EAST PROVIDENCE — It wasn’t on the docket, but it turned out to be the most heated point of discussion. At its meeting Thursday afternoon, Aug. 23, in City Hall Room 306, the East Providence Budget Commission for what hopefully was the final time clarified its position on the elimination of middle school sports.
As it has done since its initial decision on the matter last winter, the Budget Commission told a small audience, including a handful of middle school sports backers, the programs were no longer being financially supported by the city.
That decision includes sports for the upcoming fall season, which would have been set to start in a matter of a week, and also for the rest of the 2012-13 school term. In addition, middle school sports are not funded throughout the Budget Commission’s five-year fiscal plan, meaning the earliest they could possibly be brought back in their former form would be for Fiscal Year 2018.
“Middle school sports are not funded,” Commission member Michael O’Keefe, who was the chairman of the state-appointed body when the original decision on the matter was made, stated bluntly.
Mr. O’Keefe chastised both elected officials and school administrators for being more forthright with the public on the matter. He also questioned the community’s commitment to sports while allowing text books to be slashed from the budget prior to the Commission’s arrival in the city.
In response, Jessica Beauchaine, a driving force behind the Project 106 organization hoping to raise money to bring middle schools sports back, offered up an impassioned statement to the Commission.
“Thank you, Mr. O’Keefe,” Ms. Beauchaine said. “Nobody else has been honest with us. You’ve said that right from the start and I’ve told people that, but other people have said different things. I’ve been out there trying to raise money, but people don’t believe me because other people have said middle school sports are still being funded.”
Ms. Beauchaine, obviously, isn’t pleased that middle school sports aren’t being backed by the Commission. She, like the other supporters of the program, can now turn the page and put all their efforts towards trying to raise funds instead of shooting down rumor and speculation.
For his part, Mr. O’Keefe suggested some sort of committee be formed by leaders from the school system and the community to come up with alternative ways of offering sports to sixth to eight graders in the city.
Mr. O’Keefe said taking the program out of the school system should be considered as a means of saving costs, most of which come from teacher-related contracts and transportation.
“Right now it’s $106,000 or nothing, and that just doesn’t seem right,” Mr. O’Keefe added. “Somebody needs to look at ways to reduce the costs of having middle school sports. Someone has to take the lead.”
More school news
The Budget Commission gave its approval to several hires in the East Providence School Department, including those of Frank DeVall and John Craig, respectively, as the new principal and assistant principal at Martin Middle School.
Mr. DeVall, who opted not to run for re-election to the State Senate from District 18 in the city, takes over for Glenn Piros, who resigned at the end of the 2011-12 year to take a similar post at a school in Florida. Mr. DeVall, who previously worked in the system, comes back to East Providence off a stint as an assistant principal at Cranston High School West.
Mr. Craig returns from an unwanted hiatus. He was relieved of his position as an EPHS assistant principal at the conclusion of the 2010-11 term as part of a reorganization plan issued by former School Superintendent Mario Cirillo and executed by former Interim School Superintendent Edward Daft. Mr. Craig appealed the decision to the Rhode Island Department of Education, which ruled in his favor several weeks ago.
Mr. Craig’s legal representation and School Committee counsel Robert Silva have agreed a settlement of the matter, including his return to the system in a similar capacity at MMS.
Cheri Guerra, who served as interim principal following the departure of Mr. Piros, remains on staff as another assistant.
The Commission signaled its pending decision to rescind the City Council’s recent vote to give the HAM radio club in the city tax exempt status on the property it owns in the Rumford section.
It is at least the third time the Commission has overridden similar votes made by the Council on tax exempt status. The Commission’s decision will become formal at its next meeting scheduled to take place Thursday, Sept. 6, in Room 306 of City Hall at 3 p.m.
The Commission took part in an initial discussion on the possibility of changes to the city’s trash collection contract as part of East Providence’s entry into the Shared Municipal Services Task Force set up by Gov. Lincoln Chafee.
City Manager and Budget Commission member Peter Graczykowski told the Commission about the changes to the pick-up schedule for recyclables only as well as the anticipated savings of the proposal, which would group East Providence’s refuse collection with neighboring Pawtucket.
Instead of weekly pick-up, which would continue on a weekly basis for garbage, recyclables would be picked up every two weeks. New 95-gallon containers would be given to each household and business in the city. The containers have lids for sanitary purposes and wheels for relatively easy use.
If implemented, the new service would begin in March of 2013. EnviroSage/MTG Disposal, the current contractor for East Providence, has submitted the low bid and would continue to service the city.
Savings estimates, according to Mr. Graczykowski, are approximately $210,000 for FY13 and nearly $300,000 for the remainder of what would be a five-year contract. All told, the move would save the city over $1.6 million through the duration of the deal.
Fire station remodel
The Commission gave its approval of a lease agreement between the city and the landlord at 175 Amaral St. for use of the property by the East Providence Fire Department while Station No. 4 located on Wampanoag Trail is being renovated.
The cost of the lease could be $43,000, but there remains a chance federal grants for the project could cover that total. The need to enter into the lease agreement is urgent, according to Mr. Graczykowski, because paperwork on other federal funding for the project must be completed.
It was incorrectly reported in recent editions of The Post that Interim Human Resources Director Heather Martino was leaving the position.
A misunderstanding took place when Ms. Martino recently said her “last day” was to be in late August. What she was actually speaking about was her taking needed and much-deserved vacation time. Ms. Martino is expected to remain on the job for the foreseeable future. The Post regrets the error and apologizes for any inconvenience caused to Mr. Martino or employees of the city.
As part of its overall consolidation effort, the Commission took the first step towards bringing the legal counsel for the city side and the schools under the auspices of one single law firm.
Mr. Graczykowski presented the Commission with the first draft of a Request For Proposal on the matter. The proposal suggests the city and schools pool together any duplicate legal needs or as he put it “join forces where we have common ground.”
The proposal allows for the School Department to seek outside counsel on matters of specific expertise, like cases involving complicated Special Needs guidelines, and if it were in conflict with the city on budgetary matters.
The RFP draft wasn’t approved in part to get input from new Interim School Superintendent Dr. John DeGoes and from the School Committee.
“There have been objections from a few of the School Committee members I’ve spoke with,” Dr. DeGoes said. “They object for two reasons. First, there’s some question if (state) law dictates the School Department having its own counsel. And secondly, accessibility to counsel is a key issue. I can tell you I have been on the job for three weeks and I’ve already had two dozen meetings with attorneys. It’s vitally important to have that access on many issues, particularly dealing with Special Education cases.
“The School Department, of course, is interested in helping save the city money. But at the same time, the question remains does taking this action now end up costing the city money in the end.”