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Schools launch public dialogue

January 20, 2012

WOONSOCKET – After enduring a barrage of criticism for dragging the city deeper into a fiscal quagmire, the school department is going on the offensive.
Woonsocket Schools Supt. Giovanna Donoyan has scheduled a series of three forums in the next two weeks, inviting the general public to discuss student achievement, teaching issues and, yes, finances.
On the job for only five months, the former North Providence schools chief has dubbed the unprecedented series of town-hall style meetings “A Conversation with the Woonsocket Education Depart-ment Superintendent.” The first will be held in the cafeteria of the Hamlet Middle School from 6-8 p.m. on Tuesday.
In the wake of all the negative publicity, Donoyan says she hopes the sessions help restore credibility in the school department and send the message that it’s working in the best interests of children.
“I’ve got 6,000 kids that need someone to advocate for them and I’ve got the voice,” said Donoyan. “What I don’t like is being dragged into a ‘he said, she said’ kind of deal. I’m just trying to right the ship. I didn’t cause it to hit rock bottom.”
Moody’s Investors Service last week downgraded the city’s bond rating to Ba2, deeper into the realm of junk, after the discovery of a $2.7 million shortfall on the school department’s ledgers. To be fair, Moody’s also said the city shares some of the blame for failing to adequately fund its local pension system.
The shortfall was discovered after a strict no-deficit set of guidelines had been imposed on local government by the state because the city borrowed nearly $12 million last March to wipe out earlier deficits – largely racked up on the school department meter. While Gov. Chafee appears to have ruled out a higher level of state intervention for the city, on the order of say, what’s happening in East Providence, State Revenue Director Rosemary Booth Gallogly now demands the school department meet new financial reporting requirements to keep abreast of the situation.
At least a month ago, Gallogly asked school officials to supply financial data indicating whether a new deficit exists in the current budget and a cash-flow analysis for the rest of the year. To date, however, the School Department’s financial staff, under the direction of Business Manager Stacy Busby, has not supplied the information.
Former School Department Business Manager Dina Dutremble has been hired to help comply with the request, reporting directly to Mayor Leo Fontaine, with the consent of the School Committee.
In addition to Tuesday’s session with the superintendent, another is scheduled to take place Thursday from 10-noon at the Chaplin Perez Center, 37 Center St., and a third on Tuesday, Jan. 31, from 6-8 p.m. in the auditorium of Woonsocket High School.

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