We’re now waiting for the auditor’s report, expected very shortly, to hear the final amount of that deficit.
But Woonsocket Finance Manager, Tom Bruce, advised Anchor Rising today that salaries comprise $2,045,000 of the deficit. (Salaries only, not including bennies.) Further, Mr. Bruce confirmed the report in the Valley Breeze that those salaries arose from unauthorized hirings by Woonsocket’s School Committee and former school superintendent.
School Business Manager Stacey Busby let officials know on Thursday that former Woonsocket Supt. Robert Gerardi Jr. allegedly left out crucial financial information when asking the School Committee to approve extra hires. He knew there was not enough local funding to cover their salaries, she said.
As in all Rhode Island cities and towns, the amount of the Woonsocket School Dept’s 2010/2011 budget was set by the City Council. Unlike most (all?) other school districts, however, this budget was also the subject of a court order. It appears, then, that the School Committee and former Superintendent Girardi have violated a court order.
There are now some very serious questions that need to be answered.
1.) It appears that the person who knowingly recommended these unfunded hires was the former Superintendent. What exactly did he tell the School Committee about the fiscal implications of these hires? Why did he not permit the School Business Manager, over the course of the last year, to include the cost of these hires in her budget reports? (The latter is positively Cicilline-esqe.)
2.) Is it true that the (immediate prior) School Committee was unaware of the (non)funding of these hires at the time that they were asked to approve them? If so, why did they take such a disinterested approach, especially as their budget had become the subject of a court order?
These hires are still unauthorized but are no longer off the books, exposing the deficit and, therewith, placing the city in a perilous position. Moody’s has requested a conference call. (Woonsocket’s leaders are acutely aware of the new bond status which Moody’s just bestowed on East Providence.) The state has a financial overseer all but warming up in the dugout – the first step towards a Rhode Island city losing control of its finances and, as Andrew correctly points out, its democracy.
The former Superintendent and the prior School Committee have emulated David Cicilline by substantially misrepresenting a fiscal situation involving public dollars, dollars that we entrusted to their prudence and transparency. How will all three be held accountable for the serious consequences of their respective actions? In the private sector, such actions are very often cause for criminal charges. Why should it not be in the public sector also?