October 21, 2014
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Council needs to educate themselves on school budget

To the Editor:

City Council President Donna Travis’ comments regarding the school department in the May 21st edition of the Beacon deserve a response. For the record, neither Mrs. Travis nor any other member of the City Council or the mayor has ever served on the School Committee and yet they profess to know all there is to know about the department’s budget and needs. Mrs. Travis is convinced that the department is “so top-heavy” and that they have “assistants to assistants.” If she bothered to look at the organizational chart, she would see that when principals and assistant principals are subtracted (they are classified as administrators), Warwick has 27 administrators for a district of over 9,000 students. True, there are four assistant directors of special education, but in case Mrs. Travis is not aware, Warwick has one of the higher, if not the highest, percentages of special education students of any suburban district.

Her rant about the department giving raises while the city unions agreed to a three-year wage freeze makes me question her historical perspective. Prior to the current city contracts, the previous agreement contained raises totaling 6 percent over three years while at that time the WISE [Warwick Independent School Employees] union employees on the school side had not had a raise for at least four years and the teachers had, I believe, renegotiated their raise to 1.5 percent. Also, the city was congratulating themselves for getting the equivalent of 10 percent health care co-pay while the schools were getting 20 percent co-pay. Plus, the school department had already closed four schools and reduced staff.

Mrs. Travis excoriated the department for “inflating their paychecks.” Well, Mrs. Travis, part of that was a 1.5 percent raise to school principals, who hadn’t had a raise in over four years. Can you say that’s been the case on the city side over the past four years? No, you can’t. While I do agree that the extension of the WISE contract should not have happened until the new board was brought up to speed, I’d note that the WISE union ranks, which greatly outnumber the administration’s, are the lowest paid employees of the organization.

And, while I do not think that the schools deserve the full [additional] $3.8 million that they’ve requested, it’s important to know how Mrs. Travis, her fellow council members and the mayor have treated the schools over the last few years.

In 2010, when the General Assembly allowed cities to cut their school allocation by 5 percent, Warwick was the only city to cut the full 5 percent and level fund every year since, much to the satisfaction, I presume, of Mrs. Travis, her fellow council members and the mayor. While they’ll say that school enrollment is declining and, therefore, level funding constitutes a raise, I’d ask Mrs. Travis why she and her fellow council members have not applied that logic to the city side of the ledger. After all, the city has lost over 3,200 residents over the last 10 years (three times more than the schools over the same period) and yet the city’s budget has increased by over 50 percent during that time. The City Council and the mayor, in my opinion, have never been supporters of the schools. While no one expects the schools to get [an additional] $3.8 million, to level fund them for another year is contemptible and I would call on parents and all other taxpayers and voters who actually value a good education system to attend the budget hearings on Tuesday, May 29 and make their voices heard.

David Testa

Warwick


Comments
11 comments on this item

Great letter Mr. Testa. Thank you for writing it.

Excellent letter David.

With no decision to close a school and no funding increase from the city, cuts to programs will need to be made including ALAP, Sports, Music and after-school programs. The Chair of the SC made it very clear during her speech that a vote to table the decision would result in "catastrophic" cuts across the board in all areas affecting every student. The schools will be heading towards only the necessities, the BEP, Basic Education Plan. It is IMPERATIVE that the group that asked for Gorton not be closed and for a long term plan before making a decision be EXTREMELY vocal with the City Council about supporting schools. I heard SEVERAL members of the City Council were at the SC meeting tonight asking the schools to rethink the decision to close Gorton. The decision has been made to postpone a closing for now. The big question is WILL the city council that encouraged the schools not to make the decision support the schools with funding? If past recent history is correct, they will not. Everybody needs to go to the city council meetings and (dare I say) BEG for money for the schools so a long term plan can be realized and executed? Which programs should be cut first? If several hundred people do not go to the city council to demand financial support for the schools, the inevitable will occur and not only will a school be closed, student programs will be cut as well.

When sports were going to be cut several years ago, people came out to let the council know it was wrong. Several hundred people voiced their concerns. The council earmark funding specifically for sports so the programs could continue. I would be happy with the city earmarking funding specifically to keep Gorton open until a long term plan is formulated and executed.

If funding is not in place, the vote to delay a decision will result in not only a closure of a school and cuts to the student programs.

The Mayor has sent his budget to the City Council and it will be the topic of discussion at the next city council meeting. There is a raise in taxes again with no increase to schools. This means that the schools will need to find $3.8 Million in cuts. Which of your child's programs do you want cut? Any of them? All of them? Contact your city council person and attend the city council budget hearings. Let them hear your voice.

Does Warwick need a tax increase to provide a small increase in funding to the schools? No, the city has raised taxes every year for 24 years and has additional revenue amounting to a yearly increase of $30 Million annually over the last 4 years. They have enough money, it just isn't going into education. It is paying for benefits and pensions of city employees.

Here is a link to the city council emails and phone numbers. Contact your council person today.

http://www.warwickri.gov/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=797&Itemid=237

Another tidbit about the level to which the city supports our schools. If you look at the current residential property tax rates of many cities & towns, many devote 60% and more of their property taxes to schools. But what does that mean in actual dollars, since no one can spend a percentage? Warwick's current residential rate is $18.14 per thousand dollars of assessed value. Of that 55% ($9.98) goes to schools. Here's how much some other districts devote to schools in actual dollars: Coventry $14.09 (78%); Pawtucket $13.94 (60.8%); Barrington $12.69 (70.5%); EG $12.37 (61.4%) Cranston, who many like to compare us to, $12.22 (53.5%); North Prov $11.45 (47.4%); East Prov $9.96 (48%); I admit that this is a very rough measure and that I haven't taken into account commercial property or car taxes, but it does give a rough picture of the commitment, or lack thereof. The Mayors proposed Fy14 budget has now, I believe, "crossed the Rubicon" so that we're now going to devote more property tax revenue to the city side than to the schools. (and, yes, i know that i haven't included the State aid to the schools in this analysis) I wonder if the plan is to keep starving the schools of funding and when the schools run a deficit, they'll swoop in and tell us that we need to have the an appointed school committee. Oh yes, that's right, I believe there was support by some of the City Council and, i think, the Mayor for the recent Charter Review Commission's recommendation to appoint the school committee. Fortunately, that silly idea was tabled by the Council.

Dave here is the property tax dollar allocation as a rsult of the Mayor's Fiscal 2014 budget proposal.

Total property taxes = $218,213,000

City allocation = $99,568,368 or 45.6%

School Allocation = $118,644,632 or 54.4%

In 2007 the allocation was 63.9% schools and 36.1% city

Since 2007 $41,160,415 in new property tax dollars have been collected.

Of that amount $35,642,138 has been allocated to the city or 87%. $5,518,277 has been allocated to schools or 13%.

Overall General Funds Budget which includes state and federal revenue = $283,009,502

City allocation = $126,322,083 or 44.6%

School allocation = $156,687,219 or 55.4%

Than you Bob. I realized that I posted the incorrect city amount after I sent it.

Interesting look at some aggregate numbers. For 2014 the city expects to have 875 employees. If you divide the proposed $99,568,368 city side funding for 2014 by 875 you get an average cost per employee of $137,792. The school dept has 1428 employees so if you take the $118,644,632 proposed city allocation and divide it by 1428, you get an average cost per employee of $83,084. OK you say, but what if we add in the State/Federal aid that the schools and city get? Let's do that. The city's total budget figure for 2014 is $126,322,000 so divide that by 875 and you get an average cost per employee of $144,368. The schools 2014 total budget (not including their request for additional funding) is $156,687,219 so divide that by 1428 and you get a cost per employee of $109,243. For the heck of it, lets add in the full $3.8 million that the schools asked for and you have $159,000,000 divided by 1428 for a cost per employee of $111,344. The Mayor and some City Council members would have you believe that the schools are profligate spenders who can't manage a budget. Really? When you factor in that the large majority of school employees are teachers, many of whom have advanced degrees, the above costs per employee could suggest that maybe it's actually the other way around. I know that this is a 50,000 foot level view but it's interesting nonetheless...

David and all, Here is the FY2014 SC recommended budget. I uploaded it to my website until the schools update their website. Click on the link and share with others. Patrick Maloney

www.maloney4schools.com/scbudgetfy2014.pdf

It was recently written in a comment on an editorial on the Warwick Beacon Website that the cost of educating a student will reach over $17,000 per pupil. Increases to the school budget were to blame by this person. But how can that be as the school budget has been level funded since 2008.

A link to the editorial is below.

Here are my thoughts on this, I hope this opens some eyes. I posted this response on the Warwick Beacon Site.

"It seems logical to me to say the cost of educating a child in Warwick has not gone up in 5 years since the funding to the schools has not gone up during this time. The only significant cost I have seen increase is the cost of educating special education students. The number of students in Warwick HAS dropped slightly BUT they have been replaced with students who require Special Education.

If you have 10,000 students, and 2000 require special education (approximately 1 in 5 students requires special education of some type). If you reduce the number of students to 9800, you have 200 less students. BUT, if 400 actual students left while 200 new students joined the group and the 200 new students require special education, then you haven't just reduced the population 200 students. The makeup of the population has actually changed. This is exactly what is happening in Warwick.

While the costs to educate go up with special education students, the State still requires all students to get a fair, equal and appropriate education. Warwick MUST provide this education. Warwick SHOULD provide this education. Would you like to tell the student who needs a special headphone so they can hear the teacher that they can not have it? Would you like to tell the parent of the student who has diabetes that we will not provide their student with a staff member to regulate the insulin? Even if you wanted to do this, you can't, the child can not inject themselves with the medicine. Did you know that All schools are required to have a dentist come in to check the children's teeth? Did you know this requires $30,000 each year? This is a state mandate that is required but not funded. These are the types of increases that are happening, these are the "costs to educate" the student.

A dentist checkup HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH EDUCATION, it is a social program administered through the schools BUT the schools have to pay for it. The same happened with the H1N1 Virus, the schools administered the appropriate prevention, principals and medical staff were on hand to help with the vaccinations ... another cost to educate the students. Along with this cost was the cost for cleaning supplies and hand sanitizer. This all costs money. If the H1N1 vaccinations were done at city hall and the dentist check up was done at city hall, would it be a school cost? Before a person says, "The cost to educate a student is $17,000 per pupil", they should know that the State is continuously mandating programs that are to be administered through the schools.

Here is a novel idea, stop electing the same politicians at the state house trying to push their social agenda. When it comes to health of the population, the costs should be covered but it should NOT be added to the cost to educate a student because that skews the actual data.

Costs continue to go up for many reasons, the schools have done a good job controlling the costs with no additional funding. We will all have the students with the cleanest, germ free hands, brightest smile but they will have difficulty with reading, writing, math skills, science and Technology.

It is simple, if there is no increase to the budget, Music, sports, ALAP and everything that makes people want to move here will be gone. I expect many people will leave the city and their tax money will go with it. That will leave those who can not afford to leave with an even higher tax burden."

Patrick Maloney

http://warwickonline.com/stories/Lets-get-the-school-picture-now,82453

I attended a portion of the City Council Meeting tonight and commented on the Schools and the Warwick Sewer Authority.

My Comments:

The schools were $3.2 million over budget in 2007-2008 and it was all paid back in full years ago. The schools were publicly chastised for taking 2 years to pay it back.

The sewer authority was originally $7 million over budget at the same time the schools were over budget, it was quiet and was not featured on the front page of the Beacon multiple times as the School Deficit. The Sewer Authority paid back approximately $300,000 the first year and were publicly thanked for paying it back and coming up with a payment plan. Sewer Authority still owes $5.7 million to the city after 4+ Years after being over budget several years ago. I calculated they will pay back the full amount over 15 years, and that is without interest. To date, they have paid back only $1.3 Million of their total $7 Million deficit spending! Where is the outrage! Where are the people?

The council is expected to level fund the schools again tonight.

There are few parents of school children here tonight.

I count approximately 5-6 parents. When sports were to be cut, hundreds showed up.

There is a plan to increase the sewer budget 4%. Why are sewers more important than schools? No one I know asks the question, "How are the sewers?" before, "How are the schools?" The truth is the schools WILL be in the toilet if they are level funded again.

Did you know 46% of the sewer budget goes to debt service. This means 46 cents of every dollar doesn't go to projects, it goes to paying off previous debts for projects. It is not even self sustaining. The Mayor wants to have an APPOINTED School Committee. Look how well his APPOINTED SEWER Authority is doing.

No additional funding to schools means cuts to every program, Alap, music, sports, etc. Contact your city council NOW.

Emails are here:

http://www.warwickri.gov/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=797&Itemid=237

How many city council members will be attending the school committee meeting tomorrow night... the one where they will start cutting programs to make up the budget gap? My prediction, none.

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