WOOD RIVER JCT. — Members of the Chariho School Committee approved the district’s $57.7 million budget at their meeting Tuesday.
The vote on the 2018-19 spending plan was not unanimous. Richmond member Clay Johnson voted against it and Georgia Ure of Hopkinton abstained.
Superintendent of Schools Barry Ricci told the committee that an additional cut in state aid of $74,989 had required the reduction of a corresponding amount in the budget. Ricci said he had made a series of cuts to arrive at that figure, none of which would affect academic programs.
“None of the items I am recommending impact instruction at all,” he said.
This reduction comes on the heels of $200,000 in budget cuts the committee approved in January.
The contributions from the three towns will increase slightly. Hopkinton, with the highest enrollment in the school district, will see a 2.58 percent increase. Richmond’s increase will be 1.1 percent, and Charlestown’s share will increase by 0.96 percent.
Taxpayers will have an opportunity to ask questions about the budget at a public budget hearing on March 6.
In other business, members engaged in a lengthy discussion about three lawsuits filed against School Committee members by current and/or past school committee members and members of the Hopkinton and Richmond Town Councils. The plaintiffs in all three complaints are represented by attorney Paige A. Munro-Delotto.
Committee Vice Chairman Ryan Callahan said he had asked that the lawsuits be on the meeting agenda for three reasons: so members could better understand them; to draw the public’s attention to the $88,000 the district has budgeted in case it loses one or more of the cases and has to pay fines and court costs; and to hear from Chariho attorney Jon Anderson on whether he believes the claims, all of which pertain to alleged violations of the Open Meetings Act, are valid.
Anderson answered questions from committee members about the status of the complaints, all of which are now before the Rhode Island Superior Court.
“The wheels of justice turn slowly, and the amount of litigation that has been engendered by these cases — it’s just a huge amount of work that has been layered on,” he said. “Every meeting, there’s a complaint about the agenda, there’s a complaint about what was said in the meeting or discussed at the meeting and there’s a complaint about the minutes taken at the meeting.”
Anderson also explained why he believed that only certain School Committee members had been named in the lawsuits.
“Plaintiffs have sued particular members in particular cases because they did not vote vote the way that the plaintiffs want,” he said.
Anderson, who represents several school departments in addition to Chariho, said he had never seen school committee members sue fellow members.
“I represent school departments all over the state and I do not have any other school committee I represent, members suing other members with open meetings [act] complaints.”
Ricci reminded the committee that in the past, the district had suggested mediation to try to resolve the complaints, but the plaintiffs had rejected the offer. Members voted to try again to have the cases mediated by former Rhode Island Supreme Court Chief Justice Frank Williams.