Cranston Schools Lose Caruolo Action

Consider this an open thread to discuss the Caruolo decision in which Judge Savage rejected the schools’ argument that they are entitled to $4.5 million in further funding. From the Projo:

CRANSTON –– In a blistering decision, Superior Court Judge Judith C. Savage yesterday rejected a School Committee lawsuit seeking a $4.5 million boost in education aid from City Hall.

The long-awaited ruling, issued late in the afternoon, will force the committee to make millions of dollars in cuts to an already pared-down school district budget.

“This puts us in a gaping hole the size of the Grand Canyon,� said School Committee member Frank S. Lombardi. “It’s a bad day for the Cranston schools, it really is.�

Lombardi said he would back an appeal to the state Supreme Court if district lawyers advise that the ruling could, in fact, be appealed.

According to today’s Projo, there is talk of an appeal, but not all school committee members agree with doing it.

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16 thoughts on “Cranston Schools Lose Caruolo Action

  1. Here’s a link to the decision itself:

    link to decision

    Before some anonymous coward jumps in to call for dissolution of the School Committee and folding it into the City Council, let me just say that it is a bad idea.

    Why take one underperforming, dysfunctional elected body and merge it with another underperforming, dysfunctional elected body? All you get is another underperforming, dysfunctional, albeit larger, elected body.

    I’ve been a proponent of giving the School Committee the ability to send out their own tax bills. For far too long, the majority of the School Committee has rammed through poor decision after poor decision, costing the taxpayers tens of millions of dollars.

    Unfortunately, the City Council is the lone taxing authority in the city, and the School Committee’s mistakes are effectively hidden from public awareness.

    How many people realize that current City Councilman Lupino was the guy who rammed the current teacher contract through to approval? You know, the contract that got the school system in the pickle it’s in now? Not many, judging by the fact that Mr. Lupino was even elected in 2006.

    Give the School Committee the authority to send out their own tax bills separate from the City, and you’ll quickly see a taxpayer revolt due to the huge increases being requested year after year.

    Give the School Committee their own rope and let them hang themselves. We might be able to weed out the next Lupino, Traficante, Lombardi, Archetto or Greifer that way.

  2. As longtime readers know, this is an issue that we’ve been kicking around for several months — particularly right around the start of the year. But the posturing of the school committee hasn’t changed — they just continued down their run-a-deficit-then-sue path, blindly following the school administration into a time- and money-wasting lawsuit.

    This was a problem foreseen long ago — I remember Kiersten mentioning a letter she sent to the committee in September 2005 — a letter that went unheeded.

    Here’s the thread (see comment #3): http://kmareka.com/?p=1789#comments

    Put bluntly, I have no sympathy for the school board. They put the future of our schools at risk so they could exercise their hypocritical indignation at the city for “failing” to force taxpayers to pay for the school board’s negligence in negotiating an unreasonable contract.

    And by publicly musing about another court appeal, the school board is only proving its willingness to spend more taxpayer money on a battle that it has already lost — instead of truly reigning in its spending. Even now, as they’re talking of an expensive appeal, the best their $90,000-a-year “chief operating officer” can offer is $600,000 in savings from not filling positions?!

    What’s worse, we don’t have a new teachers’ contract yet. Given this school board’s, ahem, “management record,” this is another disaster waiting to happen. The idea that the school committee must now go, hat in hand, to the unions and beg for concessions it refused to seek in prior years is just pathetic.

    (Which begs the question: Which do you think will win out as the bigger priority — the committee members’ re-election bids, or the need for an affordable contract?)

    I plan to vote against every incumbent on the school board ballot this year, and I hope others will do the same.

    Here’s a sampling of some past posts, just to refresh the collective memory:

    — In February, I asked this question as part of an exchange with School Committee member Andrea Iannazzi: “…why is (a Caruolo action) always the first fall-back position? Why hasn’t the school committee done more to cut the budget BEFORE resorting to yet another taxpayer-financed lawsuit?”

    I didn’t get an answer. And, apparently, neither did Judge Savage.

    From the ProJo: “Filing a Caruolo action should have been a last resort, (Savage) wrote, not ‘an end-of-the-year budget plug to fix a deficit that the School Committee had anticipated for months before the school year began.'”

    Here’s the link to the original thread: http://kmareka.com/?p=1680#comments

    — Likewise, we had a preview of the school committee’s stance provided by Steve Stycos in April. My view: “Acting as if it’s a surprise that the school budget is $4 million in the red is, unfortunately, more of the same kind of political posturing that school committees regularly exhibit.”

    Again, seems as if Judge Savage felt the same way.

    Thread is here: http://kmareka.com/?p=1789#comments

    — Just one more: Also in April, we discussed the idea of a “starvation diet” being imposed by Mayor Nap. At the time, I wrote: “These days, any judge would be hard-pressed to justify raising a city’s taxes (which is, essentially, what a school department “victoryâ€? entails) because of a contract negotiated in the dark three years previously.”

    I also made the point: “After all, it’s the city that will pay the bills if the school board “winsâ€? — 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 what are we now hearing from the school board?
    “It’s going to be devastating for 11,000 schoolchildren,� (School board Chairman Mike) Traficante said.

    You know what’s really devastating for the kids? Learning that the people their parents elected to “take care of the kids” were playing politics and stoking peoples’ fears when they should have been stepping up as leaders, taking on the bloated administration, and making more than symbolic gestures to cut future budgets.

  3. Mr. Lucas:

    The plan for a ballot measure to eliminate the school board is dead. It was reported three weeks ago in the Herald. So I don’t expect “some anonymous coward” to bring up the idea again — unless they’re as uninformed as you are.

    Here’s the link, so you and your imaginary “cowards” can be aware of it, too: http://www.cranstononline.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=6860&Itemid=30

    Hope that answers your belated concerns about a now-dead issue.

    And setting aside your cheap shot at Tony Lupino (there were several other members on that school board who voted for the contract — and who are still on the board, you know), the idea that giving the school board taxing authority would somehow make it more accountable is just laughable. The school board is already ignoring the state law in approving budgets that exceed the state tax cap; at least now, the tax cap is enforced (albeit indirectly) by the City Council. I’m sorry, your “underperforming, dysfunctional” Council that held taxes level this year and stood up to the school committee. Just who do you think will enforce the cap on the school committee if the Council is taken out of the picture?

    Finally, I don’t think the regular ProJo coverage of the Caruolo suit is allowing the school board to hide anymore — in fact, Traf and Co. are being exposed for failing to do what they were elected to do.

  4. Rarely do I agree with JFC, but I too plan to vote against each school board incumbent this year. I also plan to vote against the incumbent city wide councilmen. Time for change.

  5. I’m glad I moved to Cranston. :-)

    JFC put it very well, so well I’ll give it the best commenter’s post of the year nomination. Sorry JFC, that doesn’t mean much except in my little book.

    In any event, the comments we’re hearing from the school committee about the ‘children’ are comments you’d expect from people who didn’t face the reality of the budget. I don’t know how dumb they think people are, but we’re not the fools they think we are. That is of course if we continue to elect them thus justifying their inept actions.

  6. Don:

    Many thanks for the kind words. However little the book, I appreciate getting some space in it.

    I can only agree with your assessment that the school committee is still refusing to face reality. At a time when people are deciding between keeping their lights on and feeding themselves, the school committee’s insistence that they need $5 million — and $8 million next year! — is ridiculous.

    And if I can add yet another disgusting angle to this issue, it looks — again — as if the school committee was less-than-truly-forthcoming about the money it spends and the programs it provides for that money. Why else, I wonder, would Judge Savage have to await the results of an audit to learn about the school budget?

    Check out Comment #20 on this thread for thoughts I offered back in April prior to the new Caruolo situation, and how it related to a previous suit:

    http://kmareka.com/?p=1792#comments

    My only hope is that other people see through this school board’s circus act and put an end to this disgrace.

  7. The world must be coming to an end. Why? Because I second Don’s nomination of JFC for best commenter’s post of the year. Congrats JFC.

  8. JFC, dedicated to an obsession…if only you were of the 9 CC Membrs and put all that time, ideas and history, I think (I know) you would stand out. After all, I agree that you stand out and deserve the Gold for your comments.

  9. “Jesse,”

    Thanks for pointing me to that Herald article, but I don’t believe everything I read. Especially here in Cranston, where bad ideas are like zombies – perpetually undead and able to be resurrected by arrogant people with self-aggrandizement on their minds.

    How is talking about Mr. Lupino’s record a cheap shot? Do you deny his involvement and “leadership” regarding the contract?

    The school committee puts out irresponsible budgets because they are effectively insulated from responsibility by the Council. Remove that insulation by giving them the huge responsibility of sending out a tax bill and the situation will improve much faster than having journeymen reporters string together a few words here and there. Their budget is folded into the Council’s budget, which is then subject to the cap. They are not “ignoring the state law” as it does not address the creation of a school system budget but rather the maximum levy of local taxes resulting from a final budget resolution. And you call me uninformed?

    As for your plan to vote against every incumbent on the school committee, well, good luck with that. Previously you have said that you live near the stadium, which is in Ward 3. At the ward level there is no incumbent and Mrs. McFarland is running unopposed. Your citywide committee member is an incumbent, but he is unopposed as well. You can certainly withhold your vote for Mr. Lombardi, but you can’t “vote against” him.

    Don’t be so quick to throw all the school committee incumbents under the bus (no pun intended.) Mr. Stycos and Ms. Iannazzi have proven to be very fiscally responsible but the majority of Mr. Traficante, Mr. Lombardi and Mrs. Greifer (along with Mr. Archetto, who is not running for re-election and wants to be a Councilor now) have succeeded in pushing the school system to the verge of the abyss. Thank goodness this gang of four didn’t have the opportunity to renew Superintendent Scherza’s contract last night. He needs to go.

    As for your other comments, you sure are throwing out the red meat. Good for you. I only wish you had it in your character to cast that critical eye toward your buddies on the Council.

  10. Mr. Lucas:

    Sorry, I’m not going to follow you down your rhetorical rabbit hole this time. Although your continued insistence in pushing baseless conspiracy theories, offering impractical ideas, and posting personal attacks makes for good entertainment.

  11. GCF/Suzanne:

    Thank you both for your statements. I appreciate knowing that others feel the same as I do about this issue.

  12. Now an appeal?…SHAME on them, ALL of them, especially the three sending out a quick press release to run away from responsibility on the issue in an election year. If there was real leadership none of this would have happened.

    Now is the time to vote these people out, I would say to make them accountable, but that is probably a poor choice of words considering poor or negligent accounting is what got them and the taxpayers into this mess.

  13. This is my first time posting although I read this website regularly. I agree the leaders of Cranston need to negoiate better contracts. I also believe that Cranston needs to create a better environment for business. We are a family business established in 1955 that wanted to open a branch in Cranston and it has been a political dance since June. We need the tax revenue of businesses and should be encouraging them to come to Cranston. It is so disheartening the realization of what our city government really is about. Political connections should not dictate who can and cannot open a business in our city. Especially now. As an added comment our city council is now proposing to ban BYOB restaurants in Cranston. There are some really nice family run BYOB restaurants that will be essentially be closed down from this ordinance. Does that sound like sound businees policy at this time of financial hardship?

  14. Anyone who thought the school board was capable of real change in its approach to budgeting should now be convinced that it’s a lost cause.

    The ProJo reported last Friday that the school committee met and cut — wait for it — the princely sum of $150,000.

    So, plainly, they’ve decided they’re not going to acknowledge reality (i.e., their loss in court — twice now, with Judge Savage refusing to reconsider her original ruling) and simply insist that the city has to a.) raise taxes or b.) use the surplus to paper over their horrendous mismanagement.

    Here’s the link to the story:http://www.projo.com/ri/cranston/content/wb_cranston_school_cuts_09-05-08_4LBFF79_v6.17be501.html

    I’ve asked this before, and I’ll ask again: When will the school board look at its administrative expenses? So, far, there has been no discussion of potential cuts at the upper admin level — none.

    Here’s a refresher for those who may have forgotten:

    CRANSTON SCHOOL PAY
    Ten highest paid in 2006.

    Scherza, M. Richard, Supt., $129,324
    Balducci, Joseph A., CFO, $110,610
    Laliberte, Norman D., E.D. Programs and Svces., $110,015
    Votto, Raymond L. Jr., COO $105,720
    Nero, Peter, Asst. Supt. $104,511
    Lundsten, Judith A., E.D., Programs and Svces., $96,571
    Zisserson, Joel M., Transportation Director, $96,036
    [Ciarlo, Catherine M., Supt. $95,811]
    Silvia, Michael J.,Exec. Dir., Charter School, $95,718
    Campbell, Jean M., Administrative. Coordinator $95,420

    [Mrs. Ciarlo passed away in 2007]

    — from a ProJo Article that ran March 27, 2008: http://www.projo.com/ri/cranston/content/q_cranston_payroll27_03-27-08_7P9HN3O_v2.e08385.html

  15. There are 4 directors of special education,and 3 assistant directors , making a combined total of over 6 million in pay and benifits, yearly. They knew they needed to cut their department and offered up 4 special ed teachers assistants, (to save 140k total), ( Imiust add that it’s a strange coincidence that the 4 ta’s pay equals the one administrators pay that was planned to be cut, but after the offering of 4 caring SPED/TA’s her postion was kept. Some of those SPED/TA were caring for children that wear diapers and are in special equipment. Who replaced at least one of these highly qualified SPED/TA`s? For now its a retired TA called back as a substitute.

    Their next plan is to There are 4 directors of special education,and 3 assistant directors , making a combined total of over 6 million in pay and bennies. They cut their department by laying off 4 special ed teachers assistants, (to save 140k total). Some of whom were caring for children that wear diapers and are in special equipment, standers, ponies, etc,. Who replaced at least one of these highly qualified SPED/TA`s? For now its a retired TA called back as a substitute.

    Their next plan is to privitize the special ed buses.

    Well as long as you have 7 special ed directors and assitants ,at 130k packages each, trying to figure out what services they can cut to children with disabilties. Its a sad state of affairs in Cranston.
    They are willing to cut the truly needy childs SPED/TA, but not their own assistants.

    The school committee is nothing more than a rubber stamp for the superintendant. The union does nothing, except protect the most senior members. They both allow children needing highly qualified SPED/TA’s to be replaced through seniority.

    Thanks for reading so far. It was not wasted time, because , I have the answer.

    Privatize the adminsitration. Privatize the school principals. Privatize any positon that puts budget over a childs needs.

    Fire any person that would allow a substitute 30 days to learn to use a severely handicapped childs special equipment.

    Well as long as you have 7 special ed directors and assitants ,at 130k packages each, trying to figure out what services they can cut to children with disabilties. Its a sad state of affairs in Cranston.
    They are willing to cut the truly needy childs SPED/TA, but not their own assistants.

    The school committee is nothing more than a rubber stamp for the superintendant. The union does nothing, except protect the most senior members. They both allow children needing highly qualified SPED/TA’s to be replaced through seniority.

    Thanks for reading so far. It was not wasted time, because , I have the answers.

    Privatize the adminsitration. Privatize the school principals. Privatize ANY position that puts budget over a childs needs.

    There is one clause in every teachers/ TA`s contract . It was put in by the No Child Left Behind Act. Here it is

    All positions shall be filled on the basis of the MOST SENIOR QUALIFIED teacher assistant/bus aide in his/her current classification and number of hours.

    The city and the union have chosen to ignore the MOST QUALIFIED , instead they have allowed this childs needs be filled by the Jamboree bidding process.

    How is it that someone needs 30 days (ie that students first 30 days lost) to be trained is most qualified?

    No child left behind.
    Are there any parents out there that don`t like it?

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