December 21, 2014
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Now the hard school choices

The Gorton community is breathing a sigh of relief following the School Committee’s vote Tuesday to postpone the close of the school until a long-term plan for the district is developed. This is more than a reprieve. It is a decision to look at the bigger picture of the trends affecting Warwick schools – declining enrollments, state mandates and budgetary restraints – and developing a plan for the years ahead.

This does not promise to be easy.

The bigger, long-range picture most likely will include consideration of closing multiple elementary schools, a junior high school and a senior high school. As the recommended closing of Gorton provoked outcries, we can only imagine the debate and the passion involved in closing a high school.

Before that debate begins, the School Committee faces the more immediate challenge of balancing its budget for the upcoming fiscal year. The committee has approved a budget calling for an additional $1.2 million.

By itself that is a stretch, however, unless the committee finds other revenue or makes cuts, the red ink totals $3.8 million.

The shortfall is indicative of the committee’s practice of adjusting its budget during the year. As the committee learned of surpluses last year, they used them to increase spending in the current year. Now, with no prospect of additional surpluses, they are turning to the city to increase its school funding from $118 million to nearly $122 million.

The predicament comes as no surprise. For months Mayor Scott Avedisian has said he intended to “level fund” schools, and, according to him, members of the committee and school administration assured him the system could sustain level funding.

Why, then, did they approve a budget calling for $3.8 million more from the city?

If that’s it, the committee must now trim programs to get everything to fit.

We’ve been here before. Traditionally, sports is one of the programs the committee picks to cut. They know it’s a hot button issue and crowds will turn out to fight for the school budget.

Last time this happened, the mayor and council met the committee part way. They left the sports funding out of the school budget, but put it in the city budget to ensure the program would be funded.

We don’t know what will be on the chopping block this time, but if you think the possible closing of Gorton provoked an outcry, consider how parents and students will react if the committee targets the arts, advanced learning programs, foreign languages or, God forbid, football.

We might not be going down this road if, instead of short-term resolutions, the committee concentrated on long-term solutions.


Comments
11 comments on this item

First, teachers shouldn't even hint on getting any raises for the next 2-3 years. Second, I do not want to hear people complain that sports and other programs are cut. You complained on the closing of Gorton. We don't need all these schools going half filled ! So, karma. Cut backs are going to happen. The school budget going up by millions every year is unsustainable. I think Gorton's programs should be stripped to the bare minimum. You want the school to stay open than run at the minimum costs.

Michael2012, the school budget has been level funded for three years. Plus, the previous city contracts all contained raises that were significantly more than what the school side was giving at thatbtime and the WISE union went 4 years w/o a raise.. Further, I think the teacher took raises of around 1.5% when the municipals were getting more than that. Plus the schools implemented 20% healthcare copays when the city was patting themselves on the back for getting the equivalent of a 10% copay from their unions.. It wasn't until this current contract that the city side health care copays approached those that the schools implemnted 2 or 3 years ago. If you've been paying attention to the Gorton issue, no one disputes that schools have to close but you can't go off half cocked and close a biulding without first having a long term plan. Moving to a middle school puts more kids in the junior highs than closing one of them does, thus a better utilization of the building - isn't that the outcome we want? That opens up potential consolidation at the elementary level. Stripping programs like art, music, advanced or honors programs out of schools is stupid. Funny that the city side of the ledger has gone up every year over the last 10 years but that doesn't seem to concern you, just as long as the schcools don't get any additional money - is that about it? Oh, and if you're one of those who says that since enrollment is declining so therefore no more money for schools, please be consistent and use that argument for the city, which has lost 3X the population that the schools have lost over the last 10 years yet whose budget has nearly doubled.

I question some of those numbers. City employees have not seen a raise in something like 2 or 3 contracts and they have over the course of that period paid more for benefits. A net loss per employee, not including the loss for cost of living expenses. I follow these things quite closely reading the beacon and the Warwick City website. Furthermore, when the muncipal workers had a 20% health care increase the teachers remained at 7% or 11 % I can't remember exactly. Only recently did they agree to a 1 year temporary increase which I believe drops back down again. No one has a problem with the school budget because,"oh it's for the children". Well Warwick has a lot of elderly citizens with no children in the schools. I don't see the grade results either. Warwick schools are not ranked high. Why is that? Oh they blame NECAP for that. But, doesn't every student in the state have NECAPS? The biggest expense by far is the school costs. You want to make real savings look at that budget !! Piss poor management and spending over the years with the school admin. budget. Schools 1/2 or less full. It is a complete waste. Teachers don't want any closings because they will have to take their big fat incomes elsewhere. Parents like the 1/2 full schools because the class rooms are small. But you pay a premium for all of this without the results of higher grades and graduation rates. "But, but the children are our future" The children will be fine. The ones that want to succeed will do so regardless on how many schools are open.

@Michael - you do not know the facts regarding the compensation between city and school employees and the overall city vs, school budget.

The WISE Union employees were the first to pay a 20% co-pay. The teachers soon followed by voluntaryly paying the 20% co-pay even though the contract did not require them too. The legacy costs associated with retired city employee for healthcare only is 5 times greater then for retired school employees.

Here are some of the facts I posted in February:

facts regarding financial aspects of the teacher contract compared to city contracts over the same 2003 - 2009 time period.

School teacher contact

1) 18.5 percent increase in pay.

2) No cap on out of pocket prescription drug cost.

3) Retirement healthcare benefit for teacher only after 30 years of service.

4) Retiree healthcare benefit terminates at age 65. NO future cost to city.

5) For the first time ever in city history, retired school employees pay for health benefits. No other contract to this day on the city side has that provision.

City employee’s contract 2003 - 2009

1) 21.25 percent increase in pay.

2) Cap of $600 on annual out of pocket prescription drug cost. City healthcare experts testified at the time that this cost over $1 million annually.

3) Retirement healthcare for both employee and spouse after working for only 10 years of service.

4) Retirement healthcare benefit for LIFE.

5) Retiree Healthcare benefit is free.

According to expert actuarial reports, based on these contract stipulations: CITY HEALTHCARE future cost is over $300,000,000 or 5 TIMES greater than school cost. This is the real financial time bomb driving up taxes every year.

@Michael - Schools need to continue to cut costs. But attributing the annual tax increases to schools is wrong and not holding the mayor and city council to the same standards to cut costs and level funding the city budget is being a hypocrite.

The facts that I posted back in February predicting this tax increase.

[Fact: Examining financial statements over the last 5 years it shows that city liabilities continue to increase while overall assets decrease.

Fact: From 2007 to the 2013, local tax dollars allocated to the city budget have increased 52.8 percent (from $63.9 million to $97.7). Warwick school budget has increased only $5.5 million or 4.9 percent overall.

Fact: In 2007 63.9 percent of the budget was allocated to schools and 36.1 to city budget. Today the ratio is 55 percent to schools, 45% to city.

Conclusion: Continued property tax increases in the City of Warwick can be directly attribute to city spending, not schools.

Fact: Since 2007 - $27.8 million in new spending has occurred in the city budget. In the same time period the state has cut aid to the City of Warwick. The city has substituted the money cut from that state by increasing local taxes and allocating most of it to the city budget. So while total new spending incresed $27.8 million the total new tax dollars allocated to the city budget equal $33.8 million. Here is the breakdown of where that money has been spent:

Employee Benefits $21.6 million or 77.7%.

Physical Resources(DPW), $2.6 million or 9.3%.

Public Safety $6.4 million or 23%.

Executive & Administrative -1.7 million or -6.1%.

Social Service -1.1 million or -3.9%.

Conclusion: Almost 80 cents of every new tax dollar collected pays for employee legacy costs.

Fact: Actuarial Accrued Liability for all pension plans is $628,776,187. For OPEB(Healthcare) it is $283,220,644 for a combined total of $911,996,831. Factoring outstanding bonds puts the figure over $1 BILLION.

Fact: According to projections in the most available published actuarial reports, taxpayer contributions to just the pension plans will increase from approximately $23 million in 2012 to $27 million in 2014. Retiree healthcare costs are predicted to increase over 75% over that same time period.

Conclusion: In order to fund these liabilities more and more areas of the budget will either be level funded or cut. Property taxes will continue to rise with a majority of the money allocated to pay for these liabilities. This is already occurring and is an undisputed fact.

What does that mean to the city and school employees? Consider this. In the past year the school budget was level funded yet property taxes increased. Police, fire and municipal employees did not receive a raise and pay more for healthcare. So what areas of the budget was the new tax dollars spent? That question was answered above.

For the next two years city employees will not receive a raise. Does anyone believe we will not receive a tax increase this year? Why, to pay annual required contributions associated with pension and healthcare liabilities. ]

This is exactly what was proposed in the Mayor 2014 budget. Over $2 million of the new tax dollars going to the city will be allocated to pensions.

Wait until the next two to three years when it gets even worse.

Warwick taxes are still low compared to our communities in the state.

Providence, Scituate, Woonsocket, East Providence to name a few... check out their tax rates !!!!

Michael, I think you question the numbers because they don't fit your narrative. i too follow things closely and your assessment of city raises/benefits vs. those of the schools are completely wrong. The previous municipal contracts had, I believe, no raise the first year and 1.5% raises every 6 months for the last wo years. That's a 6% total raise at the contract's end. Plus, some of what the police and fire gave up for that contract were to be given back in a different form when they retired. Simply put, the city benefits are much more lucrative than the schools benefits. Plus, look again at the total number of positions eliminated over the last ten years and youll see that the schools have eliminated more than the city. Your statement regarding the number of elderly with no children in the schools insinuates that somehow those people shoud not be as responsible for paying for schools. well, since im not eldrely and both my parents are dead, i dont feel that my property tax dollars should support any senior services or any senior based tax relief - its this kind of Darwinian thinkig that makes my blood boil. it's a "taxes a la cart" philosophy. i do agree that the results we get from our schools are not good enough relative to what we spend but to me, thats where leadership and accountability from admin and the school committee comes in and weve seen little of that over the years.As to tax rates, yes, Warwick's tax rate is very reasonable when compared to comparably sized cities. The biggest expense of every city and town is the schools. You read the Beacon so I'm sure you saw Mark Caruolo's comment that the 3.8 million the schools asked for would amount to .40c per 1000 of the current tax rate of $18 and change. The average median home value before the latest revaluation was $200k so if you gave them all $3.8 million( and I'm not suggesting that they should get that), it would cost $80.00 more in taxes for the average house. Now that the new tax rate is $19.90, to get that same 3.8 mill, it would be less than .40c per 1000. Lastly, our teachers are all paid well as are just about all of them in the state, but so are our police and fire personnel, so I'm not sure what your point is there.

Mayor Fung and Mayor Taveras have already gone to their retiree's for concessions. It's time for Mayor Avedissian to do the same. The city is shrinking and cannot afford the retiree cost. If Avedissian doesn't admit we have a problem it will be the first thing the new mayor does after Avedissian moves on. It will be Cicciline and Taveras part 2.

@Michael you can't really be okay with tax increases every year as a sound government plan. Good governments grow revenue through GROWTH and higher VALUATIONS not rate increases.

Here is another fact to consider. When the administration claims that the Police are not getting a raise for three years they forget to mention that each married Police officer will receive $4,000 in cash and single officer $2,000 in cash to be deposited in a Heath Saving Account that will be theirs to keep. The one year cost of this expense is approximately $600,000. Incidently this was not part of the Mayor's Fiscal 2013 budget, but I am sure he will find the 600k to fund it.

This same stipend will be given over the three years.

Now the issue I have with this is that HSA are suppose to be used with high deductable healthcare plan to pay for used services. But in fact of the matter is that Warwick contract do not call for high deductable services. Most service are covered 100% with a small co-pay.

So in effect Mayor Avedisian deployed a brilliant political plan be claming to the everyone (and mosr believed him) that there will be no raises. But in reality a married police office will receive $12,000 in defered compensation as a result of this HSA.

Any monies in the HSA is the property of that person and the HSA assets can be invested in mutual funds or other financial instruments just like any 401K account.

Don't be surprised if the Fire fighters soon will be demanding the same thing.

Budget Fact to support my claim:

2013 Police Budget Healthcare expense - $2,765,543

2013 Projected expense - $3,410,733

Could it be the $600 plus K difference is a result of the HSA cost?

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

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