By TRACEY O’NEILL
Special to the Standard
NORTH KINGSTOWN–Coming on the heels of a cancelled school day due to union picket lines on Tuesday morning, the regularly scheduled session of the North Kingstown School Committee meeting proved to be a perfect venue for a union rally that packed the house at the high school.
“Shame on you! Shame on you!” a rowdy and riled up crowd of ESP workers jeered following a decision by committee Chair Kimberly Page to adjourn the meeting prior to a scheduled public comment session.
The meeting, which began in Executive Session, saw its first controversy only a few minutes in when members Richard Welch and John Boscardin motioned to move the citizen comments portion of the agenda to the end of the night. Met with resistance from Melvoid Benson and William Mudge, the committee proceeded on despite Mudge’s insistence that they did not have a necessary two-thirds majority under Robert’s Rules of Order to pass the vote as members Lynda Avanzato and Larry Ceresi were both absent.
Mudge was informed that the committee does not run its meetings around Robert’s Rules and, in an effort to stay on task, the committee quickly moved through its agenda, tabling a presentation from Patricia A. Pezzullo, Ph.d, Director of Pupil Personnel Services on special education to March.
Also not open for discussion was a Settlement of Grievance item that was moved to Executive Session.
The often chaotic and antagonistic nature of the meeting saw argument over budgets past and present with questions as to line items, surplus funds and appropriations heading into Fiscal year 2012-2013 by a querulous Mudge. Calling for an audit of 2012 fluctuations in funding and apportionments, Mudge questioned line items approved in June that extended through July when the committee wasn’t in session.
In challenging what he called a current surplus fund of $870k, Mudge was adamant that there was funding available for operating costs such as restoring the 26 ESP workers to their positions.
Dr. Auger, however, denounced the idea, saying that it was neccessary for the district to keep the surplus funding as an emergency fund for Capital Improvement (CIP) projects that occur during the year. Transferring of those funds to salary and daily operation costs, he said, would result in a loss of funding for the purpose in which it is intended as well as a loss of the service in the next fiscal year.
In furthering the evening’s discord, Mudge openly opposed non-disclosure of information sealed from the evening’s earlier Executive Committee Session. The silencing of his microphone by Page after repeated warnings not to discuss executive session buisness in the open meeting prompted boos and heckling from the crowd.
Asking the committee if it was their intention to allow the media to disclose the information as opposed to the school committee, fellow committee member Melvoid Benson, did not fare any better in furthering transparency as to Union negotiations.
“Before I left home, the news announced everything that was in the agreement, so are we going to let the news set our pace or are we going to do it ourselves?”
Deferring to Dr. Auger’s previous comments concerning negotiations was all that Page could do to quell the audience’s concerns.
“We are going back to school tomorrow,” Page said, offering her only comment on the hot-button issue that defined the day.
Mudge, who has been openly critical of what he terms the committee’s continual violations of open meeting decorum and regulations, continued on. Relaying a message that the committee did not want heard, Mudge spoke over the chair.
“You are going to court to say you are not accepting the Union’s offer,” proclaimed Mudge amidst catcalls aimed at Page and other committee members.
A motion was made by committee member John Boscardin to recess the meeting and, upon return to the room and prior to committee members even being seated, chairwoman Page recognized Dick Welch who immediately motioned to adjourn the meeting.
The motion, seconded by Boscardin, ultimately ended the night’s bedlam with no further commentary from committee members or the public allowed.