Woonsocket Officials Support Appeal Of School Funding Suit Decision

Judge dismissed case challenging fairness of state funding formula.


Woonsocket's attempt to address one of the factors officials say led to the city's latest deficit — state aid which does not adequately help fund city schools — met a dead end last week when Superior Court Associate Justice Netti C. Vogel dismissed the case.

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.

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.

In the decision, Vogel said there is no fundamental right to education, and neither poverty nor wealth could be used to argue equal protection.  "In the absence of a fundamental right, and where the General Assembly‘s legislation has not delineated any suspect classification, the General Assembly‘s action can only be unconstitutional if the 'classification established bears no reasonable relationship to the public health, safety, or welfare.', " Vogel wrote.

City officials support an appeal.

"I think it was pretty disgusting. They gave the whole suit short shrift," said Mayor Leo Fontaine. He said he supports appealing the decision, which he said ignores recent changes to the RI constitution.

The League of Women Voters of Rhode Island have posted a study of a 2003 ammendment on the separation of powers they argued may allow judicial review of General Assembly decisions (see attached .pdf).

But Vogel said the complaint brought by Pawtucket and Woonsocket did not meet the test for judicial intervention.  "It is important to note that this Court evaluates legislative enactments with extreme deference: the Rhode Island Supreme Court will interfere with such enactments ―only when the legislation at issue could palpably and unmistakably be characterized as an excess of legislative power. (City of Pawtucket v. Sundlun, 662 A.2d 40, 44-45 (R.I. 1995) (citing Kennedy v. State, 654 A.2d 708, 711 (R.I. 1995)). Indeed, the Supreme Court has said it will not invalidate a legislative enactment ―unless the party challenging the enactment can prove beyond a reasonable doubt to th[e] court that the statute in question is repugnant to a provision in the constitution," Vogel wrote.

Vogel added that the acts of the legislature are "plenary," or executive and immune from judicial review. But the LWV analysis of the 2003 ammendment asserts the actions of the legislature are no longer plenary, a decision confirmed in a 2004 decision regarding the CMRC, summarized by CommonCauseRI.org.

Jason P. Becker, blogger and research specialist at the R.I. Department of Education, offers an alternative take on the issue, and points to a section of the state constitution that says it's up to cities and towns to raise taxes to make up the difference between state aid and school budget demands. That solution was blocked with the defeat of the supplemental tax bill in June.

Fontaine supports an appeal of Vogel's decision. "We've got to fight for every penny that we can get," he said.

School Committee Chairwoman Anita McGuire-Forcier also wants to fight the decision. She said the School Committee should ask for an appeal. "I know I'm voting to appeal it," she said.


Russell Archambault July 22, 2012 at 04:25 PM
even with all the importance of education, salaries, buildings and everything else, the most "non critical educational item" is the "STUDENT" teachers hide behind the good students, the people admire and honer the best, but we together all forget the rest.
Novan for Life July 22, 2012 at 08:16 PM
Sorry Jerry it's my constitutional right to free speech you don't like don't read it, oh by the way that leadership is doing quite well under the current circumstances
Jerry July 22, 2012 at 09:08 PM
You do bring some levity to the conversation, Robert. I'll certainly give you that.
Anonymous August 02, 2012 at 05:50 PM
I personally think its a lose/lose situation. The schools are crumbling around us both literally and figuratively. The teachers are not getting paid enough and MAY be expected to take on even more students then they can even handle. With Assistant Teachers being let go because of budget cuts and schools potentially being closed, you will have a kindergarten teacher trying to teach 35 kids in as little as 2 1/2 hours. My daughter goes to Globe Park, and had what I considered one of the BEST teachers anywhere in Mrs. Curci. She had 15 am and 15 pm students and what she was able to accomplish with these 30 kids in 2 1/2 hours was nothing short of a miracle!! However, I fear for her mental status if she is forced to handle double that amount this coming school year! There are just too many kids in this city and not enough teachers or money to handle that. We could discuss the amount of teenagers having babies before theyve finished 10th grade but that is something that the city can not mandate (unfortunatly). I met with a teacher last year who told me that one of her students was the child of one of her first students and she's been teaching the same grade for 14 yrs.... do the math! Im off my point (although not a bad point), the lose/lose is there is no money to pay teachers and no room for the current student load! Its a sad state of affairs but I think something people need to realize....the state isnt doing much better so stop looking for a handout from them!
Anonymous August 02, 2012 at 05:54 PM
The State of Rhode Island, the city of Woonsocket as well as other cities is come to an educated standpoint and realize, just as we were told as kids, MONEY DOES NOT GROW ON TREES!! You need to figure out HOW to make money and not rely on archaic methods. We don't live in 1950's America anymore. Gone are those simple days when people bought local and mills were thriving! When you drive around this State and city in general you see more desitute and abandoned building then I could ever have imagined 10 years ago! We need to figure out a way to provide for our future not jus tour present! Once people start to realize that then maybe, for once, the city can grow in the coming years and be a top-rated location. Otherwise, we're all doomed! the ones who care, start looking at places to escape to and the ones who dont, good luck with the crack dealers!


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