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School committee gets more time to review audit

January 29, 2011

WOONSOCKET – The School Committee gained another week to review the city’s recently completed performance audit of school operations thanks to the heavy snowstorm on Wednesday and Thursday.
The panel had been set to hear a presentation of auditor B&E Consulting’s findings on ways to lower school budget costs on Wednesday but was forced to postpone the meeting to this coming Wednesday in light of the storm.
School Committee Chairman Marc A. Dubois said the rescheduled meeting will begin at 7 p.m. in the Hamlet Avenue Middle School and will again feature a presentation by Walter Edge on his company’s cost review.
“We are going to get a presentation about the audit and the committee will also explore some of his recommendations,” Dubois said.
The City Council will now hear Edge’s presentation first since it is scheduled to take up the performance audit at a meeting on Monday evening in Harris Hall, listed as a joint session with the School Committee. The City Council picked up the cost of the audit, which could ultimately be used as a reference book on school department spending if the city and schools end up in court under a so-called Caruolo Act school funding lawsuit.
After conducting a review of all aspects of local public school operations, B&E concluded that enacting its list of proposed budget revisions could save the school department up to $2.9 million each year.
The cutting recommended by the consultant would eliminate up to eight full-time custodial positions in the school department, reduce the number of special education positions now used to meet state education mandates, and also close at least one of the small Fairmount elementary schools, Fifth Avenue. The second Fairmount school, Coleman Elementary, could also be closed under an expanded move for savings in elementary operations, according to findings.
The plan recommends a redirection of grant funding to help restore a full time kindergarten program that was cut to half day by the School Committee last year as a cost savings move.
Dubois said members of the School Committee maybe able to attend Monday’s Council meeting to hear the consultant’s presentation, initially was not sure if its members could participate in the discussion and ask questions about the recommendations. The meeting has been subsequently noticed as a joint session allowing both panels to participate in the audit discussion.
Ultimately, it will be up to the School Committee to decide whether to enact B&E recommendations or follow a modified approach in order to balance the coming year’s school budget.
At the moment, Dubois said there does seem to recommendations in B&E’s audit that school officials could support but also others that might raise objections.
“There is about a third that School Superintendent (Robert J.) Gerardi agrees with, a third he doesn’t agree with and another third that he thinks could be implemented over a period of years,” Dubois said.
Dubois said members of the panel’s budget committee had already looked at the possibility of closing Fifth Avenue in the past but debated whether the move would actually save money in light of the cost of busing its students to other schools in the city.
For now, Dubois said the School Committee will have to wait for its own rescheduled meeting to take up possible action on the changes. The panel has had to reschedule its last two meetings to new dates as a result of snowstorms and Dubois said he hopes that issue doesn’t arise again on Wednesday. “We’ve now had to cancel two meetings due to the snow and reschedule them to the following Wednesday,” Dubois said of the impact of this winter’s trying weather pattern of storms.

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