Over 18 months ago, the Middletown School Department overspent its authorized budget by over $1 million. Rhode Island law required that they notify town and state officials, but the school administration and committee tried to keep it from the public in executive session. They thought it was around $300,000. It took the department about four months to figure out it was greater than $1 million, and they spent money to defend their actions. Officials say that a draft of a recent town audit shows that some of the over-expenditure may have been for special education. Middletown special education activities frequently raise questions.
Since that time, the Middletown Council appropriately transferred management of the School Department budget from school operations to the town’s Finance Department. They voted no confidence in the School Department and ordered an investigative audit. The audit hasn’t happened. Middletown fixed the School Department’s surprise bill to the taxpayers by adjusting accounts with COVID federal and local funds.
Middletown is about to ask its voters to approve a $190 million bond for school construction. Middletown citizens and bond lenders need confidence in the town’s ethical governance and assurances that the School Department’s $1 million over-expenditure was not because of thoughtless or careless management, inefficient or ineffective practices, or disregard for rules, regulations and laws.
Perhaps it is time for the Rhode Island legislature to create an independent inspector general’s office to help the state’s cities and towns resolve these kinds of problems.
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