State, City React to Woonsocket’s Threat To Close Schools Early

The decision on whether or not to close Woonsocket Schools may not be made Wednesday night as originally proposed.  Some school committee members have threatened to shut schools down two months early if they don't get financial help from the state and city. Closing early is against state law, but some school committee members say they may not have any other choice.

An early closure, as Woonsockets Superintendent puts it, means students would be out of luck, classes would abruptly end. By state law, schools have to stay open for 180 days, but Rhode Island Education Law also says school committees have to take certain steps once they run out of money, and that's what Woonsocket says it's doing.

Some Woonsocket School Committee Members says they will ring the Summer dismissal bell April 5th, if the state and the city don't help with money.

“As a parent I would be mortified if in the middle of the year schools close,” said Superintendent of Woonsocket Schools, Dr. Giovanna Donoyan. She says the idea is absurd, but points out the school district has hit a financial dead end. They have a 10 million dollar deficit and 4 million dollars in unpaid bills to vendors.

Closing schools early, is their cry for help, and if it happens, the district could up end in court.

“This will be a legal battle because it's what can we afford, versus what we have to do by law,” said Donoyan.

The Rhode Island Education Law Book that requires school remain open for 180 days, also states that a school cannot run a district on an unbalanced budget.

Donoyan says, “you cannot operate a school system in a deficit mode, so what's the best thing to do? On their end they'll close schools, on my end, I say you can't do that, the basic education plan says you have to offer these children these days.”

If school ends two months early, students would miss out on weeks of education, teachers would lose pay, and parents would have to figure out what to do with their kids who are supposed to be in school.

“Somebody needs to step up to the plate and take responsibility,” said Donoyan.

Governor Chafee says hes prepared to help.

“I've got it in my budget to accelerate the school funding formula, nobody likes the meal and beverage tax but we got to pay to help these communities avoid bankruptcies somehow,” said Governor Chafee.

As for the city's repsonse to the school district requesting a supplemental tax increase to support their funding, Mayor Fontaine says at this point, the proposal has to be on the table.

The school committee will most likely not have answers to their requests from the state and city by Wednesday, so it's possible they won't be making any drastic decisions to close schools at their meeting Wednesday night.