October 31, 2014
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Schools to press for budget

When the School Committee presents its $160.6 million budget to the City Council tonight at the first of three consecutive city budget hearings, school administrators will argue every penny is needed to effectively run the system of 9,500 students.

That may be the case, but Mayor Scott Avedisian thinks it can be done for less, and so do members of the council. Avedisian’s budget calls for a $156.7 million school budget with level funding of schools at $118.6 million in city funds. That is $3.8 million less than what schools are asking for.

“The budget is the budget,” Superintendent Richard D’Agostino said Friday, “everything we’ve asked for, we believe we need.”

According to reports from City Council members, the School Department used its “connect-ed” system to notify parents to turn out for tonight’s budget hearing to show support for the budget request.

“That costs money,” City Council President Donna Travis said about the notification system used to notify parents of school closures, “I think that’s a waste.”

She said she planned to ask D’Agostino what the department spent in its effort to rally budget support.

D’Agostino expects he and committee chair Bethany Furtado will make opening statements before the school business affairs director Anthony Ferrucci outlines the request tonight. The meeting starts at 6 p.m. at City Council chambers.

And, if the council and mayor fail to come up with the full school budget?

“That’s when we’ll have to sit down and look at areas that can be reduced,” said D’Agostino.

“I’m hopeful we’ll get something more,” said committee member Jennifer Ahearn.

Ahearn isn’t simply crossing her fingers. In anticipation of cuts, Ahearn has asked the administration to return with areas where reductions could be made. She also feels, as does member Eugene Nadeau, that the city isn’t getting a “fair share” of state funds.

Ahearn said the city’s legislative delegation, council and the mayor should work together to get more state funding.

Nadeau is conflicted. On one hand, he argues that taxes continue to go up.

“I can’t remember a time when taxes didn’t increase,” he said.

Nonetheless, the changes he advocates for schools would increase expenditures.

Nadeau opposed closing Gorton Junior High School, a measure that would have saved $1.1 million in operating expenses. He favors replacing junior high schools with middle schools with grades 6 through 8. That would open classrooms at the elementary level, which he thinks the city needs for a full-day kindergarten. The estimated additional cost of an all-day kindergarten is about $3 million.

“I believe the time has come for a full-day kindergarten,” he said.

Nadeau doesn’t have an answer to funding it.

“Our responsibility is to wisely use our money and that’s why we were elected,” he said. “The city is giving $118 million and that’s a pretty large chunk of money.”

His argument is that state funding, now at $35 million, should be greater. He thinks state funding should be another $20 million, based on the level of state support for Providence and other districts.

“This is not fair to the [Warwick] taxpayers,” he said.

But banking on added state support is not realistic and Nadeau knows that. He also doesn’t see schools making cuts in its contracts, although that may be requested of the unions.

Where does that leave the department?

“I hate to see cuts to the arts and music,” he said. Nonetheless, he said, those programs as well as sports have to be on the table. “We have to submit a balanced budget by the end of June.”

Nadeau was critical of what he sees as “animosity” toward the School Committee. Last week, City Council President Donna Travis described herself as “livid” with the department, citing the condition in which the department left Potowomut School when it turned the building back to the city. After closing, the school was used for the storage of books, supplies and equipment, a lot of which was never removed. The city is soliciting bids for demolition of the building so as to build a fire station on the property.

D’Agostino said the city took possession of the building before the department had the chance to clean it out.

“Whatever is left; it’s not a major thing,” he said. “Tell us what they want,” he said of the city, “and we’ll certainly do it.”

D’Agostino identified charter schools and the debt costs of bonding for fire code improvements as adding about $2 million to the school budget. He said Warwick is paying for 101 students in charter schools. In addition, he said, Warwick is seeing a cut in state funds because of charter schools. He put bonding costs at an additional $800,000 to $900,000.

The meeting will start at 6 p.m. tonight at City Hall.


Comments
26 comments on this item

declining enrollment doesn't usually entail larger budgets. but in union city, RI it does.

The school department wants ever more money to educate ever fewer students. Huh? And what a shock, music/arts/sports are on the chopping block. The question is: If Warwick's public schools cut sports, would anyone notice? And, other than those whose paychecks are linked to coaching, would anyone in the school department even care?

Please take just a couple of minutes to understand declining enrollment. If you lose 60 kids this year, they don't all come from the same school, grade, or classroom. So you have, say, 8 classrooms spread out over three grades, and among 8 different schools. So a class drops from 24 kids to 22, another drops from 22 to 18', etc. Tell me where you're able to consolidate the next year...

John, normall your posts offer more than that one. Maybe the hundreds of kids who participate in sports would notice, ya think? Have you looked into what the coaching stipend is? It ain't a lucrative racket. Also, "ever more money" seriously? In 2008 the city funded the schools $118 million. in 2012 they funded them $118.6. Why don't you direct some of your energy and prose towards the city side, who's budget has grown by over $30 million in the same period. In that time frame 87% of your increase in tax dollars has gone there

why is the answer to cut arts, music and sports? REALLY there is no other items that can be cut or reduced...What is the administrative budget? No line items there that can be reduced or cut. I find that hard to believe. I worked many years in a non profit where funding was cut year after year....not once did we cut programs we cut administrative cost. We did the same programing with fewer people not fewer services...we found grants to help support us, we consolidated programs so they were under the same roof and we reduced spending line by line. It adds up.. It is time to think outside the box, be proactive instead of reactive. Proposing cuts in music, arts and sports is playing dirty pool...the school department knows if that's what they propose, parents won't allow it to happen...cut admin salaries like the city employees did for a period of time to make up the deficit or lay people off. Enough is enough quit your whining and bite the bullet like everyone else.

@Maggie, sounds like there was a lot of fat at your old company. As the enrollment shrinks the budget will need to shrink as well. However the schools have done a good job of holding costs down while the city has continued to raise taxes to pay for unsustainable retirement benefits. Its ppast time for the mayor to admit that promises made to unions 20-30 years ago aren't possible and to do what the mayor's of other cities have done and ask retirees to take a cut. As it is right now the current city workers, taxpayers and our children are paying for the mistakes of past city leadership. The tax base is shrinking not growing. Get your head out of the sand.

@patientman....my head is not in the sand and you know nothing about my previous employer nor our budget...the point is every department in the city has cut their budget except the school department. City employees took pay cuts. Yes the tax base is shrinking and enrollment is down. CUT expenses line by line. Stop depending on the tax payers to foot the bill... A large number of us don't even have kids in the school system anymore. The mayor has kept the city in the black reduced expenses....time for the school department to do the same. I have been living on the same income for 6 years while everything else has risen...yet I still pay my taxes, health insurance, food, heat and pay college costs for my son...what I have cut...I don't pay for TV, I don't get my nails done and I don't by coffee everyday and a number of other treats....I have trimmed my fat just as many others have stop asking us to continue to cut while you increase spending! get your head out of your ass.

Maggie123, Please show me or tell me of ONE city in RI that has a department the size of the schools still working at 2008 levels in 2013. You can not because none other than Warwick are running at the same level as 5 years earlier. There have already been 5 years of cuts, closing schools, laying off staff, and ending programs. The only things left at this point are ALAP, music, arts, and sports. The costs have gone up in other areas and no additional funding has been sent to schools. The city has increased the budget $30 million annually. I am not suggesting the city raise taxes and give it to the schools. I am suggesting that the city NOT raise taxes, make REAL cuts in their budget and send a small amount to the schools so they can keep programs.

Mr Nadeau is right, the State of RI is sending too much of Warwick taxes to other cities and not sending enough to Warwick for our students. The funding formula does not favor Warwick.

I disagree that the only thing left is sports arts and music....How about some of those union non teacher jobs....My son's HS had at least 3 secretaries in the main office one in guidance and God knows how many others in his HS alone Now multiply that by 3. I know that Gorton has at least 2 full time janitors if not more and and who knows how many at the elementary, and HS. In the age of computers and voice mail there is no need for so many admin employees.. As far as I am concerned Coaches do not get paid for the majority of thier time. Music and art....so eliminate a teacher rather than a secretary???? Yeah that makes sense. If enrollment is down close buildings the savings in utilities and repairs justifies the means....20-40 extra minutes on a bus ride 10 miles down the road doesn't justify keeping a building open. I am tired of this....my evaluation goes down and my taxes are still going up....what top level admin positions has the school department eliminated? NONE that I have heard of .....Are you telling me in a world of job consolidations that there are not any positions at admin level that can be consolidated and eliminated? I am tired of this and I know that I am not alone. My property evaluation goes down get my taxes have still increased....This is a joke...And this statement kills me

And, if the council and mayor fail to come up with the full school budget?

“That’s when we’ll have to sit down and look at areas that can be reduced,” said D’Agostino.

REALLY that is when you will look at it....You should have already looked at this. STop wasting time and energy...

Maggie123' yor taxes are going up because of the city side of the ledger, not because of the schools. In 2008, the schools got $118.1 million from the city. In 2012 they got $118.6 million. In between those years they closed 4 schools, reduced staff, got a 20% healthcare copay, and privatized special bus service, further reducing staff. In 2008 the city budget was $60 million (I think a bit more). In 2012 it was $90 million. Your gripe should be with the Mayor, not the school dept. Between 2008-2012, just about every penny if those tax hikes (and i think there was one every year) that you're complaining about have gone to fund the city side of the budget, not the schools. Though you probably won't want to hear it, Warwick's schools are not top heavy with administrators. I'd invite you to do a comparison to similar sized districts to see for yourself.

Maggie, also, your defense of the mayor approaches a cult like worship. What pay cuts ave the city employees taken? Prior to the new contract , which contains no raises, the previous one had raises totaling 6% over the life of the contract with a healthcare copay of roughly 10% while during that same time the teachers had renegotiated there contractual raises down to 1.5% and the WISE union members were in their 3rd or 4th year oif no raises and teachers and WISE were paying a 20% healthcare copay. You are completely misinformed about the schools budget and the city's budget. Facts are stubborn things and the fact is that while the school budget has been virtually unchanged over the last 6 years, the city's budget has increased 50% over the same period. So please share with us where the Mayor has cut expenses. Just so I understand you, you're OK with paying your tax increases just as long as none of it goes to the schools, is that about it? And, if i understand you correctly, since you don't have kids in the schools you, as a member of the community, should not have to pay for them or maybe pay less for them. Honestly, this line of reasoning is absurd. Since I'm not a Senior Citizen and both my parents are dead, then I shouldn't have any of my taxes go towards any Senior Services. Further, seniors should not get ant property tax exemptions either. Let me keep going, since my kids do not use any if the city's parks or recreational fields, therefore I shouldn't have to pay for those either through my tax dollars. Good Gravy!!

Maggie please paste this link into your browser and take a look at the school and city budget numbers over the last 6 to 10 years and then let me know you is responsible for the annual tax increase and if you still believe the Mayor has done a better job then the schools in controlling costs.

https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B6P1sIPd4PTdZHY1TE5WUmgzYWs/edit?usp=sharing

Here is another fact that was discovered at the budget hearing tonight:

We discovered that the city was not telling the truth were they testified to a large reduction in the healthcare budget for active police officers as a result of the new Health Savings Accounts introduced that costed taxpayer almost $600,000 this year.

What they presented was a revised budget estimate for this fiscal year (2013) of $3,410,733 and used it as the base for comparison to the fisal 2014 budget of $3,276,892.

On it face it appears that there is a savings of about $134,000.

But the fact is that the orginal budgeted cost for the police healthcare for FY13 was $2,765,543. And the actual cost for FY13 is the $3,410,733, overbudgted by $645,190 or 23%. The city somehow found the additional $600K necessary to transfer to cover the overage this year.

When you compare the FY14 figure of $3,276,892 to the FY13 of $2,765,543, the cost actually increases another $511,349.

So for the two years about $1.1 million in additional tax dollars will be required to fund that one line item.

The reason this occured is that the city chnaged from a self-insured to fully insured program and added the $600K expense for the Health Savings Accounts without performing the proper analysis to determine if it would actually save money.

This alone would account for a large portion of the additional funding the schools are requesting.

BTW: school healthcare costs are now less then city costs. Overall 4% increase in school healthcare costs over the past 10 years while city costs are up by about 70%.

So agian the question is, "Who has done a better job of controlling costs, City or Schools?" The answer is pretty clear.

Cult like worship???? for the love of God....REALLY...first of all....City employees did take a cut in pay 3 years ago....They voted to take the cut rather than lay off employees including the Mayor. Do you think I am so niave to think that if the school gets more money that my taxes will not go up further? Where do you propose the money will come from. The Beacon has reported over and over about the City's directors cutting budgets line by line....The Mayor has even recognized them publicly for doing so. No I am not ok paying more taxes as long as it doesn't go to the school...That is absurd almost as absurd as saying that I shouldn't pay because I no longer have children in the school system don't put words in my mouth. I would be nice to hear from other tax payers who aren't working for the school department. The argument that the schools budget has been unchanged for the last 6 years only proves my point. Changes should be made every year in reducing expenses. My budget has changed in the last 6 years....NOT on the income side only on the expense side...which means expenses have gone up, income has stayed the same so I continue to reduce non essential items from my budget. NOt much left to trim, I could always take my prescriptions every other day, stop going to the doctors like many of the seniors in this state. I could get rid of the internet and shut off the phone take the bus....oh wait can't take publlc transportation, nope that won't work because I would have to take 3 buses one way to get to my destinations.

The fact is D’Agostino said they will look to see what they can cut after the meeting....He should be looking at what he can cut now. The fact that the HS has 3 secretaries in the main office, one in guidance the Jr high has at least 2 full time janitors tells me that their is fat that can be cut. Get out the knife and start trimming. Close the Jr. High, not arts, music and sports....cut non teacher positions, Turn the heat down after school is out...there is no need to have the heat blasting in the gym for practices....Been in the gym picking my child up and the heat was cranked up to 90 so they would sweat. Not a good use of money. Those are the obvious wastes...to me as parent I am sure there are more obvious wastes going on that I don't see.

Maggie,

That 'cut' in pay three years ago was a temporary one that was restored the following year. I believe it only lasted for approximately 6 months and then they pay went right back to where it was.Tha Mayor's chief of staff was quoted in the Beacon three weeks ago saying that the full $3.8 million the schools asked for (which I don;t think they should get the full amount) was equivalent to .40c per 1000 of the current tax rate of $18 and change. You say you;re not Ok paying more taxes as long as it doesn't go to the schools and yet nearly every penny of your past tax increases have gone to fund the city side of things and you're not railing against them with the same level of energy as you do the schools. You praise the city for cutting costs and yet all your tax increases are going to them so how well is that cost cutting going? The last 6 years of school fundng does not prove you point because during those six years the school dept has closed 4 schools, cut staff, implemented a 20% healthcare copay (which the city just got around to doing in the most recednt contract), and privatized special ed bus services which resulted in a further reduction of staff. At some point, there's little left to cut before you really start effecting the students. Closing the jr high is not the best way to go - moving to a 6-8 middle school model is the way to go and then you could close an elementary. I said before that no one disagrees that a school(s) should close but you have to be smart about how you go about. Closing gorton, in my opinion, is not a smart move. By the way, I don't work for the school department, never have. I work in the private sector, like you.

Dave I guess Maggie didn't bother to take a look ast my analysis becuase no matter how many times the mayor may claim that he is cutting city spending, the fact is that the city budget has increased every year and the local tax dollars allocated to the city have been 6 times greater then the school allocation.

Also Maggie a futher analysis of the new tax local tax dollars allocated to the city over the past ten years shows that of every new dollar given to the city, 52 cents of each dollar pay for retiree pension and healthcare expenses. When you factor in salary increase and healthcare for active employee, over 94 cents of every new dollar given to the city is spent on these expenses.

That leaves less then 6 cents of every new dollar given to the city, spent on every other expense in the city budget.

Maggie if you ran a small business and I told you that for every dollar in new profits your business realizes, you would have to pay 52% of that profit to employees that nolonger work for your company, you would close up shop. Well that is where most of the new tax dollars we as Warwick taxpayer give to the city are going to.

The Mayor's policies regarding legacy costs (pension and lifetime healthcare) have been a total failure.

I agree that every department in the city has experienced cuts to the non-personnel related line items. That's why you will not see me get up at the budget hearings knit picking the directors on these expenses. The real reform required is assoictaed with the retirment costs and the mayor continues to not address this issue.

Taxpayer contribute $8 million per year (yes per year) to fund free Free Free reritred employee top-of-the line healthcare for life.

Is that fair to the active employees who are paying a co-pay or to the taxpayers and small business owners who are getting killed with these costs?

Please do some homework. Take a look at the link to the charts I have created and in your next post give me your thoughts on what you think.

I guess it's jump all over Maggie week? She's not wrong about the School Department needing to be ready in the event that no further funding is given. It's a problem that is seen over and over again in the School Department. They did not prepare for the fall-out that has resulted in NECAP being a mandated graduation requirement either...although they have had a few years to prepare for it. Why is the School Dept. only now "combing" (Dr. D's word not mine) through the new law requiring background checks for school volunteers when they have KNOWN since the fall that this law was going to be signed and be effective immediately....it's a pattern of 'waiting and seeing' that has so many people frustrated with the School Dept. No one wants our schools to fail and Maggie's posting reflects the same frustration many taxpayers feel. The School Dept. needs to get their message out and in a better way...and be more proactive. However, the WPS can be a shining example of the greatness of our City and City Hall needs to stop treating the WPS as if they are the poor relation that's always looking for a handout.

you know what Dave1107 they covered the deficit for those 6 months, they froze hiring and they have not received an increase...what has the school department done? They have asked for more money and are unable to stay in budget with the money they have....they operate in the red....they were ill prepared to convince parents that closing Gorton would save money and tabled it for January smack in the middle of the school year so it won't be closed for another school year. AND nothing will be done to close the gap....if we don't talk about it for 6 months maybe it will go away....or lets just ask the city for more money to cover the fact that we haven't done our homework and in January we will come to the table with our heads still up our ass. Or I know lets make kindergarten full time so we can add 3 million more to the deficit not close the school and not have teachers certified in middle school procedures. BTW I paid for full time kindergarten for my son. HMMMM maybe you are right....I don't mind paying more taxes as long as it doesn't go to the school!

According to the school committee, closing Gorton would have closed the deficit by 1 million....a third of what they are looking for. They are reactive and not proactive and when there needs to be cuts they threaten sports, arts and music....because they know that will not be tolerated by parents. The school department receives more than half of my tax dollars....You people keep pointing the finger at the city and their spending...keep the focus on the schools spending. The City is staying budget the school department is not. The sad part of it...is no matter what we give them they still will not make budget, So who are we kidding. The major component to solving a problem is owning that a problem exists not pointing at everyone else and saying look at what they are doing...

Hey Jackie,

I can't really criticize Admin on the mentor thing because the School Committee had received assurances from Rep McNamara and Senator McCaffrey that they would change the law to "protect" those districts using mentors as part of senior projects. Mr. Nadeau personally met with both of them on that issue. As of the early spring they were still getting assurances but the bill was being held up in committee. I havent seen the final bill but from what I read in the Projo they didn't (or couldn't) follow through on their promise because the latest version doesn';t appear to exempt senior projects. You are absolutely correct about WPS trying to get a message out and you're correct on how the City (the Mayor and the Council) treats them.

Maggie, you said "They have asked for more money and are unable to stay in budget with the money they have....they operate in the red". If you read the documents, you would see they ask for more money every year, get no additional money and end with a small surplus. So they are NOT in the red. The last time they went over budget was 2007 and it was $3.2 Million and the entire amount was paid back. The sewer authority was over budget over $7 million and they are paying it back a little at a time. I believe they are paying the city back $300-500K a year. It will take over 15-17 years to get the entire amount back, and that is without interest or inflation taken into account. The schools are within their budget and do a good job. I have said it before and I will say it again, when a realtor shows a house in Warwick, one of the first questions the buyer asks is, "how are the schools in the area?" not, "how are the sewers in the area?".

Maggie, the city 'cuts' were for 6 months, then they pay scale went back to what it was and THEN they 1.5% raises that took effect every six months during the last two years of that contract were based on the 'higher' wages, NOT the cut wages. So you are just plain wrong on that point. Please check your info again. The may have froze hiring but the schools actually cut staff when they closed schools and more when they privatized buses. They;ve balkanced their budget for the last 5 or 6 years so you are wrong when you say that they operate in the red. Closing Gorton, in my opinion, was too shortsighted especially when the savings is about what you get when you close an elementary, and moving to middle school frees up space there to close a building AND be ready for all day K should it be mandated by the state. Admin was all for closing Gorton, by the way. it was the efforts of parents on the facilities committe who felt that it was putting the cart before the horse and they prevailed on the school committee to hold off pending a long term plan. So blame me, because I was one of the parents who led the effort to stop and develop long term plan and my kids do not attend Gorton, so its closure woulnd not have affected me directly. If the State does mandate all day K, will you be upset at the school dept when they ask for money to fund it? Good on you that you paid for your son;s all day K. I sent my kids to the public half day K and then paid to have them sent to an afterschool program. Oh, and in every city and town the schools take up more than half the residents tax dollars, most cities take more as a % than Warwick does. You're right, the city stays within it's budget BY RAISING TAXES EVERY YEAR and using just about every one of those extra dollars to fund its side of the ledger. Why won;t you at least admit that? You say that no matter what we give them they still won;t make budget - that is ridiculous on its face because the schools have balanced their budget without any extra revenue for the past four or five years.

Dave stop trying to present sound reason.

She probably hasnt even bothered to look at the document I prepared comparing the school and city costs.

Sadly this is the attitude of many ill informed people in the City of Warwick basically because of the Mayor and some members of the City Council continuing to advance the same message in the media.

I was mistaken...I do remember them being in the red in 2007 and I thought the article stated that they were still in the red. AND we are not talking about the Sewer Authority we are talking about the school department...people keep pointing fingers and tattling on other city services... and for the record I still don't have sewers and they are not coming any time soon. And I could go on and on about that a well. I am not stating that the city is fault less all I am saying is that there is fat....trim it. We all are trimming and continue to trim, it is the economy we live in. We don't have to like it, we just have to do it. It is the attitude of we will get around to doing it when we are forced to irritates me to no end....It is time. Close the middle school, stop talking about full day kindergarten do more with less people like everyone else. There are ways of cutting costs it doesn't have to be complete programs like art, music and sports...small changes add up. Stop looking at everything as all or nothing. That is how children behave not professionals. And quit pointing fingers at what others are doing. It doesn't make it right or fix the school department's problems.

I understand that reassurances were made but it's always good to have a plan in place....just in case. Especially since the background check law encompasses all school volunteers throughout the State and not just the Mentors. It's not a big expense to most people ($5.00) it's just an aggravation that could have been addressed months ago because the likely hood of the law becoming final seemed pretty strong. In the words of my favorite branch of the U.S. Service (as well as my former employer)....Semper Paratus....Always Prepared (USCG). The WPS would serve themselves well to follow that motto. Re: Additional funding.....Hopefully, WPS will get a little more money from the City and hopefully the folks at WPS will apply it where it is most needed. It's not over yet!

I understand that reassurances were made but it's always good to have a plan in place....just in case. Especially since the background check law encompasses all school volunteers throughout the State and not just the Mentors. It's not a big expense to most people ($5.00) it's just an aggravation that could have been addressed months ago because the likely hood of the law becoming final seemed pretty strong. In the words of my favorite branch of the U.S. Service (as well as my former employer)....Semper Paratus....Always Prepared (USCG). The WPS would serve themselves well to follow that motto. Re: Additional funding.....Hopefully, WPS will get a little more money from the City and hopefully the folks at WPS will apply it where it is most needed. It's not over yet!

Maggie,

Simple fact is that even if the school department does not get the requested increase taxes will still increase. It appears to me you really need to look at the numbers they do not lie if the school department fails so does property values. And you can not compare the private sector to the public if a private company lowers operation costs they increase profits and do so to please share holders to increase investments.. What is happening in Warwick is people are leaving. What the mayor should be doing is going the tax base…

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