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.