September 1, 2014
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LETTERS
Schools should call on unions to help balance budget

To the Editor:

Over the next week or so, the school committee will take up the task of cutting its budget.

If business manager Anthony Ferrucci’s best-case scenario plays out, the school department could see a surplus of $800K to $1 million. If one adds the $400K additional funding from the city, then they’re looking at a cut of somewhere between $2.4 to $2.6 million.

Obviously, we’re not privy to the committee’s strategy, but one doesn’t need to be a Mensa candidate to understand that a cut of this size cannot come solely on the backs of the students via program cuts. Simple common sense should compel the school committee to also seek concessions from the collective bargaining units, as well as administration, so that the pain is truly shared.

The city dealt the schools a very bad hand, and no one is more disappointed and upset at the City Council and the mayor than I am, but if they look only to the discretionary side of their budget in order to prove some point with the city, then they should think again. Cutting only programs to prove a point is not leadership, it’s petulance. Cutting only programs without also asking for concessions from administration and collective bargaining units is cowardice. When campaigning for their offices, they repeatedly stressed that they were “for the kids.” Well, this is their chance to show that.

We hear a similar refrain from most everyone who works in the schools. At one of the Gorton public hearings, Warwick Teachers Union President Jim Ginolfi, in his opposition to closing the school as a cost saving measure, stated that he could be very helpful in finding significant savings and that his door was always open.

To use a poker phrase, the school committee should “call” him. In simple terms, salaries and benefits are where the overwhelming majority of the budget dollars are, and when faced with a gap of this magnitude, all stakeholders must take a little medicine. If any group is unwilling to go along then, in the spirit of transparency, that should be made public so that we can decide for ourselves who is really “for the kids” and who is not.

David Testa

Warwick


Comments
5 comments on this item

I am not a teacher. I do not work for the School Department. I am not related to someone who is a teacher or works for the School Department. It's the unpopular opinion, I know, but the Unions have stepped up numerous times the last 5 years. Go back and check on the concessions they made in the last 5 - 6 years to assist the School Committee in balancing the budget WITHOUT impacting programs or students. Both the WISE and the WTU have given back. It's time for the City to invest in the education the next generation. The Mayor and the City Council need to stop playing politics with our children's futures. They need to get over the fact that they can't dictate exactly how the School Committee chooses to utilize their funds. That's what the School Committee was elected to do, let them do it. Mayor and City Council, please stop acting like children and provide funds for our children. WTU and WISE, thank you for what you have done the last 5 years. You should not need to pick up this deficit. It's the City that needs to step up to the plate.

Dave66, I agree with you but with respect to the City stepping up, Im afraid that train has left the station. The time for a 'show of force' was during the budget hearings and practically no one showed to fight for the schools. So now they play the hand they're dealt. To clarify, I'm not just asking for unions to give here. Programs are going to get cut, of that I have no doubt. I think that all employees are scheduled to get a raise, a 1 or 1.5% I think. They don't have to give it back, it could be deferred but when your payroll approaches $100 million, foregoing deterring this saves approximately $1 million. The schools just need breathing room to develop a long term plan that must include the closing of buildings but it needs to be a smart plan.

Dave and Dave, I agree. One must remember that the school committee has until June 30th to present to the State a balanced budget. It must be balanced on paper. I seriously doubt that the Unions will make an agreement with the schools before that date. The school committee WILL have to go in and make the cuts (on paper) to be compliant with State Law. The fact is, the schools will not know what their total surplus (or deficit) is until after they get in all State and Federal funds and that comes in at the wire and sometimes after June 30th. Once the numbers come in and they know what they are dealing with they can sit down and have an honest discussion about how to proceed. The union will not want to give thing up prior to knowing how much is needed. The schools won't know what to ask for.

Once programs are cut, everyone will know what is in jeopardy. Remember, the school committee has and does return things to the budget after cuts have been made pending the receipt of funds. There is currently a prediction based on previous end of year budgets. It won't take much for the surplus to be gone either.

So, it is important for people to come out to the school committee meetings and let the school committee know what programs are most important to you. People should not expect any additional funding. People should expect some of their favorite programs to be cut. It isn't fair but it is the way it is. The city council meetings were last month and they were not properly attended, the schools did not have a good turn out and funding suffered. I was surprised the meetings were not well attended by the teachers and WISE unions. The Police and Fire were well represented by members.

The cuts WILL have an effect on the classroom and your (and my) student's education.

Don't blame the school committee for having to make the cuts, it is a State law. Make sure they know it is wrong, turn out and tell them what you want! There is a chance it will stay in the budget but not before June 30th. I expect the School Committee will meet with the unions, they have given concessions in the past. They are not the enemy, these cuts affect them too. It is my expectation that before the start of the school year an agreement will be made either in the way of deferred compensation, early retirement packages), and possibly increased benefit co-pay.

Dave66, I think you made some very valid points. The unions have helped in the past, they can not be asked to do it alone. Unfortunately, Dave107 is correct too, the Mayor and City Council have things exactly the way they want it, out of their hands. They have put things on the School Committee once again and they will make the difficult choices and unfortunately, we will suffer the consequences.

The city WILL NOT step up to the plate.

If in the end, all the cuts have been made and we are at the Basic Education Plan, the schools can go in and make cuts and changes across the board to everything, wait to get sued (by the city, unions, and/or parents), go to court and all they will have to do is prove they were not adequately funded and have already cut everything, tried to get concessions unsuccessfully, still couldn't pay the bills and hopefully, the RI court system will uphold the decisions. It happened in East Providence and Central Falls.

I have already heard that the ALAP program has been cut and the teachers have been involuntarily transferred from ALAP to the classroom.

Good luck. I will be attending the meeting June 25th at the Warwick Administration Building.

I'm no fan of public sector unions. But in this case the teachers are not to blame. The city has been putting the screws to them and they have been squeezed enough. It's time to cut pensions and other post retirement benefits. Every year the taxpayer gets screwed and now so are our current city workers. All have made sacrifices except the retiree's.

Update: The SC Meeting is not tonight! It is Thursday

Special School Committee Meeting

Agenda is online at the www.warwickschools.org website.

Location: Warwick School Administration Building

Date / Time: Thursday, June 27, 2013, 6:00pm

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