Anderson out as school attorney

Anderson out as school attorney

PAWTUCKET – Longtime school attorney Jon Anderson is no longer with the district following a disagreement over the way a failed application seeking to include the schools in the state’s WorkShare cost-saving program was handled.

The Breeze reported last week that Supt. Cheryl McWilliams didn’t seek his advice on key steps in the process, including the filling out of the application. He blamed that lack of consultation for the failed application that would have saved the district some $150,000 in payroll costs.

But School Committee Chairman Jay Charbonneau this week is defending McWilliams and saying the district is backing her on the issue. McWilliams originally said that she didn’t feel comfortable signing off on an application declaring that layoffs were imminent when the schools were showing a surplus of more than $2 million.

A separate memorandum of understanding school officials signed with the school employee union stated that layoffs were imminent.

The School Committee last Thursday approved a request for proposals for a new firm to represent the district on legal services, and also voted to engage legal services on a temporary basis until a new firm is hired. Member Joe Knight asked Charbonneau if he’d been in touch with attorney Ben Scungio, and Charbonneau said that he had.

Anderson told The Breeze this week that the question of why he’s no longer with the district is a good one but one that’s probably better to ask of the School Committee.

“It was their decision,” he said. “I’ve always been proud of the work I’ve done for the city of Pawtucket in a variety of capacities for probably 30 years.”

He said he is sure he will contribute to the city in other ways going forward.

“I believe very much in the city, my family always has,” he said. “I’m sure that there’s somebody in this city that will appreciate that contribution.”

McWilliams said Monday that she has no comment on the situation.

Charbonneau said that after the application to participate in the WorkShare program was denied by the Department of Labor and Training, the school board met to discuss the application in an open meeting. The entire committee was focused solely on ensuring that the hard-working employees who signed up to participate were paid in full for the two weeks their schedules were posted, he said.

Charbonneau said that the committee had accepted the state’s denial and was moving forward with preparations for reopening school.

“The entire committee agreed that Supt. McWilliams had handled the process and subsequent denial in a professional, accurate and straightforward manner,” he said. “For further clarification and transparency’s sake, we held an informational purposes call with DLT to hear exactly how the WorkShare program works. That validated our belief in Supt. McWilliams’ handling of the entire process.”

Charbonneau said the entire committee again agreed that while unfortunate that the district was denied, they had handled the application process correctly.

While last week’s Breeze article accurately stated that Anderson “placed the blame for the situation squarely on the shoulders of McWilliams,” he said, “it was clear from the public discussion on this matter that the committee did not share his opinion or assertions.”

While it was a difficult decision to seek a request for proposals for legal services, he said, “it was not a decision the committee came to in haste.”

Anderson had claimed that McWilliams didn’t understand the law when she filled out the application without seeking his advice, filling in “N/A” in the spot for anticipated layoffs.

Answering City Councilor Mark Wildenhain’s request for what measures the School Department is taking to save money, Chief School Financial Officer Melissa Devine sent the council a memo detailing a number of federal funding sources to replace lost state aid, as well as surplus funds from this year and anticipated savings next year, among others.

“The School Department’s goal is to continue working with the daily changing regulation and guidance, to continue to watch the budget closely, to support the students, families, employees and residents of Pawtucket, and to ensure that a sound education is provided in a safe environment for all students, staff and families,” she wrote.