Town Solicitor Answered Wrong Question on School Surplus

By way of a followup to an earlier post about a legal analysis developed by Assistant Solicitor Stephanie Federico, of Anthony DeSisto Law Associates, at the request of Town Council President Denise DeMedeiros, here is a PDF of Federico’s memo.  The important thing to note is that there is no ambiguity: Federico may have been answering the question that DeMedeiros asked her, but it’s not a question related to any current debate in Tiverton:

At the request of the Council President I have been asked to prepare this memorandum for the Town Council concerning clarification of the Town of Tiverton’s General Fund as it relates to the Tiverton School Department and any surplus that they may currently possess.

Specifically, I understand that there has been public inquiry as to whether or not the Town of Tiverton can recover any surplus from the Tiverton School Department to be applied to the Town’s General Fund.  The Rhode Island General Laws specifically prohibit the Town from applying any District Surplus to the General Fund for the Town.

As explained in the earlier post, this response answers a question that is actually opposite of the relevant one.  The question that DeMedeiros should have asked (with an equally obvious answer) is whether the 3% of operating budget that the town is required to maintain by the Home Rule Charter includes the school budget in its calculation and whether that money would be available, by the described process, for the school department in the event of an emergency.

The answer is “yes.”

Before allowing herself and her office to be dragged into the foolish political games of the Tiverton 1st Town Council, Federico should have taken the additional step of reviewing the language that DeMedeiros wanted to challenge in my flier related to full-day kindergarten.  Had she done so, she would have helped the council to avoid the sort of misunderstandings that drive up legal bills and, more importantly, make residents distrust their government.

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Justin KatzJustin Katz is a writer and researcher focusing on Rhode Island policy and politics. For more about Justin, see our About page. justin@justinkatz.com (401) 835-7156.

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