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Budget panel OKs recall of teachers

June 18, 2012

WOONSOCKET — The state-appointed Budget Commission overseeing Woonsocket's finances unanimously voted Monday to approve the School Department's request to recall up to 63 teachers laid off earlier this year.
At last week's commission meeting, the panel had said it would delay a vote on the request until after the School Committee's official approval of the recall, which was to take place at a special school board meeting yesterday afternoon.
Instead, the commission at its meeting early yesterday morning agreed to approve the recalls pending the School Committee's approval at its meeting four hours later.
At the commission's meeting, Commissioner John F. Ward noted the positions being recalled are all existing positions.
Schools Supt. Giovanna Donoyan appeared before the panel last week asking for permission to recall the laid-off teacher immediately to fill known vacancies, including a number of state-mandated positions. The urgency came, in part, because the School Department was set to hold a “job fair” last week in attempts to allow teachers to
file internal applications for those positions to meet its scheduling obligations to the Woonsocket Teachers Guild.
Partly on the suggestion of WTG President Jeff Partington, the commission voted 4-0 in favor of a resolution that makes it clear selection for a position does not guarantee employment next school year.
The key issue is funding, or the lack of it. As the 2012 legislative session ended without action on the Budget Commission’s request to levy a 13 percent supplemental tax bill, Commissioner Peder A. Schaefer has said it is still unknown where the school department would get the funding to pay for all the positions it is seeking.
The unresolved variable of the supplemental tax bill has forced the city to post legal advertisements notifying the general public that next year’s education budget will be $62.1 million, a figure the city knows is $6 to $8 million too little, according to Schaefer.
The third meeting of the Budget Commission in Harris Hall last week lasted more than three hours and marked the panel’s sharpest confrontation yet with Donoyan over the education department's inability to supply the panel with bankable data on which to build a budget forecast.
The information gap prompted Commission Chairman William Sequino to issue Donoyan an ultimatum of sorts — if she and the School Committee don’t take some action to fill vacancies for a full-time finance director, a controller, or both, by their next meeting, the panel would do it for them.
Meanwhile, Rhode Island's education commissioner said last Thursday she is reviewing a request to take control of the public schools as the Budget Commission hurries to craft a spending plan that would allow the city to avoid receivership.
Commissioner Deborah A. Gist said the state is looking at the city's ability to pay for its school system and whether it meets the legal criteria for a takeover.
Among the factors under consideration are Woonsocket's taxable property, tax rate and how it spends tax dollars, said Gist adding she wants to make sure the impact on students is minimal. Woonsocket has about 6,000 students.
The Woonsocket School Committee voted 4-1 last Wednesday to seek the takeover. A $10 million schools deficit has pushed the city of about 41,000 residents to the brink of bankruptcy.
The city budgeted $59.3 million to spend on schools this year.
The crisis prompted Gov. Lincoln Chafee's administration to appoint a budget commission last month to oversee the city's finances; a commission is the second of three possible levels of state oversight.
The request came after the General Assembly adjourned last week without approving a 13 percent supplemental property tax on Woonsocket residents that would have helped close the budget hole. The measure stalled in the House after negotiations broke down between members of the city's delegation and the governor's office.
The Woonsocket delegation proposed an 8.5 percent tax as a compromise.

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