Mayor Nap’s Starvation Diet for the Schools

Andre Araujo lamented in his comments today that the turnout for the Cranston school’s information meeting on their budget crisis was “dismal.” Truly, if there was a situation where Obama’s “bitter” seems to be revealing itself front and center, it would be in the apathy of parents in Cranston. Parents are just so tired of being played like pawns in a game of ever-diminishing returns, the result of which is a lessening in the quality education for our children.

I’m going to come out for the city council meeting tonight, to advocate for better funding for the schools, but it is not without strong reservations about the fiscal leadership of our schools. Back in 2005 when the teacher’s contract was signed, I recall people asking School Committee Chair Mike Traficante how we would pay for the raises and the added salary step. “We’ll figure that out when the time comes,” is what I remember the tenor of his answers to be.

Well, three years have passed and no one figured out where to get all the extra money that was needed. Instead, with each passing year, the Cranston schools have gone more in debt. Why? Because of poor fiscal planning. Because they wagered that they would be able to get the money out of the new Mayor, and they wagered wrong. Little did they know that Mayor Nap was on a mission to put the schools on a little pre-contract-negotiating starvation diet.

And so, with Napolitano taking office, the lack of increases began. At the same time, health care costs, food costs, and energy costs soared. The economy tanked. Still, the Cranston schools were contractually obligated to give raises to the teachers and support the lion’s share of their health benefits.

And now, here were are: $8 million dollars in debt. The school committee is asking parents to call their city councilors and plead for more money. I will show up for the meeting to plead. But I will also discuss with my city councilors my concerns about how we will deal with our l, when we have no idea how we will fulfill them. Maybe we need to have another campaign to call our school committee members and discuss how much we can allow the new contract being negotiated this year to mandate more steep increases in spending.

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32 responses

  1. Jesse from Cranston

    I think one groundbreaking action the City Council could take is to estimate the available revenue for the next three years, and instruct the school committee to promise no more than that amount in future contract costs.

    The hitch is, city councils are generally restricted from beholding subsequent councils to budget resolutions. Not to mention, decades of court decisions have given school boards a firewall to hide behind in refusing to follow city instructions.

    So, it might amount to a legal acrobatics act, but I think the Council could take the lead and dictate the amount of future spending and hold the school department to a firm number. In practice, what this would do is essentially immunize the city from Caruolo actions, since school boards who run deficits based on higher-than-affordable contracts could not claim ignorance of the city’s ability to pay when they negotiate.

    Nap’s “starvation diet” is the only other (albeit unfortunate) option to send the message to the school department that they must be more reasonable.

    P.S. Andre’s report of a poor turnout shows, I think, that there’s no sympathy left for the school administration.

  2. Just a couple of things.

    IMHO, the big problem is that the school committee cannot be trusted to negotiate a tough contract. Is forcing the teachers into a work-to-rule (is that the right term?) so awful? I mean, the teachers have to realize that a strike will forfeit whatever support they have left in the community.

    After all, the last contract was as tough as they could get if they wanted something signed by the first day of school. If the union knows that all they have to do is stall until August 28, where’s the incentive to negotiate?

    Second, I spent some time looking for the steps of the teachers’ pay scale. Without luck. Can anyone tell me where I can find these? I found Providence’s steps. Not a bad deal: a teacher’s salary almost doubles in ten years. Each step means about a 6-8% raise. But I want to compare Cranstons.

    Third, in my search, I came across the ruling from the 2005 (?) Caruolo action. The judge’s opinion was pretty scathing in ruling against the school committee’s request. Based on that, why be afraid of the school committee doing the same thing again? Would a different judge matter that much?

    Appreciate the input.

  3. Jesse from Cranston

    klaus:

    1. Yes, “work-to-rule” is the correct term. It’s usually used by teachers’ unions when the school board makes some kind of unilateral change and the union wants to protest it. Understand that I’m using “teachers” and “the union” as separate terms. I would hope that for most educators, it’s a crisis of conscience to have to tell after-school homework clubs, sports teams and other students in extracurricular activities that they can’t have their programs because of a money dispute. No such crisis, though, for union chiefs — many of whom do not organize these activities. As I’ve said previously, too, I think a major reform in the oversight of school departments would end the perception that greedy teachers are sinking our cities and towns in rivers of huge contract costs.

    As someone who’s had occasion to see the operations of the Cranston school department closely, the school board typically goes into contract negotiations thinking they’re going to get eaten alive — thanks to the salaried administrators. “We don’t have the means to fight a legal battle with the union” is a common refrain from the $100,000-a-year superintendent and $90,000-a-year Finance Director. School board members are also convinced that forcing a strike would be a PR disaster — and they wouldn’t want to run for re-election being responsible for a strike, would they?

    2. Here’s a link to the contract itself:
    http://cpsed.net/human/contract/teacher/

    Look for Appendix A (it’s in columns that won’t transfer to this space easily).

    The short version is this:
    Step 1: $37,105
    Step 11: $71,374

    The Appendix also outlines degree bonuses and longevity payments.

    3. In my experience watching such matters, Caruolo actions come down to the basic question: Is the city reaching the so-called “maintenance of effort” threshold, and if so, can the school department continue (at that level of funding) to operate without significant damage to its educational programs?

    MoE is, essentially, a question of raw dollar amounts — is the community providing at least the same amount it did the year before? Damage to ed programs is a bit more of a shady area, but overall it boils down to whether core subjects and basic services will be interrupted.

    These days, any judge would be hard-pressed to justify raising a city’s taxes (which is, essentially, what a school department “victory” entails) because of a contract negotiated in the dark three years previously.

    It’s also quite ironic that the Cranston school board’s proposed program cuts and consolidations like bringing special ed kids back to the district are, in fact, protecting those core/basic services — further undercutting their argument about “irreparable harm.”

    PS If you could link to that ruling, I’d love to read it raw.

  4. I sent a version of this letter to the Mayor and then the one below to City Council and School Committee:

    Dear City Council Members and Members of the School Commitee,

    When Mayor Napolitano first got into office I presented him with this information that could enable Cranston to fund the schools in our City with Lottery tickets. You think this may be far fetched, think again. I work with an attorney who went to college for FREE in Georgia. She told me of the program which I have attached for you to review and bring to the attention of the Governor.

    I, like many of the parents that spoke, said I moved to Rhode Island – specifically Cranston because of the well rounded diversity and exceptional school system that existed 6½ years ago. I grew up in Milton, Massachusetts and we suffered proposition 2½ in the 1970’s, which eliminated programs like Art, Music and Sports. As I stated last night, I kept my 5 year old out of Glen Hills Kindergarten because there were over 20 children and he wouldn’t have been as successful as he has been in his YMCA/KidsWorld class of 8-12 kids. I will keep my daughter there next year for Kindergarten with 10 children versus 20plus kids at Glen Hills. For our children’s sake, we cannot afford to cut more teachers. Rhode Island is becoming increasingly unattractive because of the lack of education and taxes – – I want to be part of the solution, but I am fearful that things might not change fast enough and we are just starting to look into other towns that are more balanced. I listened to what the School Committee said in the Budget cuts they have made and noted Principal Ken Blackman say in his 35 years he never seen a more Bare Bones Budget. We are Underfunding our Future!

    I recall hearing the Mayor speak at Cranston East during a Fung debate and he spoke very emotionally regarding the education books and how we are setting our children up for failure by giving them such outdated books (I believe you said since 1982) and that is wrong. He circulated a candidate flyer “with a plan for the future of Cranston”, and in the flyer he stated “proposed a detailed four point plan”, and “will work cooperatively with the school department to develop a coordinated strategy to secure more state, federal and private grant funding.” What has our Mayor been doing since he made that statement? Are any of you working on putting into play some of the ideas that were mentioned at last night’s meeting, like putting solar on municpal buildings and schools, which would pay for it self after five years and then begin to earn money; having lightly occupancy sensors; stop the heating waste and opening windows$$; End Pensions and start new employees with a 401K with new employees; create a lottery ticket for education dollars only; making sure City workers are ONLY from Cranston, have buses/City cars go from Diesal to vegetable oil. These were some of the fabulous ideas at work. A Mr. MacDonald (Engineer) pointed out there are parents all over the City that would be willing to dedicate hours to helping you come up with a viable solution and give the tools in order to have our children be successful. Free for the taking and there is no political motivation on our part. I know I have suggested some of these ideas to the Mayor, but I am compelled to demand you focus in on some of these important issues that will make the middle class family’s stay if you do your part.

    The Mayor and many City Council Members have said over and over they will not touch the Rainy Day Fund unless there is an Emergency. I do not see this as a tornado, nor the levy walls broken for you to raid the Fund. But, you can’t keep raising the taxes and cutting the benefits and expect us to stay. The Mayor said he was going to furlough and cut jobs – he has not even come close to what he proposed.

    I agreee with Mr. Parente’s comment last night that said The Mayor must work in unison with the School Committe, quite frankly I believe eliminating the School Committee and having the Council manage the budget as Councilman Garabedian previously suggested.

    I want to hear creative thinking from you rather than a simple wave of the wand to CUT SUE or RAID out taxdollars with nothing in return. I also don’t believe polls are needed, and if so, put one on your Cranstononline.com or have the Herald do one if this is what dictates to how decisions are made.

    I want you, any one of you, to pick one idea from the many that have been mentioned and ACT on it. Just go outside your safety zone and raise our expectations and hopes for upcoming elected officials who face this crumbling system.

    I really hope we use innovative ideas such as a proven, successful ones like Georgia. Let’s start with the root of waste and making all our State buildings fitted with Energy light sensors – the lights turn off when not in use. Or heat is adjusted instead of windows being opened in State, municipal buildings and Solar energy is seriously contemplated like Cambridge Energy Alliance (http://www.cambridgeenergyalliance.org/about.htm) that is working to make Cambridge 25% Green by 2009. Most of the City buildings are using Solar. Solar can be added to City, schools and within 5 years the profit margin is reached and “we” starting making money by selling to the Grid.

    Lastly, I support the one excellent solution from last night’s meeting is to stop Pensions and offer 401K’s like Corporate America. Those new employee’s would be grandfathered to the new program savings taxpayers.

    Please let me know if I can provide you with any other information pertaining to this Lottery for Education. I really think it’s viable and something that can be quickly achieved.

    Be well,
    Suzanne

    http://www.georgialottery.com/stc/education/index.jsp

    In accordance with the Georgia Lottery for Education Act and the Georgia Constitution, proceeds from lottery sales have been used to solely fund the following educational programs:

    Tuition grants, scholarships or loans to undergraduate college students and teachers who seek advanced degrees in critical areas of need;

    Voluntary Prekindergarten Programs

    Technology grants to train teachers in the use and application of advanced technology and capital outlay projects for educational facilities. This program received appropriations through fiscal year 2003.

    *****************************************************

    Welcome to the Georgia Lottery’s web site!

    The Georgia Lottery’s mission is to responsibly maximize revenues for the educational programs we fund, and this year we are off to the most successful start in our 15-year history!

    GLC sales for the first half of fiscal year 2008 reached nearly $1.7 billion and proceeds to education topped $417 million – exceeding the record set in the first half of the last fiscal year by more than $16.9 million. This brings the total raised for educational programs in the state of Georgia to more than $9.7 BILLION since the lottery’s inception in 1993.

    The really big winners are the students of Georgia who receive a portion of every Georgia Lottery ticket sold! Since the inception of the Lottery, more than 1 million students have had the opportunity to attend colleges and technical colleges through Georgia’s HOPE scholarship program and more than 860,000 four-year-olds have a chance to get a jump start on their education by attending a high quality Pre-kindergarten program.

    This extraordinary success would not be possible without your support.

    While it is our mission to raise as many dollars as possible for the educational programs we fund, we always remind our players to play responsibly — it’s all about fun.

    Sincerely,
    Margaret R. DeFrancisco
    President and CEO
    Georgia Lottery Corporation

    Some of the other States that have similar funded lotteries:

    North Carolina
    So. Carolina
    Tennessee etc.

    The North Carolina Bill that states what the educational lottery funds is:

    http://www.nc-educationlottery.org/where_the_money_goes.aspx

    which explains the breakdown of the net proceeds to education flow.

    CRANSTON TAXPAYERS NEED TO WRITE, CALL and innodate your representatives to start thinking differently!

    Jesse or Kiersten, is there a website the Cranston Teachers are sounding off on?

  5. I was very surprised to hear that last night’s meeting was poorly attended because so many parents in my neighborhood (and I imagine all over the city) have been discussing the impact these cuts would have on their children’s education and future. Hopefully something good comes out of the City Council meeting tonight.

  6. Suzanne:
    I agree, there was no shortage of ideas at Tuesday nights meeting. Whether or not any of these ideas is/can be acted upon remains to be seen. The lottery for education
    that was implimented in Georgia was state-wide; do you know if the State of RI 1)allows individual cities and towns to run their own lottery and 2)would a state-wide referendum be needed for any type of education lottery to see the light of day?

    I did not make it to the poorly attended Monday night meeting that Andre spoke of, but while there was an “almost decent” crowd last night, the vibe in East’s auditorium was morgue-like at best. Parents are feeling both scared and helpless. Hoping against all odds that by some miracle our schools can emerge from this fiscal crisis somewhat unscathed. Such is life when one is living on a steady diet of nothing.

  7. Suzanne, About the website for Cranston teachers to sound off, not that I know of. It would be interesting if there was.

    When I talk to parents, what I hear is concern that our schools will be gutted, but also concern that our contracts are not negotiated toughly enough. It’s the wise use issue — is it wise use of $4 million dollars a year to give raises, or would it be more prudent to give $2 million in raises and use the other $2 million to keep as many teachers employed as possible, to reduce class sizes.

  8. Excellent points Kiersten. Too often the concepts of “labor peace” and “the common good” are brushed aside during negotiations.Only when both sides are willing to leave something on the table can a win/win situation be achieved. In today’s economy most workers would put job security ahead of an increase in salary.

  9. Jesse from Cranston

    Suzanne:

    As usual, I am deeply appreciative for your passion and drive in trying to bring about change in our city.

    And as usual, I have very little to disagree with — but there are a couple of points I feel the need to dispute.

    Residency requirements for public employees are very hard to enforce, and do virtually nothing to help a community. The idea (which I think is honorable) is to keep the public payroll “in the city,” paying for rents or mortgages, food and other goods at local stores. The problem is, sales taxes go to the state. Renting a place means that local property taxes are paid indirectly through a landlord who is spending their money wherever they please. And owning a home is only returning a small fraction of the money the city is paying out.

    Consider the $50,000-a-year employee who’s “paying back” $3,000 in taxes and sending 2 kids to the schools. It’s costing the city almost $70,000 a year (assuming a $10,000-per-kid school cost) to get back that $3,000. Also remember, the majority of mortgage payments go to the bank in principal and interest — a bank that, most likely, does not have a branch in the city.

    And to answer Richard’s question: the state “sold” the idea of a lottery in the 70s with the promise that the money would be going to education. Didn’t really happen. Gambling is the third-biggest revenue source in Rhode Island — school spending isn’t the third-highest expenditure, is it?

    Only the General Assembly is allowed to oversee lotteries and gambling in the state. It’s in the state Constitution, actually (I learned that as part of the casino debate during the 06 election). Changing the Constitution requires General Assembly action, or a constitutional convention and a statewide vote. As close as we could get at this point is a per-city “tax” for lottery tickets and Keno sold in each community.

  10. Jesse:

    First, thanks for the info. I’m learning.

    Second, here is the link to the ruling from the last Caruolo action. I found it interesting.

    http://www.chiefjusticewilliams.org/superior/pdf/03-5110.pdf

    Third, why would the school committee be afraid to force a work-to-rule situation? Without that as a plausible threat, they have no leverage in the negotiations. If the teachers go in knowing that the school committee (SC) won’t allow work-to-rule, the teachers have zero incentive to negotiate. They stand firm.

    Conversely, if the SC goes in feeling like they’re going to get clobbered, then they will.

    My impression is that any blame for work-to-rule, or even a strike, will accrue to the teachers, especially if the SC makes a legitimate offer based on a realistic assessment of what the financial situation is.

    But, the SC needs to go public with this plan, ASAP. They need to get the message out there that the programs are being gutted because the teachers are asking for significant raises.

    This is really a zero-sum game. There is only so much money available. Anything that goes to imcreased teachers’ salaries is not available for EPIC, or music, or sports.

    The average teacher salary in the state is about 140-150% of the RI median wage. RI has the fifth highest average teacher salary in the country. It’s not like teaching is a low-paying profession any more. The top step, as you pointed out, is $71k, which is approaching twice the RI median wage of $39k.

    The SC needs to get out front on this. I suspect they won’t because Traf won’t let them. He’s really in the catbird seat: he can promise the moon and not be held accountable for what he does. That has to change.

    We’ve tossed ideas back and forth; veto power for the Council, eliminating the SC & transferring their responsibilities to the Council. Whatever. And hire a pro if they’re afraid of the pros on the other side. Just don’t continue on as we are and hope a miracle happens.

    Come up with a few simple, true ideas. Repeat them often and consistently, and we can produce change.

    Start with: money is limited.

  11. Jesse,
    Thanks for the information on the lottery for education question that I asked. Even if the General Assembly was some how inclined to move on it, the process would take a considerable amount of time and there would be long odds against it’s passage. As far as Suzanne’s suggestion that all city employees life in the city, I think that it is an idea that needs to be looked at more closely. It is an issue that goes beyond sales tax, property tax and the support of local merchants. According to your math the city is spending $70,000 to get back $3000- a Clintonesque spin. For that $70,000 the city is “getting” a full time employee working close to 2,000 hours(actually 2080 minus leave)a year, educating 2 children, and the unspoken peace of mind that it’s employees have more “invested” in our city than just a pay check. During last year’s Mulligan’s Island battle I was sickened by the glib, “oh, well the business of business is business” attitude in the Planning Department. Peter Lapolla proudly stated that he had worked as a city planner in the Braintree, Ma. area for 18 years and more than likely the city of Cranston would not be his last stop. He and his department worked feverishly with the folks at Churchill & Banks in an attempt to make the ill-conceived Big-Box
    shopping “centre” a reality. A reality that would not directly effect him or his neighbors in North Providence.
    In conversation he was quite pleasant, and to be honest with you, he was accessible and polite. The problem was/is that Cranston was/is his job, not his home. The lack of a residency rule for city employees may help the city attract the best candidates for a specific position, but at what cost? We run the risk of becoming a stepping stone, a nice addition to a planner’s resume,or perhaps, a “laboratory” to conduct experiments on. I want city employees to have more invested in our city than just a pay check, benefit package and a retiree’s pension. I realize that it would be difficult to enforce such a requirement, but at this point in time our inability to do so would be simply an excuse for failure.

  12. Jesse from Cranston

    Richard:

    I don’t know whether your term “Clintonesque spin” was a compliment or not (I happen to think BC was a brilliant president, policy-wise), but I’ll set that aside for the moment. Suffice to say, I understand your opinion.

    But the promise of intangible “investment” by city employees (for instance, an emotional tie that would hypothetically drive them to stop a big box store) is not enough to overcome the impracticality of imposing such a rule. Not to mention, it’s awfully hard to police — should the city really go looking for the addresses given by prospective employees?

    And to answer your concern, yes, Cranston is used as a stepping stone for municipal jobs in other communities. If you consider the relative demographics and salaries among New England towns and cities, Cranston is fairly low on the food chain.

    Now, let’s say there were a residency requirement. The professional who decided to pick up stakes and move elsewhere would be leaving an empty house behind, conceivably.

    As a final point, I would just note that the C&B plan failed after residents protested. I don’t remember the residence of the town planner being an issue in the debate. The development was a bad idea, and it was justifiably killed. I think a Cranston resident town planner could just as easily have made the decision to entertain the project. Even worse, if a resident town planner had a grudge against one particular neighborhood (for voting against his boss, the Mayor, for instance), he could conceivably push irresponsible developments in revenge.

  13. Jesse,
    The “Clintonesque spin” was in reference to the creative math equation you employed in your post. It’s amazing how numbers can be crunched, twisted, and mutilated beyond recognition to make one’s point. It was an educated guess on my part, figuring you to be a Clinton guy. A lot of “insiders” are, both local and national.
    From our Mayor chatting it up with Chelsea, to Council President Garabedian and his son supporting their candidate(Sen. Clinton) at the National Guard Armory on March 4th. I am supporting Sen. Obama, but I can certainly respect the opinions of those who support Sen. Clinton. While my comment should not be considered a compliment, it was certainly not meant as an insult either.
    In my post I agreed that it would be extremely dificult to enforce a residency requirement. I did not consider the fact that a “vagabond/ mercenary” city employee could potentially leave behind an empty house, but, empty or not he/she would still be paying the taxes on that empty house. Correct?
    During the SCOS v. Churchill & Banks Mulligan’s Island conflict the residence of the Planning Director was not an isssue. However it did serve as a tutorial for the politically uninitiated, like myself. The fact is that I now realize how vulnerable our city’s residents are and how those of us who choose to care, have to remain vigilant.
    OBTW, nice touch with the “revenge” angle at the bottom of your post. I would hope that it never happens, but I sure as hell wouldn’t bet against it happening.
    Richard Brown
    SCOS Community Outreach Chair

  14. Rick,

    You brought up Solar the other evening and I couldn’t agree more. While Jesse pointed out the cost to RI is high, we are definitely substandard compared to MA whom pays Incentive Amount: Base incentive: 50% of project costs as opposed to RI that only give 25%. Clearly Mass surpasses us here, but, I do believe it is still more fiscally beneficial to install them such as Cambridge Energy Alliance has on the Town Hall, Schools etc and they sell back energy to the Grid. In many other countries it is being used and Farmers have adopted this as a viable crop of energy that sometimes pays more than livestock etc.

    As far as the Lottery idea. I correspond with the governor’s office and she shared: “(I can not remember the year) for the lottery in RI years ago on one condition…the funds generated were to be allocated to education. That is how it was presented in a referendum to the voters. The referendum passed and immediately (for some “glitch in the funding process”) those revenues were put in the general fund and then the
    Legislature was going to divert to education in the budget…well, you see how that worked. I am still livid about that deception.”

    So here we sit and watch the intent with something viable turn sour and leave us full 180 in the wrong direction because there are too many hands in the pot. I say, part of the problem is those with “their” vision, not that of the people. Rick, Rachel and Lori are of the new breed like me that wants to get things done right, but in a practical time frame.

    Currently, Ward 6 is not represented. Clearly Mr. Barone has some issues and I have met dozens of people whom shared their own demented story. Our Wards need to start lining people up that have the VISION and can LISTEN to what the people want and then have to be CREATIVE and try to push for that direction.

    Rick, I think you are considering running and I would commit to making sure my large part of Ward 6 (400 homes) that I am familiar with walking to on the Flooding issue, sex offender and community meetings and I know – that you would win over Barone.

    I do know that if we really want some of the change – we can’t do it from the audience at council meetings because those that represent us – really represent their views. Councilman Lanni still believes it’s no big deal for Carlucci in taking the City car. Some other council members spoke and said similar unethical comments. Councilman Lupino said at the big Newport Bridge meeting to Jessica Marino the organizer in that area something like this “be careful what you wish for in fixing the 1.7 mile road will attract heavier traffic because the road is fixed”. It was a bizarre comment and infuriated most of the audience.

    The Mayor’s made some crucial errors in his inability to move on, because he obsesses too much about some situations that he’s “head light frozen” because he wants to get back at someone and try and be a better chess player. This energy is negatively spent and he misses the ability to look onward re: some of the ideas that residents have already sent to him. This is where my frustration is.

    I got an interesting response from Steve Stycos on Thursday which was positive on his part. He is meeting with Mr. McDonald who spoke at the meeting about the light sensors and some other ideas. This is exactly what officials should be doing….recognizing possible fixes and at least exploring them to the fullest degree. Hat’s off Mr. Stycos. Additionally, Ms. Iannuzzi was quick to respond as my Ward 6 School Committee Rep. and made sure she followed up

    I agree with Rick, when you own in the Town you have more pride (although that didn’t hold with Laffey on the concrete deal in his neighborhood), but I believe the stats will show this is the case most of the time.

    As far as politics – I like the most ethical person and who is environmentally passionate. BC did so much for the environment and I believe he was a great President…he got caught for something that I don’t approve of – – but I’ll take what he did any day over Bush & Co. I started out Independent. Switched to Rep. and then Dem and switch every year, as I am Independent.

    All I know is we need to evolve and it seems pretty clear most would rather hold their Linus blanket than embrace the radical change….the winds are slowly progressing that way. Personally, I would love to see Paula McFarland run for Mayor. She knows the ins and outs and I’ve seen her dedication and leadership. I think I could survive another couple of years with strong leadership that knows how to CUT off the leaches and make some glacial moves.

  15. Jesse from Cranston

    Richard:

    I only said I admired Bill Clinton’s policies, not Hillary. In fact, I support Barack. I do not believe that my relationships with local political figures oblige me to blindly follow their electoral leanings. That may come as a surprise to you; then again, it may not. Either way, please don’t lump me in with those you term “insiders.”

    As to the central point in your argument, I don’t think it’s “mutilating numbers” to suggest that a city payroll check far outweighs the financial return that could be realized from a city employee living in the community.

    And I don’t know if you may remember, but about 10 years ago, I recall this very issue being raised. This was during the O’Leary days (before the meltdown), and Steve Cuomo floated the idea of imposing a residency requirement. The problem? He, himself, owned a house in West Warwick and was unlikely to sell. The idea collapsed because, a.) this information was brought to light, making him look hypocritical, and b.) no city should be able to force someone to sell their out-of-town home.

    But, really, no matter the reasons, I don’t see a residency requirement being discussed in the near term.

  16. Jesse,
    For the most part we tend to be on the same page as far as the issues discussed on this site. I may have “misspoke”(now I’m being Clintonesque) in assuming that your views would echo the leanings of your friends/political relations. For that I apologize, you certainly do have your own opinions. Perhaps “insider” is too severe, but you most certainly are, I’ll try to be delicate here–connected.
    Following suit, the central point of your rebuttal was the potentially empty homes that would be left in the wake of a city employee pulling up stakes and moving on.
    If the former city employees house did not sell, the former city employee would still be liable to pay taxes on that property.
    I do not remember the O’Leary days, I have only lived in the city for 7 years. As I have said before, I agree that it would be difficult to enforce a residency requirement. And yes, no city should be able to force someone to sell their home in another city. However, by dismissing the idea as too difficult to enforce, we in essence “lower the bar” on what we can accomplish as a community. In doing so we accept failure, and that is not excusable.

  17. Mike Cardarelli

    klaus,
    the reason the city should be concerned about the Caruolo action this time is that, as I understand it, the schools have hired the attorney (Steve Robinson) that skillfully and successfully defeated the Caruolo action in 2005.

  18. Do you have a source for that piece of info, Mike?

    Should make for good courtroom drama, if your idea of drama is going point-by-point over the school’s budget for the past 3 years.

  19. Providence used to have a residency requirement, but I am not sure of the exact reason it was abolished. Perhaps someone else has that information.

    This may not be a popular opinion, but it is mine. When it comes to the quality of life and education for the children and families of Cranston, I have to say that I would prefer to pay higher taxes than to have cuts like the ones that have been proposed made. My son is only 1, but I am still concerned about the children currently in the schools and those that will be in the future. I know that raising taxes is not something any politician is likely to advocate during a reelection year, but I think that it’s more realistic and feasible than causing irrevokable harm to the citizens of Cranston. In the long run, it would be much more affordable for me to pay more in taxes than to have to pay for tuition for a private school.

    Similar to Rick, my eyes were opened a lot by our involvement on a city-wide level during the C&B saga of last year. I’ve learned a lot, some good and some not so good, that makes me feel that residents do need to take a more active role.

    Suzanne, did you see the article about Paula McFarland in Thursday’s Herald? I was very disappointed to see that she won’t be running city-wide because she is such an advocate for all residents in the city.

  20. Jesse from Cranston

    A few points that jumped out at me after a close reading of the previous Caruolo ruling — see klaus’s link in Comment 10 above:

    1. The cry this year — as was the case in the 2003-04 fiscal year — was that health benefits will be increasing. Well, I hope the school committee isn’t still depending on Mr. Kevin Walsh, listed in the lawsuit as a “health care consultant.”

    Here’s what the court ruled about him — it’s on page 6:
    “Mr. Walsh’s testimony and report projecting a deficit in the health and dental costs for fiscal year 2003-04 is inherently inconsistent, unreliable, highly suspect and is rejected by the Court.”

    2. I tend to wonder how much the city really knows about how the school board has handled its budget.

    Here’s what the Court said then:
    “This Court finds the preferred approach typically utilized by (City witness) Mr. (Walter) Edge in addressing issues in a Caruolo action was thwarted by the School Department’s obvious reluctance to share historical data, by failing to provide prompt responses regarding year-to-date budget expenditures, and by its insistence that all information be requested by written interrogatories and all responses provided in writing.”

    So the school department was erecting roadblocks to discovery of its budget process. Has anything changed?

    3. The school committee lost the previous case by making an argument that had failed in the past. Namely, pointing to teacher salary and lower student performance.

    Here’s what the court ruled:
    “Teacher salary rankings are not relevant under the adequate funding standard contained in § 16-2-21.4. Student and school performance measures are arguably relevant if a correlation was established between the additional funds sought and how those funds would be allocated in order to achieve the results required by the state and federal programs. The record is devoid of reference as to where these funds would be allocated or how additional funding would achieve the performance standards required by these programs.”

    Basically, the school board couldn’t argue that protecting Cranston’s rank on the statewide salary ladder was reason to get a victory in a Caruolo action, and without showing proof, also couldn’t claim potential damage to student performance.

    So, let’s review:

    The school board’s previous suit depended on questionable evidence from an unreliable witness, constant efforts to stonewall inquiries, misled attempts to make arguments that are not applicable under the law, and flat-out failure to prove academic harm.

    This year, they’re back at it after negotiating a contract immediately after this previous ruling and keeping the true costs secret, foisting it on the city, and suing when they didn’t get what they wanted.

    Forgive the pithiness, but I think they need more than a new lawyer.

  21. Jesse from Cranston

    Richard:

    While you and I may disagree on the potential benefit of a residency requirement, I think the key issue in our city (and in many others) is revenue creation. That is, how do we stay competitive in the business development arena, attract or keep responsible projects, and generate the kind of tax revenue needed to make residential ownership affordable?

    The fact is, the answer is not simple. But as we saw with the C&B proposal, it’s not shoe-horning big box stores into residential neighborhoods and clogging already-congested traffic areas. But I also think it’s not letting potentially prime commercial real estate go empty. Think of Cranston Street just after the Senior Center (on the way toward the Police Station). There’s plenty of space that’s already set up for business use — why can’t we fill it?

    I think getting the small spaces filled should be a priority — even over big boxes. To return to a previous point, I don’t think we necessarily need a resident planner to do that, just one with some creativity and tenacity.

    Vacant space can be filled in as little as 3 months. Big developments take years (see: Chapel View, now entering its 10th year under construction). In the short term, I say: go for the quick strikes and improve the overall morale in neighborhoods at risk of commercial blight instead of gambling on huge mega-projects that invite protests and detract energy from more productive efforts.

    As for the “connected” thing, you’re entitled to your characterization. That you can still engage in thoughtful discussion (as opposed to so many bloggers I’ve encountered who just want to throw mud) says a lot about you.

  22. Andrea Iannazzi

    Just to clarify (my intent is not to start or contribute to the existing debate, but clarify some inaccuracies)…

    The School Committee parted ways with attorney Greg Piccirilli, who represented the School Department in the prior Caruolo action. We instead hired the law firm of Ron Cascione, Ben Scungio, Andrew Hennessy, and Kevin McAllister, who are widely recognized as being in the top of the educational field in RI. Walter Edge and Tom Sweeney, who were the City of Cranston’s hired consultants in the last Caruolo action, were also retained by the School Committee.

  23. Thanks for clarifying, Andrea.

  24. Jesse from Cranston

    This is the peak of the school committee’s strategy? Hiring the former city consultants and a former City Council President? It amounts to a superficial political coup, but possibly not much else.

    (Oh, and I guess Mr. Edge will be getting all that information the school department kept him from getting last time…)

    Seriously, I’m just wondering: What was the cost to hire all of these expert lawyers and consultants? After all, it’s the city that will pay the bills if the school board “wins” — and the kids who will suffer if this latest lawsuit fails and the school committee winds up on the hook for legal and consulting fees.

    … And I guess we got the answer to Mike Cardarelli’s “understanding.”

  25. So Andrea, is the School Committee going to fight “for the children” and waste no more time in pursuing Carulo action? …or is Traf & Co. going to buy Nappy some time to help him get re-elected?

  26. Cranston needs to put on their thinking cap and go for something other than raising taxes every two years.

    I agree with Rachel and Rick that I moved her 6½ years ago knowing the schools and town were perfect. We are declining on all counts and although I would love to say I would pay even more in taxes – I am not prepared to do so simply because those running this City are unable to focus on capital to sustain and surpass expectations. That’s the problem – most have just maintained or fudged their way through.

    Rachel,
    There was a nice story in the Herald on Paula. She is looking for you to call her and tell her what to do. I say start the print presses and get my bumper sticker ready…same as you think. Additionally, she is having a fund raiser on May 14. If you have an interest, e-mail me.

    Then, there is alway Rep. Palumbo. As the mayor pointed out he might not have the monies….I pointed out he has the established reputation and shouldn’t need as much cash. I will never vote for Fung or Nap…..I’m watching the Cat In the Hat with Thing One and Thing Two under his Hat and hoping someone with ethics and the highest standards will embark on the challenging tasks ahead.

    Remember, the Mayor said he would help the school kids….what exactly has he done to help?

  27. Andrea Iannazzi

    One more FYI- There is a meeting this evening, at Western Hills at 7pm. Walter Edge and Tom Sweeney will be presenting our budget deficit to the City Council. Then, the School Committee will convene to executive session to determine how to proceed (based in my opinion, on the reaction of the City Council).

  28. Did anyone read the the article in today’s ProJo about the parent who redid the Cranston budget on his own? It sounded like quite the undertaking.

  29. Rachel, I just got off the phone with Steven Bloom and am preparing a post about his ideas. I’m hoping we can have more discussion in the months ahead here on Kmareka with Bloom contributing some of his expertise. It sounds like he has done some careful budget analysis that may help us as we move through this year’s budget process.

  30. Suzanne,
    I was sent the information about the fundraiser, thanks.

  31. Jesse,
    Graffiti covered concrete walls along with broken and boarded over store fronts are signs of failed commercial ventures. Regardless of the circumstances that led these retail and commercial spaces being vacated, invariably they cast a pall on the surrounding neighborhood. The infusion of new/small businesses into these vacant properties may not solve any of our fiscal woes or help to revitalize a given neighborhood, but…
    Unless the effort is made and the initative taken to launch and promote new commercial ventures, I can guarantee that these neighborhoods will not be revitalized. The space you spoke of on Cranston Street–the former Phred’s/NHD site, with it’s proximity to the Parkade and the new police station, is perfectly situated to serve as a lynchpin in revitalizing that neighborhood.
    Suzanne,
    I thank you for the kind words in your April 25th post. I am proud to be on the SCOS board along with Rachel, Lori and others and I fully expect that over the coming months and years we will continue to do our best to improve the quality of life in our city. Currently I am employed by the Postal Service and as a federal employee I am prohibited from running for elected office in partisan elections. The revised Hatch Act (revised by President Clinton in 1993) loosened some of the restrictions on government employees; we/I can be appointed to positions in local and state government, we/I can run for elected office in non-partisan elections (School Committee, etc…)and we/I can actively support the candidate of our choice in any and all elections. Again, I thank you for the vote of confidence, but I don’t imagine a scenario, now or in the future, where I could unseat an incumbent/2 term City Council member without adding significantly to my rather thin public service resume. Rick

  32. I have been to numerous school committee meetings over the years. I have a child in special education, and our battles are not just for special education, but the same school battles all parents face. My son will be going into 3rd grade next year, and thanks to budget cuts, his 3rd school in 4 years.

    I am a home owner, and have a budget, when things run tight, we tighten our belts. Who is responsible for balancing the school budget, is it the school administration, the school committee? Cranston sponsors a charter school, with a few of their board of directors from either the school committee, or school administration. Doesn’t that scream “Conflict of Interest”? How has that played out in the budget cuts? I think the charter school is a good idea, just concerned that the “conflict of interest” is causing the majority to suffer.

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