East Providence Budget Commission holds first hearing on FY2013 plan

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EAST PROVIDENCE — The East Providence Budget Commission held the first of two scheduled public hearings on the proposed Fiscal Year 2013 Budget prior to its meeting Thursday, Oct. 4, in Room 306 at City Hall.

Much of the discussion centered around the format of the document, which is much more in-depth than plans presented to previous City Councils.

“What we’re talking about is making this a better document than in the past,” said Commission member Michael O’Keefe.

The prospective FY13 plan is pretty much a line-item breakdown of the city’s projected revenues and expenditures for the next 12 months starting on Nov. 1.

The revised format, according to City Manager and Commission member Peter Graczykowski, is an attempt to show both administrators and the general public where exactly dollars are being spent and where revenue is derived from other than taxes. It will also attempt to show where possible some departments, like Parks & Recreation and Buildings, can become more self-sufficient due to fees and permits.

“We expect to receive a number of comments on this first draft before final passage,” Mr. Graczykowski said. “And the final draft may take a different form.”

Commission chairman Diane Brennan reiterated the $153,924,361 FY13 budget does not include any tax increases. Rates for Residential ($20.74 per $1,000), Commercial/Industrial ($22.94), Motor Vehicle ($37.10) and Tangible Properties ($51.19) remain the same as last fiscal year.

The first draft did not include a narrative for each of the city’s department, which is customary in budgets and will be present in the final document.

There were also a handful of discrepancies in department line items, many of which were due to consolidation efforts in Finance and Information Technology (IT).

In addition, the specter of the possible closing of the Oldham Elementary School was raised when it was noted a new principal had been hired for the building after the position was shared between it and other schools in the recent past. Interim School Superintendent Dr. John DeGoes explained the hire was for just one year only and if Oldham is closed plans will be made to disperse the affected children to the other elementary schools in the area.

Mr. O’Keefe also took issue with the projected $1 million surplus in the Water Department being used to balance its budget. He said in actuality the department was “working under a structural deficit, which should not be the case.”

New consolidated City Finance Director Malcolm Moore said he looked at the “last couple” of budgets and that was the way in which it was prepared, though he concurred with Mr. O’Keefe saying “it is not the best practice.”

It was at about that time, roughly the mid-point of what was the hour-long hearing, when Mrs. Brennan cautioned all in attendance Thursday, “We’re viewing the budget as a work in progress and it is a work in progress. We still have a ways to go.”

Before the public hearing concluded, Mr. O’Keefe fired off a pointed salvo in the direction of the School Department as well as the School Committee on the subject of Special Education.

He said the Budget Commission has attempted to streamline the Special Education program and process, and has done so to a significant extent. However, it has met with resistance by both parents and politicians.

Mr. O’Keefe acknowledged the Commission must abide by state-mandated Maintenance of Effort (MOE) policies. But in the FY13 budget and the five-year budgetary plan the Commission is compiling, there are noteworthy savings derived from the Special Ed program.

Those savings, Mr. O’Keefe continued, are to be directed towards basic needs of the rest of the population, to things like textbooks, other educational materials and teachers’ salaries. All of which, according to Mr. O’Keefe, have been “gutted” in recent years.

He said it’s imperative for the School Department and the School Committee to formulate and adhere to a Basic Education Plan (BEP). He added despite the protestations of parents and outside forces, as long as the BEP is legal and that lawyers say it’s defensible in court, administrators and pols alike should “live with it and stick with it.”

In Mr. O’Keefe’s view, the amount of money spent in the past on Special Education has created inequities between it and rest of the school population.

“Just remember, every time you take an action on a Special Ed case understand you’re robbing the rest of the teachers and students in the other classrooms,” Mr. O’Keefe said.

The second and final public hearing on the FY13 Budget takes place at City Hall Thursday, Oct. 18, at 5 p.m. The next Budget Commission meeting takes place an hour earlier the same day at 4 p.m.

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5 Comments

  1. Felixx said:

    Did O’Keefe actually say that about special education. Robbing the other classrooms? What a cheap shot. All of the things being fought for are already written into the IEP’s for these children by the School Department. State Law dictates what these children are to receive. What about response to intervention? Didn’t Bacon and Edge say intervention would help reduce the cost of special ed? No intervention equals more special services equals more cost to the district. Continues the cycle. A contradiction in itself. Sounds more like he just has no tolerance for children with special needs. Where is RIDE on all of this?

  2. Steve Furtado said:

    OUTRAGEOUS!
    That is the only term that comes to mind when reading Mr. O’Keefe’s remarks!
    I attended the meeting, as I do most budget commission meetings, and I was floored by the notion that special education children are “robbing” the rest of the teachers and students!
    All IEP plans are regulated by the US Department of Education and the IDEA, as well as the State dept of Ed.
    And there is no provision for “lowest cost”; or cutting services because we are a financially distressed community. The law recommends schoold districts do what is best for the individual child.

  3. Dd said:

    I guess Mr. O’Keefe does have a child with needs!! HOW DARE HE SAY THAT these children are robbing other students and teachers! Insensitive person. I think Mr O’Keefe needs to go in the schools and see some of these students and the hard work that their teachers and support staff do! Makes me sick! :(

  4. bjd21 said:

    Let’s go back to the Spring of 2012 when Mr. O’Keefe tells the Director of Pupil Personnel to cut 20% of the budget. With empty promises, the Director convinces Mr. O’Keefe that personnel can be cut, students can be brought back from out of district placements. (without a program in place), one administrator can be eliminated from the Department of Special Services and the Early Learning Program can be dismantled and decimated. As a matter of record and as witnessed today by the return of two teacher assistants, all special education teachers, with the exception of those who left of their own accord, have returned to a position. All teacher assistants have been called back. No savings there! Five educational specialists were let go at a savings of $350,000; but two have been called back to train other staff. Let’s not forget that the district has to pay unemployment. No savings there! The Out-of District students did not return to district and the School Department will have to pay a settlement fee. No savings there! The Department of Pupil Personnel needs to figure out if it wants to bring students back or send them out.(See Providence Sunday Journal) No savings there! Did you know the highest paid employee over the Summer made $1,000 an hour for approximately five hours of supervision to the ESY program? No savings there! The new coordinator’s position will cost $72,000 plus $35, 800 at a minimum to back-fill the vacated position. How much did the Director tell Mr. O’Keefe would be saved at a Budget Commission meeting? I heard $18,000. Wrong. It will cost a total of $107,800. No savings there! Isn’t it a violation of the Open Meetings Law for a Budget Commission member and the Director of Pupil Personnel to discuss privately before a meeting issues that are brought up at the subsequent meeting? To Mr. O’Keefe: You always save money when you cut people and programs; you just don’t save the children! We haven’t figured out yet if 5.4 million has been cut from the Special Education Budget. All there is is spending. No savings there! How much does it cost to bring in The Autism Project to work with teachers throughout the year? No savings there! The maintenance department has to take time away from their regular duties to paint new offices at City Hall. No savings there! Figure it out! Was money saved or was more money spent? Come to the next Budget Commission meeting and see some members pass notes to one another. Waste of paper. No savings there! See you on the 18th.

    Mr O’keefe, I think you have the robbers confused. The only ones robbing the teachers and students in other classrooms are the Federal Government for cutting funds, the State of Rhode Island for cutting funds, the City of East Providence for under-funding the School Department and the administrators who make funding decisions only to enhance and expand their own egos.

    To quote Mr. O’keefe, “The amount of money spent in the past on Special Education has created inequities between it and the rest of the school population.” The light bulb must have gone on. Every Special Education Department in every city, in every state, in every province, in every country all around the world would create inequities between that department and the rest of the school population by virtue of the need for special education services, devices, etc. which are ultimately included in a child’s IEP. Those services do cost extra money because a child with a disability has more needs than a general education student. Nothing new here….except that the innuendo seems to lay blame with the child. Imagine a child with a disability absorbing more school dollars than one of his or her non-disabled peers. Wow! This is why the State should have appointed an educator to sit on the Budget Commission. Then, perhaps, there would be no need for such an absurd statement!

  5. Dd said:

    @BJD21 you said “How much does it cost to bring in The Autism Project to work with teachers throughout the year?” Totally agree -with the bucks they are probably paying that person to consult with Trained, Experienced teachers they could hire three teacher assistants which is really what is needed to meet the students needs (and teachers!). Crazy! I suppose a professional hired from the Autism Project makes the Big Wigs look good!! Having advice from the Autism Project wont help if the environment and supports are not in place! Its all a bunch of BS!! Mr O’Keefe needs to visit classrooms with special needs populations and see how these children learn!

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