School Committee files suit against city for $4.9M

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The Warwick School Committee has officially filed suit against the City of Warwick in hopes to receive nearly $5 million in funding for their hole-riddled FY19 budget.

In Rhode Island, the measure is known as a “Caruolo Action,” named after the Caruolo Act that was established in the 90s and enables school committees to sue their respective municipalities if they feel as though budgetary allotments do not allow them to adequately satisfy educational requirements put forth in the Rhode Island Department of Education’s (RIDE) Basic Education Plan (BEP).

The complaint was filed in Providence Superior Court on Friday morning, Dec. 21, and names all current members of the Warwick City Council, city treasurer (now finance director) Brian Silvia and Mayor Joseph Solomon as defendants.

This development marks the official end to a speculative period of more than eight months, beginning with the Warwick School Committee approving a FY19 budget of more than $130 million during its April 18 meeting, of which included a request of an additional $8 million in funding from the Warwick City Council.

The Council subsequently awarded $1.5 million of that request in June, which they argued was above the call for level funding put forward by former mayor Scott Avedisian – who had stepped down in mid-May – and that they could only raise about $5.8 through a maximum tax increase. Even if all that money went to the schools while ignoring other expenses, council president Steve Merolla has argued in the past, the request for $8 million was impossible from the start.

Still, this left the schools with a $6.6 million hole to fill in order to balance their budget and comply with state law. They did this by slashing WISE Union staff – including janitorial and clerical positions vital to operations within the schools – cutting library clerks and cutting supplies and programming across the board, from floor wax to the entirety of the approximately $100,000 set aside for the Mentor Rhode Island program.

Additionally, the schools included large, assumptive savings in these cuts, including requests for waivers to RIDE that would alleviate the district’s obligations to pay for things like students going out of district for technical education programs, and dead-on-arrival requests such as asking the state if the district could begin charging students for riding the bus.

The court complaint includes these requests – and their subsequent, firm denials – and draconian budgetary measures in the numerous exhibits, presumably to show a superior court justice the lengths to which the school department went to try and resolve the budgetary crisis within their means.

The department went further, hiring two educational experts to conduct an operational audit of the district and present their findings, which was done in late August and revealed, among other things, that Warwick would need an additional $4 million above what was provided to satisfy the requirements of the BEP and, further, that some of the cuts made by the department – such as the custodian layoffs – were in direct violation of educational statutes.

School department and school committee officials met multiple times from September to December with Merolla, Solomon, Silvia and members of the Warwick City Council to try and bridge the gap between the two fiscal realities of the sides. Solomon would offer $1.75 million – which would be enough to cover the principal and interest payments on a 2006 bond that school committee members argued had unfairly hamstrung the district – and would put the city’s total offer at $3.25 million of the original $8 million request.

However, the sides never got any closer to a deal. As numbers continued to be updated from school department finances closing out at the end of the calendar year, the targeted need of about $4 million concluded in the audit report was raised to a total deficit of $4,942,759, which is the bottom line sought by the school committee in the suit.

Superintendent Philip Thornton said on Wednesday that the parties negotiated in good faith but ultimately were not able to come to an agreement. He mentioned, as outlined in the complaint, how the school department is receiving only about $14,000 more from the city than they received nearly 10 years ago in FY2010 – a 0.01 percent increase from the $123,968,000 allocated back then. Additionally, the history included in the complaint references the 5 percent cut to the school department budget that was initiated by the city in FY2011, which was never directly restored in subsequent years.

Merolla said on Wednesday that he felt as though the current iteration of the Warwick School Committee was “preserving their rights to appeal” the budgetary decision made the city council, as the new school committee that will be seated in January might not hold the same position on filing suit against Warwick.

He reiterated that the originally request of $8 million was well beyond a reasonable ask from the city, and that a district that has seen considerable reductions in enrollment and that has closed six schools in the past few years should be realizing more savings than they have presented.

Thornton said that consolidation of the secondary schools heading into the 2015/16 school year did net significant savings that resulted in no additional ask from the city during that time period. However, consolidating three elementary schools this past summer did not net significant savings as the students had to be redistributed elsewhere in the district and the move to a middle school model included significant financial costs associated with it.

“We put a lot of the savings for the elementary closures into implementing the middle school model,” Thornton said.

Merolla called this a “convenient” argument, and held firm in his belief that the schools should be seeing more savings.

“From our perspective, we’re doing everything we can, but it’s up to them to balance their budget and to do it in a way that’s responsible to everybody,” he said. “There’s only so much the city can give…at some point you have to put your foot down.”

Mayor Joseph Solomon expressed his disappointment regarding the situation on Wednesday. He said that the aforementioned $1.75 million offer could have gone to restoring some personnel and funded the mentoring program that was cut, however school personnel have consistently fought this notion, as the big-ticket obligations such as the bond principal and interest and unfunded RIDE liabilities would have to be taken care of prior to restoration of programming and personnel.

“I would much rather have utilized any additional funds for students and programs rather than address these issues in a court setting,” Solomon said in a statement. “I’m surprised that in the final hours of a school administration, they would choose to take this action just days away from the swearing in of the new School Committee. Hopefully, the new School Committee will agree with my sentiments and proceed in good faith to put the students first and dismiss the action without prejudice so funds can be used instead to benefit the students and school programming for the common good of our community.”

Outgoing School Committee Chairwoman Bethany Furtado said on Wednesday that the suit was the culmination of a long chain of events that has finally come to the end of the line, and shouldn’t be a surprising development.

“We have been saying for years that this day would come and here it is,” she said. “In my opinion, attempts were made in good faith by the School Department to come to an agreeable solution. It’s now four months into the school year and we do not have this resolved. How much longer are the students and employees supposed to wait? I believe we did our job. I would do exactly the same thing given the circumstances.”

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richard corrente

The School Committee (SC) received $165 million+- dollars of taxpayers money this year alone. They based that on a certain number of teachers and a certain number of buildings. Over the next year the number of teachers and buildings they needed to spend this money on, got REDUCED SIGNIFICANTLY! That means there should be a LARGE SURPLUS!

There wasn't.

The SC then said they needed $84 million MORE! They added new positions to the administration such as "Asst. Principal of Climate and Culture" and "Asst. Principal of Teaching and Learning" while, at the same time, slashing the number of teachers, and yet they needed MORE TAXPAYERS MONEY!? The City Council wisely said "No". The SC reduced their "need" to $40 million in the form of a bond (credit card to be paid back by the taxpayers). It went to the election and the SC put up signs that said "For-The-Students" and the voters foolishly bought it! They voted to give the SC a total in excess of $200,000,000! Now the SC wants EVEN MORE!!! And if they don't get what they "want" (not "need", "want!") they are going to sue? Bring it on! In court discovery they will have to show the attorneys for the City Council every dime they already spent for the last many years. Full disclosure will only work against them for the first time this CENTURY!

Just imagine what the City Council will learn from all those court documents. For the first time, the Council will know where all that taxpayer money actually went. This is going to be a revelation!

Happy New Year everyone.

Rick Corrente

The Taxpayers Mayor

Thursday, December 27, 2018
CrickeeRaven

Mayor Solomon is right that the money would be better spent on the students and educational programs -- but when he and the council had the chance to provide it two years ago, they failed.

The city council could have raised $7.1 million through a small tax rate increase for FY18 and instead left the tax rate level while spending $6.5 million more than the prior year and leaving a $4 million deficit. The FY19 state-capped tax increase was a direct result of this decision, and left another $3.8 million annual deficit.

That's two fiscal years and nearly $8 million in deficit spending by the city, which the council has tried to balance by underfunding the schools.

It's not going to work. If the new school committee pursues the lawsuit, there is a very high probability that the city will lose, based on past Caruolo actions.

Thursday, December 27, 2018
CrickeeRaven

The two-time election reject proves only that there are no depths to how far he will reach to try and fool readers.

"Over the next year the number of teachers and buildings they needed to spend this money on, got REDUCED SIGNIFICANTLY! That means there should be a LARGE SURPLUS!"

Lie. The two-time election reject is ignoring student population as a major factor in the school budget -- and as the article above explains [which he clearly did not read in his haste to repeat his lies], the remaining elementary schools had to absorb the students from the schools that closed, and the new middle school structure required additional spending to achieve. There was no possibility, because of these real factors and not the two-time election reject's fevered imagination, for any "large surplus."

"They added new positions to the administration such as 'Asst. Principal of Climate and Culture' and 'Asst. Principal of Teaching and Learning.'"

Lie. These positions were transferred to the consolidated middle schools. They were not new positions.

"The SC reduced their "need" to $40 million in the form of a bond (credit card to be paid back by the taxpayers)."

Lie. Bonds are not part of the operating budget, and are not considered by any reasonable or logical person to be considered operating funds.

"In court discovery they will have to show the attorneys for the City Council every dime they already spent for the last many years. Full disclosure will only work against them for the first time this CENTURY!"

Lie. The school department already publicly discloses its budgets and audits every year.

"[N]ot 'need,' 'want!'"

Lie. If this case proceeds, the school department will show, as the article above explains, that the city is nearly $5 million short in meeting the state law that requires adequate funding for necessary [or "needed"] school operations.

Honest, taxpaying readers should also note how the two-time election reject refers to their decision to support the school improvement bonds: "voters foolishly bought it."

This is not the kind of statement that a credible or reasonable candidate would make. Whether he disagrees with their decision or not [and he has already proven through his repeated and willing behavior that he does not accept the two overwhelming rejections of his pathetic candidacy that voters already provided], voters did not make a foolish decision.

It is only a matter of time before the two-time election reject continues to prove his utter incapacity to understand basic facts and his unlimited ability to disgrace himself.

Thursday, December 27, 2018
PaulHuff

Did they actually file suit Mr. Hartley? I'm having some doubts about your journalism after you reported that the FBI was investigating the Fire Department. But nobody has seen any FBI agents anywhere.

Thursday, December 27, 2018
CrickeeRaven

The two-time election reject, as predicted, replies with more delusional and pathetic statements.

"An opinion is an opinion and you can agree or dispute it but you can't call an opinion a 'lie.'"

This entire statement is false.

The two-time election reject presented a series of statements that were then shown to be factually and objectively untrue.

Did he write "In my opinion, the number of teachers and buildings were significantly reduced?"

No, he wrote a declarative statement that is false.

He then writes an entire paragraph stating his "opinion" on a former city chief of staff who left the city in 2014 and is not using this screen name -- something the two-time election reject has never, by his own admission, contacted Mr. Carruolo to confirm.

[Alert readers will also notice that the two-time election reject was the first to mention Mr. Carruolo on this page, not anyone else -- another shameless lie that serves to prove only his unlimited capacity to behave in a disgraceful fashion.]

His "opinion" in this case is a series of false accusations and conspiracy theories that he refuses to research on his own, and instead tries to distract readers with name-calling and more lies.

The two-time election reject is also, again, lying when he calls himself anyone's "mayor." On two occasions, majorities of honest, taxpaying voters rejected his candidacy by overwhelming and humiliating margins, leaving him to use a fictional title for himself that he neither earned nor deserves.

His bluster and juvenile behavior does not change the facts that he lied about in his first comment, and will not do anything to change the minds of honest, taxpaying readers about him, namely that we were 100% correct to reject his candidacy twice.

Thursday, December 27, 2018
Cat

"He had his tax assessments altered to an amount less than it was in 2004."

It has to be your opinion because no one would be stupid enough to put that in writing as fact when they have zero ability to prove the validity of the statement. But by all means, continue to perpetuate your witch hunt of a former Warwick administrator and the current WSC while you completely fail to comprehend your statements hold no credibility.

Thursday, December 27, 2018
WwkVoter

Just make sure everyone that you bear in mind corrente is apparently more bonkers than ever. He's really "touched". I mean, he calls himself "Mayor"!

As to the article, this is normal process and has to play out. I really dont think there's any more low hanging fruit in the way of cost savings. Unless we want huge (and ineffective) class sizes, there isnt any more to get from teachers, which is the major cost in running schools, as it should be.

Thursday, December 27, 2018
richard corrente

Dear cat,

Please go to Zillow for 18 Hendricken Circle Warwick r.i.

Go to the drop down for "Tax assessments".

According to Zillow that house had an assessed value in 2004 of $227,000. Today it has an assessed value of $219,700, less than it was FOURTEEN YEARS AGO. I say it is because he altered the books, but maybe I'm wrong. It's just my opinion. Maybe his house dropped in value over the last 14 years...….maybe. Maybe Joe Solomon and a couple of other insiders did too. No one else did but...

Happy 2019 Cat.

Rick

Thursday, December 27, 2018
Thecaptain

Dear Idiot,

If you look at the historical assessments for similarly priced houses, the home at 18 Hendricken Ct. followed the same profile of assessment as the majority of houses in Warwick. In 13, 14, 15 there was a minor fluctuation in appraisal which increased each year. Corrente, your statements are now indicative of comments that result in litigation, which of course, you will loose and be your 17th loss in a row.

Thursday, December 27, 2018
PhillipDrummond

I would think that the outgoing SC would have at least consulted the incoming SC members and gotten their approval on the lawsuit but then again Warwick does everything backwards so it wouldn't surprise me if the suit is dropped by the new SC. Warwick schools are in trouble. This thing is bigger than money, its about providing a great product and Warwick doesn't have one. They have competition from not only private and charter schools but I have been getting mailers from other school districts wanting kids and touting what they have and are willing to bus kids. Warwick can barely bus its own kids and wanted to charge more for it. Warwick is technologically behind, the schools are falling apart and the system is failing the kids. Any parent who takes their child's education seriously has left the district with many more to leave. It's a shame really but with horrible leadership on both the school side and the city side in the past it has created this situation. Unfortunately we still have a feckless and clueless mayor in Solomon who has a rubber stamp council, an untested SC , a moron as the superintendent and teachers with a union who care more about themselves than the kids they teach, it's going to take a long time for Warwick to dig out of this hole and the kids will pay the price.

Friday, December 28, 2018
CrickeeRaven

Cat and Thecaptain, thank you for pointing out the two-time election reject's most prominent defect: His complete failure to provide anything like the credible, public, and easily verifiable information that you and others have repeatedly provided on this website.

For example, Cat, he tells you to go to Zillow, which is a for-profit, commercial website, to review the property assessments for someone who he falsely accuses of using this screen name.

The City of Warwick provides this kind of information here: https://www.citizenselfservice.com/MSSProd/citizens/RealEstate/Default.aspx?mode=new

One striking difference between the commercial website and the city's records is that the city shows tax payments, as well -- and according to the city, the former chief of staff has paid his taxes, on time, for every year that he has owned his property.

As we know, city records prove that the same can not be said about the two-time election reject.

We also know that city records show the assessment on the two-time election reject's former residence was $357,500 when he purchased it in 2007, and was $287,500 in 2013 when the first of three other parties paid the property taxes on it.

[You can find this by going to the link above, entering 177 Grand View, clicking on any bill, and selecting "Assessment history" from the menu on the left.]

As is typical for him, he expects honest, taxpaying readers to ignore the blatant hypocrisy in falsely saying a former chief of staff "altered the books" [with no verifiable proof, by his own admission] while his own property assessment also fell over the years.

He also expects honest, taxpaying readers to ignore the obvious defect in his claim that labeling false claims as "opinion" somehow relieves him of the responsibility to prove those claims.

Thecaptain is 100% correct to point out how changes in the real estate market have affected tax assessments, and how the two-time election reject is simply inventing more false accusations.

We can be certain that, no matter how disgraceful the two-time election reject has already behaved, he will enthusiastically embrace every further opportunity to make more of a humiliating spectacle of himself.

Friday, December 28, 2018
richard corrente

Dear readers,

CrickeeRaven, the anonymous nemesis, is nothing but a nominal annoyance naming nothing notable or newsworthy.

Happy New Year to all.

Rick Corrente

The Taxpayers Mayor

Friday, December 28, 2018
CrickeeRaven

With his pathetic attempts at juvenile insults and alliteration, the two-time election reject is basically admitting that his statements have been exposed as lies, yet again.

No amount of name-calling will change the facts as presented, that his former property's tax assessment was lower in 2013 than it was in 2004; that he has been repeating accusations against a former city hall staffer with no basis in fact; that he has repeatedly lied about the school department budget; and that his only success has been in making himself more and more of a disgrace with every new comment.

Honest, taxpaying voters will have a happy 2019 knowing that we kept him far away from elected office and were 100% justified in rejecting his candidacy twice.

Friday, December 28, 2018
Cat

RC, read your comment again SLOWLY. "He had his tax assessments altered..." That isn't an opinion. You are making a statement based on your own faulty logic. As others have pointed out, the fluctuation in the housing market and assessments has even been evident in your own previous residence. If you did a survey of 100 homes from 2004 to date you would no doubt come up with the same average. Sad.

Friday, December 28, 2018
CrickeeRaven

Cat, it seems that the two-time election reject is trying his best to twist the meaning of basic terms in his continued attempts to mislead honest, taxpaying readers.

As you rightly point out, he wrongly calls his declarative statements "opinion" and somehow thinks that makes his words more credible -- or, at least more credible than others' comments.

He is wrong, as usual.

Thanks again for pointing out the clear defects in his behavior and character that led thousands of honest, taxpaying voters to overwhelmingly reject his candidacy twice.

Friday, December 28, 2018
richard corrente

Dear Cat,

C'mon Cat. Didn't you read the part that said "Maybe I'm wrong. It's just my opinion." I know you did.

You also said "If you did a survey of 100 homes..."

CAT! I am a mortgage banker with over 41 years of experience analyzing literally thousands of R. I. appraisals and the homes they are compared to. That's a helluva lot more than 100 homes. I look at the values of over a hundred homes every month!

Cat! I know what I'm talking about. Joe Solomon owns a car dealership at 1129 West Shore Rd. that is tax assessed today for LESS THAN HE PAID FOR IT 29 YEARS AGO! And his residence at 21 Crawford (on Narragansett Bay!) tax assessed for a paltry increase of $4,400 over the last two years, while, at the same time, his across-the-street neighbor, Former Mayor Joe Walsh at 26 Crawford, had his tax assessed value increase over $61,000!! (and he's NOT waterfront!). Same two-year period. Same Vision Technologies appraisal. No major changes in either home. Ask your favorite Realtor. Look at EPPRAISAL or ZILLOW. Do your own comparisons. Their values CAN'T be real in my honest and very experienced (41 years!) OPINION. And no one in City Hall wants the public to see what Vision Technologies appraised those properties for, except ME! How do you explain that Cat? I don't think you can. I believe those numbers were politically-altered. It's the only explanation I can think of.

I've done a fair and honest comparison of every City Council member and a dozen other well known names in Warwick politics. Except for Mayor Solomon, Mark Carruolo, and a couple of other political insiders, the numbers are EXACTLY similar to the comparable surrounding properties. Doesn't that tell you something?

Happy 2019 Cat.

Happy 2019 everyone.

Rick Corrente

The Taxpayers Mayor

Friday, December 28, 2018
WwkVoter

Guys a nut. EVEN IF Mayor Solomon got reduced by as much as 61,000 his tax assessment (didnt happen), he would have saved only about $100 per month. I hardly think Joe Solomon, the lawyer and cpa, would jeopardize everything he has worked for his entire adult life, to gain 25 bucks a week.

Old man Corrente got slaughtered in two elections, (due in no small part to just this kind of nonsense) can't bear it, and wants to accuse the legitimate election (by a landslide) WINNER of criminality now. Crazy crazy crazy.

Friday, December 28, 2018
SirKelly

Does the Mayor of nowhere realize that The Caruolo Act, is named after its legislative sponsor, former state representative George Caruolo and has nothing to do with the former chief of staff Mark Carruolo?

Monday, December 31, 2018
WwkVoter

Kelly, almost certainly not. In fact I think he's dumb enough not to have picked up on the near coincidence, and to now misinterpret your post and going forward will make just that connection... while occasionally contradicting himself at the same time. Entertainment for us all...

Monday, December 31, 2018
ThatGuyInRI

I would've bet my next month's income that the failed political hack R.C. would have been the first one to comment on this story. Too bad I couldn't get a line on that bet!

Zillow? Reallly, Zillow? All you need to know about Mr. Corrente and his Trumpian adherence to facts is that he cites Zillow as a source of facts. Their "Zestimates" are wildly inaccurate. Don't believe me? Go on Zillow and look up your own house.

Wednesday, January 2
CrickeeRaven

SirKelly: Thank you for pointing out the underlying defect with the two-time election reject's latest lie; I agree with WwkVoter, the two-time election reject is so delusional and so obsessed with the former city chief of staff that he has invented yet another false claim about him.

I also agree with WwkVoter that the two-time election reject will somehow distort your comment into "proof" that Mark Carruolo had something to do with the law named after George Caruolo and passed in 1995, which you can read here: http://webserver.rilin.state.ri.us/Statutes/title16/16-2/16-2-21.4.htm

Honest, taxpaying, intelligent readers will realize from reading the law that the school committee has, so far, followed the specific course of action outlined under Caruolo.

They will also know that one of the key questions for the court to address is whether the city is meeting its legally-mandated obligations under the state's maintenance of effort law, which requires cities and towns to provide at least the same amount of school funding from one year to the next.

Mayor Solomon and the city council would be wise to review this decision by the Rhode Island Commissioner of Education from 2009, which states: "We conclude that the force of the maintenance of effort law (R.I.G.L. 16-7-23) cannot be evaded by having a town or city directly pay for a school expenditure rather than appropriating the money into the school account, as required by law, so that the school committee itself can pay the expenditure, and thereby establish the lawfully required maintenance of effort level for the community."

http://www2.ride.ri.gov/applications/RideDirectory/DOCS/2009/0017-09_Town_of_W._Warwick_v_W._Warwick_School_Committee_08-31-09.pdf

This means that, when the maintenance of effort standard is reviewed in court, the city may not be able to argue that it is meeting that standard by making the school department's bond payments directly.

In basic terms, the city is required by law to provide the school department with a bottom-line appropriation to fund the state-mandated Basic Education Plan, and can not use other methods to pay school bills.

As a result, it is highly likely that this legal tactic will not work for the city.

Wednesday, January 2