Portsmouth School Committee previews response to PCC budget slashing

Let me try to recount tonight's Town Council meeting objectively, first.

With the report of independent auditors B&E due at the school committee meeting tomorrow night, Superintendent Susan Lusi and Finance subcommittee chair Richard Carpender previewed next steps for the Town Council.

As I've blogged before, a group called PCC forced a financial town meeting on August 19 that slashed 1.2 million from the school budget, with the aim of lowering property taxes. The schools have struggled with cutting an already tight budget, and brought in outside auditors B&E to assess the situation.

As Carpender noted, members of the school committee are, in some resects, "agents of the state elected locally," and have no choice but to meet the letter of RI law in running the schools. "We are chartered to maintain and provide education," he said. "We have a disagreement in the amount of money, and we have available the mechanism of a Carulo Action, where we go before a third party -- the court -- to settle the dispute."

Lusi reiterated the point: "If we can't run a legal system with the 1.1 million in cuts, the law is prescriptive." And, she said, they've followed that process: request waivers, notify the Town Council within 10 days to ask for additional funds, and hire B&E to do the analysis to understand what would be required under "law, regulation, and contract."

And it need not be adversarial, she added. Other communities have been able work with the court, stipulate the numbers, and arrive at an agreement, which would save both sides from high legal fees.

To that end, Carpender suggested -- and the Council eagerly scheduled -- a workshop at the Town Hall at 4pm on Friday, Oct. 27, where they will meet directly with the B&E auditors, go through the report and recommendations, and hear public comment.

Personal thoughts: This strikes me as eminently sensible, far more rational a process than getting a bunch of people together under a tent and slashing blindly at a budget without any insight into the actual day-to-day financials. I'm looking forward to seeing the B&E report, and I think reasonable folks would welcome arbitration from a court.