Town-held account in Glocester holds RIDE reimbursement, with thousands in school restricted funds

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GLOCESTER – The Glocester Town Council got an answer as to to what happened to reimbursement funds from the Rhode Island Department of Education for school repairs projects over the past several years.

The reimbursement was deposited in the town’s general fund, but can only be used for school renovation projects.

In 2016, the council set up a five year capital plan to provide $300,000 a year for elementary school capital improvement projects, with an arrangement where the Glocester School Department would match those funds. The understanding was the reimbursement from the state would then return for town use. At the council’s previous meeting, former town councilor George (Buster) Steere questioned if the town ever received the reimbursements. Councilors said they would look into it.

“Obviously, the way it was presented to us by that resident, the structure of this all makes a lot of sense in a way – to maximize our return on the state reimbursement,” said Council Vice President Stephen Arnold of Steere at the time. “It may be a good lesson for the future, but right now, we are still waiting on a few answers from both the School Committee administration, as well as the finance department, on this going back in time. This one’s sort of a ‘to be continued’ unless somebody knows something that I don’t.”

Finance Director Mark Capuano explained that he and Town Clerk Jean Fecteau researched the issue. Capuano said the reimbursement funds from the state did not go to the school district, but rather into the town’s general fund, as do all state reimbursements. However, those funds are specifically earmarked only for capital improvements on the schools.

“It doesn’t go into the school side, but it is set aside for the schools through the town,” explained Capuano. “It’s a restricted fund. It is strictly to pay those expenses for the maintenance of the schools.”

Though the expected reimbursement return was believed to be 43 percent, Capuano explained that the reimbursement rate varies depending on the project.

The finance director has since submitted his resignation, ending his work for the town abruptly last week.

“I think it’s important to note that this is just for the elementary schools,” said Councilor Walter Steere, with mention of the separate Foster/Glocester Regional School Distrcit. “This has nothing to do with the region. We’ve heard rumors that they are going to be looking for large amounts of money.”

Arnold added that the 2016 arrangement used for capital improvements to the town’s elementary schools is one that the council, “could entertain,” moving forward, as they begin the budget process for the upcoming year. Officials said that currently, the town has somewhere between $600,000 and $800,000 in restricted funds for the task.

At a previous meeting, School Committee member Patricia Henry told the council a number of capital improvements would be needed in the future at the two elementary schools, West Glocester and Fogarty.

Steere agreed that the previous plan for capital improvements was a good one, but added that funding might be a problem.

“Schools think we can do this again,” said Steere. “I don’t know if we can do this again. There’s already money in this account.”

Councilor Jonathan Burlingame noted that the school district no longer has a surplus in their account, and that funds have already been spent on needed improvements or designated for other projects.

“That money is committed to ongoing projects,” said Burlingame.

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