Panel to improve school-city relations
When Scott Avedisian took out declaration papers for an eighth term as mayor, he said one of the issues he planned to work on is an improved relationship between schools and the city.
But he’s not waiting to be re-elected to live up to his promise.
Yesterday, Avedisian announced the creation of a Municipal/School Commission by executive order aimed at strengthening the relationship between the city and the School Department. Avedisian said he has talked with School Committee Chairwoman Bethany Furtado on several occasions and the feeling is mutual. Specifically, the mayor pointed to hearings on the 2015 budget and the School Committee’s appeal to the City Council for additional funding. The mayor level funded schools, but the council chose to increase the appropriation by $400,000. The mayor vetoed the council budget, but when it came to the school appropriation, they overrode his veto.
“They said they were in dire straights,” Avedisian said of schools, “and then they come up with $1.3 million more.”
The mayor said some council members have told him they would have thought differently about the added appropriation had they known the department would end the last fiscal year with $1.3 million more than first projected.
It’s not all one-sided either, the mayor acknowledges.
“The School Department has concerns as well,” he said.
He noted that committee member Eugene Nadeau questioned whether Vets High roof repairs could have been bonded rather than being paid with operating funds.
In a statement released by his office, the mayor said his administration has long been committed to ensuring that all Warwick students have a quality education:
“In order to further our efforts, we must have a strong partnership between the city and the school department. Unfortunately, recent events have strained this crucial relationship.”
He goes on to say, after talking with Furtado, “we both felt that establishing this commission will help us better understand the challenges we face individually, enhance our school system and provide students with the best education possible.”
“It’s a great idea,” Furtado said yesterday when reached by telephone.
She feels the School Committee could also have a better relationship with the City Council.
“Their impression is that we’re fast and loose with the money,” she said.
Furtado said rumors often further complicate matters, creating false impressions about what’s happening. As an example, she recalled a rumor several years ago about schools spending money on hotel rooms and champagne.
As it turned out, the department was paying for hotel rooms for a visiting accreditation team from the New England Association of Schools and Colleges.
And the champagne?
That turned out to be the name of one of the team members.
Furtado said schools have been transparent about their operations and that information on expenditures can be easily researched online.
“Conversations can’t hurt,” she said. “It’s good to bring people together and sit down and talk.”
The executive order calls for the creation of a nine-member commission. The mayor would serve ex-officio, as would Superintendent Richard D’Agostino.
Neither Avedisian nor Furtado were prepared to announce whom they would appoint to the commission. Five of the members are to be appointed by the School Committee and four by the mayor. Avedisian thought the commission might meet weekly to get started and then maybe even revert to conference calls depending on the need.
When informed of the mayor’s order, Ward 4 Councilman Joseph Solomon considered it an unneeded level of bureaucracy.
He thought much of what the commission is looking to do is the implicit responsibility of elected officials.
“Isn’t it incumbent that we all work together for the common good?” he said. “I think those duties are part of what elected officials do.”
Solomon said he is ready to take anyone’s call.
D’Agostino couldn’t be reached for comment.