Chariho School Parents’ Forum

March 6, 2009

Westerly Sun & HTC on Monday’s hearing

Filed under: Nov 18 meeting (where I was removed from office) — Editor @ 8:51 am

h/t CP so alerting me to the following items.  thx

 

This editorial is from The Westerly Sun, Wednesday, March 4th
 
Hopkinton council right to keep pressing

H

 
 
This is the letter to the editor from the HTC that appeared also on March 4th.
 

School Committee’s treatment of Felkner is way off base


  As members of the Hopkinton Town Council we would like to clearly state we fully support William Felkner’s efforts to obtain reinstatement to his seat on the Chariho School Committee. We commend Mr. Felkner for his tireless commitment to vindicating the rights of the people of Hopkinton in order to have the rep­resentative they elected, represent them on the School Committee. No matter how one feels about Mr. Felkner or his views, the high-hand­ed and despotic way in which the School Committee has treated the issue of his dual representation imperils the rule of law and the rights of all of us.
  It should be apparent to the most casual observer that the actions of the majority of the School Committee in unilaterally declaring Mr. Felkner’s seat vacant arose from the long-standing animosity that this body has shown him since the day he originally took his seat. His efforts to promote transparency, accountability and the interests of his constituency have been met with open hostility, personal insult and obstruction at
every turn. Clearly, some of the School Committee members saw an opportunity to rid themselves of a thorn in their side and jumped at the chance without considering or caring about the ramifications. As a conse­quence, our town does not have its duly elected representative, Mr. Felkner was forced into a battle that he never sought, and has not been able to devote his time to the better­ment of the Chariho School District.
  The Hopkinton Charter is clear: Mr. Felkner may hold positions as both School Committee and Town Council Member. The arguments to the contrary offered by Chariho and the other two member towns are con­voluted and unsound. Surely Hopkinton’s interpretation of its own Charter should be accepted over the interpretation of parties whose objec­tive is simply to silence Mr. Felkner’s voice for responsible stewardship of the School District. We have every confidence that the Rhode Island Supreme Court will see through the charade engaged in by the School Committee and issue a decision that is truly in the best interests of the
people of the Town of Hopkinton and the citizens of this state.
  Mr. Felkner has indicated repeat­edly that he would not allow his fight for his School Committee seat to become a drain on the Town or a sideshow detracting from the dignity and effectiveness of the Council. He has kept his word. He has personally retained able counsel who has advanced his cause skillfully. While we applaud the integrity he has shown in honoring this commitment, we wish to clearly indicate our sup­port for his efforts and express our awareness of the critical nature of the dispute that will be before this state’s highest court on March 9, 2009.
  The people of Hopkinton have twice voted for Mr. Felkner to represent them. We hope and expect that our votes matter, the Rhode Island Supreme Court will recognize this and restore our duly elected repre­sentative to the Chariho School Committee.
 
Thomas E. Buck Sylvia K. Thompson Barbara Capalbo Hopkinton Town Council

 

 

This article appeared in the March 5th Westerly Sun, front page above the fold:

 
Hopkinton Town Council throws weight behind Felkner


The court filing deadline has lapsed but three councilors have publicized their support in letters to the editor.

 By Victoria Goff

 The Sun Staff

  HOPKINTON — Town Council members are supporting their col­league in a battle to keep his seat on the Chariho Regional School Committee. But the council has not formally expressed its support
to the court that will hear the case.
  Unlike councils in Charlestown and Richmond, Hopkinton coun­cilors have not written to the state Supreme Court, which will decide if William J. Felkner, of Ashaway, can serve on both boards. But they have written to the public.
 
Town Solicitor Patricia A. Buckley told the council last month that when she read the court brief submitted by Felkner’s attorney, “I did with an eye toward, ‘is there anything we can add to this’ … my conclusion was no, there was not. And in terms of whether or not the court will care, the answer is no,” she added about the council submitting its opinion to the justices. “The court is going to focus on the legal issues.”
 
Plus, the deadline to file with the court had lapsed, she also told councilors at the time.
  This week, three of the four remaining councilors submitted a letter to area newspapers, contend­ing local law allows Felkner to hold both seats. The letter, approved earlier this week, was published in The Sun on Wednesday.
  The School Committee disquali­fied Felkner in November after he had been sworn to the Hopkinton
council. The School Committee ruled the Hopkinton Town Char­ter bars Felkner from also serving on the school board, and that the offices could present a conflict of interest.
  Felkner, who has two years remaining in his term, contends the School Committee is not part of town government, so the Hopkinton charter does not prohibit him from serving on the regional school board.
  Felkner’s case has land­ed in the state’s high court, which will hear arguments from his attorney, Nicholas Gorham, and Chariho Solicitor Jon M. Anderson on Monday.
  Councilors from Charlestown and Richmond have written to the court in support of the School Committee.
  But councilors Thomas E. Buck, Barbara A. Capalbo and Sylvia K. Thompson say in their let­ter, “It should be apparent to the most casual observer that the actions of the majority of the School Committee in unilaterally declaring Mr. Felkner’s seat vacant arose from the long-standing animosity that this body has shown him since the day he origi­nally took his seat. His efforts to promote trans­parency, accountability and the interests of his con­stituency have been met with open hostility, person­al insult and obstruction at every turn.”
  The councilors also say that, because the School Committee removed Felkner, “our town does not have its duly elected repre­sentative, Mr. Felkner was forced into a battle that he never sought, and [he] has not been able to devote his time to the betterment of the Chariho School District.”
  Councilor Beverly P.
Kenney did not sign the letter, saying she inter­prets the town charter as prohibiting Felkner from holding both offices.
  “I have nothing against Mr. Felkner,” she said. “On this committee, he has been excellent.”
  Felkner recused himself and left the meeting room while councilors discussed the letter. Thompson said it was drafted by Buckley, but she made some changes to it.

OPKINTON TOWN COUNCILORS DIDN’T MINCE WORDS
  Monday during their discussion of the proposed Chariho Regional School budget. In other years, a school budget proposal that called for an increase of less than 1 percent over the existing spending plan, which is the case with the Chariho plan, would be rea­son for celebration. Not this year.
  Councilors warned the school panel in January that the proposal would have to be less than the current budget in light of the economy. The $371,000 proposed increase in school spending was enough to ignite threats about how the budget might fare when it gets to voters. To show the depth of their displeasure with the panel, one councilor went so far as to suggest that voters might be angry enough to pull a Stonington when it comes to voting on the proposed budget.
  Stonington voters have become famous, or infamous, depending upon your point of view, for defeating budg­ets until they get what they want. Last year voters forced the town budget vote to four referenda, following what has become a bit of a tradition there. It is not uncommon for voters in Stonington to cast their first budget vote with a jacket on and wrap things up in shirt sleeves. In some years, voters have missed their opportunity to cast a ballot because they’ve been away on summer vacation.
  The issue for Hopkinton councilors is no different than it is for councilors in just about any other town. In an attempt to present taxpayers with a responsible budget that shows respect for those who may be affect­ed by layoffs, wage freezes and wage cuts as a result of the recession, municipal budget crafters are holding the line on spending. Hopkinton’s councilors, like all others, are wary of this year’s state aid package with good reason. With the state battling its own dire eco­nomic picture with a $357 million deficit, there’s not a lot of optimism when it comes to estimating how much aid cities and towns will be getting this year.
  In response to the gloomy economic picture, school leaders have indicated they may have to cut 59 teach­ing positions. That’s one way to address it, but that means drastic cuts in services and quality of education. Wage and benefit concessions by unions would go a long way toward sharing the burden while preserving qual­ity and services. We have yet to see that in any town and that is disturbing given what is happening in the private sector.
  While the Chariho proposal will require a bit less money from Hopkinton and Richmond as proposed, the fear is that the expected shortfall in state aid will more than offset the fractional savings proposed thus far. The Hopkinton Council is right to stick to its guns in calling for even more reductions in the proposed school budget before school leaders adopt a plan Tuesday to send to voters in April. School administrators and school union leaders at last have the luxury of making decisions about where the cuts might come from and how savings can be realized. Taxpayers working in the private sector don’t have that luxury.

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22 Comments »

  1. Hopkinton’s Town Councis, sans Mrs. Kennedy, continues to impress, The Westerly Rag continues to disappoint.

    First they make the subjective, i.e. opinionated, claim that in other years the Chariho budget would be worthy of celebration. How any reporter can guess at what the mood of a community might have been in a news article is beyond me?

    The Rag claims that this years “spending” is less than 1 percent compared to last year. Mr. Buck has said the spending increase is around 4%. So which is it? Is The Rag playing along with Chariho in trying to fool voters into thinking they are “spending” responsibly? Based on prior Chariho games, Chariho’s administration manipulates the budget numbers as a means of hiding the “spending” numbers. I suspect this is the case once again.

    The Rag also gives Chariho a pass by not reporting on the significant drop in enrollment each and every year. They also ignore the surplus. While some people may think it is reasonable for Chariho to carry a 2 to 4% surplus standing surplus (I don’t), this is not what Chariho has been doing. Chariho has build a 2 to 4% surplus into every budget. In other words, they accumulate extra money at a rate of 2 to 4% every year. When the heat gets to high, they knock down the standing surplus by applying some of it toward budgeted items which should be included in normal budgeting. Again another trick to hide what they actually spend.

    I don’t expect much from The Rag. Objectivity in the media is a distant memory, but The Rag shouldn’t think they can get a way with reporting unchallenged lies. Those days are also a distant memory.

    Comment by Curious Resident — March 6, 2009 @ 10:38 am | Reply

  2. In response to the Hopkinton Town Councilor’s statement that voters might pull a Stonington and reject the Chariho budget, I wouldn’t hold my breath. Even if Hopkinton rises to the occasion recognizing Chariho’s irresponsible spending, we still are left with the fools in Richmond who never reject Chariho spending. Considering Charlestown just secured themselves another 20 years of inequitable taxing, they probably aren’t going to be too outraged over a minor tax increase…made all the more minor by the tax inequities…either.

    Ah, yes, and of course The Rag portrays spending cuts as inherently damaging “quality of education”. Once again playing the useful idiots, The Rag, and most media, ignore the plethora of guidance counselors, psychologists, social workers, teacher’s aides, etc. that have ridiculously added to school spending over the last decade. Cut them all and not one teacher needs to lose their job.

    Comment by Curious Resident — March 6, 2009 @ 10:51 am | Reply

  3. Ref #1, Here’s what the Chariho Budget indicates:

    GENERAL FUND BUDGET 2008-2009 Budget – $51,559,070 2009-2010 Budget – $51,930,355 Percent Increase 0.0071

    I’m not sure how Tom Buck came up with the 4% maybe Lois or someone else can explain it.

    Comment by CharihoParent — March 6, 2009 @ 11:30 am | Reply

  4. For the upteemth time, budget is not spending. Budget is proposed spending, but the budget could show a decrease and we could still have significant spending increases. In light of the huge annual surplus they run, this is even more true.

    CP’s response, and I’m honestly not trying to insult him, is proof positive how easily it is to trick taxpayers.

    Here’s a quick tutorial…last year budget $100. Actually spent $90. Surplus of $10. This year propose a budget of $101. Actual spending is $92. Spending went up by 2.2%. Budget went up by 1%. Get it? Can’t make it any easier than that.

    Comment by Curious Resident — March 6, 2009 @ 11:36 am | Reply

  5. Tom’s point was about the use of surplus for operating expenses. As an example, last years budget was 100 but they only spent 96 and had 4 surplus. This year they budget 104 (a 4% increase) but use the 4 surplus from the year before to lower the budget to 100 (thus reflecting a 0% increase). But if we actually spend the whole 104 this year then next year we need to come up with 104 plus whatever normal increase there is. Assuming its another 4% increase we then need to come up with 108-ish.

    His point was that surplus should be used for capital expenses that do not come back year after year.

    Comment by Bill Felkner — March 6, 2009 @ 11:48 am | Reply

  6. Show me the numbers. Where in the budget are you getting the numbers or is this something that isn’t given out to the general public?

    Comment by CharihoParent — March 6, 2009 @ 12:04 pm | Reply

  7. Bill, re post 5:

    As Sylvia Thompson has shown, though, Chariho produces a reliable surplus of significant size. I understand her larger point is that taxes could have been lower, but if the resulting surplus is then used to reduce future year taxes, doesn’t that achieve about the same end?

    Comment by david — March 6, 2009 @ 12:15 pm | Reply

  8. CP … It’s hard to get what you want, I went ot most of the budget sessions, and even stuff that Deb Carney wanted she didn’t get, much more was provided with little notice. I asked for stuff, which of course, I didn’t get.

    There’s a lot more behind the budget that the simple total line item … $1.25M was applied from last year’s undesignated surplus money, then depending on whether you want compare the full budget, less the capital, less the undesignated ….

    It would take hours to fully discuss.

    Comment by Gene Daniell — March 6, 2009 @ 12:22 pm | Reply

  9. It’s designed that way, and BF threatend this and the result is what we have today. Should we also not count the bond as spending? It’s not as if the entire bond is to build new structures, it’s for maintenance of existing structures as well…an item which should be budgeted for annually.

    Bottom line is my taxes continue to increase as a result of Chariho, and the quality of the education received there is well…..those without blinders know.

    Comment by RS — March 6, 2009 @ 12:58 pm | Reply

  10. And Chariho knows…at least the administration. I guess it is possible the numbskulls like Booby Petit are incapable of understanding the budget games, but Mrs. Thompson and Mr. Buck and others have explained it many, many times.

    Budgeting can be complicated, but the Chariho powers make it more so on purpose. There is no excuse for The Rag to call budget numbers “spending” numbers. Even if they are too stupid to figure it out for themselves, they should at least be able to use proper language.

    As to David’s comment about applying the surplus to items which should be budgeted, the reason why this is beneficial to the Chariho status quo is they can escape public notice if they don’t include an expense in their budget and instead, pay it with a surplus. For instance, if pension are costing us $5,000,000 per year, but they only budget $4,000,000 and later on supplement with surplus, it looks less dramatic from a public relations standpoint.

    Chariho resists any analysis of their budget practices. This includes the refusal to undergo another Management Study, as well as their refusal to supply real numbers to non-Chariho sycophants like Mr. Felkner and Ms. Carney. The same game played endlessly and the voters refuse to hold them accountable. We’ve gotten what we deserve.

    Comment by Curious Resident — March 6, 2009 @ 1:50 pm | Reply

  11. Another trick is on the revenue side. By misrepresenting anticipated revenue, Chariho can, and I believe they have, accumulate a larger surplus by under budgeting. In the real world of private enterprise people would probably go to jail if they manipulated their accounting like Chariho does.

    Comment by Curious Resident — March 6, 2009 @ 1:55 pm | Reply

  12. But since the size of surplus, large or not, is accounted for in the audit (unless you claim they are falsifying the audit somehow), and then they use the money in future budgets to mitigate tax increases, it’s a wash, right?

    Also, do you have a concrete example of post 10’s allegation? Seems to me the problem is overestimating expenses, not hiding them…

    Comment by david — March 6, 2009 @ 3:22 pm | Reply

  13. Hmmm … I don’t particularly have an issue with the budgets being complicated, they intrinsically are, even in the private sector.

    However, I would hope to see the budget vs spend and the thinking that went into making assumptions for budgetary numbers. That would allow for analysis of the character of the differential.

    For instance, asking Mr. Stanley to budget for health care costs is tough, it’s at best a guessimate. But if he’s low, he will surely get pummelled by all. What number to you pick for fual costs?

    I would think a majority of the budget is salary cost (certified and staff), which should be relatively easy to extract and be evaluated as one issue …

    The capital budget should be easy to separate, leaving the non-salary operating budget to evaluate. See where the differences are and make determinations. It they can easily show where 80% of the surplus comes from, I’m not going to beat the horse. But without that data, how do you responsibly budget for the next year?

    I’ve never seen an organization that couldn’t provide budget vs actual to an appropriate detail level.

    This is taxpayer money, so there has to be transparency.

    Comment by Gene Daniell — March 6, 2009 @ 3:54 pm | Reply

  14. Gene,
    It is MY understanding that because of being made to conform to a standardized chart of accounts they did not show budget vs actual this year but have pretty much said that they would show budget vs actual in the next budget cycle and beyond. I’m not thrilled with them not showing it this year but it is rather difficult to get them to do it now.

    Put this Richmond fool in the “No” column though when it comes to the budget. So many of the municipalities in this state are look to reduce their budget but Chariho just doesn’t seem to want to grasp that concept. I fear the only way to get the message across is to vote “No” on the budget.

    Comment by CharihoParent — March 6, 2009 @ 4:34 pm | Reply

  15. Regarding David’s question, they applied an amount of the surplus toward penion or healthcare a couple of years ago. I believe it was Mr. Felkner, but maybe someone else, who brought it to our attention.

    I understand budgets are complicated, but to run a multi-million dollar surplus every year is not justifiable nor understandable. Sure there are occasions when things are missed or fuel prices spike, but these anomalies should be the exception, not the rule. Considering the percentage of fixed costs in the budget, the poor budgeting is unjustifiable.

    As for actual spending, we’re not expecting them to provide actuals for the upcoming year, but to provide actuals for the past year. They must have their accounting in a database and I simply can’t believe they are unable to transparently provide spending figures. Does anyone believe they don’t keep track of this internally? I can assure you that my employer knows actually what we’ve spent within a couple of week of spending…if not daily.

    Chariho’s refusal to account for their spending in a timely fashion along with their consistently poor budget projections is either the result of incompetence or impertinence. I tend to think it is the latter. Chariho’s administration knows it is their best interest to leave voters confused.

    Clearly The Rag referring to budget numbers as “spending” is inaccurate at best and, based on their pro-government-spending editorializing, likely done on purpose.

    The bottom line is that Chariho’s spending increases despite declining enrollment…despite a poor economy…despite terrible academic outcomes. This should be intolerable, but they know their budget games work and we fall in line just like they plan.

    Comment by Curious Resident — March 6, 2009 @ 4:44 pm | Reply

  16. CP … I agree with you, “No” for me as well.

    I was at the meeting when Tom Buck’s request was made, my opinion is that his request was not particularly received in a meaningful manner.

    I could understand this year, but where’s last year’s info? Would it be so hard for them to enumerate the top 10 areas budget/spending differential? They had (have) contract pricing of heating oil, so where else, what’s the actual number??? The data was never presented.

    Comment by Gene Daniell — March 6, 2009 @ 4:47 pm | Reply

  17. This has been going on for years. Mr. James Hirst posted an article from years ago where there were complaints about Chariho not giving actual spending.

    They have year-to-date spending…guaranteed. They simply have to hit “print” and we could all have access to it. This is the same dance different year. We’re just the latest generation to ask.

    Chariho also knows that for all our complaining here, there are no consequences for their lack of compliance. Voters will ultimately approve every budget, every bond, and while Chariho’s administration continues to hide. There just aren’t enough people who care or know they should care. The one good thing about an economic collapse is it might wake up enough people to demand change. I’m not counting on it, but hoping for it.

    By the way, Mr. Buck made the same request for actuals last year. He’s still waiting.

    Comment by Curious Resident — March 6, 2009 @ 5:07 pm | Reply

  18. CP, it is not spelled out in the budget. First page lists “revenues” of $4,062,452. The $225mm is in that figure. Tom and I asked Brian Stanley at the budget hearing. incidently, Brian has brought this point up before as well. The danger of using surplus to offset tax contributions is that when that surplus is gone you have to make it up (because its used for operations not capital improvements which are one time hits). budget – http://www.chariho.k12.ri.us/sites/default/files/2009-2010_Proposed_Budget_Summary.pdf

    Comment by Bill Felkner — March 6, 2009 @ 5:11 pm | Reply

  19. They applied surplus (quite a lot, as I remember) to the budget last year, too, and then they developed the “keep fund balance between 2% and 4% of budget” policy, ensuring that “excess” surplus will be applied to reduce tax increases.

    Comment by david — March 6, 2009 @ 8:49 pm | Reply

  20. By not budgeting properly and by not providing actual spending, the administration is able to do cover up all kind of things. Last year I asked why the budget item for Teachers’ Aides or Assistants (can’t remember which) increased by $200,000 to $300,000…no answer was ever given (this was back when Booby Petit was pretending to be open). Could they have applied the surplus to this budget item in previous years and last year successfully snuck it into the budget? Who knows? This is the problem when they refuse to be transparent and accountable. We end up guessing rather than knowing for sure. They want us guessing.

    The things we know for sure are that contracts are far too generous; spending increases even as enrollment declines; they spend little on infrastructure maintenance; educational outcomes are in the toilet; employee to student ratios are absurd; teacher to student ratios lead the nation; and on and on. What we know for sure is Chariho is a failing governmnent monopoly. Why do we tolerate it is the big question…endless discussions about budgets over the last 20 years hasn’t change Chariho one little bit. When will we learn?

    Comment by Curious Resident — March 6, 2009 @ 9:28 pm | Reply

  21. I concur with Bill. What didn’t make sense to Tom was that 4 of the 6 categories on the first or second page of the budget went up, yet the budget showed little or no increase. So, he inquired how much surplus was being applied.

    The amount Brian Stanley gave was $2.25 million.

    When asked how much of an increase the budget would have gone up without the surplus, my understanding is that Mr. Stanley gave a figure of more than 4%.

    Bill is right that the figure is not relatively easy to find. They would have not known where it was if they hadn’t asked.

    Comment by Lois Buck — March 6, 2009 @ 9:44 pm | Reply

  22. Mr. Felkner is Hopkinton Rudolph illuminating all the School Committee’s reindeer games. Now can we now get past the diversions and acknowledge the School Committee manipulates budgets and hides spending?

    Comment by Curious Resident — March 6, 2009 @ 10:47 pm | Reply


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