Steven Bloom Provides Cranston with Fiscally Sound Budget

UPDATE: Steven Bloom attended the city council’s special meeting last night about the 2007-2008 deficit in the Cranston schools. He states in an email: “The forecast is worse than predicted by about $1.1 million which is partially offset by School District reserves of about $500,000.” Click here to see the School Department’s summary of the deficit.

ORIGINAL POST:

It’s always amazing when someone steps forward to address a problem in a community and brings knowledge and expertise (for free!) to the table. Steven Bloom appears to be doing just that. He is a Cranston resident and businessperson with a Masters in accounting who has made it his own personal project to help Cranston be more fiscally smart and responsible.

The Providence Journal has an article on Bloom today, and he was also interviewed by WPRI. Bloom has invested many hours in reviewing the city’s budget and interviewing city council members, in order to provide an alternate budget. He describes his concerns about Mayor Napolitano’s budget in this email which I received through my Eden Park PTO listserv:

The Mayor’s proposed budget is seriously flawed on several counts, jeopardizing the City’s solvency and exposing it to large tax increases in the future. I have outlined my reasons in the attached letter. Unfortunately, for fiscal 2008-2009, I think we are facing a 3% tax increase along with some additional personnel cuts on both the City and School sides of the budget. The resulting alternate budget preserves the City’s solvency, funds approximately 85% of the School District’s budget increase, and maintains a minimum baseline of services (education included), while limiting the tax increase to no more than the rate of inflation (3%).

A .pdf of Bloom’s budget and his letter to the city is available here.

I was able to talk to Steven Bloom on the phone for a while this morning. I suggested to him my theory that Mayor Napolitano was putting the schools on a pre-contract starvation diet, to ensure that contractual obligations are as pared down as possible. Steven Bloom emphasized that it is not the city’s lack of funding for the schools that is the main culprit — he reminded me that the new cap on property taxes mandated by the state, combined with the state not funding education, and further combined with costs continuing to rise — are the bigger factors that have created financial crisis for the Cranston schools.

Bloom’s budget proposes $1.8 million in staff cuts on the city side of the budget, including some mechanics, laborers, clerks and assistants in various departments. It would also give the schools a 3% increase, which would help alleviate the current financial crisis and might also prevent, or at least postpone, another Caruolo action.

Bloom also talked about the need for more transparency in our budgets. He has requested more detailed budget information from the schools — an employee listing (without names), listing position, payroll grade and step and current payroll, summarized by department line item — but has not received this information yet.

Here’s hoping that more people like Steven Bloom get involved in Cranston’s education and finance issues. We need all the help we can get.

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19 responses

  1. Kiersten,
    Thanks for posting the information and Bloom’s budget. It certainly takes a lot of determination and dedication to go through everything budget-related and rework it. Is Steven Bloom considering running for the School Committee?

    It will be interesting to see the administration’s repsonse to it, I would imagine they will have more to add in the near future to Carlucci’s quotes in today’s article.

  2. Nice job on the work…a couple a minor issues with the adjustments.

    Board of Canvassers- Can we reduce elections? And can we reduce an aide during a presidential election year?

    As far as the layoffs in various departments do they contracts preclude these? I am concerned with a reduction of an Assistant Director in the Library. We want to give more to schools for children to read but not have the libraries functioning well to give them something to read.

    Inspections…how much longer can people wait for plans to be approved?

    Great starting point but there is more work to be done. Would love to see this on the school budget

  3. Jesse from Cranston

    I am loath to appear dismissive of Mr. Bloom’s clearly well-though-out proposal, but at the risk of doing so, I offer the following objections:

    1. It generally seems as if he targeted the highest-paid city staffers and suggested their elimination, but took no such position toward the school department. Without addressing the costs of the upper administration in the school department, it looks like the city will take the brunt of the cuts. Why is he allowing the school board to get away with their continued bait-and-switch tactics?

    2. Cutting maintenance and building maintenance laborers is, to me, not the answer. Again, consideration of the school department’s spending in these areas is missing. A more prudent approach would be to bring school building maintenance under the city’s purview and eliminate most of the school building staff positions. I would argue that it would save far more than 3 full time salaries.

    3. Mr. Bloom also counts on the sale of the old police station ($2 million) to reduce debt service — why didn’t he apply this as revenue that, by the way, would take the place of half the proposed tax increase? The debt service increase in the FY09 proposed budget is $500,000 — not $2 million. There’s no pressing need to earmark more than we’re scheduled to pay, in other words.

    4. I don’t see a once-a-month furlough happening, particularly since the city is still operating under existing contracts.

    5. I agree with Oblomov regarding the proposed library and inspection cuts. You can’t just lop off a couple of positions without considering the potential harm to services.

    I’m not entirely sure this proposal took all the effort the ProJo made it appear to be. Cut a few of the bigger-ticket city salaries, hope for the old police station to be sold, and give the school department more money to protect their administrators and redundant services — and it all fits on one page. Again, sorry to throw a wet blanket on Mr. Bloom’s idea, but I don’t think they’re particularly original, or — most importantly — practical.

  4. I get excited and hopeful when new people come into the conversation, particularly those who research their ideas. Whether or not Bloom’s ideas get instituted, he is stirring people to think about new and possibly better ways to do things and he is advocating for more transparency in the budget process. I respect this wholeheartedly.

    Now that the Caruolo is a definite, I guess we will just have to see what the lawyers can force the city to give the schools. It’s a shame we can’t resolve things without getting this adversarial.

    Didn’t the Governor just institute a furlough for the state? Or did that not go through?

  5. I don’t think it went through. My husband is a state employee and he hasn’t received any word of a definite furlough ordered by the governor.

  6. Councilman Barone

    Kiersten: FYI,

    The City Council, as of this date, has not rendered an opinion on how it’s going to handle a “Potential Carulo Action”. We are meeting Saturday at 8:00am to acknowledge the potential. By law, the school district cannot file the action until the funding source, the city council in this case, votes not to fund the schoolor not. That’s what will take place Saturday.

    Thanks,

    Councilman Barone

  7. Thanks for this additional piece of information, Councilman Barone. The Projo article made it sound like when the school committee voted after Tuesday night’s meeting, the Caruolo action would begin. But it’s good to know there is still another step that could avert litigation.

  8. How about the Councilman comments on how he treats his constituent, Ms Arena.

  9. Suzanne Arena

    Mr. Barone,

    Nice of you to join us. Here, this may of be interest to you link I was contacted to two people looking to unseat you for obvious reasons which I am quite sure you are immune to seeing because you feel you have represented a stellar report card. Apparently, I am one of many that your wrath has stomped on. It will be interesting to see how us “females” versus “you big boys” will hold our interest. I thought I was going to have to roll up my sleeves to put my teeth into the potato sac race – - But I am very very pleased to hear the new seat will go to….

    Don’t get me wrong, I do think you’ve asked some good questions that came to mind and you were the only one to ask. However, you have a great deal to learn with Civility. I find the way you conduct yourself at council meetings towards Council President as so sour and it’s quite painful to endure your whining….but, at least it is consistent with the present Administration’s style.

    My neighbors have not forgotten your inability to come through for us on many regards….or simply being dismissive of us. Yes, your time has come….we need someone who serves the people, not your agenda.

    “When people honor each other, there is a trust established that leads to synergy, interdependence, and deep respect. Both parties make decisions and choices based on what is right, what is best, what is valued most highly.� Blaine Lee

    Disgusted in Ward 6

  10. Councilman Barone

    Oblomov:
    To answer you question, read her insert. I will be happy to discuss the issue in full in private, please call my home any time you feel the need.

    To Suzanne: I have represented all the people in Ward 6, except you, and addressed every concern brought forward. That’s why I was RE-ELECTED. You seem to forget that I was the one who initiated the camera deal and I was the one who brings Public Works to your area and address the flooding issues. Check with your neighbors. When you had a lawsuit against the city, I refused to address your issue because of the lawsuit. I believe other candidates felt the same way.

    I think you would find problems with anyone who is elected to represent you. That’s why you should run for office.

    As far as Council President Garabedian, I have the utmost respect for him, although I was the only one who voted against him for President. You were not there. It has nothing to do with Republican or Democrat.

    Although I have not decided what I am going to do in the next election, anyone who feel’s they can be an asset to the city should run, that’s the greatest thing about America, we have freedom of choice. I wish it was you that would run for the seat but I know you won’t because you would not be able to complain about the people that are elected.But when I decide, I will be sure to let you know first.

  11. Jesse from Cranston

    Question of the Day:

    What will the results of the Council’s meeting be?

    Here’s my prediction:

    With fewer than 60 days left to the current fiscal year, virtually no way or willingness to issue a supplemental tax bill, some sense that the surplus could be used if needed, and the suggestion that Caruolo-imposed spending may not be folded into next year’s budget (see note 1 below), the Council will probably pass a resolution supporting $2 million in surplus funds if the Mayor were to propose it.

    That leads to the next question: Will Nap actually propose a $2 million dip into the reserves?

    I think he’ll gamble that the additional offer will satisfy the court’s review in the expected Caruolo lawsuit, and protect the bond rating ahead of a potential tax hike next year (see note 2 below). I give it 3-1 odds that he’s right.

    1. Caruolo note, from 4.25 ProJo: “Timothy C. Duffy, executive director of the Rhode Island Association of School Committees, said the city would not actually be required to pony up the money again under the Caruolo law.”

    2. Bond rating note: It’s not only the reserve fund that affects the bond rating (although you would think so, thanks to the Republican talking points and the ProJo’s simplistic reporting). Bond ratings also reflect the city’s ability to pay for its yearly debt (which next year will increase by $500,000 and is funded), cover its continuing operations (which it has been, except for the schools — according to the school board, that is), and finance the unfunded pension liabilities (Mayor Nap is proposing a cut to this line item).

    Overall, I don’t see a $2 million reduction to be a serious threat to the bond rating. It’s only a guess, but I don’t think the Mayor believes it to be a threat, either.

  12. I’m just curious and don’t think it has any impact on the outcome of the Caruolo decision. Do any of the school committee or city council members have children in the Cranston Public Schools? I know that Mayor Napolitano does not, but do any of his top-ranking administrators?

    I wouldn’t want to be in any of their positions at this time and imagine it would be extremely difficult to make decisions knowing that they will have such ramifications now and in the future.

  13. Jesse from Cranston

    Rachel:

    With or without kids in the schools, our city officials have a tough decision to make. But I’d ask the same question of the school board first, as they’re the ones who are responsible for the contract that got us into this mess. Maybe if they’d had a personal stake, the school committee would have worked to prevent the easily-foreseeable fiscal problems.

  14. I was curious about both and I agree that this decision is difficult regardless of having kids in the schools. Hopefully whatever is decided is best of the children.

  15. I hope they are not going to cut strings, epic and school sports, but if they do, these things can be put back later. There are lots of sports available through the city and parents can tutor their own gifted children.

  16. Suzanne Arena

    Councilman Navarro kids:The eldest, Casey, is a senior at Cranston East High School, with plans to attend The University of Rhode Island this fall. Austin, age 10, and Marcus, age 7, attend Eden Park Elementary School.

    2006 Bucci said. “As a mother of two public school children, I take pride in my vote to direct more funding to our schools. I promise to cooperatively work with the School Committee to find more state aid.�

    I cannot find any other information – I believe the one’s that I know that have kids like McFarland and Santamaria have children that are out of school.

    Mr. Barone. While I can understand why you were so worried last election if I was running, I choose to dedicate all my time to fighting the concrete plant and raising my small children. The reason you were worried is because I hold you accountable for your lack of interest in my pleas for help over the last 2 terms. I am not going to dignify your arrogance with answers you already know http://kmareka.com/?p=1238#comments, because it doesn’t matter….you think you give it your all.

    As far as the camera, where the Sam Hill have you been? You claim you were there in the beginning and cared – if so, then why aren’t you speaking up now that I am fighting the sale of our expensive Camera that Mr. Sylvia/Dir. of Public Works&Highway this camera is too good for us “too expensive”, and he wants the taxpayers to sell the thing for an inferior camera. I didn’t hear you speak up the other night on behalf of the people…rather, I heard silence because it was me saying it and rather than act on behalf of the taxpayers you choose to sit mute.

    Navarro has had to run a one show because you have been mute in the concrete deal and not been supportive (remember silence speaks volumes). I wouldn’t complain if you didn’t give me something to complain about. Hey, I have high expectations and being a Type A I want to see a lot from Cranston.

    For now, why don’t you work on supporting new ideas that could benefit the city …regardless if they are in the “big boy club” and support your constituents. – END

    I could see taxing for this, but after this hike there must be and end and we need to do some immediate changes such as been suggested in a previous blog.

  17. My fear is that once things are cut, they won’t be put back in the future.

  18. Councilman Barone, I’ll decline your invitation to call you about Ms. Arena since I was raised not to talk about someone behind their back. It’s common courtesy and decency. BTW I don’t think elected officials can pick and choose who they represent in their district but that is my own belief.

    As far as this School Budget crisis, how much more can taxpayers afford? Fuel costs, food costs and more are costing people more money. I don’t think we can give them more without seeing some meaningful concessions by teachers and staff

  19. Suzanne Arena

    Kids in Cranston Schools~
    Councilman Emilio Navaro: The eldest, Casey, is a senior at Cranston East High School, with plans to attend The University of Rhode Island this fall. Austin, age 10, and Marcus, age 7, attend Eden Park Elementary School.

    Councilwoman Maria Bucci has small one’s, but I am not sure if they are in the public system.

    The other councilmember’s that I know of have children are older in or out of college.

    Mr. Barone,

    Just a few points. (check out #30 GDMA on this link: http://kmareka.com/?p=1238#comments ), clearly Mr. Barone you haven’t represented everyone and my immediate neighbors will give testament to that. The neighbors you elude to helping were unable to get help from you before because you seemingly associated everyone on my street (while I had a lawsuit) against the City to be with me.

    You state you were instrumental in getting the State of the Art Camera. Where the Sam Hill have you been over the last 17 months while it’s been sitting on a shelf? What happened to your voice the other night when the issue was brought up and the new City Director of Highway Dept & Public Works is looking to sell this superior camera for an inferior camera. The details were spelled out for you in a simple bulleted overview that Aram asked me to put together for an easier read. I only hear Paula McFarland ask some questions ~ you were silent and have been since we got the camera.

    You claim I’m angry and “need” something to complain about. Wrong, up until my flood 6 years ago I had never been to a council meeting and never conceptually understood the City dynamic. Then I started taking on causes my “knitting projects” and did it only for the benefit of my family or neighbors, and people started approaching me complaining about the current representative…that’s you. I’m not going to get into a conversation with you because I find you erratic and insulting.

    Where have you been during the concrete plant issue? You went to one meeting and that constitutes “your take on representing the people”. I’ll take what’s behind door number 2 rather than see you in again.

    I understand you were mighty worried the last election I would run. I can’t dedicate my time to all my knitting projects, keep watchful eye over the wrongdoings of City Officials and try and hold them accountable and run a family.

    I am really glad that you put a lot of time into the Open Space issue with SCOS. How about this, work on the Open Space Bond referendum we are trying to get on the Ballot. Since you have a difficult time comprehending my e-mails or phone calls, you should consult with your colleagues Emilio and Paula whom are well versed about the goal here.

    As far as Aram, “… I have the utmost respect for him, although I was the only one who voted against him for President. You were not there. It has nothing to do with Republican or Democrat.� Well, you were obviously not taught civility and manners and I am not clear what Rep/Dem has to do with anything. Do know, I am not interested in your justification for acting disrespectful ~ although it seems you don’t know any better.

    It’s a shame for us that you feel so smug with yourself that you have done a fine job for Ward 6 – this is the very reason we must bid you adieu. Perhaps you could put as much energy into creative ways to create revenue for the City versus being so reactive and plain nasty. – END

    Massachusetts had proposition 2½ which cut so many wonderful programs …it would be a shame to see Rhode Island follow suite. Perhaps we should be given the tax $$ back that we would invest in schools and use them towards private schools or schools that we feel manage their money and curriculum in a responsible and successful way.

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