Woonsocket School Committee: No Police Investigation And Soon, No School Buses
So here’s where we stood as tonight’s School Committee meeting was gaveled to order.
A $69,000 surplus in the school budget had suddenly turned into a $2.7 million deficit (and a $10 million deficit for two years), in part, due to cuts in state aid and in part due to off-the-book hires by the prior superintendent, Robert Gerardi, hirings about which the School Committee purported not to be informed and which school business manager Stacey Busby had failed for months, at the instruction of then-Superintendent Gerardi, to include in her reports. It had also come to light in recent days that the termination clause had mysteriously vanished from Ms. Busby’s contract – another item about which the school committee claims to be gormless and which has now kicked off a chorus of “whodunit?”.
Further, in public comments that were alertly picked up by the Valley Breeze’s Sandy Phaneuf, Darren Cooper, a payroll specialist for the Woonsocket school department, pointed out that questionable practices were not necessarily limited to the prior superintendent but, in fact, extended to the PRIOR, prior superintendent, Maureen Macera. (Fine! Cast that investigatory net wide.)
Now, as a direct result of an “unexpected” $10 million deficit caused in part by months of questionable practices and reporting by the school department, the city’s bond rating has been reduced to junk status and the city is staring down the barrel of bankruptcy.
Notwithstanding all of this, the school committee voted three to two against asking the State Police to initiate an investigation. Falsified surpluses, a vanishing termination clause and the repeated, questionable actions of, not one but two, prior superintendents – really? That’s not sufficient to warrant a police investigation? As Chairwoman Anita McGuire Forcier correctly pointed out, if the school committee cannot trust the information given to them, that body cannot do its job.
For the record, Chairwoman McGuire Forcier and Member Christopher Roberts cast the two votes in favor of sunshine and accountability.
In other business, preceding the vote on the police investigation, the committee voted to table consideration of changes to the school department’s bus contract. The contract has been rendered moot, at least for now, by notice from the bus company to the city that transportation services (i.e., the buses bringing Woonsocket children to school) would be discontinued if the sum of $506,599 was not received by April 5. As Andrew Morse remarked earlier upon hearing this, the hits just keep coming.
The Woonsocket City Council will be considering a resolution to initiate an investigation into the financial and contractual issues of the Woonsocket School Committee. The city charter grants specific authority to conduct the investigation.
I also refer you to the Valley Breeze today (March 29, 2012) as the council will also be considering ordinances to place two questions on the ballot; one to change the school committee to an appointed position and the other (not mentioned in the article) to provide for voter recall of elected city officials.
Another city turned joke.
Bring on the dictators.
Mr. Ward I was not in your corner until I read this and want to thank you for giving the tax payers a voice in how our elected officials act while in office. You seem to be one of the few city officials that wants to let the voters get involved in the city.