Category Archives: Transparency

Tax Day Rally

Sorry Victor – our mind is right,,, and correct

In the GOP gubernatorial debate last night, Victor Moffit attacked John Robitaille for being opposed to regionalized school districts.

Robitaille said there has been “no documentation that says it will save us any money,” and evidence that the “cost of administration per student” in the merged Chariho Regional School District is higher than it is in Westerly. Beyond that, “I believe that control of the schools should be at the local level.”

But Moffitt said “anyone in their right mind” would recognize that by whittling 36 school districts down to 4, “we are going to save money … and have less bureaucracy. Even John should understand there will be less bureaucracy.”

While we at OSPRI try to stay out of political campaigns, it is likely that the data mentioned in the debate came from our research so we are compelled to speak up.  From our January 2009 report, “Regionalization, be careful what you wish for

“It’s a very easy pitch to say 36 school districts with 36 superintendents are more expensive than five regionalized districts with five superintendents. Unfortunately, it’s not true,” said OSPRI President William Felkner. “I bought it too, until I saw the data.”

When comparing fully regionalized districts to similar size town districts we find that regionalized districts have the highest per pupil costs. One example is the Chariho Regional School District which was put together from three towns to make a school district whose student body is the same size as neighboring Westerly. But, the supposed economies of scale are nowhere on display in Chariho where administration costs per pupil are $825, forty percent more than the $589 spent in Westerly.

Indeed, when it comes to administration costs, the supposed venue for obvious savings, they are well above the median in ALL the regionalized districts.

Finding a light at the end of the tunnel, Felkner said, “If every taxpayer knew that the average raise for teachers in their first 10 years of service is 10.5%, I seriously doubt that those double digit raises would continue for very long.”

While education salaries are growing, it could be worse.

Presumably, teachers and their union representatives are well aware of the fact that state government FTE costs went up 35% from 2000-2006 inclusive, while teacher salaries in RI only increased 16.6%. The notion that Rhode Island’s individual districts would see costs savings from sophisticated statewide or regional negotiations is certainly drawn into question by these figures. This doesn’t mean that there is not more work to do on salaries, staffing levels, and results in RI, it simply suggests that regionalization in education is no panacea and likely would lead to higher costs and less taxpayer accountability.

“It is likely that when regionalization occurs, the taxpayers become disconnected from the management of their schools and costs spiral out of control due to a lack of accountability,” said Felkner. “Only when armed with information and access will taxpayers be able to regain control. While we may not always win when negotiating on the municipal level, we NEVER win on the state level.

As a side note, the 10.5% average total raise for teachers in their first 10 years of employment (the “steps”)  was from contacts obtained in 2008.  We have been reviewing the new contracts and it appears the recession is having an impact. The latest average total raise for those same employees for the contracts we have received is now at 8.5%.

Is an 8.5% raise the kind of sacrifice you expected?

JUST IN – McConnell responds to U.S. Senate Judiciary

Hard work pays off. Thanks to the tireless efforts of Brian Bishop, the Director of OSPRI’s Founders Project, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Minority has issued questions to federal district court nominee John McConnell – and we have the answers. 

Click on the following links:
Response to Senator Coburn (questions 4 & 5)
Response to Senator Cornyn (questions 9, 10 & 11)
Response to Senator Grassley
Response to Senator Kyl (questions 1 to 6)
Response to Senator Sessions (questions 1 to 6)

OSPRI files Public Records Request on AG and lead paint co-counsels

In October of 1999, Rhode Island filed a controversial lawsuit against paint manufacturers with the novel theory that they were presently creating a “public nuisance” by selling lead-based paint in 1978. The RI Supreme Court eventually found that the allegations against the manufacturers were insufficient to establish liability for “abatement” of a “public nuisance”.

The participation of co-council John McConnell and his firm Motley Rice in earlier tobacco and asbestos public interest cases certainly made some wonder if pushing the boundaries of the law was more about lead poisoning or lawyers fees. 

But some 6 years into this litigation and before that ruling by the RI Supreme Court, one of the defendants, Dupont, struck a deal with Attorney General Patrick Lynch and contingent counsel to be removed from the list of defendants. The ‘Dupont Deal’ was announced simultaneously by Patrick Lynch and John McConnell. 

Attorney General Lynch announced, and McConnell confirmed, that legal fees for the ‘Dupont Deal’ had been waived. However, McConnell’s co-counsel, Leonard Decof challenged this assertion saying, “there are two questions . . . Is it a settlement, and was a fee paid.” His son Mark crowed that their claim that the Dupont funds paid to Brigham and Women’s in satisfaction of a pledge by Motley Rice were de facto legal fees was “shining the light” on the ‘Dupont Deal’ 

Contrary to its auspicious beginnings, and a week before the deadline set by Senator Reed for expressions of interest in federal judgeships, Decof quietly settled his claim without revealing any details. 

“This might all be water over the public’s dam,” said Brian Bishop, Director of the Founders Project at the Ocean State Policy Research Institute (OSPRI), “but McConnell was recommended for a federal judgeship by Rhode Island’s Senate delegation that includes Sheldon Whitehouse who first signed the unique and unconstitutional contingent fee agreement with McConnell’s firm that was later amended so the litigation could continue.”

“Now that McConnell’s nominations is under review in the Senate, we think it important they try to find out what happened in the ‘Dupont Deal’, a task that has frustrated or co-opted everyone else who has tried.” 

To further this effort, the Founders Project is today filing Access to Public Records requests for a record of fees paid to attorneys, directly, indirectly or ‘in-kind’, from the ‘Dupont Deal’ and other documentation. 

READ MORE AT www.FOUNDERSPROJECT.org

Audit Finds $10.4 Million in Overspending in Pawtucket Schools

Wouldn’t it be great if we could unleash these guys in every school district?

Cotton & Company, an auditing firm based in Virginia, has found $10.4 million in overspending in the Pawtucket school system. And here’s the kicker: school officials ordered the audit last fall in order to bolster their case for getting an additional $4 million from the city. Oops. Here are some of the areas where they saw savings, according to the Pawtucket Times:

●$4.3 million from closing one elementary and one junior high school.

● $1.25 million by increasing elementary school class size.

● $1.07 by eliminating 18.5 custodial positions.

● $640,000 by sending students at Jacqueline M. Walsh School for the Performing and Visual Arts be sent to Tolman High School for some classes and eliminating one of the principals.

● $1 million from cutting 32 ‘floating assistant’ positions—now, that sounds like essential staff, doesn’t it?

Well, needless to say the school administration isn’t so happy. Here is what they told the Pawtucket Times:

Since the publication of the data, Interim Schools Supt. Hans Dellith released a statement saying, “The improper and premature release of this draft information does a grave disservice to the people of Pawtucket, the employees of the Pawtucket School Department, the students of Pawtucket, and the companies conducting the audit.”

Dellith noted, “The draft document provided by the consultant, Cotton & Company, was an initial step in a multi-step process. These original draft statements do not reflect potential violations of Rhode Island Contract Law, potential failure to meet State of Rhode Island Education Standards, as well as potential use of invalid data and erroneous assumptions. To put forth this document prior to an overall review of these serious issues leads itself to reckless speculation and erroneous conclusions. Until this process is brought to a proper conclusion, the draft document creates a dangerous environment for misinformation and disinformation.”

In other words: How dare they release this information before we had a chance to bury the truth in a pile of bureaucratic mumbo jumbo!

Committee Holds Nonpublic Session on Public Comments

You can’t make this stuff up: The East Providence School Committee held a nonpublic discussion to discuss how the public can comment during public session, something you would think the public should have some comment on. When the state ACLU asked why it was nonpublic, the committee responded that the meeting was to address a ‘public comment lawsuit.’ But when the ACLU filed an open records request to get copies of the documents from this public comment lawsuit, they were told there were none. So now, ironically, the ACLU now has filed a real lawsuit over the nonexistent public comment lawsuit, claiming that the committee held a nonpublic meeting for improper reasons. Not surprisingly, the committee chairman chose not to make any public comments in The Pawtucket Times report.

Left and Right call for Emanuel’s resignation

December 23, 2009

Attorney General of the United States of America
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530-0001

Dear Attorney General Holder:

We write to demand an immediate investigation into the activities of White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. We believe there is an abundant public record which establishes that the actions of the White House have blocked any investigation into his activities while on the board of Freddie Mac from 2000-2001, and facilitated the cover up of potentially malfeasance until the 10-year statute of limitations has run out.

The purpose of this letter is to connect the dots to establish both the conduct of Mr. Emanuel and those working with him to thwart inquiry, and to support your acting speedily so that the statute of limitations does not run out before the Justice Department is able to empanel a grand jury.

The New York Times reports that the administration is negotiating to double the commitments to Fannie and Freddie for a total of $800 billion by December 31, in order to avoid the congressional approval that would be needed after that date. But there currently is no Inspector General exercising independent oversight of these entities. Acting Inspector General Ed Kelly was stripped of his authority earlier this year by the Justice Department, relying on a loophole in a bill Mr. Emanuel cosponsored and pushed through Congress shortly before he left for the White House. This effectively ended Mr. Kelly’s investigation into what happened at Fannie and Freddie.

Since that time, despite multiple warnings by Congress that having no independent Inspector General for a federal agency that oversees $6 trillion in mortgages is a serious oversight, the White House has not appointed one.

We recognize that these are extremely serious accusations, but the stonewalling by Mr. Emanuel and the White House has left us with no other redress. A 2003 report by Freddie Mac’s regulator indicated that Freddie Mac executives had informed the board of their intention to misstate the earnings to insure their own bonuses during the time Mr. Emanuel was a director. But the White House refused to comply with a Freedom of Information Act request from the Chicago Tribune for those board minutes on the grounds that Freddie Mac was a “commercial” entity, even though it was wholly owned by the government at the time the request was made.

If the Treasury approves the $800 billion commitment to Fannie and Freddie by the end of the year, it will mean that under the influence of Rahm Emanuel, the White House is moving a trillion-dollar slush fund into corruption-riddled companies with no oversight in place. This will allow Fannie and Freddie to continue to purchase more toxic assets from banks, acting as a back-door increase of the TARP without congressional approval.

Before the White House commits any more money to Fannie and Freddie, we call on the Office of Public Integrity in the Justice Department to begin an investigation into the cause of Fannie and Freddie’s conservatorship, into Rahm Emanuel’s activities on the board of Freddie Mac (including any violations of his fiduciary duties to shareholders), into the decision-making behind the continued vacancy of Fannie and Freddie’s Inspector General post, and into potential public corruption by Rahm Emanuel in connection with his time in Congress, in the White House, and on the board of Freddie Mac.

We also call for the immediate appointment of an Inspector General with a complete remit to go after this information.

We both come from differing political ideologies. One of us is the conservative head of a transparency foundation, and the other is the publisher of a liberal political blog. But we make common cause today out of grave concern for the future of our country in the wake of corruption-riddled bailouts. These bailouts continue to rob Main Street to benefit Wall Street, and, because of that, we together demand the resignation of Mr. Emanuel, a man who has steadfastly worked to obstruct both oversight and inquiry into the matter. Rahm Emanuel’s conflicts of interest render him far too compromised to serve as gatekeeper to the President of the United States.

We will lay out the details further below, and are available at your earliest convenience to meet with you directly.

Sincerely,

Jane Hamsher                             Grover Norquist
Firedoglake.com                        Americans for Tax Reform