PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Accounting firm Ernst & Young has been tapped to conduct a financial analysis of the Providence public school system, Rhode Island’s education commissioner announced Monday.
Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green, who is slated to issue a final order to take control of the struggling school district in the coming weeks, has previously said she wants a full financial picture of the district.
Once the state takeover begins, state law allows her to have full control over the district’s budget.
The analysis, costing $295,000, will be paid for privately by the Partnership for Rhode Island, the same coalition of local CEOs who also paid for the Johns Hopkins University report that helped spark the state takeover.
The partnership’s executive director, Tom Giordano, said the analysis is not an audit.
“Planning for the future of the Providence Public Schools starts with understanding its current financial status,” Giordano said in a statement. “We hope this analysis will help provide a roadmap for an efficient use of resources that prioritizes student achievement, principal empowerment, teacher development, and district improvement.”
The financial analysis was planned prior to the revelation that the cash-strapped district spent $187,000 on an inspirational book for all middle and high school students to read, but later scrapped plans to make it mandatory because of religious references.
The Boston Globe first reported that interim Superintendent Fran Gallo had to change plans for all students in grades 6-12 to read the book after teachers expressed concerns about religious language in “Shoot Your Shot: A Sport-Inspired Guide To Living Your Best Life.”
While contracts for more than $5,000 typically have to be approved by the School Board and City Council, school department spokesperson Emily Martineau said last week the hefty book purchase was made within the district’s budget line item for books, which can be purchased directly from the publisher without requiring additional approvals.
“I think the bottom line is we have to do a better job of being prudent with taxpayer money,” said Councilman David Salvatore. “This is another reason why we need another set of eyes looking at the school department budget.”
Gallo told WPRI 12 on Monday the books are not being pulled from the schools, but it is now optional for teachers to use them in their classrooms.
She also said the School Board was aware of the book title before it was purchased, though she acknowledges the district should have chosen a different book to try and bring everybody together.
“They all knew about it. even the mayor knew,” Gallo said. “We all knew.”
“It was a lot of money, and it would have been the centerpiece to get everybody moving in the same direction,” Gallo added.