Does the Barrington PTO Have The Right To Break the Law?

The arrangement PTO's has with Arts Alive in any other public organization would have people going to jail.

There are very specific rules for public entities such as
the state, towns and cities, and schools, on how to advertise and accept
contracts for services. There are also specific rules for how people are hired
by these entities. They must be advertised, the bids evaluated and the jobs are
given to the lowest qualified bidder. Surely you have seen the large official looking
ads in the Projo and even in the Barrington times.  For teacher and coaching jobs they are posted
for a minimum of days on the school website, and on school spring which sends
out notices to teachers and others looking for work. This is what happens when
the schools are looking to spend money or start new services.  Requests for proposals are for any purchase
over a certain amount, and not very much money.

This is done so that insiders to not get the work without it
being offered to the public at large. So there are no insider back door deals.  This is what happened in Central Falls. There
were no advertisements, no competitive bids. They got caught. They are going to

Last week the ex-mayor of Central Falls was indicted for
betraying the public trust, for as the Providence Journal describes it, “circumventing
competitive bidding rules”. He did this by giving an exclusive contract to his
friend to board up vacant houses.  It is
alleged that he also accepted gifts from his friend Michael Boothillete. Both men
are expected to plead guilty and to serve time in jail.

Circumventing competitive bidding rules is what is happening
in Barrington. As sure as fire is hot and snow is cold the PTO’s and Arts
Alive! Conspired to, as the Journal said, “circumventing competitive bidding
rules”. By going through the PTO and not through the schools as it should have,
the intention was to first avoid the rules of posting that the school has to
follow to contract out services and second make more money than the schools
would pay for such work. And believe me doing plays for 100+ children in a
school with revenues over $40,000 for just one school and revenues I estimate
well over $125,000 from being in the schools and growing, Is a significant
contract.  How do I know? Because When I
started doing theatre in town I took the same path. Because I have lived
through many of the same things.

I started in 2002 as a volunteer in the schools, just as
Arts Alive people did. I found that there were many students who wanted to work
with me, just as Arts alive people did. I went to the schools to see if I could
start an after school program in the schools, as I am sure that Arts Alive
people did. It is the logical next step.  I was told no it would have to be put out for a
competitive bid. I started my own theatre group for kids and applied for a 501-C-3
to be a not for profit, but the schools still wanted to put up any program for
bid and that didn’t fit in my time table. So I rented Bay spring community
center and did our first set of shows.

Then I started an enrichment theatre program at the middle
school in 2003, like what Arts Alive does, where we did Bye Bye Birdie. It was
a smashing success. We made after all salaries $4,000 for the school! It was
almost as much as Arts alive made paid to all 4 schools and we only had 25
students, not over 100 like some of Arts Alive school shows had .There is lots
of profit in big shows. Had we had a 100+ students we would have made S30, 000
for the schools, not  $4,000.

I also had a group of PTO parents who wanted to form a board
of directors, just like Arts Alive. Here we parted paths from Arts Alive! I
turned down the idea of a parent board of directors. I have found that  some parents mean well, but  then there are some I have found wanted to be
on the board to ensure that their children would get to be the lead. To influence
casting. I always tried to cast fairly and even. It has gotten many self -important
parents angry with me here in town.  I went
so far as to film auditions to show disappointed parents why I cast what I
cast. We have all met parents like this. These are the same kind of parents who
want their children to only be the quarterback.

 At the end of the middle
school show Richard Wheeler wanted to have me back very badly, but I was told
that having me back violated the master agreement with the teachers union. It conflicted
with what the union thought teachers should be doing in the schools.

So then Mike Raffa, then recreation director for the town,
asked me if they could take over our program in the recreation department,
which was looking for non-sports programming at the time. It had to be approved
by the town council with amendments and conditions which it was. And so
Barrington Community theatre was born.

That fall the high school hired me as the theatre director. They
didn’t just hand me the job, they hired me after and only after all current
teachers in all schools turned it down and I competed with 23 other candidates
for the job. It turned out to be the hardest job I ever had and ended up paying
me $4.50 an hour. But it was good art.

Like I said, like me, Arts Alive would have gone to the
schools to see if they could work for the schools. When they found how hard it
would be like me they would look to do it differently. They chose to go to the
PTO’s. It was more profitable and easier.

If the schools themselves did my program or Arts Alive’s
program or anything similar, they would have to by law advertise and many other
organizations besides Arts Alive!  Would
be interested in bidding. And all would be willing to pay more than the $1500 pittance
per school that Arts Alive gave to the PTO’s Last year ($6,000 total per Arts
Alive! Website)

If the school were to hire any member of Arts Alive! They
would have to advertise the position, per the rules of the agreement of the
master contract with Barrington NEA internally first, just like they did when I
got the high school job, and as they advertise all coaching positions at all
schools including theatre.

 For all coaching
positions, including the middle school theatre position, the pay is clearly
outlined in an appendix of the contract. It is often quite low for the work.  When I was the high school theatre director, I
directed 3 plays a year for $5200 ( it is more now with annual 3% raises) but I
figured for the work I was doing I was getting about $4.50 an hour. Arts Alive staff
wouldn’t work for that, after all besides me who would?

So they, Arts Alive and the PTO have circumvented the bidding and hiring rules by using the PTO
as the facilitating agent, not the schools. And with a wink and a nod each of
the 4 elementary principals who had to sign off on the contracts. For clearly,
putting on a school musical, should be a job of the schools and not the job of
the PTO. PTO’s , like the EDC in Providence and 38 studios, should not be in
the position of picking winners and losers, which of course is exactly what
they are doing.

The PTO like the EDC and RIDOT are quasi-public agencies. The
problem is that many of the PTO officers are involved with Arts Alive Board of
directors, related by family connections, fellow PTO members or just friends. And
with no bids they pay the PTO’s very little. Only $1500 per school they put on
a show in.  

The Arts Alive board of directors sits on the PTO’s of the
schools Arts Alive got contracts for. I am sure they spoke for and voted for
ARTS Alive to get the contracts. That is a simple conflict of interest. And as
much as the schools would like to say that it doesn’t have to be put out for
bid because it is a PTO program. It is approved by each school principal and
the principals are members of each schools PTO. The school administration is
responsible for what goes on in the schools.

How is all this bad for children? One major fuction of the
PTO is to raise money to benefit the students. If they give a contract to
friends that raises significantly less money then there is less money to benefit

Barrington Community Theatre is now led by Reid Eighme and
not me anymore. I am staying as an advisor in a very diminished capacity until
Peter DeAngelis or Reid Eighme asks me to go. So with them both signing off ,
and after hearing of Arts Alive intention to go into the middle school, I
crunched the numbers and Barrington Community theatre submitted a bid to the
Principal and superintendent for Community theatre to run the same program as
Arts Alive and more. Instead of $1500 for the schools for the right to put on a
show, Barrington Community Theatre guaranteed $8000 per school or 1/3 of all
revenues whichever is greater.

Plus Barrington community theatre would offer any student
who did not have a lead role in the school show to do Barrington Community
Theatre for free to make sure that every child gets a bigger part. Our philosophy
has always been kids learn and benefit from the self-esteem of getting as large
a part as possible, which is why we do 50 shows a year and which in musicals is
not often possible. So for the students who were not the lead, we would give
them for free a chance to shine elsewhere. A part with a name and lines not
just one of a chorus of 100.


If Barrington Community Theatre had the contract that Arts
Alive had then the schools would have received $26,000 more last year and kids
who had one line in the chorus they also would have had a big part in a play. How
much is $26,000 extra for the PTO’s? Well The Rubber Duck Race, BEF’s big fund
raiser of the year raised $10,710 Last week!

What good works could the PTO do with $26,000 extra money? What
supplies for the school could they buy? Whatprograms could they begin to help
children.  $26,000 is more than several
fights have been over at the town financial meeting. Money that the PTO’s do
not get and gets diverted to other sources  (Like staff for Arts Alive) hurts children.

But as Good as Barrington Community theatre is, And it is a
good program, in an open bidding process we probably would not win. We are not
the best out there. The best is Trinity Rep, which has several outreach
programs for students . They have access to the best staff and the educational
director who heads up the program, Barrington High graduate, Carrie Azano, is
the best I have ever seen. She interned and then worked Barrington community theatre,
for 4 years. 2 years as our program director. Out of loyalty she usually comes
back once a year to guest direct. We really appreciate her. She is the best,
and they have their own growing camp and are interested in reaching into the
communities. I don’t know if they are interested in this but they should have had the
chance to bid.

 There is also All
Children’s Theatre /Saint Andrews. They have several programs in many towns.
They are one of the largest advertisers on the Barrington Patch, (just look up
at the top of the page and  probably and  you will see their banner ad). Why do you
think they are spending so much money advertising in the Barrington Patch? They
are trying to reach Barrington students.  The ones that ARTS Alive gets to solicit for
free. What do you suppose ACT would pay to get into the schools which arts Alive
gets for free? They have a good program and significant resources behind them.

RI College, Roger Williams College, Stadium theatre, Park Ave
theatre among others all have programs they would like to expand. But we never
had a bidding process. I am sure there are more programs that would love the

But the revenue generated at the schools is just the tip of
the iceberg. The real money is in access to Barrington students, the ability to
start and maintain an extracurricular theatre program.  This is what every arts program drools at.
Barrington kids, unlike Providence and Pawtucket kids, are often the ones who
can pay full rate for after school and summer programs. City kids need grants
and scholarships, and generate less money.  Using the connections with the kids they
worked with, Arts Alive started their own summer camp this year, creating more
revenue for the organization. Arts Alive is also currently offering 12 after
school classes a week for fees ranging from $150-$225, 12 classes @200 @10
students  is $24,000, a bonus only
possible because they work in the schools.

Don’t tell me that  this is just another enrichment program like where
a parent teaches a class in cooking and get $150 for 8-10 classes. This is a
different animal. This is a program that has revenues well over six figures and
growing. And please don’t tell me that they run a good program. Of course they
run a good program. Of course they care about kids and do their best for them
in the program. That is not in dispute and not what this is about.  This is about money and open government.

This is about open bidding in government.  I can think of a dozen good programs within 20
miles of here who can all do just as good a job. They just are not friends with
the PTO members. Arts Alive is good but they are not that good. They just have
an in that other groups do not have.

If this were a sleazy Central Falls mayor and his friend in
a no bid contract that yielded less money for government , then all parties on
both sides would and in the case of Central Falls are going to jail. But while
many of the underlying facts are similar nothing is going to happen. Seriously
this is a group of well educated, well connected suburban housewives. Can you
see an AG going after this group like the Mayor of Central Falls? No,  But they did pretty much the same thing. They got
around bidding rules to get friends work for more pay than it would pay otherwise.
The PTO’s are a quasi-public corporation like the EDC and Ridot.  Imagine if a member of the EDC was also on
the board of 38 studios, and then voted on the 38 studios deal?  How many of the board members of the board of
Arts Alive are also on the PTO’s that approved this sweetheart deal? But it’s
the PTO so no one will get charged or go to jail. But it is wrong and it should

I started writing this because we now have a candidate who
wants to get more Art into the schools doing what Arts Alive did. And she is a
board member of Arts Alive. The arts need to be brought into the schools but
not this way. It needs to be done following all the rules, not like it is being
done with Arts Alive.

The schools NEED to stop this behavior. It technically illegal,
unfair to many parties and hiding behind the old “PTO’s can do what they want”
just doesn’t cut it. There is a lot of money out there. They are indeed “circumventing
the completive bidding rules” They are breaking the law, sidestepping it if you

For if this is allowed then why not have a PTO sponsored
Soccer Team? Little league? A PTO sponsored Dance Team. Or a PTO sponsored Jazz
Band, Hockey team, elementary Math Team, a fencing  team, a middle school Business man's club ECT.
The sky is the limit! The list of options endless, and there is no shortage of people
who would like work and access to some of the richest students in the state.

We do need more arts in the schools, I have said so for 16
years at meeting after meeting, but we need to do it by the rules. The schools
need to put more arts into the schools, through proper channels and not use the
PTO’s to get around the law.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Joel Hellmann October 09, 2012 at 01:31 PM
Ryan, The Central Falls case was brought to the AG 3 years ago before there were any bribes known, just the no bid contract. It was through investigating the no bid process that the bribes were found. No bid contracts are the underlying event, the bribes just added to the case, and urged the AG to move forward. The schools' problem with the position of the PTOs being a sepereate entity falls short since each event of the PTO's has to be approved by the school Principal, involving the administartion in the process. If you are in for a penny you are in for a pound. I spoke to a retired elementary Principal from Seekonk Friday and told him the story. He said it always would have to be approved by the school committee. He was shocked that it happened in Barrington. Ryan it is not just the bribes that are illegal it is circumventing the process that is illegal. The bribes are just icing on the cake in Central falls and it was what caused the jail time.
DanComment October 09, 2012 at 02:46 PM
So how do we proceed now re. this?
Pledgling October 09, 2012 at 03:56 PM
Thanks for being brutally honest in bringing this to light. Since one Barrington housewife was so much in a hurry that she backed up in front of the middle school when there were kids crossing the front driveway and almost hit my child. Are you talking about these woman? Maybe you should do something about it? Call a lawyer?
Joel Hellmann October 09, 2012 at 05:26 PM
Dan, Regretfully it may turn out that someone has to infomand file a complaint to the AG. I am reluctant to do so, as I am so closely tied in. And also i really don't believe in turning the town or the schools in. i don't like the town having the expense. I have never done it before. with everything I find I bring it both with the town and the school administration in the hopes that they will do the right thing. The schools need to police it themseleves. But if indeed they can't or won't and no one else does I may have to. I got a call an hour ago again confirming that Arts Alive is moving to expand into the middle school. the administration has denied this to me twice. I think about how many times the schools and the town are fined for open meetings violations and release of documents. This is much bigger, more money involved. I would prefer it were someone else, but If I have to do it I will.
DanComment October 09, 2012 at 06:15 PM
Joel, I disagree: you are the one with all the facts, the background and the know-how re. this issue. I for one, have just felt and seen the injustice but wouldn't know how to present the issue as I have not had all the interaction witih schools etc. as you have. I think if you at least presented this - we would know WHY the schools did what they did and hopefully, that they won't allow this to continue.


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