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East providence board defends cost-cutting measures

November 10, 2011

East Providence school officials say they are taking steps to address $4.5 million in overspending that is contributing to more than $6 million city budget deficit. The school board approved 24 layoffs at a meeting this week, a move expected to save $1.2 million over the next two years. School Committee Chair Charles Tsonos says spending reductions have been underway since new members of the school committee started work in December.

“We have consolidated school and city services, we have restructured the school department, we have terminated and laid off some people,” Tsonos said. “We’ve tried to make some cuts where we will not hurt the education of our students.”

State officials have now stepped in to help East Providence craft a debt reduction plan for the city and the schools. Tsonos faults the prior school administration for the school department’s deficit, saying they failed to adequately monitor a contract with Bradley Hospital to provide special education services for city students.

“We are obligated by law to provide these services however there’s no funding, so its gotta be addressed with our city.” Tsonos said. “Of course we can’t tax our citizens for the entire amount, I mean this is a huge debt.”

According to Tsonos, the school department has been masking deficit spending for several years now, using money from the current school year budget to cover special education expenses that dated to the prior year. Tsonos says 21 percent of students in East Providence are classified as special education students, which means the district is required by state and federal law to provide them with special services.

At a meeting this week, the East Providence school board approved layoffs for 24 employees, though they have not said which category of workers will be affected. Under state law, teachers cannot be laid off unless they receive pink slips by March, which means the layoffs are unlikely to take effect immediately.

The school board also voted to reduce its computer budget by $15,000, but members shot down other cost saving proposals including an plan to eliminate sports at local middle schools.

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