School audit session delayed

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A hearing scheduled for last night’s City Council meeting in which the Warwick School Department would have presented its results from a third-party audit that analyzed its fiscal and programmatic practices was postponed in light of renewed negotiations between city and school officials, as was revealed on Monday.

A statement released by Catherine Bonang, administrative secretary to Superintendent Philip Thornton, read as follows:

“The City Council President and School Committee Chairperson have jointly agreed to postpone Monday night's presentation of the School Department's audit. This joint postponement will allow the Mayor, the City Council President and School Committee Chairperson the opportunity to meet in an attempt to resolve this complicated situation. A meeting between representatives of each party has been scheduled for Sept. 24, 2018. The presentation before the City Council has been mutually rescheduled to Oct. 2, 2018.”

Thornton deferred to the release, declining to comment further on what exactly prompted the decision to move the meeting or what would be discussed at the Sept. 24 meeting.

City Council President Steve Merolla, however, said that the postponement was the result of the council and the city council’s CPA team having enough time to go over the results of the audit and resume negotiations armed with more information.

“There's a lot more information available as to what they're asking for and we have a better understanding of where they're at and where we're at,” Merolla said on Monday afternoon.

Merolla said that it was “upsetting” that people have been critical of the city for taking its time in handling the school situation, and reiterated that they were forced to grapple with a situation that included former Mayor Scott Avedisian leaving immediately before budget proceedings and a budget that provided level funding to the schools.

“It's taking so long because we didn't have anything to do with the process,” he said. “This mayor didn’t have an opportunity to meet with anyone or figure out anything...We added to the mayor's budget and we still get criticized. It's not an easy process when you're brought in at the end to figure out what you need and what's plausible and not plausible and what's realistic and not realistic.”

Merolla said that the city could only raise $5.8 million from a maximum tax increase in this year’s budget, and that they have to factor in raises stemming from two collective bargaining agreements – one for city employees and one for the police department. The fire department, he mentioned, also remains without a new CBA.

He said that, while he was pleased the schools have reduced the amount in funding needed over the months since they first released a budgetary need of about $8.1 million in city assistance, the council still needs to be realistic as to what they can allocate.

“Is that the direction we’re heading down? That we make promises we can't keep?” he said. “We're capped by state law…We have obligations on the city side and they have obligations to do the best they can in the school department.”

Merolla said that the conversation approaching on Sept. 24 may involve difficult talks on how to make it through this year and then create a more stable strategy for years moving forward.

“Maybe there are ways to plug holes,” he said. “Budgets aren’t made with one vote in June...We want to be making sure that this doesn’t happen in the future.”

“I'm, pleased with where we're at now,” Merolla continued. “Hopefully we can get in the same room and figure it out.”

Through a release, Mayor Joseph Solomon said he is, “looking forward to further discussions with both parties as they work to resolve issues surrounding the School Department budget,” and that the meeting with give all parties the opportunity “to fully discuss the audit and any other additional information needed to perform our due diligence on behalf of the taxpayers and students of our city.”

Synopsis of school budget situation

The Warwick School Committee approved a budget in April that concluded they would need an additional $8.1 million from the city in order to balance. Subsequently, the City Council allocated $1.5 million above the level funded budget prepared by Avedisian. The schools have since cut the remainder through extensive staff layoffs and the elimination of student-oriented services.

Solomon offered an additional $1.75 million to the schools in August to restore some of those line items, however the schools maintain that money would only account for $1.75 million of an unfunded liability they cut from the budget – specifically $1.75 million in debt principal and interest payments stemming from a school maintenance bond approved in 2006. That money has not been formally accepted.

Since the widespread cuts, a programmatic audit conducted at the behest of the School Committee has found that a majority of those cuts would be in direct violation of the state’s Basic Education Plan, and that they must be restored. The audit found that the schools could find some money through more staffing cuts, but that they would ultimately need $4 million more from the city to be able to perform educational operations in line with state standards.

The audit would have been presented last night to the council for the first time, but as outlined in this story, has been postponed until the Oct. 2 meeting.

Comments

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CrickeeRaven

This delaying tactic is only a way for the city council to put more money on the table on Sept. 24 to avoid a lawsuit. The program audit, as prescribed by law, shows that the city underfunded the school budget and that any arguments about too many administrators [for example] are baseless.

Ultimately the city council will put more money into the school budget, voluntarily or by court order. The only question now is when.

Tuesday, September 18
richardcorrente

Readers,

Mayor Solomon had every opportunity to meet with then-Mayor Avedisian to assist in the making of the 2018 budget. He declined. He shouldn't have in my opinion. When I read "This Mayor didn't have an opportunity to meet with anyone or figure out anything..." I have to disagree. Solomon HAD that opportunity. He just passed on it.

The best move today, as I see it, is to review-audit the so-called "independent audit" (which was performed by educators selected by the Warwick School Committee (SC), NOT CPA's chosen without association to anyone, an essential part of being "independent"). That report should be reviewed by a CPA NOT CHOSEN BY THE SC! The review-auditor should be chosen by lottery or by the City Council. ONLY then will Warwick taxpayers have a truly "independent" look at the books of the SC. I believe it will show the present audit to have immense partiality to the view of the SC, and expose them, and their agenda, once and for all.

Mayor Joe Solomon, being an accountant, could and should perform a preliminary review and decide on investing a small amount of taxpayers dollars on a CPA's fee to review the "Educators-audit". I strongly believe it will trigger a series of events that will end up saving the taxpayers millions! Millions!

Happy September everyone.

Tuesday, September 18
richardcorrente

Dear CrickeeRaven,

The School Committee interviewed several "auditors" and then hired two fellow educators to perform their "independent audit". I never expected them to disagree with their fellow-school-finance-dept.-employer. Did You?

Tuesday, September 18
Thecaptain

I really have to laugh when the teachers come and complain that the school department has been level funded. Have the teachers been level funded? This latest contract gives the teachers $13.4 million in raises. That money comes from the taxpayer. There is only so much money that this city can extract from the taxpayers without harm to the community. The teachers and the unions DO NOT recognize that fact. The raises that were just given out (in the absence of the 5 year auditors report) have again, yet another detrimental impact on everyone in the community except for those recipients of the raises.

I am so tired of hearing all of these inefficient workers whining that they DESERVE MORE. They deserve only what the community can afford and the community can no longer afford them and their gracious benefits. $13 mil in raises and still no after school programs. But its all about the kids right?

What a joke. Solomon keeps saying that it is the year of the taxpayers. What do we get this year? How are we factored into the process other than in the funding formula?

Tuesday, September 18
Justanidiot

eyes am so glad that the taxpayers mayer is still in there fighting for twuth justice and the armenian way. we will gets our taxes slashed and are services booted. da voters of warwick have spoken and we have fore more years of the master

Tuesday, September 18
CrickeeRaven

The two-time election loser continues to suggest a standard for the program audit that does not exist, and is thus further proof of his inability to understand education law.

He also continues to tell outright falsehoods, like this one:

"[The school committee] hired two fellow educators..."

Lie. Robert Hicks and Thomas Conlon are former school administrators. Here is how the Beacon described them in a prior article:

"Hicks, who handled the programmatic side of the audit, has about 40 years of experience in education, including stints as superintendent of schools for Block Island, South Kingstown and Exeter/West Greenwich. Conlon, who handled the fiscal side of the audit, has about 50 years of experience in finance, including stints as the controller of the town of Warren and 20 years as the business manager for the Pawtucket School Department."

School committee members are not their "fellow educators."

This is the latest example of the two-time loser's repeated attempt to fool voters by intentionally confusing school administrators and the elected school committee.

Hicks and Conlon are also not CPAs -- because, again, that is not what is required under the law for program audits.

The two-time loser is similarly trying to fool voters by confusing fiscal audits -- which are, as he has been told repeatedly, conducted and published every year by an independent firm -- with program audits like the one that the school committee conducted according to the law.

His suggestions about the program audit are false, as is his conspiracy theory about "fellow educators."

All he is proving is how correct 9,000+ honest, taxpaying voters were in rejecting his candidacy agai on Sept. 12.

Justanidiot, maybe you can tell the two-time loser that he's not running against Joe Solomon anymore, and should stop recycling his losing campaign statements.

Tuesday, September 18
Justanidiot

CrickeeRaven -- master mayer is just getting warmed up for his next runs two years from now. he has the support of 180,000 warwick taxed payers and will sweep onto victory

Tuesday, September 18
richardcorrente

Dear CrickeeRaven,

You're absolutely right. I was not 100% accurate when I called the two auditors "two fellow educators" I SHOULD have called them "two fellow school administrators" which you described more clearly than I did. Thanks for setting the readers straight.

But doesn't that make them even MORE connected to The Warwick School Administration?

Doesn't that make this "independent" audit even MORE biased?

Doesn't that make this audit even MORE unfair to the taxpayers?

Doesn't that prove my point even MORE than my original post did?

Doesn't that mean you, CrickeeRaven, are even MORE of a steaming pile of complaining, condemning, criticizing, cow dung?

I think it DOES!

Happy September everyone.

Tuesday, September 18
CrickeeRaven

If it weren't for his desperate need to see his own comments on this website, the two-time failed candidate would have no reason to keep making uninformed statements like the following:

- "But doesn't that make them even MORE connected to The Warwick School Administration?"

That was not the two-time loser's statement. He was trying to connect the elected school committee with the two former administrators. He is now trying to correct his obviously false earlier comment.

- "Doesn't that make this "independent" audit even MORE biased?"

No. As anyone who actually reads the audit will see, Hicks and Conlon followed established law and educational standards to reach their findings.

- "Doesn't that make this audit even MORE unfair to the taxpayers?"

No. What is unfair to honest, taxpaying voters is a losing candidate who continues to try to lie to them.

- "Doesn't that prove my point even MORE than my original post did?"

No -- unless the two-time loser's original post was meant to prove how uninformed and delusional he can be in his comments.

- "Doesn't that mean you, CrickeeRaven, are even MORE of a steaming pile of complaining, condemning, criticizing, cow dung?"

No, it means the two-time sore loser is engaging in ever more unhinged, erratic, and juvenile behavior on a website that he used for free political advertising for four years, which led directly to two humiliating losses.

- "Happy September everyone."

9,000+ honest, taxpaying voters are having a happy September knowing that they kept the two-time failure out of any office.

Tuesday, September 18
CrickeeRaven

Readers who wish to see a clearer picture of the two-time sore loser's complete inability to keep from humiliating himself in public can see it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QExsTpKBshQ&feature=youtu.be#t=62m04s

The footage lasts barely one minute.

In that time, the two-time loser is stopped and corrected by the city council president, stammers and stumbles through whatever "point" he was trying to make [which sounds like nothing more than an empty slogan], and then leaves the podium without having any effect whatsoever on the council's discussion or decisions.

Tuesday, September 18
Scal1024

You want to know how to check the mental stability of a candidate? Pay attention to their behavior when they lose...not when they win. Rick Corrente has been nothing but a petulant child since he became a TWO TIME LOSER. Even though I (and many others) have been telling him for a year that his recycled talking points would not fool voters. This stubborn, lying, dim witted tax delinquent has the audacity to criticize honest, hardworking, taxpayers? Give me a break! Look at some of the language this erratic wind bag uses, it is juvenile at best. The reason is because Rick Corrente is incapable of an honest debate. Thats why he'll run and hide under another article like a coward. This gutless, unhinged, hack is still delusional enough to believe if he continues the same FAILED campaign, with the same FAILED ideas, and the same FAILED talking points he will become mayor. Rick Corrente is nothing but a punch line in this city "oh that guy that waves in traffic?" Yeah, sure...I smell a revolution.

Rick Corrente is a coward. Thats why he has no guts to tell voters he lost his home to tax sale, thats why he hid his vehicle from the tax rolls, failed to pay his car taxes on time, fell behind on water/sewer bills while loaning his campaign $40,000. That doesn't even touch the child support documents that Captain has provided, as well as sources. Does that sound like a person with morals? Or good financial standing? I wouldn't put Rick Corrente in charge of running my kids allowance every week, nevermind running an entire city. Thats like naming Dracula to head the Red Cross. If Rick Corrente is going to launch his 2020 campaign by commenting here, so that he can be a THREE TIME LOSER, I will be here to fact check him EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. I am proud to be just one of THOUSANDS to REJECT the TWO TIME LOSER.

Tuesday, September 18
PaulHuff

Funny to hear members of the city council claim that their hands are tied because they handed out raises to city employees.

If you can’t afford to give out raises then don’t ratify a contract that has raises in it.

Tuesday, September 18
WwkVoter

OMG just watched the Corrente video. I had no idea. Raven you are an incredibly knowledgeable and articulate contributor, but the most clarity contributed so far about this failed candidate would have to be that video. It was also helpful to understanding why corrente made the headlines - as the losing side in a "blowout" election.

Like Scal, I too am proud to have joined thousands of clear-headed Warwick voters and made the only sane choice on Primary Day.

As to the topic at hand, again, I predict they will raid the rainy day fund to get through this year and then enact substantial property tax increases for the next several years...

Tuesday, September 18
richardcorrente

Dear Scal1024,

You call me a coward and you don't even have the courage to use your real name?

Wednesday, September 19
CrickeeRaven

PaulHuff, one of the ongoing criticisms I've had of this city council is their repeated claims of "not knowing" what was happening. That's not a good look for a city council, especially one with several longtime members.

At the same time, as you note, they're complaining about the cost of contracts -- and then approving new contracts with raises.

I'm also getting tired of this "blame Avedisian" game they're playing. The new teachers' contract was all over the news for months, and they could have, at any time, held an executive session with Avedisian to get the information about the process.

Same thing with the police and municipal contracts: It should not have been a surprise that those unions were seeking 3-percent raises, and the cost of those contracts should not have been a mystery.

They're in charge now -- and they should start acting like it.

WwkVoter, thanks for your compliment.

As far as the city's accumulated surplus, the city council has already taken from it -- they're just trying not to admit it yet. You may recall the pre-primary article with Solomon, where he wouldn't put a dollar figure on the surplus.

Here's the relevant part of that article:

“I’d like to believe what was said earlier that we have $25 million in our reserve account. We never had $25 million in our reserve account…I wish we had $20 [million],” Solomon said. The mayor was not prepared to commit to a number.

http://warwickonline.com/stories/solomon-seeks-vote-from-fellow-democrats,136650

Now, here's what I think suggests that the council has already spent the surplus:

- Before he left office, Avedisian put the surplus at $25.4 million: http://warwickonline.com/stories/city-surplus-headed-to-254m-but-drawdowns-to-take-bite,131220

- That was in January, 2018 -- before the $4.2 million deficit that the council left in the FY18 budget and the $3.8 million structural deficit built into the FY19 budget.

- Taken together, those deficits equal $8 million.

- So, if Avedisian was correct in estimating a $25.4 million surplus and the council's last two budgets resulted in a combined $8 million deficit, that explains Solomon's statement that he "wish[ed] we had $20 million" and would not specify the actual amount.

Avedisian didn't approve the last two budgets -- the city council did. And those budgets, I would argue, just cost the city $8 million from the surplus.

Now that they know they can't take any more from it without risking even more damage to city finances, they're resorting to complaints about contracts -- which, as I explained to PaulHuff above -- are not entirely valid.

Wednesday, September 19
CrickeeRaven

Scal, don't be bothered by the two-time loser's whining about your use of a screen name.

He won't face up to the facts that have been proven about him.

You have helped inform our honest, taxpaying neighbors about his unfitness for office.

He thought he had a chance to get elected while lying to voters.

You aren't running for office.

He thinks he can dictate how people use this website.

You are well within the terms of use for this website that do not prohibit the use of pseudonyms.

He is a proven liar, tax delinquent, and hypocrite.

You are an online commenter interested in providing the truth about him.

He'll continue willingly humiliating himself with every new comment.

You and I and other commenters will continue to be 100% justified in rejecting his candidacy again on Sept. 12.

Wednesday, September 19
Cat2222

What would be the benefit to the city council to intentionally underfund the school council when they are aware it is illegal and would lead to a law suit? Is it just to facilitate the negotiations that are happening now?

Wednesday, September 19
CrickeeRaven

That's a great question, Cat. I think the city council has been scapegoating the school committee, in all honesty: As long as the council can blame the school committee for something, it can distract attention from the council's own decisions.

What the council is trying to do -- and what they have admitted as a goal, with their recent discussion about starting up the charter review commission again -- is have more direct line-item control over the school budget.

But if this program audit is any indication, they still won't have the impact they think they will.

Consider, for example, when the WTU contract gets close to expiring again -- do they really think they'll get a more financially favorable contract?

That's highly doubtful, given the audit's findings that Warwick has a disproportionate number of top-step teachers as compared to other urban ring school departments -- which means that Warwick teachers cost more to retain or lay off.

Whether the council wants to admit it or not, the school department has the upper hand here. The best the council can do it limit the potential impact, and as I suggested, find a way to cover the school department's request -- whether it's voluntary or by court order.

Wednesday, September 19
Scal1024

Rick, you made $40,000 in a year and claimed you could only afford "$10 a week" in child support. YOU ARE A COWARD!!! Spare me your lecture from the moral high ground. Just do me a favor Rick, don't worry about my screen name (I laugh that it bothers you so much, and that you can't comprehend what my or Crickees name even reference), keep recycling the same comments, with the same dishonest talking points and keep speaking at Council meetings, I think its really having an impact on the community...

Wednesday, September 19
Justanidiot

Scal1024 mys screen name is whose i am

Thursday, September 20
Scal1024

Justanidiot, you make a very valid point...and its just not fair. Since you are always so "complementary" to the "ticks-sprayers mayer", he will never criticize you or your real (screen) name. Your constant praise of his ability to cut taxes, cut spending, rebuild every single school and increase every city service has won him back to back elections...and counting! Unlike the make believe mayor (who doesn't understand a single comment you make) I actually do appreciate your comments! Keep up the good work!

Thursday, September 20
richardcorrente

Dear Scal1024,

Wrong again Scal.

I didn't "make" $40,000 in that year. I was (and still am) self employed as a commission-only mortgage loan officer and like EVERY commissioned person my gross receipts are NOT my taxable income that I live on. In that year I had, I believe, $25,000 in legitimate expenses that IRS says must be subtracted from gross receipts to determine income. That you would even bring up my divorce of the 80's speaks volumes about your character. By the way, Chief Justice Geremia reversed the decision about income. I also received physical custody of my two sons. To this day, they are my two best friends.

You anonymous coward of a critic.

Happy September everyone.

Tuesday, September 25
WwkVoter

Corrente again tries to dance around the issue. His track record of lawsuits, lies, tax delinquency, foreclosure, and yes, his child support fight to try and pay $10 a week(!) speaks volumes to his character and abilities for public office. Not to mention his childish nonsense called a "plan" which includes giveaways to homeowners and pension "buyouts" (which would cost hundreds of millions), while claiming to "cut taxes cut spending". As to the child support element, some parents GET A SECOND JOB and pay WAY MORE than "ten dollars a week". Even two days a week as a night watchman could generate $150 per week. Instead, Corrente the tax delinquent, foreclosure case who decides to - amid the wreckage of bad personal choices - run for the highest office in the second largest City in RI?

Let these comments get back to being *about the story above* and not about you and your dubious nonsense.

Thursday, September 27