CORRECTION: This article has been corrected to properly attribute Councilman Jeremy Rix’s comment in the 13th paragraph.
WARWICK, RI — The Warwick City Council passed a resolution declaring no-confidence in Warwick Schools Finance Director Anthony Ferrucci Monday night, with some disagreement over the utility of the move but unanimous concern about the finance chief’s reliability.
No councilors spoke in defense of Ferrucci’s performance, which included repeated accounts of inaccurate or questionable accounting decisions in his presentations to the City Council. Rather, the Councilors who spoke against the no-confidence vote argued it would do little good beyond the symbolic and would sow more strife with the Warwick School Committee.
Councilmen Richard Corley and Steve McAllister said they wouldn’t vote for the measure, noting constituents had asked them to avoid finger-pointing with the School Department. Councilman James McElroy said he would abstain from the vote. Councilwoman Donna Travis, fighting an illness, did not attend. That still left enough votes to pass the no-confidence declaration.
Corley said the Superintendent is Ferrucci’s boss, and that the Council has no authority to reprimand him.
“I disagree with the resolution and I don’t think it serves any positive purpose, towards coming to a resolution of the issues concerning the financial problems that exist in the schools,” Corley said.
“I feel that especially as director Ferrucci answers not just to the superintendent but to the School Committee,” Councilman Jeremy Rix said, the no confidence vote would provide support to the School Committee in deciding whether Ferrucci is violating his contract with the School Department, which requires minimum standards.
“I would say that while I’ve certainly heard from constituents too, who do not want finger-pointing, I have also heard from many constituents who want accountability. It’s difficult to move forward and to strike that new path without being able to identify what’s been going wrong,” Rix said. “If we can’t identify and have accountability for the past, then how are we supposed to move forward?”
Ladouceur noted the city’s consultants had corrected Ferrucci’s claim that the health care costs would increase 21 percent, when in fact the number was 14.9 percent.
Council President Steve Merolla consulted the City Council’s legal counsel, John Harrington, about Ferrucci’s reported claim that the city could withdraw from the pension fund without issue, an exchange that Harrington confirmed.
“We make decisions based upon the information that’s provided to us, and we make decisions based on the facts that’s provided to us. And we have a right to expect that information to be accurate,” said Councilman Ed Ladouceur, “So far, I haven’t seen that.”
Sinapi criticized Ferrucci for failing to research the financial value of the services Volunteers of Warwick Schools (VOWS) provides to the City by researching those costs in other communities, noting that he had done the research himself, discovering that VOWS provides services that cost other communities hundreds of thousands of dollars. Sinapi said Ferrucci should have done that research himself.
“All the guy had to do was pick up the phone and call a few districts,” Sinapi said.
“Sometimes it seems we not only need an auditor for Mr. Ferrucci, sometimes it seems we need a baby-sitter,” Rix said.
Rix referenced the health care increase error, noting that factoring that in, the School Department reported need of $7.7 million was closer to $6.7 million.
“Who else do we have to make phone calls to or talk to to get the real numbers?” Rix said.
Prior to the vote, in which McCallister and Corley voted against, with McElroy abstaining, the City Council also approved a resolution reconstituting a School Advisory Committee. The committee’s charge is to improve the working relationship with the School Separtment.
The City Council does want to work with the School Committee, Sinapi said, just not with Ferrucci.