School finance officer placed on administrative leave

Posted 7/22/21

By JOHN HOWELL School finance and operations director Robert Baxter, whose bold plans to showcase schools, streamline busing, increase community use of school buildings and build enrollment were featured in a July 1 Warwick Beacon front page story, has

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School finance officer placed on administrative leave


School finance and operations director Robert Baxter, whose bold plans to showcase schools, streamline busing, increase community use of school buildings and build enrollment were featured in a July 1 Warwick Beacon front page story, has been placed on paid administrative leave pending an internal investigation, the Beacon learned Sunday from a reliable source.

In a brief meeting Tuesday, the School Committee unanimously voted to retain the law firm of Barton Gilman to conduct the investigation and to post Baxter’s job for the appointment of a temporary administrator.

In a July 12 letter to Baxter signed by Superintendent Lynn Dambruch and Assistant Superintendent William McCaffrey, the top administrators say the refurbishment of Veterans Middle School has “expanded far beyond the initial focus of paint and floor tiles as stated publicly at School Committee meetings.” It goes on to cite concerns over the bid process and “that work has been performed without our approval and prior to School Committee approval.” The letter further alleges Baxter failed to follow numerous policies and procedures, including fiscal management goals, purchasing procedures and budget adoption.

In a three-page response dated July 19, attorney Richard Sinapi gives detailed responses to the allegations, listing work being done at Vets, meetings with Dambruch and McCaffrey and members of the School Committee and communications. In response to the allegation that work had been done without prior approval, Sinapi writes all work was approved by the School Committee and that while some furniture had been moved out of rooms in the G-wing in anticipation of demolition, “there was no contract for such work and such work was not approved or authorized by my client.”

Sinapi writes that Baxter initiated numerous communications, including daily calls to inform Dambruch of progress of the demolition, and that there were many opportunities for her to express any concerns. Sinapi references a “vision board” in Baxter’s office that outlined what he was working on and the Beacon article on his efforts.

Sinapi that writes to Baxter’s knowledge, “he has at all times followed procedures and policies.” Sinapi says claims Baxter started projects without committee approval are inaccurate.

A segment of the letter is devoted to G-wing violations of minimum health and safety standards – which include falling fiberglass particles, poor air quality, deficient and unsafe electrical service, non-compliance with ADA requirements – and that these deficiencies were the primary cost to the G-wing demolition and refit projects that Baxter proposed to recommend. Further, Sinapi writes that Baxter secured a commitment from the Rhode Island Department of Education to proceed with the work, which would be reimbursed between 35 and 42 percent.

“Ultimately,” Sinapi writes, ”the allocation of resources is a political/policy decision for the School Committee to make.”

He writes while Baxter’s role is to use his skills and background to make a recommendation, “it appears in this instance that in order to deflect attention from the ‘inconvenient truth’ of the existence of material health and safety deficiencies that need remediation at a larger scope and cost more than anticipated, my client has become the target of trivial and/or baseless allegations that have nothing to do with the priority, merits or necessity of the proposed renovations.”

Dambruch did not return a call, and in an email, School Committee vice chair Nathan Cornell said he could not comment.


3 comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here

  • DannyHall82

    Something isn't right about this, definitely looks like a political move.

    Tuesday, July 27, 2021 Report this

  • JohnStark

    When Baxter wins his inevitable suit against the school department we'll all be on the hook. This is the very same school committee that has turned two blind eyes to the deplorable academic outcomes generated by an embarrassing system of bloated government education.

    Year School Budget # Students Cost per Pupil

    2018 $163M 8800 $18,522

    2019 $169M 8610 $19,628

    2020 $181M 8140 $22,285

    2021 $193M 8000 (at most) $24,187

    In summary, the school department will spend 18% more money this year than four years ago in order to educate 9% fewer students, resulting in a revised per-pupil expenditure of $24,187! That's just the input. With respect to outputs, just 1 in 4 Warwick students are deemed to be "Meeting Expectations" (as defined by RIDE) in Mathematics. And "Meeting Expectations" is a very low bar. The numbers are slightly better in English Language Arts/Literacy, with 37.9% of students "Meeting Expectations". With a 37.9% English literacy rate and and three-quarters lacking basic proficiency in Math, one might ask if it could possibly get any worse. It could, and it does. The data from RIDE is clear; the longer a child remains in the Warwick public schools, the worse the scores get. Curiously, the SC has completely abdicated any responsibility for this horror. It's past time to cease tinkering. Taxpayers are done. The only answer is Vouchers.

    Friday, July 30, 2021 Report this

  • bill123

    Don’t forget about the school department’s “exhaustive audit” report, published less than two years ago by the law firm Barton Gilman ( The report said : “The District should expend considerable time and effort educating Warwick officials regarding the need to increase funding to a District with already among the highest per pupil expenditures in the State ($19,585) to ensure that programs do not continue to suffer.” Although this seems to defy common sense, it clearly advocated the ramp-up in expenses we are now seeing, as noted by the above commenter.

    Hey, it’s the same law firm, doing the investigation.

    Saturday, July 31, 2021 Report this