The Warwick School Committee will look at alternatives to trim its budget by an estimated $3.4 million this evening, but don’t expect any action until well after the start of the new fiscal year.
“It’s a working session. They’ll be looking at staffing,” Superintendent Richard D’Agostino said Tuesday when asked what the committee would do when it meets this evening starting at 7. Much of the meeting will probably be conducted in executive session, as it deals with personnel.
The 2014 Fiscal Year starts on July 1 and by state law, schools are required to have a balanced budget. As a practice, the city enters the year with a balanced budget, although in the course of the year, it may encounter unanticipated expenses such as costs relating to a blizzard, or because of savings end up with a surplus.
While the City Council approved a $157.2 million school budget, which is about $437,000 more than what Mayor Scott Avedisian recommended, the amount is still $3.4 million shy of what the School Committee approved in May.
D’Agostino did not identify specific programs the administration is looking at as possible areas for cuts. In general terms, he said the administration is looking at cuts across the board, including “support, technical areas and PE [physical education].” He did not say sports or athletics, which can be a hot button as evidenced from prior years when hundreds turned out to oppose cuts to the program.
Personnel are key to balancing the budget.
D’Agostino said 10 staffing positions would have been eliminated had the committee followed the recommendation to close Gorton Junior High School. Closing the school was projected to save about $1.1 million.
He said in compliance with its contract with the teachers union, pink slips were issued in March. The terms of the agreement allow the administration to notify 40 teachers but lay off no more than 20 in a given year.
In addition, D’Agostino pointed out that about 15 teachers retired this year. He said that many of those positions would need to be filled, although there will be savings from “breakage” where incoming teachers are paid less than those who are retiring on the top step. Also, there may be some instances where the job is not filled in addition to the layoffs.
James Ginolfi, president of the Warwick Teachers Union, said yesterday that the administration has already started “recalls,” although he could not say how many teachers have been notified. He also said that, as of Tuesday, teachers receiving layoff notifications started filing for unemployment benefits.
“There’s no guarantee of [them] coming back,” he said.
It’s questionable how much the department would save with layoffs anyway. As the department does not take a percentage of pay for unemployment compensation, those qualified for unemployment are paid by the state fund. However, the schools must reimburse the state for the payments.
D’Agostino said he hasn’t had any discussions with the Warwick Teachers Union regarding how they could help address cuts. He noted teachers are in the last year of a contract – it expires in August 2014 – adding, “it behooves everyone to start negotiations a little early and examine what systems and what the kids need.”
Ginolfi reiterated what he said about the closing of Gorton. He opposed it on the basis that it was a short-term reaction to a bigger problem – declining school enrollments – that requires a long-range plan.
“Our door is always open,” he said,” and we would be willing to sit down and talk.”
D’Agostino lamented the process of making budget cuts.
“Whatever we could save, we tried to save,” he said of the budget the administration presented the committee.
The superintendent called tonight’s meeting “a working session” without any votes. He expects the committee to make cuts at its July 16 meeting.