Budget Commission members are waiting on the advice of the state Revenue Department's legal counsel on whether they're able to stop a move to re-organize the School Committee.
The issue was raised by a June 22 e-mail memo to the Commission from School Committeeman Chris Roberts about an item on the school board's Wednesday agenda to modify bylaws to allow a non-election related reorganization of the board.
The effort, Roberts wrote, has, "...the ultimate end goal presumptively the election of a new Chair (currently Anita Forcier-McGuire) and/or Vice Chair (currently Vimala Phongsavanh)."
In regular times, Roberts wrote, such a change might be appropriate, but given the fiscal oversight of the Budget Commission and the city's struggle to balance the budget, "I consider it a risky move at best," Roberts wrote.
Commission member Mayor Leo Fontaine said the School Committee may have to defer to the Budget Commission on the move, a sentiment Roberts echoed in his memo.
Roberts said that since the School Committee Chairman represents the Committee in signing official documents and contracts, the ammendment would affect school finances, which now fall under the Budget Commission's authority.
Also, he said, since the School Committee Chairman makes appointments to sub-committees, including the Finance Subcommittee, "I am nervous that a change in Chairmanship due to personality differences will result in committee re-assignments, not based on merit and aptitude, but on alliances, especially in the important arena of finance."
Roberts asked in the memo that the Commission remove the issue from the School Committee's agenda for their Wednesday meeting — which attributes the item to School Committeeman John Donlon (see agenda attached to this article). Roberts said the Commission should invoke the panel's power to adopt rules and regulations to effectively carry out its mission and to alter or rescind actions of municipal officers, employees, boards, authorities and commissions.
Though the Budget Commission has not hired a legal advisor, Galoogly suggested that the panel use the Department of Revenue's legal counsel, Marilyn McConaughy, to assess the matter.
The Commission voted to ask McConaughy to examine whether the issue falls under the Budget Commission's authority.
After the meeting, Galoogly said she was suspending judgement on the question. As long as the matter doesn't impact the Budget Commission's ability to operate, she said, "My goal would be to stay away from it."
Fontaine said presently, the School Committee only re-organizes after an election, when there's likely to be a change of the makeup of the board.
Fontaine said the proposed change could open the door for unpredictable changes in the School Committee's leadership, and make the board less stable. Regarding Forcier-McGuire, he said, she's been very active on behalf of the committee and in organizing testimony at the state house during the city's fiscal crisis. "I have not seen any other School Committee Person, or School Committee Chairperson for that matter, ever be more involved than the current chairperson."
The Woonsocket Budget Commission's next meeting will be Wednesday at 4:30 p.m., to discuss the wastewater treatment plant. Galoogly said she expects McConaughy to be able to advise on the School Committee's potential reorganization plans before then, in time for the Commission to act before the School Committee's Wednesday night meeting if it chooses.