Is confident Woonsocket will find solution

US - Rhode Island's education commissioner did not mince words when asked about the possibility that Woonsocket will close all of its schools for the year several months early - she says it's illegal and isn't an option.

The Woonsocket School Committee on Wednesday night is poised to discuss and possibly vote on a measure that would end the school year April 5, when the district is expected to run out of money.

State law requires schools to remain in session for 180 days a year. Woonsocket's 180th day would be June 13.

Education Commissioner Deborah Gist said the premature end to the school year can't happen.

"Honestly, [180 days is] really the bare minimum," Gist said. "It's not just the minimum we have by statute. It is the minimum that we have to offer our students."

Woonsocket is the latest Rhode Island municipality to consider dramatic steps. The capital Providence's bond rating was cut to near junk on Wednesday as it faces insolvency. Central Falls filed for bankruptcy last August and East Providence's finances is now directly controlled by a state-appointed budget commission.

In Woonsocket, the thought of closing schools early is not sitting well with many parents.

"The school committee needs to be replaced. The people on the school committee know what's going on. They're not doing their jobs. We need to get rid of them," said parent Robin Sevigny. "This is our kids' education. It's not a game."

Mayor Leo Fontaine and the school committee are asking the state to give the school department its June payment early to avoid running out of cash to make payroll.

The school district is facing $10 million dollar budget deficit and another $4 million in unpaid bills. Gov. Lincoln Chafee is set to unveil legislation on Thursday that he says will help stabilize municipal finances across the state.

The City Council has suggested increasing the property tax to help close the gap and avoid shutting school doors.

Commissioner Gist said she's confident all involved will find a way to keep the schools open deep into June, as scheduled.

"I know that people are working very hard to find a number of different alternatives and we're watching it very closely," Gist said.