WOONSOCKET – City officials will be releasing the findings of an ongoing mid-year audit of school department spending when the City Council meets for a work session Monday evening.
Council President John F. Ward invited members of the School Committee to the session while speaking at the School Committee's meeting at the Hamlet Middle School this past Wednesday.
Ward said the work session would be held after members of Mayor Leo T. Fontaine's administration, representatives of Braver PC, the city's auditing firm, and Council representatives attend a Monday meeting with state finance officials to discuss the audit's results.
Ward said the city expects another projected deficit for the school department but will not be releasing the final numbers on that finding until they have been discussed with Rosemary Booth Gallogly during the meeting on Monday.
“After we have met with the state we will be able to have a meeting in the city to start a conversation about solutions to the problem,” Ward told the School Committee.
The dialogue is not expected to be a pleasant one. The school department has already been identified as overspending last year's $59 million budget by $2.7 million and the red ink for its budget ending June 30 could top that number by a significant amount, officials have hinted.
The School Committee has already begun preparing for cuts that might be needed to balance next year's budget, acting two weeks ago to send out layoff notices to the department's entire teaching staff and also voting this past week to raise the cost of a school lunch by 15 cents during the coming year and increase rental fees for the use of school gyms and athletic fields. The lunch increase will help the department increase its school lunch program's capital expenditure fund, and the increases in fees for outside organizations using school facilities will be split by the Athletic Department and the School Facilities Department's capital improvements account.
Jeff Partington, president of the Woonsocket Teacher's Guild, noted that all 250 city elementary teachers, 120 middle school teachers and 130 high school teachers were issued layoffs notices as a result of the School Department's layoff vote. An appeal of the layoffs has been filed with School Superintendent Giovana Donoyan, Partington told the School Committee on Wednesday.
Ward said that the options available to address the city's continuing financial problems could be equally severe.
“Basically, everything that everyone has been waiting for is about to be exposed,” Ward told the School Committee.
The solutions will likely be found under three possible scenarios, he explained. “Either we take care of it ourselves, or we go to a budget committee like they appointed in East Providence,” he said of the first two options.
If either of those are not selected, the next would be to “go a step further” and have the city placed in receivership, the option now being used to address the fiscal problems faced by Central Falls.
The meeting with the state officials on Monday is expected to give the city a better read on where it stands among those options, according to Ward.
That will all be explained at the later City Council session, he added.
“We will get an update on what happened at the meeting with the state and inform the public about where we go from there,” he said.
The Council's work session in the upstairs conference room will be held at 6 p.m. and will be followed by the panel's regular meeting at 7 p.m.