The Budget Commission and the School Committee met in an open session after their last meeting Aug. 23 to trade questions and information, including some preliminary talk about the possible consolidation of the city and school finance departments.
That topic got started with Commission member Peder Schaefer's observation that, "You can help us by having high quality financial information."
Commission member Dina Dutremble asked about the status of the Woonsocket School Department's search for a controller for the school's finance department. Superintendent Giovanna Donoyan said the department had been close to a finalist for the position, but the individual seemed concerned about the job, and backed out. "We had to re-post that position," she said.
"I think they're (candidates) concerned with job security," said Ralph Malafronte, interim finance director for Woonsocket Schools.
"I'm more concerned about the people who aren't applying," said City Council President John Ward. He said candidates shouldn't be scared away by the specter of a possible merger between the city and school finance departments. (The item was listed on that day's agenda for the Budget Commission, though they didn't end up discussing it during that session). The controller position will be needed regardless of a merge, he said. "That's not going away. Someone has to be in that building doing that work."
Malafronte noted that with a consolidated finance department, the school department wouldn't need a finance director.
"Mr. Bruce, you job's getting bigger," said School Committee member Anita McGuire-Forcier, addressing City Finance Director Thomas Bruce.
Budget Commission Chairman Bill Sequino said the Budget Commission's appointment presents a good opportunity to re-organize the two finance departments to enhance budget communication. "Now is the time to do it. Now is the time for transparency," Sequino said.
Schaefer noted a merge would be done as a pilot program, to see how it works, and wouldn't necessarily be a permanent move.
"Will you be going to School Committee meetings as well?" McGuire-Forcier asked Bruce.
"Yes," Bruce said. "Wednesday nights, everybody knows at home."
Ward noted a shared finance director between the school and city finance departments wouldn't necessarily bring significant savings, since the school department would still need an operating manager for the school finance office.
Mayor Leo Fontaine said a merge should happen one step at a time. He said the process involves so many separate interests, most stakeholders say, "forget it". "Can you get by that? I don't know. Nobody's ever tried," Fontaine said.
During their regular meeting, the Budget Commission also voted to allow the school department's lawyers to proceed with an appeal of the dismissal of their lawsuit against the state, Woonsocket School Committee, et al v. The Honorable Lincoln Chafee, et al. The suit alleges the General Assembly has failed to provide adequate funding to meet obligations they've mandated during the last 15 years.