Editor’s note: The Sept. 12 primary between Anthony Sinapi, a frequent critic of the Warwick School Department, and current School Committee Chairwoman Bethany Furtado, a 12-year member of and long-running leader of the board, also the chief elected official of the School Department, will grant one or the other with an unopposed candidacy to represent Ward 8 on the Warwick City Council.
WARWICK, RI — Anthony Sinapi, attorney and father of one, life-long Warwick resident and long-time critic of the Warwick School Committee, is running for Ward 8 in the 2018 primary Sept. 12 in hopes of reversing what he describes as a vicious cycle of families leaving the city over concerns about the school system and rising taxes, making both problems worse.
Sinapi, who works at Sinapi Law Associates, Ltd., is a licensed attorney in Massachusetts. He’s a board member of the Greater Warwick Lions Club and the Warwick Soccer Association, and coordinator for Volunteers of Warwick Schools (VOWS) at Robertson Elementary School.
He was appointed by the Warwick City Council to serve on the Warwick Charter Review Commission and the Warwick Community Outreach Educational Committee.
His family has lived in the City for several generations.
“Warwick has fallen into a vicious cycle. Current and prospective residents are choosing to live elsewhere because of the state of our school system, and the shrinking tax base has contributed to the need to raise taxes, which causes more people to choose to live elsewhere and thus exacerbates the problem,” Sinapi said.
“Reversing this trend, for my son and for my City, is the main reason I am running for City Council, and it’s the most important thing I hope to accomplish as a City Council member. I also plan on ensuring a Home Rule Charter is implemented, as well as affordable sewer expansion and timely road and sidewalk repair. I plan to address the taxes, schools, and general quality of life in Warwick.”
Warwick Post asked each Ward 8 candidate the same series of questions about issues facing the City Council, its relationship with the School Committee and the City budget. Here are Sinapi’s answers:
The School Committee asked the City Council for $8 million, which would’ve required raising taxes beyond the legal maximum. Then the school department purchased a full-page ad in the Warwick Beacon threatening to sue the city if the Council didn’t agree to it. How would you explain these actions?
SINAPI: I’ve attended School Committee meetings and City Council Meetings for years. I’ve also attended Community Outreach Educational Committee and Special Education Advisory Committee meetings. Based on my observations and the concerns of the public, I think the answer to your question is two-fold.
First, the School Committee mismanages money. Some examples:
1) The money it wasted on legal fees while fighting efforts of transparency and good governance, such as attempting to block the release of the Ragosta Report (the release of which is provided for by the Charter, thus ensuring the School Committee would lose that fight from the beginning), that would have been better spent on the education of the children in this City.
2) When it spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on a prospective consolidation plan, only to ignore it and return to one of the original plans; and,
3) In this particular situation, where it requested additional funds while simultaneously wasting money on an attack advertisement.
Unfortunately, there are many more examples I could describe.
Second, the School Committee consistently uses the City Council as a scapegoat. At one of its recent meetings, the School Committee claimed the City Council had level-funded the School Committee and cited such as support for why harsh cuts were necessary.
However, the City Council had actually increased the School Committee’s budget, and the School Committee’s own budget illustrated the increase. The School Committee and its representatives were present at the City Council meeting where the funding was approved. I mentioned this exact point at the School Committee meeting in question because I was so shocked the Committee had the gall to claim something so ridiculous.
City Councilors attend School Committee meetings, why has that not resulted in better communication/relations between the two bodies?
SINAPI: Speaking from experience, School Committee meetings, while informative, usually further highlight the Committee’s tendency to mismanage money and demonize the City Council.
While the Community Outreach Educational Committee, which was specifically created to bridge the communication and relations, had some success in resolving the gaps, the School Department almost immediately stopped participating in the meetings.
The School Committee begins meetings by immediately entering executive session, leaving the public to wait for the regular meeting. Is this the best use of the public’s time and interest in the work of the Committee?
SINAPI: Absolutely not. In general, the structure of School Committee meetings, which bars public comment until after all decisions are made, is undemocratic, and fosters resentment among attendees who feel their voices do not matter to the Committee.
Fortunately, I have heard from many of the current School Committee candidates, as well as one of the current members, that they plan to change the structure of the meetings to remedy this problem.
Parents were dissatisfied with the School Department and School Committee’s failure to inform them of broken fire alarms in elementary schools and serious allegations of discrimination against a student at Cedar Hill Elementary School. What have you done and/or suggested to improve this?
SINAPI: I encouraged, and continue to encourage, open and honest communication. We must seek to improve life for students, residents, and families by talking about issues as they emerge. Let’s make certain students and faculty are safe in their homes away from home. Let’s be role models for the next generation by fostering a culture of respect and honesty, and let our positive methods be the headline instead of the negative outcome.
The FY18 budget ended with no tax increase and a $4.2 million deficit and FY19 was built with a $3.8 structural deficit and a maximum tax increase. How would you avoid these situations in the future?
SINAPI: I’ve been communicating with the leadership of many unions here in the City, and they have described several sources of untapped revenue that will not drive away current or prospective residents.
Additionally, we must carefully review our methods and procedures to guarantee we are maximizing the taxpayer dollar. Cost-efficiency is something we all consider in our daily lives, and I think it’s something we must consider for Warwick. For instance, we can increase the efficiency of our road paving by ensuring coordination between the several entities that trigger the actual paving to occur. We can avoid confusion while ensuring the same road is not ripped up and repaved three times in quick succession.
What are your thoughts about the city’s infrastructure spending on WFD trucks?
SINAPI: I spoke with the leadership of the Firefighter’s Union and they have excellent ideas that will ensure a full fleet of reliable vehicles is maintained, without increasing taxes. There is no question the Warwick Fire Department needs appropriate and reliable equipment to safely and effectively carry out its duties, and the City Council indicated at its last meeting that it plans to ensure such is the case.