PCC turns its back on budget reality -- letter to Sakonnet Times

Until Monday, October 30, Portsmouth could have been forgiven for underestimating the PCC. That's the point where they turned their backs on reality-based accounting, lawyered up, and went looking for people to sue.

The facts about the schools' financial condition became clear Friday, 10/27, at a joint workshop with the Council and the School Committee. Based on analysis by independent auditors B&E, the Tent Meeting budget underfunded operation of the schools by $770,167. If no action is taken, Portsmouth will be running a system in violation of state law by the end of the year.

The B&E accountant cautioned against jumping to an adversarial Caruolo action. "Caruolo," he said, "is not a prudent budget." In an adversarial action, the judge only looks to get the schools legal for this fiscal year; any cash reserves and warrant items would get eaten up with no thought of the future. With the coming RI state tax caps, said B&E, this would only exacerbate the situation next year.

The non-adversarial option, a stipulated agreement where the Council and the School Committee go to a judge with a modified budget, seems the rational approach. But the PCC moved to block that.

At the workshop, their attorney advanced the theory that since the Council could not change the budget post-Tent -meeting, they were technically unable to deny the School Committee's request for additional funding. Since that 'no' vote is required by Caruolo, no action -- or stipulated agreement -- would be available.

Advocating such a position, in and of itself, is not problematic. Everyone has the right to vigorous representation, and you have to respect the process. But at Monday's meeting, the town solicitor announced that the PCC had sent a letter threatening the Town Council -- and the members individually -- with legal action if they took _any_ vote on the school's request.

To their credit, the Council ignored the threat, on advice of counsel, and voted to deny additional funding, clearing the way for the school to pursue alternatives.

We all want to pay lower taxes. We might look at the B&E report and suspect additional efficiencies could be wrung out of the system. If we are of a paranoid disposition, we might even want another audit to confirm the precise numbers.

But when a professional auditor -- who can lose their license if they lie on the stand -- tells you that the budget is $700K short, a reasonable person will accept that the cuts were too deep. There were proposals at the Tent Meeting that would have put the budget in the ballpark. But Larry Fitzmorris, head of the PCC, said at the Friday workshop that the tent meeting was "not the place to compromise."

No compromise, no acknowledgment that this is a crisis of the PCC's making, and now, threats to sue our elected officials collectively and individually. Threats, by the way, which the town solicitor characterized as "outrageous and irresponsible," and possible grounds for a response in the form of legal action for a frivolous lawsuit.

All you PCC supporters -- is this really what you signed on for?

John G. McDaid

[Ran in today's edition. No online link available yet.]