By Tom Shevlin
NEWPORT – City Council members on Wednesday derided a decision by the School Committee to hire a business manager as counterproductive to efforts to consolidate services between departments.
The decision by the school follows the receipt of a scathing report that highlighted serious deficiencies within the School Department's finance system.
When the school department received the report last week, Business Manager John Miley promptly resigned, leaving the position vacant effective June 30.
Quickly filling that position, the school committee on Tuesday unanimously approved a contract to hire Joan Tracey, the City of Newport’s Deputy Finance Director from the utilities department.
However, speaking during a hearing on the council's proposed FY2013 budget, Mayor Stephen C. Waluk said that he was "profoundly disappointed in the School Department and the School Committee" for a move that he said seemed to undermine the city's work to achieve more efficiencies in government.
"This council, over the past 18 months, has taken a very active and aggressive stance that the City of Newport's finances – both the city side and the school side – should be governed by the City of Newport's finance department," Waluk said, noting that the school department had seemed willing to work toward a common end.
"While the School Committee did take action to offer our finance department control over their finance department, they also took the action to hire a full-time business manager that had been vacant, that should have remained vacant, and should have allowed the city to reconfigure the finance department so that it works," he added. "Our city finance department works. Their process is broken."
He went on: "Instead of doing what they said they were going to do… They filled a position that should have remained vacant and in my opinion, completely undercut anything that we want to do with the consolidation of services."
Over the next few weeks, Waluk asked for a report detailing: "Why it happened, and what they hell were they thinking."
Councilwoman Naomi Neville agreed, describing the decision to hire a business manager as, "a missed opportunity."
"This is about the accounting of the school funds and making the process more transparent," Neville said. "For some reason, it felt as if it was very much a back step" and not a step forward.
Councilor Henry F. Wintrhop also expressed his displeasure with the committee, adding that he was inclined not to support any additional funding for the school department beyond what was budgeted for last year.
That could come as a blow to the school administration, who had asked for roughly $630,000 more in funding than that of last year.
As First Ward Councilor Charles Y. Duncan observers, "If we can't consolidate our own home here, how are we supposed to do it up and down Aquidneck Island?"