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.


Novan for Life July 20, 2012 at 08:45 PM
Jerry July 20, 2012 at 10:59 PM
The problem with an appeal is eventually a judge might ask the superintendent how many people and how much money she needs. She'll look bewildered, shuffle some papers and start talking some nonsense about which wolf to feed! Next?!
David T July 20, 2012 at 11:28 PM
Not good. But I'm not surprised. The Call's article concludes that it's up to the General Assembly to fix the funding formula. http://www.woonsocketcall.com/node/5714 Lisa Baldelli Hunt and John Brien, this means it's up to you and the rest of the Woonsocket delegation to form a coalition of urbans and towns to fix this mess of a funding formula. How this city's quality of education hasn't been our priority up to now is beyond me. Come next April we'll be out of money, again, and you won't be able to say you didn't know what was happening or what caused the deficit.
Russell Archambault July 21, 2012 at 12:04 AM
nadeau on dions talk show yesterday. callers were more interested on her vacation. she mentioned no money soon. Oh well she said dont know what we are going to do. Now there's leadership
David T July 21, 2012 at 12:45 AM
What do we have to lose? A dead goat fears no knife.
David T July 21, 2012 at 01:30 AM
This WED budget must be like trying to figure out, to the penny, how much you should budget on gas for your car for the coming year. So many variables that change throughout the year. Gas prices, un-expected trips, tire pressure, weather conditions, car maintenance, operator's driving style, maybe you lose hours at work, maybe you have to change your work location. Impossible. You basically over budget or try to come as close as you can get without under-estimating. If at the end of the year you realize you under-estimated, do you stop driving? Of course not. You might do without something in order to get to work (budget cuts) and or work more hours (raise taxes) and or borrow money (bonds) to get through the year. Now if I could come up with an analogy for how the state pays most of the WED's costs.
Memere July 21, 2012 at 01:33 AM
Justice Vogel stated " There is no fundamental right to an education, and neither poverty nor wealth could be used to argue for equal protection." If that is so, then why is the state forcing all these mandates down our throats, mandates that we, and many other communities, CANNOT afford to pay for. If they want us to implement these mandates then THEY should be providing the money to fund them. I am very tired of Woonsocket being used as the scape goat by the state while they favor previously selected other communities. Whenever there is something good or positive to be offered be it extra funding for schools, building another courthouse, or any other state office or facility, the state NEVER even considers Woonsocket. Do we share an equal part in this state or are we just here to pay extra state taxes so that other communities can benefit from it?????
Growing more concerned by the day! July 21, 2012 at 11:06 AM
To remove the emotion from this debate, should we understand how many dollars in the school budget are allocated for specific State mandates as well as how much is allocated to poorly negiotiated labor contracts including medical benefits and pensions? We should also hone in on specific line item planned spending for maintenance, supplies, student academic, sports and special ed programs. Before we critize the judge's decision and reason of "education is not a right" let's see how much is being spent on non critical educational items.
cf July 21, 2012 at 12:19 PM
Cost of labor is killing Landmark too.Third world America is rearing it's ugly head in what is proving to be a long slow decline.For all you optimists out there,time to prepare for the worst.There,ok i said it.........feel free to flame me till the cows come home.At least we still have free speech (for now).
Hope for the best July 22, 2012 at 12:20 PM
And what are "non critical" educational items? As far as I can figure, most of those are long.
Novan for Life July 22, 2012 at 03:09 PM
Hey Taxpayers of Woonsocket do you know what it's like coming into a screwed up city, a equally screwed up education department and have the unbearable task of FIXING the problems. Espeacially when you have a city that has not generated any new revenue in a long time. So i ask how would you fix the problem? me simple work with RIDE and the budget commission, keep the dialogue open which until recently never exsited between the school department and the city.
Jerry July 22, 2012 at 04:16 PM
Robert, If and when you ever become a taxpayer, please feel free to weigh in. In the interim, I think the rest of us ought be able a degree of competence for our 150K per year. Obviously, we're not seeing that. This woman is in way over her head just like the majority of the McFee "leadership" and needs to go.
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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