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Pawtucket is a city of 71,148 residents founded in 1671, at the strategic falls of the Blackstone River and the upper tidewaters of Narragansett Bay. It is a city with a special place in the industrial history of the United States. For it was here at the Slater Mill Historic Site that Samuel Slater successfully constructed and operated machines for spinning cotton yarn in 1793. Besides textiles, a variety of machines and iron working shops grew up alongside the textile industry.
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Mayor Donald R. Grebien cordially invites the Pawtucket community to attend the annual Mayor's Holiday Dinner to be held on Monday, December 1st from 12:30 to 2 p.m. This year, the city will be partnering with the Pawtucket Soup Kitchen (located at 195 Walcott Street), who is also hosting the event.
The event is free and open to all city residents and is sponsored by the generous donations of food, money, and volunteer help from area businesses and individuals.
Grebien and his department directors will act as servers, assisted by elected officials and numerous city employees who give up their lunch period to devote to the community event.
Transportation to and from the Pawtucket Soup Kitchen will be provided with a continuous shuttle from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. with the bus stopping at the following locations: Leon Mathieu Senior Center, 420 Main St.; Pawtucket City Hall, 137 Roosevelt Ave.; Fogarty Manor parking lot, 214 Roosevelt Ave.; St. Germain Manor parking lot, 401 Mineral Spring Ave.; Slater Hill House parking lot, 8 George St.; and Towers East parking lot, 75 East Ave.
Anyone needing a ride should call the Mathieu Senior Center transportation line at 725-8220 or the center at 728-7582.
For further information, call the Mayor's Office at 728-0500, ext. 281.
Mayor Donald R. Grebien announced that extended hours of service at City Hall, an initiative to provide greater access to services for residents and businesses, will continue into 2015. The extended hours will again be available until 7:00 p.m. on the third Thursday of each month.
The increased availability for the public will continue to include the Board of Canvassers, City Clerk, Tax Assessor, Tax Collections, Mayor's Office, and Zoning & Code Enforcement Department.
The upcoming Thursday dates when City Hall will remain open until 7 p.m. are: November 20, December 18, January 15, 2015 and February 19, 2015.
"The extended hours program is particularly meant to serve people who may be unable to come to City Hall during regular business hours," Mayor Grebien said. "We are pleased to provide the added convenience for anyone who needs it and better serve the public."For additional information, contact the Mayor's Office at 728-0500, ext. 281 or any of the City Hall offices that will be open for extended hours. Normal City Hall hours are 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.
City of Pawtucket's Prudent Financial Management, significantly improved finances, restoration of reserves, elimination of the School Deficit and pension-OPEB reform are major factors in rare two notch upgrade.
Pawtucket Mayor Donald R. Grebien today announced that the City has been upgraded two notches to BBB+ from BBB- by Fitch Ratings. The upgrade comes after a thorough review of the City's financial and managerial operations by the rating agency earlier this month in connection with Fitch's annual surveillance review of Pawtucket. The upgrade is expected to result in a lower cost of borrowing for the City on future debt.
"I am very pleased that Fitch recognized the hard work we have done in improving the City's financial position, working collaboratively with the School Department and City Council managing our operating budget and future obligations. We have been working hard to improve the City's and School Department's finances while delivering high quality government services efficiently and effectively. While this is great news, the rating upgrade also serves as a reminder that we have a great deal of work still ahead, especially with regards to long-term obligations like our pension and other post-employment benefits, as Fitch points out," said Mayor Grebien. "Fitch's decision to upgrade the City's bond rating reinforces the direction we have taken and shows that our efforts are paying off. We will continue to focus on improving service and operating more efficiently to ensure our bond rating continues to improve, which in turn will lower our borrowing costs."
The Mayor was joined in the presentation to Fitch by Director of Administration Antonio Pires, Finance Director Joanna L'Heureux, Deputy Finance Director Jeannine Bourski and the City's financial advisors, Maureen Gurghigian and Adam Krea of FirstSouthwest. The Mayor said he "commends the Director of Administration and Finance Director for the comprehensive presentation made to Fitch. Our thorough preparation clearly presented a full picture of the City's progress and was critical to achieving this excellent result."
The Fitch report listed as rating drivers to result in the upgrade: Pawtucket's significantly improved finances, restoration of reserves, elimination of the School Deficit, prudent financial management, moderate debt burden and pension and OPEB reform.
Finance Director L'Heureux said, "the BBB+ rating incorporates the City's strong management practices, improved financial position and elimination of the School Deficit a year ahead of schedule. The rating also considers our conservative approach to debt and recently implemented pension and OPEB reforms."
Maureen Gurghigian, FirstSouthwest Managing Director said, "A double notch upgrade is rare and is a real recognition of the strides the City has made over the past few years. Rating Agencies usually take much longer to upgrade communities than to downgrade them." She noted "the City has experienced improved market access over the last two years as evidenced by successful general obligation bond and note sales, but with a double upgrade from Fitch, we expect the City to see continued improvement in rates offered by investors." She noted that investor acceptance of the issuer is an important consideration in the pricing of municipal bonds. "A rating upgrade can be expected to increase the universe of potential buyers for the City's bonds. As with any product, more buyers will result in a more competitive price for the City," Gurghigian added.
City Officials Listen to Mill Tenants' Needs
The City of Pawtucket's Emergency Management Agency will host a free public vaccination event at Jenks Junior High School in Pawtucket on November 15, 2014 from 10:00 AM to 1:00 PM. The event will provide flu vaccine and Tdap, which protects against pertussis or "whooping cough". There will be no charge for these vaccinations, and the event is open to the general public with no residency requirement. Participants do not need health insurance to be vaccinated, but if you have insurance, please bring your insurance card.
This event is being run by Pawtucket Emergency Management in collaboration with Central Falls Emergency Management and the Rhode Island Department of Health (HEALTH). While the event will provide access to these important vaccines, it will also serve as a practice exercise for officials to prepare for the distribution of medication or vaccines in the event of an actual emergency.For questions related to immunization, contact the Rhode Island Department of Health at (401) 222-5960 / RI Relay 711. For questions about this event, contact Normand Menard, Director, Pawtucket Emergency management at 401-729-5846 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The City of Pawtucket and Mayor Donald R. Grebien are apologizing to the taxpayers who received letters from the City's Division of Collections in error.
"As Mayor, I sincerely regret that the letter was sent to you in error," Grebien said in a letter to the effected parties that is being sent out over the next week. "Please know the administration is taking the appropriate steps to ensure that this does not happen again."
The city is participating in the state's Income Tax Offset Program (iTOP) to increase collections from delinquent motor vehicle taxpayers. This is a program the state offers local governments at no charge that will allow the city to recoup some of the $11M in receivables owed for outstanding motor vehicle taxes. Grebien continues in the letter that it is unfortunate that some of the very people we are looking to protect through this program were incorrectly notified of a delinquency that does not exist.
The city has determined that the error was the result of redundancies in the data downloads from different systems. Approximately 4,400 letters were sent to incorrect accountholders, and approximately the same number of delinquent accounts that should have been noticed were not. Letters to those delinquent accountholders will be going out over the coming weeks."Unfortunately, with this implementation, as we look to shift the tax burden from those of you who are paid up on their taxes to those who have not, the city hit a road bump during implementation," Grebien continued. "This will truly be a lesson learned by the city as we move forward to prevent errors like these from happening in the future." Grebien is thanking those who received the letter in error for the patience and understanding as the City works to correct the issues.
City Hall offices to be closed
The Department of Public Works is reminding residents that trash and recycling pickup will be delayed one day from the normal schedule beginning Tuesday November 11 due to the Veterans Day holiday. Normal Monday collection will take place on Monday, November 10.
Residents are asked to place their trash and recycling out for collection on the day following their normally scheduled day for collection. For example, normal Tuesday routes will be collected on Wednesday. Each route will be subsequently delayed by one day, ending with Friday's route being collected on Saturday, November 15.
City Hall offices and the Pawtucket Public Library will also be closed in observance of the holiday.
For further information contact the Department of Public Works at 728-0500 ext. 282 or by email at email@example.com. The 2014 Refuse and Recycling Calendar is available on the city website at www.pawtucketri.com as a link on the Department of Public Works page.
The City of Pawtucket announced its recruitment schedule and requirements for candidates to apply for positions with the Fire Department. Candidates on the current list must re-apply.
The application period for Firefighter candidates is from Monday, November 3, 2014 to Friday, December 5, 2014. Requirements which must be met by candidates at the time of application include the following.
Other requirements include successfully passing each phase of the examination process including the Firefighter Written Examination, Oral Board interview, physical and psychological examination including drug screening, successful completion of the Pawtucket Fire Academy, and being able to perform the essential job functions of a Pawtucket Firefighter.
Firefighter applications are available online under Job Postings. Click here for more information. All applications must be returned in person to the City of Pawtucket, Department of Personnel, 137 Roosevelt Ave., Pawtucket, R.I., Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. The Personnel Office may be contacted at 401-728-0500 ext. 235 or ext. 276.
The City of Pawtucket is an Equal Opportunity Employer and fully complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Minorities and women are encouraged to apply. Pawtucket residents (for the past three years as of November 3, 2014) will receive five additional points in the overall hiring process.
The Fairlawn Against Crime Team (FACT), in partnership with the City of Pawtucket, will host a neighborhood cleanup event Saturday November 8th beginning at 1:00 p.m. The group will meet at Nathanael Greene Elementary School on Smithfield Avenue. All are welcome and encouraged to volunteer.
The City of Pawtucket will be providing rakes and brooms for the volunteers to use. MEGA Disposal, the city's refuse and recycling collector, is providing leaf bags and gloves free of charge.
Pat St. Germain, President of FACT, said "Fairlawn is a great neighborhood to live in and we are proud to offer our time and energy to help keep it clean. Our dedicated members love this community. We encourage anyone interested in participating to join us on the 8th."
"We are fortunate to have community groups like FACT here in Pawtucket that are so committed to giving back to the city and beautifying our neighborhoods," said Mayor Donald R. Grebien. "The work that Pat and FACT do benefits not only Fairlawn, but our entire city. We are proud to partner with them on this event."Game Day Sports Bar will host a gathering for the volunteers immediately following the cleanup event.
The City is working with RIPTA to address some of the issues at the current Pawtucket hub location, 175 Main Street. A public hearing was held on Tuesday, October 28, 2014 to discuss some of the study's initial findings and some potential solutions.
Pawtucket Foundation Provides Expertise to Create Visual Tool
Providence Business News Supplement
The City of Pawtucket has purchased a 1.6 acre open field at the site of a former mill on Roosevelt Avenue. For many years, the City had been leasing the field portion of the property for neighborhood recreation use when the mill property was owned by Arbeka Webbing and more recently, Red Farm Studios.
The City moved to permanently acquire the field when the mill property became vacant and was subsequently purchased by a private ownership group in 2011. Accessing an open space grant from RI Department of Environmental Management for $100,000, and utilizing $120,000 federal Community Development Block Grant funds, the City officially purchased the field portion of the property for $220,000 on September 15.
In commenting on the importance of this purchase, Mayor Grebien offered, "The acquisition of this long-time neighborhood resource secures the field for future generations to enjoy." Mayor Grebien also offered his thanks to the City Council and the RI Department of Environmental Management for their assistance.
The City of Pawtucket Department of Planning and Redevelopment announced today that renovations to the Festival Pier waterfront park and boat ramp will be completed at the end of November, and the park will open to the public on December 1, 2014. The newly renovated pier features a new plaza, lighting, benches, parking areas and a new boat ramp. In total, the investment in this important community resource is just over $2M.
Over the next two months, the contractor for the project, Northern Construction, will complete a number of final project components including the installation of guardrails and extensive landscaping throughout the site. The City of Pawtucket thanks the public for their patience as we complete the improvements to this beautiful riverfront park.
To take maximum advantage of a new state law that allows municipalities to potentially save hundreds of thousands of dollars annually on distribution and energy costs for street lights usage, the City of Pawtucket is taking a detailed look at joining a consortium of cities and towns being set up for that purpose.
The Partnership for R.I. Streetlight Management (PRISM) is an initiative of the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns, which has led the way on efforts to allow municipalities to purchase their street lights from National Grid.
Figures reported by PRISM show potential initial annual savings in Pawtucket of approximately $544,000 on maintenance fees in the first year by joining the consortium, which would assume maintenance responsibilities for the streetlights.
Purchase of the streetlights would also allow such money-saving measures as upgrading all lights to LED lights which are more cost efficient and last much longer, offering further potential savings of approximately 40 percent, or approximately $200,000 a year in Pawtucket.
PRISM would assist communities with purchase of their street lights and provide required maintenance on the lights after the purchase, including organizing and administering the professional technical services needed to maintain the lights.
The city in an initial step before proceeding further has requested that National Grid verify current inventory, maintenance and distribution costs, a process expected to take up to 30 days.
"The PRISM initiative is an exciting prospect for Pawtucket as well as other communities who could save significant dollars on their streetlights for years to come," said Mayor Donald R. Grebien. "We are now in the due diligence phase and will examine all facets before making a final decision."
Public Works Director Lance Hill noted LED conversion would also offer efficiency and quality of life improvements beyond cost savings. "Individual lights could be brightened to enhance public safety such as during storm emergencies, or adjusted up or down to accommodate nearby residents. Controllers can also adjust light intensity in off-peak hours such as just before dawn, and be metered so that the city pays just for what it uses or to detect any malfunctions," Hill said.
The R.I. League of Cities and Towns said PRISM would function similarly to its successful REAP program, a consortium of 36 Rhode Island cities and towns begun in 1999 to purchase electricity and other energy related services from power suppliers at the lowest possible prices with the highest quality of service.
Courtesy of The Pawtucket Foundation
The repaving of more than 20 miles of city roadways is scheduled to begin on Aug. 12 in the first phase of an overall project planned throughout the city. Paving on Cottage Street and Central Avenue will initiate the program.
"We're excited to get this initial stage underway to repair streets that had been allowed to deteriorate for years and years," Mayor Donald R. Grebien said. "This project will improve our transportation infrastructure for residents and businesses, while enhancing public safety and the city's overall quality of life."
Grebien also noted that passage of a $15 million road bond question on November's ballot would allow repaving of the worst half of all substandard city road segments over the next three years. "We are very hopeful that when the residents see the progress being made that they will continue to support the funding needed for the improvements to continue," he said.
A total of 325 city roadway segments are scheduled in this paving cycle, which is expected to extend through mid-November if the weather cooperates, said Public Works Director Lance Hill. Any roads on the first-phase list that are not repaired this fall will be paved in the spring, he said.
This repair phase taps into state low-interest bond funds approved for Pawtucket of $3.5 million, the highest allocation awarded to any Rhode Island community under the new Municipal Road and Bridge Revolving Fund. The competitive program allows the city to borrow under a Triple-A rated state agency at rates more favorable than it could achieve on its own.
Hill said the work targets the priority list of city roads determined to be in the worst condition citywide by a comprehensive independent study conducted last year. The city's authority to bond the repaving work was approved this spring by the City Council, leading to a competitive request for proposals and awarding of the work in July to the low-bid contractor as approved by the city Purchasing Board.
Hill said he is asking for the public's patience due to the extent of road repair construction that will be done through this fall. He said clearly marked detours will be set up where needed and work is being planned to interfere as little as possible with school zones.
"We apologize in advance for any inconvenience but in the end this work will make the city a better place for our residents, businesses and visitors," Hill said.
Anyone with questions or seeking more information about the road work can contact Public Works at 401-728-0500 ext. 284 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What's known as the "statistical revaluation" of city property values, a state-mandated process conducted every three years, will be getting underway on Tuesday, Aug. 12 and continue over the next several months.
"It only happens every three years so it's important to emphasize what the representatives of the appraisal firm hired by the city will be doing, and what they won't be doing," said Tax Assessor Robert Burns.
"They're not going to go door to door to every home. They will be reviewing city records of property sales, and looking at those houses, and just driving by other houses. They may want to verify building permit work and take a photo of that," Burns said.
Burns added that such permit work would typically include larger ticket items such as home additions, but not kitchen and bathroom remodeling or repairs to windows, doors and roofs, which the city does not consider in assessing home values.
After a competitive bid process the city hired Vision Government Solutions Inc. of Northborough, Mass. to develop and implement the state-required valuation update. The assessment will be through Dec. 31, 2014 and reflect the 2014 real estate market.
The project will begin with data collection of sale properties and building permits. Vision staff will measure the exterior and inspect the interior of all qualified sale properties where permission is granted by the owner or tenant. All Vision employees will carry photo identification and a letter of introduction from the Tax Assessor's Office and will be registered with the Pawtucket Police Department.
Property owners will be sent a "sales questionnaire" asking them to check the accuracy of the data recorded for their property. Additionally, income and expense questionnaires will be mailed to owners of commercial and industrial properties in the city. The data collected will be used to analyze the rental market in Pawtucket.
Residents will be notified of the new proposed assessments once the valuation work is completed in 2015. Anyone wishing to discuss their valuation with Vision staff will be able to schedule a review in Pawtucket. Once the review process is completed, the new assessments will appear on the tax bills issued during the summer of 2015.
"The Vision data collectors just collect data. They are not appraisers so they can't give you any information on property values," Burns noted. He said anyone with questions or seeking more information can contact him at 401-728-0500 ext. 333 or by email at email@example.com.General information on the reassessment process is available on the Vision Government Solutions website at www.VGSI.com under the "Taxpayer Information" link.
Pawtucket Police expand "Lock It or Lose It" campaign
Responding to a recent rash of larcenies from unlocked autos that often go hand in hand with opportunities presented by warmer weather, the Police Department has expanded its "Lock It or Lose It" campaign including with an emphasis on spreading the word through social media.
Police Chief Paul King said the "Lock It or Lose It" campaign is using his department's Facebook and Twitter accounts as well as other city websites to alert residents citywide of incidents in the shortest amount of time.
Police are also pro-actively deploying bike patrols in problem areas as shown by their CompStat analysis, which maps crimes by area, type and time of day, and have assigned two additional officer patrols in unmarked vehicles to affected areas.
King noted the bike patrols, which were provided for in the new city budget, besides expanding response also serve as a consistent visual deterrent.
On one recent night, King said larcenies to seven cars – all left unlocked – occurred on a single street off Newport Avenue in incidents currently being investigated. Police have also issued news releases warning residents that "crimes of opportunity" like thefts from unlocked cars are up recently but can be easily prevented.
"Locking your vehicle sounds like a simple idea and it is, but it's surprising how many people fail to do it especially in the warmer weather. So we've stepped up our efforts to remind them, which in turn makes our job easier by preventing crimes from happening," King said.
In a recent tally, larcenies from autos were up by 39 occurrences compared to the same time last year, when that crime was down by more than 13 percent from the prior year and overall crime in Pawtucket declined by about 10.3 percent.
King said the city administration has continued to upgrade public safety and crime prevention, including hiring new officers, increasing bike patrols and upgrading the fleet of patrol vehicles, and that enhancing communication with the public is part of that mix.
"A well informed public is a safer public. The ultimate goal of these strategies is to combat crime and educate the public about what they can do to help," King said.The police department website (www.pawtucketpolice.com) offers several ways for the public to communicate with the department, including links to the Citizens Online Police Reporting System, public records requests, the Crime Mapping tool, the ability to file accident reports online, and registration for the CodeRED system. CodeRED allows immediate contact with the public – by landline or cell phone, text and email – on critical matters from parking bans to locally targeted or citywide emergencies.
Building on popularity with the public that has – literally – grown as it has gone along, city officials are looking to bring the new Free Tree Program back for another round.
Working with residents throughout the city, the Department of Public Works implemented the Free Tree Program, which brings young trees to city sidewalks, as part of Mayor Donald R. Grebien administration's citywide beautification efforts.
To date, approximately 85 trees have been planted during the spring and summer seasons for residents who put in their requests last fall. Another 70 applications already received are currently being evaluated for the fall planting season.
For the next round, the application deadline is Nov. 1, 2014 for the spring 2015 planting season.
"We thought this was a 'green' idea that would catch on quickly with the public and that's exactly what has happened," said Mayor Donald R. Grebien. "We're pleased to bring all the benefits trees can offer, from improving the environment to brightening the city streetscape, to as many residents as we can by continuing to support the program."
"The public's response has been extremely positive from the start," DPW Director Lance Hill said. As first announced last August, Hill noted the Free Tree Program offers several types of trees: Chinese Elm, Bowhall Red Maple, Littleleaf Linden and London Plan Tree, all suitable for urban environments. Offered for plantings that would be sited under power lines are Chanticleer Pear and Japanese Zelkova trees.
The city provides mulch upon installation by a licensed arborist contractor, with long term maintenance the responsibility of the property owner. To encourage participation, Hill said, highest priority is given to joint applications by neighboring residents.
Thus far trees have been planted on or near Smithfield Avenue, Power Road, Main Street, Pawtucket Avenue, Benefit Street, Daggett Avenue and Armistice Boulevard, among many others. Hill said federal block grant funding has been identified to extend the effort with additional plantings in 2015.
Applications are available at the Public Works Center, 250 Armistice Blvd., or can be printed from the city website at www.pawtucketri.com/departments/engineering. (Because the applications require a signature, they cannot be completed online). Residents seeking further information about the program can contact the Department of Public Works at 728-0500, ext. 339 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The city also maintains its traditional 50-50 funding program for sidewalk construction for both homes and businesses, with applications on the city website or at the DPW office.
The city is looking to inspire local artists to brighten the urban landscape by transforming typically bland utility boxes into works of art. Approximately 16 city-owned utility boxes, spread across Pawtucket, will become canvases for works of art through the project.
The Pawtucket PaintBox Project, modeled on a similar successful effort in Providence, is described in a recently issued request for proposals and is being organized by the city's Advisory Commission on Arts and Culture. Deadline for entries is Aug. 14.
The new volunteer arts panel, chaired by Miriam Plitt, who has been involved in city arts and cultural projects for many years, was formed last fall at the direction of Mayor Donald R. Grebien and is charged with encouraging projects to recognize and celebrate local artists.
Participating artists will receive a $300 stipend for the cost of all materials required to complete and protect their artwork. Applicants must be age 18 or older, live in or have a permanent studio or office in the city, and can submit a maximum of three designs.
Guidelines state that designs "may be representational or abstract but must respond to the urban context and be appropriate given the location and audience," and should be adjusted to accommodate the size of the utility boxes, which will vary.
"Submissions will be considered under a rolling admission and kept on file for future consideration," the RFP states. "The selected artists will be notified only if or when their designs are selected."
Applicants may specify which neighborhoods or boxes they would prefer to work on but the decision of the arts advisory panel will be final. The rules also require scraping, cleaning and priming the utility box surface, using durable materials, avoiding "dark palettes in order to prevent boxes from overheating," applying a protective varnish or wax coating and avoiding applying paint in a way that would interfere with operation of the box.
All art work submitted for consideration must be original and solely owned by the artists and the city will retain the right to make reproductions such as in brochures, publicity or other similar purposes, among other rules.
The detailed RFP including rules for how to apply for the project, which is being funded under a federal block grant administered by the city Department of Planning and Redevelopment, is available on the city website at www.pawtucketri.com, under the Purchasing Department tab.
The city's improving financial picture received further objective recognition from a major credit rating agency last week, with Moody's affirming the city's current bond rating at investment grade while raising Pawtucket's rating outlook for general obligation debt from negative to stable. The credit outlook on other outstanding city debt was similarly raised.
Last November, Fitch Ratings also affirmed its investment grade rating of city general obligation bonds while boosting the city's credit outlook from stable to positive, its second outlook upgrade in two years.
"The Moody's rating affirmation and outlook upgrade continue the trend of positive financial news for our residents and taxpayers and show that the city is on a fiscal path to progress," Mayor Donald R. Grebien said. "We still have a long way to go but we're steadily getting there."
Moody's affirmed its Baa2 rating on the city's $34.9 million in long-term general obligation bonds. According to Moody's rating system, obligations rated Baa are medium investment grade with moderate credit risk, with the 2 modifier designating the debt obligations at a mid-range ranking in the category.
In giving its ratings rationale Moody's cited, among other factors, the city's moderately-sized tax base, relatively low tax burden, improving financial position including a reduction in the accumulated deficit in the school fund and the city's recent funding of 100 percent of its annual required pension contributions, or ARC. Moody's also cited an overall "adequate and improving General Fund position," including strengthening the city "rainy day" reserves fund.
"The stable outlook reflects our belief that the city will maintain improved operating position, elimination of cash flow borrowing and full funding of the locally administered pension ARC with a pending funding improvement plan to reduce its unfunded liability," Moody's stated.
The report noted the city faces financial challenges including an accumulated deficit in the School Unrestricted Fund, low income indicators and large unfunded pension and other post-employment benefits. The report also stated strengthening operating reserves and continued improvement in unfunded liabilities could make the city credit rating go up.
The full report, issued July 2, is available online at www.moodys.com.
This season of graduations, commencement speeches and transition to new challenges and opportunities is always one of the most hopeful and uplifting times of the year. The focus, as it should be, is on the graduates and their plans and dreams for the future.
What should not go unnoticed -- but too often goes unrecognized -- is that the Pawtucket school system, which the Class of 2014 is now leaving behind, continues to show marked improvement at numerous schools and in several testing and other areas, according to the standardized measurements employed for several years now.
While the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) scores have run into some controversy concerning student graduation requirements, and are now due to be replaced by another metric, they can still provide valuable measurements of an individual school's progress.
In Pawtucket, those latest NECAP numbers (dating to October 2013) show that two elementary schools and the city's arts high school have particularly shown outstanding year-to-year performance:
In another important measurable area, when Shea and Tolman high schools were put into "transformation" status by state education officials about three years ago, their graduation rates were both badly lagging. Part of the problem was that students leaving the system weren't being tracked and so were all counted as dropouts, but other changes were needed as well.
Improvements quickly followed. The latest graduation rate for Shea, under new Principal Don Miller, and Tolman, under new Principal Chris Savastano, were respectively 83 percent and 71 percent, both representing improvements of more than 20 percent from two years earlier.
Interim School Superintendent Patricia DiCenso, who has brought outstanding leadership and new energy to that position, with Chief School Performance Officer Kathleen Suriani and the two new principals are determined to see those figures continue to rise when the graduation rates are annually updated in November. We have also seen Reading scores improve to 72 percent proficiency at Tolman and Writing scores move up 20 percent at Shea, so hopefully their transformation status may soon be over.
There are numerous other bright spots of academic achievement throughout our school system:
All those scores represent major improvements. Progress has been slower at Slater and Jenks junior high schools but a sound plan is in place and we look forward to seeing their performance move up as well.
One thing to watch for on the near horizon is the kind of concerted effort, and commitment of appropriate resources, being applied to Math instruction that for the past several years has been boosting Reading and Writing scores. When our school teachers and administrators put a strong emphasis on something, their track record shows that significant improvements are sure to follow.
As I visit with principals and teachers around our school district, I am always struck by their great dedication and pride in seeing their students succeed and their concern and commitment to do what's needed to make that happen. That is not something that can be measured by any test but it's certainly something that success cannot happen without.
We still have far to go, and the new math initiative is particularly welcome in that regard. What would also be welcome is a state aid allocation that more fairly acknowledges the challenges that Pawtucket and similar communities must face today.
As parents of two school-age children, my wife Laureen and I, like parents everywhere, see every day the difference that good schools and good teachers can make in the lives of their students. Our schools and teachers in Pawtucket, though they don't spend much time patting themselves on the back for it, are increasingly making that difference for the future of our children.
The City of Pawtucket is establishing a public notice registry, for any person interested in receiving electronic notice of any changes to Pawtucket's land use and subdivision regulations or Zoning Ordinance. To be listed on this registry, please contact Kerri Vecoli at 401-724-5200 or email@example.com.
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