Voters will act on plan for two appointed school board members

Voters will act on plan for two appointed school board members

NORTH SMITHFIELD - Voters will decide if the town should make changes to the charter this November by weighing in on eight questions that have been approved for the ballot.

The most major proposition involves the makeup of the School Committee, and would increase the number of members from five to seven.

The elected five-member team would make room for two appointed members, one of whom would be chosen by the town administrator and one by the Town Council.

"The concept of the change to expand to seven members is to provide broader representation and involvement," explained Town Administrator Paulette Hamilton.

If the change is approved by voters it would be scheduled to take effect in 2015, but the exact time is difficult to pin down, as it would also need approval from the General Assembly, Hamilton said. "We're hoping it would be as soon as they reconvene in January," she said.

The provision is aimed, in part, at resolving the ongoing tension between the council and the committee. Over the past several years, the two boards have clashed over funding and other issues.

Another ballot question that aims to quell some of the ongoing conflict surrounding the town's budget process would change the timeline for submissions.

Currently, operating budget requests must be submitted to the town administrator by every department by the second Monday in December each year. School officials have said that the submission is expected too early, as many factors in the district's budget are still unknown at that time.

The amendment would bump that deadline to the first Monday in February.

The question would also address when the council gets its first look at the financial document, moving the deadline for the Budget Committee's review and recommendation from the second Monday in April, to the first Monday in June.

The budget timeline change was recommended by the financial board last year, and is also largely supported by town and school officials.

This year's ballot will also allow voters to decide if the town should add a recall provision to the charter.

The proposed amendment states "an elected official holding a town office, having been in office for at least six months, may be removed from office by a recall petition prepared and approved by the voters of the town."

The petition could be picked up by any registered voter, and would need to be returned to the town clerk within 30 days signed by at least 30 percent of registered voters. Once the petition was certified, the Town Council would order a special recall election to be held within 75 days.

Another question, aimed at giving the town flexibility and the ability to consolidate services, will ask voters to change the language in the charter regarding appointments from "shall" to "may." The change would make appointments to positions such as town sergeant, probate judge, and sealer of weights and measures optional, leaving room for future cost-saving options like sharing services with neighboring towns.

Some of the charter questions are largely considered a matter of housekeeping. One would give the town 15, rather than five days to publish a new ordinance in the newspaper.

Another changes the term of the town solicitor to ensure the town is not left without legal counsel by adding language stating he or she will serve "until duly replaced."

Still another increases the duties of the Budget Committee, stating that the administrator or Town Council can assign members additional tasks such as monitoring department budgets during the fiscal year.

Voters will also decide if the town should increase the amount of debt the town can incur via a bond - without state approval - from $200,000 to "an amount equal to 3 percent of the town's budgeted revenue for that fiscal year."

Comments

Adding two members, separately appointed by the TC and TA, appears to be an excellent concept to support. Of course, they too should attend SC101 offered by the RI Association of School Committees so they have a complete and clear understanding of the requirements of their positions in accordance with RI General Laws. Trust me, that is a tad different than what the general public thinks SC members can and are able to do.

George Hemond
Former School Committee Member
& RIASC Executive Board Member