The Woonsocket Education Department has devised a plan to address the estimated $2.2 to $2.6 million deficit identified in a draft report by auditors last week, and although some actions can be taken immediately to reduce the shortfall, the department will likely have to make arrangements to bring down the debt gradually over the next five years.
Superintendent Dr. Giovanna Donoyan submitted the corrective action plan to Auditor General Dennis Hoyle on Wednesday, outlining six steps that could be taken to potentially see immediate savings. After significant reductions in staffing and programs last year, however, Donoyan emphasized that the department has little left to cut.
"With no additional sources of revenue from which to draw for fiscal year 2011, coupled with the reduction of programs and associated staffing, any additional cost cutting measures may cripple the teaching and learning obligations of the Woonsocket Education Department," the letter states.
The plan is considered a temporary solution as auditors have yet to finalize their report on school spending for the year that ended last June. The city hired the auditing firm last year to examine WED's books after the department submitted a budget which included deficit spending.
The department implemented many of the cuts recommended by the auditors from Braver PC and until last week, Business Manager Stacy Busby was reporting a surplus for the year. In a meeting with city officials last Thursday, however, Busby explained that the 'surprise' deficit, identified just weeks before the department's final deadline, was the result of out-of-budget salaries for positions recommended by the former superintendent, Dr. Robert Gerardi.
Donoyan was required by law to submit her plan to address the issue after a meeting on Monday with State Revenue Director Rosemary Booth Gallogly.
Without a five year plan, Donoyan explained, the school would inevitably need more funding from the city or the state.
"While we recognize the economic hardship of the citizens of Woonsocket, any corrective plan must necessarily involve either an increase in appropriations from the city or a five year deficit reduction plan to amortize the deficit in five consecutive years commencing fiscal year 2012," the letter stated.
Starting immediately, the education head has implemented a spending freeze on all non-essential purchases. "Scrutiny of expenses will be a priority," she wrote.
Additionally, Donoyan has put a hiring freeze on all unfilled district positions, and intends to analyze all current programs and staffing in search of potential cost savings. One program the superintendent has already identified for possible elimination is the Feinstein Learning Academy, a middle school program for troubled youth which she stated has been "under performing" for the past five years. Donoyan estimated the move would save the department $350,000.
School Committee members presented with the communication Wednesday night questioned the logic of cutting Feinstein.
The program, Donoyan said, was intended as a temporary solution for children with behavior problems, but after studying success rates of Feinstein students, Principal Patrick McGee reported that the issues actually seemed to escalate for the youth in the program. "Their needs would best be met in a regular classroom," Donoyan said.
"These are the children in the city that would be extremely disruptive and at times even dangerous," said McGuire-Forcier. "I would need to see a lot more proof that they'd be successful in a regular classroom.
Other measures presented in the two page communication included determining if staff positions that were paid with local funding should have been paid with federal dollars and securing additional accounting staff for the school department. The accounting firm that generally examines department books at the end of the month will be hired to provide general ledger transaction oversight.
The department must still provide Gallogly with a payroll schedule, a document which Busby said she will submit by Friday.
According to a report presented by Busby Wednesday evening, the department has spent 35% of their budget to date for the current year which began in July.