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Committee of Finance reviews budget projections

Frustration expressed about the Providence school system’s budget management

The Providence Committee on Finance convened Tuesday evening in City Hall to discuss the city’s projected budget for the next five years. At the meeting, committee members expressed concerns about the management of the school system’s finances.

The bulk of the committee’s agenda was devoted to a review of the five-year budget projections for Fiscal Years 2019-23. The city government is projected to be “at budget or better” for FY 2018-19, said Finance Director Lawrence Mancini.

The city ended the last fiscal year with a $5.4 million surplus, Mancini said. “It is the essential task of government to yield a balanced budget,” he added.

Toward the end of Mancini’s budget presentation, he admitted this surplus did not extend to the budget for Providence city schools, which is calculated separately from that of the city’s.

“The school budget continues to show deficits in all years, including the most recent year ahead, FY 2019,” Mancini said. The  deficit is projected to be “slightly over $3.5 million” for FY 2019, he added. But Mancini said that whenever he meets with school officials, he is assured that “no matter what, it will come in as a balanced budget.”

City Council Chair John Igliozzi, in particular, expressed frustration with the school budgeting. “I know they’re going to come up with a balanced budget. Everybody comes up with a balanced budget,” he said. But submitting a balanced budget is “the easy part” and even “disingenuous,” because officials can project developments such as increases in enrollment that do not actually materialize.

A balanced projected budget is nothing more than “the work of fiction,” Igliozzi said, which allows the school administrators to “blame the legislature and the executive (when) they have to fund the cuts or raise taxes to pay for their work of fiction.”

“It’s not that people haven’t given them money,” Igliozzi said. Throughout his time on the committee, the school board has asked for more money in “six-month cycle(s)” and repeatedly spent it all, he added. This is “the business of the school department in Providence. … It’s not anyone in particular’s fault, it’s just the nature of that business,” Igliozzi said. But this business is “bad for the people of Providence, because they sell a book of fiction, and the rest of us have to sell the book of reality. I don’t think it’s fair.”

“The state is, right now, somewhat short with money, so they’re looking for cuts and changes,” Igliozzi said. “We need to give the people of Providence an understanding of where we are, because things have to change.”


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