August 27, 2008

Judge Savage to the Cranston School Committee: The Caruolo Act Was Not Meant to Let You Ignore the Taxpayers and the Rest of Municipal Government

Carroll Andrew Morse

In her ruling dismissing the Cranston School Committee's Caruolo Act lawsuit, Rhode Island Superior Court Judge Judith Savage reminds the CSC that the Caruolo Act is not intended as an alternative appropriations mechanism for school committees who decide they don't want to bother with the due-diligence necessary to inform and persuade the public that increased spending is necessary…

For the reasons set forth in this Decision, this Court dismisses the Caruolo action filed by the Cranston School Committee and declines to order the City Council to appropriate additional monies of close to $4.5 million for fiscal year 2007-2008. The denial of this relief is required, as a matter of law, because the School Committee blatantly failed to comply with numerous statutory prerequisites to filing a Caruolo action. Notably, it failed to file a corrective action plan with the Mayor, City Council and Auditor General as soon as it recognized a potential or actual budget deficit, as required by law. Indeed, to date, it has never filed the statutorily required plan. This corrective action plan would have required the School Committee to address the deficit, to ensure that it spent only the minimum amounts necessary to comply with its legal obligations, under the watchful eye of the Auditor General.

In addition, it never amended its budget to conform to the City Council’s lowered appropriation to it as a result of the State’s decision to level fund state education aid to the City of Cranston for 2007-2008, it failed to sufficiently minimize its expenses thereafter, it did not timely petition the Commissioner of Education for waivers from state regulations, it failed to timely alert the Mayor and the City Council about its expected budget deficit and it failed to timely file this Caruolo action. Instead, the School Committee simply continued to spend money until it had grossly overspent its budget, in violation of Rhode Island law. In what appears to have been an effort to try to force an increase in its level of appropriations, the School Committee did not file this action – which is designed to secure emergency court-ordered appropriations that a school committee must prove are necessary for it to meet its remaining legal obligations in that fiscal year -- until the school year was almost over and its money had almost run out. The School Committee’s filing of this action in the latter half of May 2008 is by far the latest Caruolo action ever filed in the Rhode Island Superior Court. By the time it filed suit, it had to ask this Court to order the City Council to appropriate to it over $4.9 million to cure its budget deficit– by far the largest sum ever requested in a Caruolo action.

David Scharfenberg of the Projo has more details on the situation in Cranston here.

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What we really need is for School Committees to be self-sufficient bodies. Let the School Committee send out their own tax bill. Let the chairman of each school committee put his/her name at the bottom of that letter explaining why this year's tax bill is higher than last year's. Let's see how the seniors and other people without kids take that. It will make the School Committees A LOT more accountable to the people and make people take those elections more seriously, and take quite a bit of heat off the Town Councils and Mayors. It will also drop everyone's property taxes by a bit and then really let people know where all their property tax money was going.

Posted by: James L. at August 27, 2008 9:03 AM

Could you please provide a link to the decision on the Rhode Island Judiciary web site? Thanks!
Years ago at a district meeting I made a motion to cut 2 Million Dollars from the proposed Chariho Regional School budget at a district meeting. At another meeting a decreased budget was proposed and passed. The Caroulo fact finding was never employed in that case as they did a revote.

Posted by: Scott Bill Hirst at August 27, 2008 11:11 AM

I found it! Try ,. This should bring you directly to Justice Savage's decision.
Off to GOP convention Saturday.
Scott Bill Hirst

Posted by: Scott Bill Hirst at August 27, 2008 11:25 AM

Check out this little gem from the decision:
"The School Committee, following the advice of Chairman Michael A. Traficante, made no effort to obtain concessions from any of the employee unions during fiscal year 2007-2008 to assist it with its budget deficit."

WOW! You have got to be kidding me! Do you mean to tell me that someone, (after giving away the city to the unions while mayor, Traficante was paid off with a job and continues to work for the Laborers International Union of North America) elected by the stupid taxpayers of Cranston would not try to get the unions to pony up a little more to help the situation out?
I really don't know who to blame more - Traficante, or the stupid voters of Cranston who put this joker in office.
Falls under the "you reap what you sow" category.

Posted by: Mike Cappelli at August 27, 2008 2:27 PM

Whoa. The Cranston School Committee did NOTHING right. As Judge Savage pointed out, their plan to close the significant budget gap they created was to simply file a Caruolo action. Good for her for holding them to the rules and refusing to grant them an easy override.

As for James L's suggestion, state law would have to be modified. But is there a reason why the elected officials who actually create the budget and the tax burden should not also have to directly answer for them at the voting booth?

Posted by: Monique at August 27, 2008 2:33 PM

The real answer is to abolish school commitee's-and repeal the Caroulo Act.

Posted by: Mike at August 27, 2008 7:42 PM

I'm gratified by the judge's decision and completely stunned that the truth was was stated so plainly for all to see "The School Committee... made no effort to obtain concessions from any of the employee unions during fiscal year 2007-2008 to assist it with its budget deficit."

Hope you use that like a club in the November elections in Cranston. Unbelievable!

Posted by: Will at August 28, 2008 3:12 AM

These type issues MUST be brought and emphasized to the public in a campaign.Many Republicans tolerate or support such tactics, but the issue needs to be defined logically and rationally.Too often the children and the importance of education are allowed to defend such preactices. Recruitment of people committed to education and sound fiscal policy need to be recruited for school committee.Once again my our Chariho Regional School District two school committee members will be elected as write-ins!

Posted by: Scott Bill Hirst at August 28, 2008 6:00 PM
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