EAST PROVIDENCE — At its monthly meeting Tuesday night, Sept. 25, in the City Hall chamber, the East Providence School Committee was briefed on education-related aspects of the Fiscal Year 2013 budget proposal and was also updated on issues pertaining to system facilities.
New consolidated City Finance Director Malcolm Moore appeared at his first School Committee meeting since being hired to direct all of East Providence’s money matters. Mr. Moore, along with City Manager Peter Graczykowski, presented the Committee with an overview of the FY13 proposal currently being formulated by the Budget Commission.
Mr. Moore said he continues to gain an understanding of school financial issues as well as integrating himself into the information loop. He did note the city is due to receive an additional $2 million in state aid for the upcoming fiscal year as part of the reconstructed formula. East Providence is budgeted to receive $26.2 million in FY13, up from the $24.2 it got in FY12.
“One thing I’ve heard continually since I got here is how people have trouble getting information. I actually like to give them too much information,” Mr. Moore said.
He also said several details as they pertain to school matters in the budget remain “up in the air” in the weeks leading up to the date when the budget is scheduled to gain final approval on Oct. 24.
Mr. Moore added later, “There are still some kinks to work out on this consolidation (of school and city finances), but hopefully in about six months things will be running much smoother.”
Consolidated City Facilities Manager Edward Catelli provided the Committee with an update on the most recent construction projects being done at the schools.
Mr. Catelli said energy-efficient repairs at the high school under the auspices of Johnson Controls are in their final phases. With the coming colder weather, he said the city is getting ready for its first real test of the new heating/air conditional control systems installed late last spring and over the summer. The ability to monitor and maintain heating levels is expected to afford the city “tremendous” savings, according to Mr. Catelli.
In addition, Mr. Catelli said the installation of two, 500-gallon water tanks to replace a single 3,500-gallon unit at Martin Middle School should, likewise, save the city quite a bit of money. Rather than heating up one large unit, technicians will be able to use one or both of the new units much more efficiently.
Also of note, Mr. Catelli and Mr. Graczykowski told the Committee the city is close to securing the $9 million portion of an overall total of $15 million in bonds needed to pay for repairs to the district’s buildings. One million of the new bond money is earmarked towards repaying a bridge loan given to the city by the state to keep existing work going over the last few months.
Once the other $8 million is secured, Mr. Catelli said a top priority of his department is to repair and replace doors in schools as well as install new public address systems at the high school and Martin Middle. The city is expected to gain access to the bond money no later than Oct. 11, but could get it as soon as Oct. 4.
Retiring System Transportation Director Raymond Linneman and Interim School Superintendent Dr. John DeGoes discussed the on-going challenges of dealing with the new bus eligibility requirements.
Dr. DeGoes said the total student enrollment of East Providence schools at the start of the 2012-13 term is 5,455. Of those, 2,105 are eligible to ride buses. Through the first month of school, some 1,939 are actually using the bus service based on the counts of drivers.
Dr. DeGoes continued, 389 families have applied for a waiver to ride buses through the appeals process. Of those cases, 280 waivers have been granted, 51 were denied and 58 are still to be determined.
Mr. Linneman, whose last official day on the job is Friday, Sept. 28, said procedures have been put into place to handle any transportation issues that may arise upon his departure. Administrative office workers have been briefed and prepared about pertinent matters. The bus company is also there for consultation as will be Mr. Linneman, who said he will be available to offer advice and assistance whenever necessary.
Stephen Furtado, who along with Ryan Tellier and counsel Robert Silva sits on a School Committee sub-committee to deal with the situation, updated the rest of his fellow Committee member on the matter of the proposed consolidation of city and school legal services.
Mr. Furtado read from an opinion offered by Department of Education Deputy Director David Abbott, himself a lawyer, who said he and his department are of the opinion School Committees are granted the have separate legal representation by 16-2-9 of R.I. General Law. It states School Committees “shall,” that being the key legal phrase, have access to their own counsel apart from city operations.
The School Committee later voted 5-0 to send a memorandum of its objection to legal consolidation to the Budget Commission as well as state administrators and city political representatives.
The Committee also stamped its approval on several personnel appointments already passed by the Budget Commission, though it did not support the hire of Candace Andrade as the system’s new Special Education Program Coordinator. The Commission, at its meeting on Sept. 20, only agreed to having the positions filled, not those presented to fill each post, which allowed the School Committee to voice its concerns on the prospective hires.
The Budget Commission along with Interim Human Resource Director Heather Martino and Dr. DeGoes are expected to take up the School Committee’s position on the specific case of Special Ed Coordinator some time during the next week or at the Commission’s meeting on Oct. 4.
The School Committee’s next meeting is tentatively scheduled to take place Tuesday, Oct. 9, at City Hall beginning at 6:30 p.m.