When Cheryl Marinosci showed up to Pilgrim High School early Tuesday to register her son for summer school, she and the other parents were shocked to learn the tuition had increased by $50.
“I was probably the eighth person in line,” said Marinosci, adding that she arrived before the doors even opened at 8 a.m. When the first parent finished registering his child, Marinosci said he announced to the gathered parents outside the room that there was an increase.
Marinosci said all of the parents were shocked and it was evident that not one of them knew there had been an increase in tuition cost.
She explained she had received a flyer along with her son’s report card regarding summer school only a week and a half ago. It said her son would need to attend summer school for science and that the cost for one subject (or 30 hours of class time) would be $220 for a Warwick resident.
When it was her turn to pay for his registration, Marinosci was told the cost for one subject would be $270.
“That isn’t right,” said Marinosci.
When she got to work, Marinosci informed her co-worker, Deb Gremour, about the increase because Gremour’s son also needed to take a class.
“I mean the $220, it’s tough enough to swing that,” said Gremour, who is a single parent. “I just didn’t understand.”
When Marinosci and other parents questioned the increase at registration, she was told to call the superintendent.
Marinosci said she paid the increase regardless, because summer school classes are filled on a first come, first serve basis. That is why she went first thing on the first day.
When she contacted the School Department, Marinosci was told individuals could be put on a payment plan.
“To me, it’s like anything else in Warwick,” said Marinosci, saying she feels it is common to be told a bill will be one amount only to find it higher.
“It just doesn’t make sense to me. It didn’t make sense to anyone,” said Marinosci, adding that no explanation for the cost increase was given, just that it happened.
The cost increase didn’t make sense to Ward 5 Councilman Edgar Ladouceur either. He received several phone calls regarding the tuition issue on Tuesday morning.
“They were told it would cost $220. They arrived at summer school this morning and were told, ‘oh, we changed it to $270 last night,’” said the councilman, who was not hiding his frustration with the situation.
Ladouceur questioned how the School Department could raise the cost on such short notice and not notify parents.
“They are arbitrarily raising the cost of summer school,” he said. “This is exactly the reason why I am bringing a transparency docket for the school department. They are not transparent.”
Ladouceur said he attended last Thursday’s School Committee meeting to hear specifically about the budget concerns but was kept out of the proceedings for two hours because discussions were in executive session. When the public was let in, they were told no budget items would be discussed. As a result, Ladouceur said he and many others simply left.
If summer school tuition increases were discussed at that meeting, Ladouceur does not know when.
“They said they were not discussing budget items. [Summer school tuition] is a budget item,” he said.
When reached for comment, Superintendent Dr. Richard D’Agostino said the cost increase was voted on during the June 27 School Committee meeting.
“The financial officer, Mr. Ferrucci, and the school district are looking for ways to trim expenses,” said D’Agostino. “And also looking for ways to increase revenue.”
According to meeting agenda documents obtained by the Beacon prior to the June 27 meeting, Anthony Ferrucci, chief budget officer, did send the recommendation for an increase of $50 per enrollee for summer school to D’Agostino.
The document says with an estimated 300 enrollees in Warwick summer school, the increase would result in an additional $15,000 in revenue.
In response to statements that the summer school tuition had already been increased recently, D’Agostino said that is not the case; the previous $220 cost had been in place for “many years,” according to the superintendent.
“We noticed the [summer school] tuition had not been raised in a long time,” said D’Agostino. “And even with the $50 increase, the cost is still comparable to other districts.”
D’Agostino admits that because of the late vote, there was no notice of the increase.
“As a result, it was not in the brochure the summer school principal sent out, I want to say, three or four weeks ago,” said D’Agostino.
He continued to say that no additional notice of the increase was attempted because of the late notice, so parents were notified as they came in for registration. It was also not posted on the school department’s website as of Tuesday but that process was underway.
When asked what will happen for parents that came in to pay one amount and may not have had an additional $50 if they were using a pre-written check or cash, D’Agostino said everyone would be taken care of.
“They can be billed for the rest. We will be looking at billing for that,” said D’Agostino. Additionally, he said a sliding scale would be applied to adjust costs based on income should the situation arise.
Marinosci said that the cost increase wasn’t her main issue with the situation.
“It’s fine,” she said. “If people are aware of it.”
When Gremour finally arrived at Pilgrim at 4 p.m. to register her son for his Algebra II class, she was told she could be put on a payment plan.
“I am thankful for that, I am,” she said, but adding that an additional $50 per person is still a lot to ask.
Gremour said she was told she would have until the end of summer school to complete payments.