Woonsocket's Budget Commission voted today to tell the School Committee's lawyers to hold off on an appeal of the dismissal of their suit against the state for a more equitable funding formula.
The suit, Woonsocket School Committee, et al v. The Honorable Lincoln Chafee, et al, alleges the General Assembly has failed to provide adequate funding to meet obligations they've mandated during the last 15 years.
In July, Superior Court Associate Justice Netti C. Vogel upheld the constitutionality of the state funding formula in the decision without taking on the question of the fairness of state aid distribution to urban communities, stating it is not the court's place to intervene in General Assembly actions.
Chairman Bill Sequino suggested that they postpone discussion of the appeal to a later date to give them more time to review the matter.
In that case, "It might be prudent to have the attorneys not move forward with the appeal," said Budget Commission Legal Counsel Ed Alves, since it hasn't been approved by the Budget Commission yet.
The Commission voted to tell the attorneys to attend their next meeting to discuss the appeal but not move ahead with it.
The Commission also rejected a contract with Durham School Services to continue providing bus service to the district on a pre-payment basis. Sequino and other members of the Commission objected to the pre-payment clause, noting their previous bills with the company have been paid.
Instead, the Commission voted to exercise the School Department's option under the existing $1.5 million contract to extend it for one year.
School Department Facilities Director Peter Fontaine said he would discuss the decision with Durham officials. Supt. Giovanna Donoyan said the contract has to be settled in time for school to start by Aug. 28.
Commission member Dina Dutremble noted the contract asked for approval 30 days in advance of the school year's start. "We're already 30 days behind and we're just getting this today," Dutremble said.
"When did the School Committee act (to approve the pre-pay contract)?" Commission member Leo Fontaine asked.
"June 18," Donoyan said.
Fontaine took issue with the School Committee's action to approve the contract without notifying the Budget Commission. He said it seemed the Committee felt it was OK to approve spending, "But basically takes a pass on addressing the financial side of it."
"The School Committee acted on this in June," said Comission member Peder Schaefer, so why was the Commission just seeing it in July?
"A lot of things happened," said Donoyan, including a long scramble to get the school department's budget straightened out. "I'm really sorry that we didn't get this to you."
Fontaine suggested that the Budget Commission should get copies of the School Department's agenda so they can be on the lookout for new surprises. David Eaton, advisor to the Budget Commission, said the Commission already shares minutes with the School Committee, but he could arrange to get the agendas too. "Because you're right," he said.
Fontaine said the Budget Commission would have to actively check on the School Committee now, since they were obviously not bothering to make motions during their meetings to apprise the Budget Commission of important developments.