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Curmudgeon's Corner: Schartner ran into an entrenched bureaucracy

September 13, 2011

At its business meeting on August 23rd the North Kingstown School Committee, after a charade of about six weeks, appointed Dr. Phil Auger as superintendent of schools.
The usually irascible and skeptical-of-everything Bill Mudge, who had wanted Dr. Auger made permanent super from the get-go, introduced a motion to anoint–I mean appoint–him as permanent superintendent subject to reaching a mutually acceptable employment contract.
After some discussion, Larry Ceresi moved to amend Mudge’s motion to retain Auger as interim superintendent. According to Robert’s Rules, an amendment can be offered that contradicts the main motion on the floor. However, in this case, any member who wanted to retain Auger as interim superintendent could simply vote against the main motion and achieve the same result.
The amendment put the school committee in the ridiculous position of voting both for and against the permanent appointment. Suppose Ceresi’s amendment passed 4-3 and then one member changed his/her vote on the main motion thereby passing it 4-3. The committee would have voted to keep him as interim and appoint him as permanent superintendent at the same time.
After praising Dr. Auger and some criticism from fellow committee members Ceresi made the curious statement that if his amendment failed to pass he would vote in favor of Mudge’s motion. This calls into question why he introduced the amendment in the first place.
Ceresi was joined by Lynda Avanzato and Dick Welch voting in favor of the amendment, which fell 3-4. The main motion passed 6-0 with Welch voting “I don’t know” after a minute of reflection.
Immediately Mesdames Page and Benson and Messrs Mudge and Thompson jumped to their feet in a standing ovation as did several school department employees in the audience. Members Avanzato, Ceresi and Welch did not join in. To me, this represented an in-your-face moment by the quartet over the three Democrats. (Yes, I know Mel Benson is a Democrat but she usually follows Mudge and Thompson’s lead.)
Note to Dr. Auger: you were appointed by a one-vote margin, not a strong position to be in as superintendent of schools in North Kingstown.

n In an earlier vote the school committee succumbed to a pitch by athletic director Jim Marcello to add girl’s ice hockey to the district’s already extensive palette of interscholastic sports offerings. This is to be a “consolidated” team with Narragansett and South Kingstown playing in a three-team league. It is to be supported entirely by fund raisers and donations, thereby costing taxpayers nothing. Marcello said the parents of two girls approached him about starting the team.
Several members of the school committee cautioned the AD that they would vote yes with the understanding that in a year or two girl’s ice hockey supporters wouldn’t be asking for the sport to be included in the school department budget. Yeah, right.
Surprisingly, this brought no reaction from Jim McGwin, president of the NKTO, who was in attendance. I was present at a meeting between McGwin and his nemesis, Keith Kenyon, at which he excoriated the former AD for creating a “play for pay” situation with the pre-Beisel era swim team. McGwin asserted that Kenyon had set up this no-no by only partially funding the swimmers who agreed to hold fundraisers and obtain donations to get the sport started.
I saw the camel’s nose sticking under the tent and will bet any committee member dinner at a nice restaurant that within two years the AD will be including girl’s ice hockey in his budget.

n After a recess, director of administration Ned Draper gave a preliminary overview of the financial situation the district is facing in fiscal year 2012-13. Assuming the town council allows the imposition of the maximum increase of 4% allowed under state law (questionable) and assuming the state aid stays the same at $10.4 million (unlikely) and that other revenues remain the same, the school department would have to use up all its remaining surplus fund balance to achieve total revenues of $59.4 million.
Wages and salaries are projected to increase to $35.7 million including estimated changes in the support personnel contract. Payroll-related costs, including best guess estimates of increases in pension contributions, would be $17 million.
Assuming that all other expenses remain constant at $9.2 million (doubtful), total expenses would be $61.9 million. That, gentle reader, means the North Kingstown School Department is looking at a structural deficit under the best of conditions of two and a half million dollars next fiscal year.
Glenn Beck is a syndicated radio talk show host who also started internet-based “GBTV” and is a best-selling author. Liberals regard him as a right-wing religious nutcase who is slightly less dangerous than Rush Limbaugh.
In his 2010 book “Broke” Beck writes, “When states like Rhode Island, which has total government obligations equal to 63 percent of its GDP, can no longer afford to make pension payments, they’ll turn to their general fund for help. But that would be a complete disaster.”
Beck wrote this before new General Treasurer Gina Raimondo revealed just how much worse the unfunded liability of multiple pension plans really is. He believes that, ultimately, states will have to look to Washington to bail them out. And where will the Federal government get the money? Why, they’ll borrow it of course.
According to Beck, politicians in New York may have come up with a solution. The state will borrow $6 billion from the underfunded pension plan, “and then use that same money to make the contributions they owe to the same fund, along with interest”. Really, you read that right.
And another thing, the state plans “to pay it back at 4.5 to 5.5 percent” while keeping the rate of return for the actuarial assumptions at 8 percent.
And all this time you thought Bernie Madoff was the only one in New York running a Ponzi scheme.
It is of some comfort to realize that all the fools in positions of political power do not work on Smith Hill.

Richard August is a North Kingstown resident and a regular contributor to the Standard Times. His opinions are his own. He can be reached at

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