October 21, 2014
Rate this
LETTERS
Cutting schools to bone

To the Editor:

Well, budget season is over and it appears that the city will be allocating an additional $432,000 to the schools. The budget hearings held true to their historical form with the school department being held up as the one requiring diligent oversight, even though over the last several years their budget has grown by roughly $500,000 while during the same time the city’s budget has grown by more than $30 million.

During that period the school department has closed schools, reduced staff, implemented a 20 percent health care co-share, and privatized special-ed bus services, further reducing staff. I don’t think anyone can deny that the schools have done more with less for a long time, nor can one deny that they know how to make cuts.

They’ve more than demonstrated that over the years. But at some point, you end up “cutting into bone” and that, I fear, is where we are now. Ask any principal in the district if they think that level funding again will be detrimental to programs. And yet, some council members displayed an incredible amount of ignorance of what their role is in the structure of school governance and of what the schools actually do. It brought to mind Churchill’s quote that “it is better to be thought of as a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.” The mayor has stated that level funding the schools still allows them to conform to the state’s Basic Education Plan (BEP). True enough, but neither he nor the City Council have any idea of what is actually in the BEP. For example, Cranston cut instrumental music and chorus in their elementary schools, but they still conform to the BEP. They must rely on fundraising and volunteers to be able to offer those in just some schools. Sure, we could drastically reduce the programs that we offer in our schools and still conform to the BEP, but is that the kind of school system we want?

Is that how we want to attract families to move here? Is that how we want to expand the tax base? Evidently the mayor and the council, through their actions, think so. Lastly, many on the council lamented that they had no control over how the schools spend their funds. Perhaps they need to be reminded that this is by design and has been so for over a hundred years in this country.

The mayor and the council are politicians who support and are supported by political parties. That is exactly the element that does not belong in school governance, in my opinion. Over 85 percent of the country has elected school committees for that very reason and, by the way, a very large majority of those have taxing authority, too. Councilman Solomon referred to the recent Charter Review Commission that recommended that Warwick appoint the School Committee. I am not a fan at all of an appointed school committee. You’ll find them in large urban area schools such as Providence, Boston, New York, etc.; not in suburban communities, so to think that somehow that model is good for Warwick shows an incomplete understanding of school governance. In fact, based on six years of virtual level funding, one could conclude that perhaps there is an ulterior motive afoot to starve the schools of funding, force them to gut programs to the point where the public outcry is met with a concerted effort to transition to an appointed school committee. In a recent Beacon advertisement for the dedication of the Robert Shapiro Educational Complex, the ad contained a quote from him that said, “You never give up on a student.” By essentially level funding the schools for another year that is precisely what the mayor and council have done.

David

Testa Warwick


Comments
12 comments on this item

I never understood why schools had music and chorus programs. While I understand the value of the 'arts', is school the place for them? The percentage of kids that use these programs is very small. Schools should focus on reading and writing, math and science.

Davebarry, schools are exactly the place for them because, otherwise, kids would have minimal exposure to them. I'm not so sure you're correct on the percentages, but to use that reasoning, football isn't used by a high percentage of kids either, nor is baseball, etc. I don;t think it's as black and white as that. Arts have been part of school curriculums for generations and studies show that students who take arts classes do better on standardized tests than those who don't. The days of schools teaching just the three 'R's went away a long time ago. Lastly, look at private schools and see the arts offerings they have. They have them because there's a value to the students in having them.

Cutting a school budget "...to the bone" has become something of a standard headline. Typically, the word "draconian" is also used, as is the phrase "an investment in our future". All of which, of course, is emotion-speak for educational deck chair rearrangement. At over $17,000 per pupil, the Warwick public schools have ample financial resources. Elected school board vs. appointed school board. Tenure vs. no tenure. $17k vs. $19k per pupil. Gist vs. no Gist. None of it matters and none of it will matter. As a microcosm of the state, Warwick has experienced significant brain drain in the last twenty five years. Many of those with means have either relocated or have chosen to enroll their children in private or parochial schools, leaving half-full high schools (and God forbid we should openly discuss that) and mediocre-at-best measurable outcomes. More money will do nothing, absolutely nothing to change any of it.

John, my comments from May 16th are still relevant.

There was a comment that the School Committee is passing the buck the the City Council. Here is my response:

Some are quick to condemn the SC and say they are passing the buck to the city council but I can tell you the City Council and Mayor has the media wrapped around their finger. You need to know the history of the schools over the last 5 years to begin to understand the budget.

Do you know what the total budget is for the schools? Do you know what non-discretionary vs discretionary amounts are? When I started in 2008, only 10% of the local appropriations budget was discretionary, that means not already allocated to a pay a bill. At the time, the non-discretionary items included gas, heat, electricity too. The reason it was considered non-discretionary is because the amount wasn't set in stone and could go up or down (usually up). So , out of the 16.5 Million not set in stone, they had to pay utilities and other "non-essentials". That left about $12 Million. That 12 Million was what could be manipulated to in the classroom. With this you could buy books, provide Sports, Music, ALAP, Marine Science, paper, toner, science tools. The city cut the budget by $6.2 Million. the $6.2 Million can not come out of the non-discretionary portion, it had to come from the discretionary area. This leaves $6-7 Million for discretionary funding, this is not enough to educate.

To off set the cut, the School committee made an immediate change to co-pay and instituted a 20% co-share across the board for all employees. The teachers threatened to sue the schools because they were still under a contract. The school would be forced to go back to $11 per pay period for teachers. The teachers agreed to meet and agree to a temporary 20% co-pay. SO the schools implemented the first sizable co-share in the city. A year later the 20% co-share was permanently instituted. During a 5 year period the maximum number of teachers were laid off each year. The number is 20 teachers per year. This is accomplished through teacher retirements and not filling the position. The city meanwhile has employees stealing materials to use on their own house and then is forced to rehire them and pay them back pay because procedure is not followed.

Several schools were closed and returned to the city and re-purposed. One school was rented out to the RI school for the blind and this brought in money for the schools. A portion of another school is currently being rented out for education creating revenue for the schools.

The transportation department was outsourced. Unfortunately, some programs were cut, Family and Consumer sciences at the middle school and more recently Marine Science.

Many administration position have been combined. I believe one administrator now hold what used to be 3 positions, that is Dr Siesel. Rosemary Healey is the Director of HR and Lawyer for the school, this used to be 2 separate positions. The schools went without a director of secondary Ed for 2-3 years and had a lower paid assistant to the superintendent instead. The current superintendent is also doing the special education position. During 4 years I saw many positions cut and it was in all areas to include administration, teaching and support staff. I can tell you they were cut because I was one of the 5 who cut them and it hurt me every time I had to vote to eliminate a position of a real person sitting in front of me. Please do not say there were not cuts because I was one of the few who had the guts to make them.

The city council/ Mayor is already asking the state to allow them to reduce the local appropriation again because the number of students has declined and with the new state funding formula, Warwick is getting less than it should. Providence gets more of the State's tax money than any one. Warwick has to do without while they build new buildings and have state of the art Technology. They get more because they are a lower income bracket than Warwick. Now, I'm not saying Providence doesn't need it but they can't say Warwick doesn't.

Did you know there is a $2 Million technology grant Warwick is supposed to get? Did you know that the changed they qualifications to include that a school will only get the grant if it is an acceptable population level set by the state? Did you know that if we don't have enough students in the school then we don't get the grant? Without the grant we don't get the $2 Million for technology. Our kids will not get new technology, Providence will get our $2 Million. Did you know that we are currently well below the threshold to get the money. This means the State and Federal Government has already determined that the population at each of our schools is so low they don't want to send us money. How do you get the population to a level in each school to make it so we can apply for and get these grants? Closing a school and moving the kids to fill up the school more. I believe the cut off is 75-80% for the grant. This means our schools are 20-25% underutilized.

When the technology grant does not come to Warwick and the schools do not get technology while the districts around us do, where do you think new families will move when they are looking to move to RI? Warwick where there is no new technology or Coventry, West Warwick, Cranston? I would say anywhere but Warwick. To add to the problem, with the new PARK assessment program, ALL school distracts are REQUIRED to have new technology, so if we don't get it through a grant like this then we will be forced to pay for it ourselves by asking for more money from the City council to which they will reply, you need to make cuts or we won't give you anything or by making additional cuts to actual education.

So, the schools do not seem to be passing the buck the the city council, they are making cuts but no one knows about it because the schools get no respect from the local media and have a hard time putting information out to the people.

This is a very small list of cuts made over the years to save money.

Patrick Maloney Jr

Former School Committee Vice Chair.

My comments from June 3rd:

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.

John, you are repeating yourself... here is your comment from 5/30/2013 and I refited your $17,000 per student statement but you must have ignored it. Here it is again.

"On 5/30/13 at 11:08 AM, JohnStark wrote:

Next year's school budget will top $17,000 per pupil, for very mediocre-at-best results. And that's simply the average. The cost to educate one kid in Warwick's public high schools is significantly greater. It not costs about 20% more to send your kid to a Warwick public school than it does to send him to URI! This 'investment in our future' seems to be ever more expensive with virtually no fiscal accountability. Next year, Bishop Hendricken's tuition will remain under $13,000 per pupil. That's a lot of money, but not close to the cost in Warwick's public schools. The city would do well to consider a voucher plan by which the city would pay the first, say, $10,000 for a student to attend whatever high school will accept them; private, parochial, or Catholic. The city (i.e. taxpayer) would save a considerable amount on every student who opted out of the government system. Or, we can all just sit back and watch the school department continue to waddle into city hall chambers every year, ask for more and more money in order to educate fewer and fewer students, then threaten to cut the usual suspects (art/music/sports) when reasonable questions are raised by those who foot the bill in the first place. It's arrogant, entitlement madness!"

My response that you ignored, (please top throwing incorrect numbers around):

"On 6/1/13 at 09:30 PM, Pmaloneyjr wrote:

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.

So, 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."

On 6/13/2013, you said you didn't want to belabor the point... but you do when you post the wrong information:

Your comment

"On 6/13/13 at 11:43 PM, JohnStark wrote:

Not to belabor the point, but how many kids are presently attending a Warwick public high school who had been expelled from LaSalle, SRA, or Hendricken? It's not many, but let's way over-estimate and say fifty. That represents a whopping 3% of the male high school enrollment in the city, and barely enters the radar screen (in contrast to a "key determinate") as an explanation of why the giant chasm exists between government run and parochial school costs. As to IEP's, the special education industry has been expanding the definition of "educationally handicapped" for decades now because it's simply good for business."

My response:

"On 6/17/13 at 11:30 PM, Pmaloneyjr wrote:

One thing that must also be looked at... Schools like LaSalle, Hendricken, and St Ray's all have alumni who graciously give back to the schools through yearly fundraisers. These annual alumni outreach programs generate money that is used to pay for costs. No Warwick HS Grad gives back to the school this way. I also know that charter schools accept students in to get the state money and after a certain date, they kids are told that the charter is not a good fit for them and they are sent back to their public home school. The charter school does NOT transfer the money back to the home public school. I do agree that special education has expanded the definition, but that does not equate to additional funding to support the student needs. All student needs require they be met regardless of the cost, all students should get an fair and appropriate education, not as determined by the schools but by the state. If regulations are not followed, it results in fines and potential lawsuits, all which are paid from the current school budget. The regulations change constantly.

SO if 3% of the population are "troublemakers" and 20% are special education, that means 77% require no additional monetary attention. unfortunately, the 23% suck up the monetary resources and pull the funding away from the 77%. Did you know there is a late bus for students who are required to stay after school? SO, the students get in trouble and have to have detention but then the schools still have to provide a bus for them to get home... remember, each bus costs approximately $65,000. 3 busses for the Jr and Sr High Schools for students who require detention is a total of $195K, this is also nearly the amount of the ALAP program that will probably be cut due to budget cuts. I would rather KEEP ALAP than provide a bus for kids who require detention! Unfortunately, the State mandates that the school provide transportation so I am sure ALAP will go before the bus.

I think kids who stay for detention should either walk home or have to attend detention on a Saturday and their parents should provide transportation. Of course, having a staff member come in on a Saturday has a cost too."

Please stop saying that the education is over $17,000 per pupil. Where are you getting this information??? Please use legitimate data and documentation. You could say the fire budget is out of control because the number of firefighters we have is disproportionate to the number of fires we have in Warwick. The average Firefighter pay in RI is $23.26 and it only takes a couple hours to put a fire out, why do we have to pay them for the whole year? This reasoning is as illogical as your reasoning on schools.

Fact, city budget up $30 Million annually since 2008.

Fact school budget is the same as 2008. (The schools have been given a $432K increase for next year.)

Therefore, the cost per student should be nearly the same as the number of students in Warwick has not dropped dramatically in the last 5 years. I would say that families are leaving Warwick and RI at a faster rate due to mismanagement at the city and State level but the schools will continue to make cuts.

I have heard the the ALAP program is already being cut... what will be next? Music? Sports?

A friend of mine recently asked me how many school committee members it takes to screw in a lightbulb.

My answer: We only need one school committee member to hold the lightbulb, the city council actually screws the entire school system for us.

Actually, it only takes 5 members of the city council to screw the schools, the other 4 will be accusing the schools of not using energy efficient lightbulbs because that is a way we can save money.

Mr. Maloney, did my measly post really require five different responses? You seem like a well-intentioned guy. But you've lived in Warwick, and probably RI for far too long. You're enmeshed in governmental pathology. The per pupil cost is simple: Annual budget divided by number of students educated. It's a parameter that's used across the country, but only in hushed tones in RI because it's an astronomical number. So I'll stick with my $17k per pupil. Special education has expanded (perhaps #*&%@ized) the definition because, again, it's good for business and results in more special ed teaching jobs. No one in the special ed industry has any interest in refining the definition of "educationally handicapped" as originally intended by PL 94-142, because such a refinement would result in less need for special ed teachers. Hendricken's "annual alumni ourtreach program" generates enough money to pay for 8 kids to go to the school, or less than 1% of current enrollment. It's more at LaSalle, in part, because LaSalle has been around for seventy additional years. And who, exactly, is enacting this myriad of mindless regulations and programs for the schools to follow? The GA. And who is in the pockets of the GA? The teachers' union, in little more than an incestuous make-work relationship. The union has never met a regulation it doesn't like. "No Warwick HS grad gives back to the school this way." Perhaps that says something. Public schools are a function of government, and government never, ever, seeks to get smaller or more fiscally responsible. And more and more, government is 'regulating' good students right out of government schools, leaving a smaller, less literate, less employable, but far more expensive pie. As for the city budget, you'll get no argument from me because it is, again, government.

John you also seem well intentioned and very involved. If more people were involved we probably wouldn't be in the situation we are in. I believe we need to compare apples with apples. I agree with you that the GA is a problem, I agree with you that the RI Dept of Ed is a problem, I agree with you that the Unions are a problem as they control the legislature and other areas of government. I think we agree on most things. Rather than argue with each other, I say we are together on most points. If you believe that student costs have gone from $12,000 to $17,000 in five years with no increase to the school budget then I will agree to disagree on this one thing. I will let your per pupil amount slide, as it is one thing I disagree on, and will focus on that fact you and I agree most of the time.

I grew up in East Providence and served in the military from 1992-1996 and I have lived in Warwick for 12 years. I consider myself a Rhode Islander but not a blind one. I know there are problems and would like to make things better that is why I served on the school committee from 2008-2012.

You must be logged in to post a comment. Click here to log in.
Welcome to RIjobs.com
Copyright © 2014, Beacon Communications. Powered by: Creative Circle Advertising Solutions, Inc.