Budget Commission considers East Providence Schools issues
EAST PROVIDENCE — During its usual bi-weekly meeting held Thursday afternoon, Oct. 4, at City Hall, the East Providence Budget Commission considered various issues, including a few related to the School Department.
The Commission approved the personnel actions taken by Interim Superintendent Dr. John DeGoes and Interiim Human Resources Director Heather Martino. Among those was the surprise resignation of John Craig as Martin Middle School Assistant Principal, who according to sources is leaving the district for a similar position in Connecticut.
Mr. Craig's departure just a month into his tenure is a bit startling only because of the timing. He was unceremoniously relieved of his position as an East Providence High School Assistant Principal at the end of the 2010-11 term, but later filed and eventually won a grievance of his dismissal with the State Department of Education.
The case was decided late this summer, and Mr. Craig was brought back into the department's administration as an assistant to new MMS Principal Frank DeVall Jr. in time for the start of the '12-13 term. His position at Martin will not be filled. Mr. DeVall and his other assistant, Cheri Guerra, will administer the school as a tandem.
As Mr. Craig departs, his case against the School Department remains open. School Committee Legal Counsel Bob Silva and Mrs. Martino confirmed the department is in negotiations with Mr. Craig's attorneys to settle the case out of court. Mr. Craig is likely due back pay and other restitution as a result of his wrongful dismissal.
Also from the schools, the Commission heard a request from Mrs. Martino and Dr. DeGoes to implement an emergency hiring policy for the department. The Commission, upon a recommendation from member and City Manager Peter Graczykowski, agreed a comprehensive emergency hiring for the entire city should soon be formulated.
The last bit of school business pertained to the Commission's proposal to consolidate the legal counsel for both the department and the city as a whole. Dr. DeGoes, as he was instructed to do at the Sept. 25 School Committee meeting, voiced that body's displeasure on the matter, which drew the ire of former Commission chairman Michael O'Keefe.
As he had earlier Thursday during a discussion of the Fiscal Year 2013 budget and Special Education policy/expenditures, Mr. O'Keefe excoriated the School Committee. He said, "It appalls me that the School Committee doesn't even want to consider something that could save money."
Mr. O'Keefe sarcastically continued he was sure the Committee could provide the Commission with numerous reports of how having separate legal representation helps students improve in the classroom.
He added, "If it isn't shown to improve educational achievement then it must be a turf issue."
Plans are likely to remain in motion for the Commission to follow through on a Request For Proposal (RFP) from law firms to represent the School Department and the city under a consolidated structure, while still allowing either side to seek outside counsel when needed or when a conflict of interest arises.
In other business, the Commission, as it has on a number of occasions in the last several months, rescinded a recent City Council vote in favor of providing the Columbus Club of East Providence tax exempt status.
The Commission approved three requests. The Fire Department was given the authority to use some $115,000 in Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) money, offered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, for the purchase of much-needed new hoses.
The Fire and Police Departments also received permission to have the construction of a Secure Dock Facility at Bold Point go out to bid.
The Commission also gave the go-ahead for the use of $100,000 in CDBG-Disaster relief program money towards a project to improve flow of the Runnins River. City Director of Planning Jeanne Boyle told the Commission when consultants are hired and the permit process in both Rhode Island and Massachusetts are complete, it's likely the dredging process should begin by spring of next year.
The last action taken by the Commission was the approval to hire temporary support staff for Mrs. Martino in the Human Resources Department. The amount paid for the services cannot exceed $8,000. It should also be noted the search to find a permanent HR Director is underway. The position has officially been advertised as open.
The Commission tabled a move on a resolution requesting the advancement of state education aid payments from April of 2013 to Dec. 1, 2012. There was debate among the members whether the resolution was necessary. Also discussed was the need to begin the process of seeking Tax Anticipation Notes (TANs) while awaiting the state aid package.
Two other proposals were also tabled. One involved giving Mr. Graczykowski or the City Manager the ability to enter into PILOT (Payment In Lieu of Taxes) agreements and to represent the city in those negotiations with certain organizations. The second was a discussion of a Streetlight Management program, which was to be presented by Public Works Director Stephen Coutu and Mr. Graczykowski.
The next Budget Commission meeting takes place at 4 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 18, at City Hall. The meeting precedes the second and final public hearing on the proposed Fiscal Year 2013 city budget.