Warwick, RI — Warwick City Councillor Edward Ladouceur’s constituents have been talking about switching the Warwick School Committee from an elected to an appointed board, and he’d like to give the whole city a chance to weigh in on the question.
“The input that I’m getting from everybody, from students, from teachers, and parents, is that they are fully disenchanted with what has been happing with the School Committee,” Ladoceur said. He said much of that sentiment has been inspired by the recent struggle between the Council and Committee over the release of the Ragosta report, which a judge has ordered the board to deliver with minor redactions.
The report, prepared by Attorney Vincent Ragosta, details the school department’s handling of allegations of inappropriate conduct with students against Gorton Junior High School Science Teacher Mario Atoyan. The School Committee had refused to release it despite a year’s worth of arguing with the City Council on the issue, contesting the Council’s subpoena of the document.
While the Council won that struggle, voters in his ward were not happy that the School Committee stonewalled the Council in their efforts to review the report.
“The people who elect me come to me for answers and they can’t get them,” Ladoceur said.
Ladoceur’s as-yet-undrafted legislation, PCR-124-15, Resolution requesting that the GA pass legislation that changes the Warwick School Committee from an elected body to an appointed body, would ask the General Assembly to pass enabling legislation allowing the city to make the switch, ratifying an amendment.
Ratifing an amendment to a municipal charter requires a majority in both the House and Senate and the governor’s signature, said Dan Trafford with the RI Legislative Press and Public Information Bureau. If she doesn’t sign it until the deadline passes, it becomes law automatically.
From there, voters would have to approve it as a ballot issue at the next election. If enough people are for switching it to appointed, the next new members of the school board would be appointed by the mayor.
“…as for when the appointments take place, it would depend on how the charter change was written,” Trafford said. “If their terms are up the following November, then appointments could begin at that time. If their terms are not up until two years later, then you would have to wait.”
“This issue has been debated for a dozen years or so. I think a ballot initiative will give us a sense of what the people of Warwick think of this issue,” said Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian. “I think it would give the City a sense of whether the general public supports the current system or is looking for change.”
Woonsocket voted to switch its School Committee to an appointed board in 2012, following a series of black eyes for that city’s school board, including a $15 million deficit, largely attributed to school spending for which the school department could not account.
In March 2012, City Finance Director Thomas Bruce told Woonsocket Patch the Woonsocket School Department had not balanced its checkbook since the previous July. Business Manager Stacy Busby left that Februrary after it became clear the surplus she’d assured officials of was actually a deficit.
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