Caruolo Outcome Hangs in the Balance

And you, the taxpayer, should weigh in. This is more important than calling in your vote for American Idol or Dancing with the Stars. This is about whether we are going to fight over money and pay lawyers or whether we are going to hand needed funds over to the schools. And this is about determining how the school’s books will be kept, to ensure that they do not run up a $4.9 million dollar deficit or anything of the likes ever again. From the Projo:

[...] Council members declined to discuss specific provisions of the agreement in recent days, noting that it was supposed to be confidential.

But several said, in general terms, that the provisions designed to impose fiscal discipline on the schools in the long run did not have enough teeth.

There was talk in political circles yesterday of making last-minute adjustments to the agreement to address those concerns.

Let us adjust. Let us amend. Let us get this thing settled without having to go through a lengthy court battle. To that end, I encourage all Cranstonites to call/email their city council representatives, particularly those who voted against the settlement, and ask them to reach consensus through mediation, not litigation.

RICHARD SANTAMARIA
Phone: 946-6709
E-mail: ritatj10@yahoo.com

ARAM GARABEDIAN
Phone: 641-5855
Fax: 401-272-0831
E-mail: aram@blissproperties.net

JEFFREY BARONE
Phone: 463-3305
E-mail: jeffreyb22@cox.net

JOHN LANNI
Phone: 946-7373

TERRY LIVINGSTON
Phone: (401) 785-2955
Fax: (401) 274-5433
E-mail: Terry@livingstonlaw.us

Mayoral candidate Cindy Fogarty is also encouraging open dialogue and more public involvement to get this Caruolo action settled. She sent this letter to the City Council and School Committee, urging them to keep communications open and continue working toward resolution:

July 6, 2008

Cranston City Councilmembers and
Cranston School Committee Members

Via Electronic Mail

RE: Caruolo Action and Settlement Vote

Members:

Please consider this request to you and your respective committees to reconvene and reconsider settlement talks over the FYE 2008 and FYE 2009 school department budget allocation. If there are portions acceptable to both parties, those should be stipulated to and entered with the court. The unresolved issues then might be easier to negotiate.

While I do not have the benefit of a copy of the proposed settlement, in talking with members of each committee, it appears that the language might not sufficiently require certain actions on both sides. Perhaps a public meeting that provides the details would help the citizens better understand each sides position.

As an attorney myself, I have found that there are very few times when the door should be closed on negotiation. Again, I ask you to keep the communications open for the benefit of our City.

Sincerely,

Cindy Fogarty

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3 responses

  1. Jesse from Cranston

    I, for one, am in favor of a judicial decision on this issue. The General Assembly has passed a set of contradictory laws and has, for too long, left the local communities to fight it out — yet the underlying problems have never really been corrected.

    Consider: state law says cities and towns must honor the contracts negotiated by “agents” of the community, including school boards. State law also requires cities and towns to hold their tax increases to a 5% cap. What happens, then, when a school board (that clearly doesn’t care that such a cap exists) approves a contract that exceeds the cap? As we’ve seen in Cranston this year, there’s a Caruolo fight. In many other cases, the town folds under pressure or the school board “wins” and takes the victory as a free pass to negotiate even higher contracts further down the road.

    For once, I’d like to see this insanity end. I support the majority’s decision to push the courts to solve the problem — hopefully once and for all. School committees must get the message that they can’t overspend and sue their way out of problems they create, or pretend to negotiate a settlement and just ignore it later (which is, I think, what our school board would have done eventually).

  2. Good Samaritan

    Jesse, I must point out to you that school committees(past or present)have acted no different than councils past or present who have approved negotiated contracts on the city side of government from years past when there was no State Law requiring a cap amount on how much the tax levy can increase from year to year.

    It’s a whole new world that the school side and the city side have to live in now! Both the schools and the city have there own caps that both have to live by now and in the future. And for you to state that “a school board (that clearly doesn’t care that such a cap exists) approves a contract that exceeds the cap?” clearly shows your inability to put forth an objective look on how this can also happen with any city council because the cap applies to all government not just one. For you, just to single out the school board is just plain wrong, without weighing in the fact that the same may apply to the council on the city side.

    As for letting a judge decide the outcome of the Caruolo Action, a judge is just going to decide how much, if any, the schools will get and point out how there are statutes in place for many years that have not been followed by the schools in regards to their budget. But the facts will still remain the same that what ever the decision is, the schools still maintains a 5 million plus deficit for the past budget and current budget or should I say the city will have to maintain that deficit as it just loaned the schools the money needed to meet their past budget deficit.

    But the last thing you won’t see happening here is the courts solving our school problems.

    The proposed settlement from my understanding would have given the mayor, the city council the much needed control, to a certain degree over the school budget. In my opinion this would have been the first step towards solving the lack of oversight and understanding of the school spending practices and allowing for a more transparent school budget that we can all understand and do something about.

    As for the majority’s decision to reject the settlement and go to trial………..well it’s always easier to point the fingers at everyone else in deciding whose fault it is, than to make some necessary change to solve our city’s problems!

  3. GS, I more or less have to agree with JFC.

    When it comes to contracts, the school committee has authority, but no responsibility. It is able to negotiate a binding contract, without having any direct responsibility for coming up with the money.

    As such, the school committee has no incentive to negotiate a contract that the city can actually afford.

    The schools need to recognize a couple of things: a teacher at the 10/11th step is making about twice the median wage in RI. As such, they are not underpaid. Second, the private sector has been living with 2% raises combined with higher (much higher) health care premiums for nearly a decade now. As such, the disposable income of the average person has decreased over the last 8 years. In that same period the salaries of teachers have gone up by 4-5% per year while maintaining very low co-payments on health care.

    In short, the teachers have been doing much better than the average person. Hence the growing animosity about this issue. You have to understand that every dollar the teachers get comes right out of my pocket. The state cannot make up any shortfalls as it could in the past, and the fed won’t.

    Now, the real, fundamental, and underlying cause of this is 30 years of Republican gov’t at the fed level. The top marginal fed tax rate is about half of what it was when Reagan took office; and it’s about 20% lower than it was when he left office.

    Taxes have been cut on the upper end, but none of the promised benefits for the rest of us have “trickled down.”

    And McCain is still spreading the lie that tax cuts increase gov’t revenue. That is a lie. No serious economist believes that.

    OK, pardon the digression.

    JFC suggested that the contract be put off until March. That would make this an issue in the upcoming election. I agree.

    Look, I’ve been a union guy all my life, but I’ve also seen the damage that a union can do. The schools need to realize that the macroeconomic environment has changed, and that expectations might have to be lowered.

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