October 20, 2014
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LETTERS
Why school consolidation is the right thing

An open letter to the members of the Warwick School Committee:

As a former member of the Warwick School Committee, I understand the difficult decision you must make regarding the consideration of closing schools in the district.

The Long Term Facilities Planning Committee, with the help of the administration, received comprehensive report after report before making this recommendation, including closing Veterans High School.

However, another factor that may not have been presented to the committee and to you is the trend that have developed regarding the allocation of local tax dollars to support the school budget by city leaders.

Local tax dollars to support city budget:

2008 - $67,056,675

2009 - $76,149,571

2010 - $78,525,638

2011 - $79,566,667

2012 - $93,836,460 ($14.3 million increase. $6.8 million from school budget cut)

2013 - $96,383,368 (projected budget)

2014 - $99,568,368 (mayor proposed budget)

Local tax dollars to support school budget:

2008 - $118,064,827

2009 - $118,064,827

2010 - $123,968,468 (increase due to federal stimulus dollars)

2011 - $125,010,374 (increase due to federal stimulus dollars)

2012 - $118,171,303 (5% cut in the budget, $6.8 million reallocated to city budget)

2013 - $118,644,632 (projected budget)

2014 - $118,644,632 (mayor proposed budget)

In 2007, 63.9 percent of local tax dollars supported schools and 36.1 percent the city. Today, the ratio is 54.4 percent schools and 45.6 percent city. With city spending reaching new all-time highs each year, that ratio will continue to move towards a 50/50 split. According to education experts I have spoken to, anywhere from a 65/35 or 60/40 split is more the norm. The conclusion: don’t expect any significant increase in revenue in future school budgets from current city leaders to keep all these facilities operating properly.

My point is that the issue of school consolidation comes down to not only properly utilizing school buildings, but also how as a city Warwick intends to fund the educational needs of our children into the future? Clearly based on my analysis, Mayor Avedisian and most of the city councilors have turned their backs on our students.

Right now, consolidation is the only means that school leaders can use to invest in current infrastructure by taking the savings from closed schools and allocating it towards current needs. But that simply will not be enough to meet long-term educational needs.

The bottom line is that a sustainable long-term plan to meet the educational needs of our children is needed. That will require investment of millions of new property tax dollars by city leaders in existing or newly constructed schools. To do that will require a long-term plan by these same city leaders to control spiraling pension and lifetime healthcare costs on the city side. Unfortunately, based on the past, city leaders have shown little desire to propose the necessary reforms to cut new spending associated with retired employee benefits.

When over 52 cents of every new tax dollar allocated to the city budget over the last 10 years pays for pension and free lifetime healthcare for retired employees and less than six cents of every new dollar is allocated to non-personnel related city expenses, something needs to change.

What is an undisputable conclusion in my opinion is that the Warwick School Department cannot properly support the educational needs of our children while this current model of spending continues without consolidation. If you are opposed to consolidation, I challenge you to refute this conclusion and state your plan on how the district can meet the educational needs of our students in the next few years. Proposing another study commission to look at the problem is not an answer.

Your charge as members of the school committee is to make the difficult decisions that our mayor and a majority of our city councilors refuse to make on the city side of the budget. Voting no on this consolidation plan will have far worse damaging consequences on current educational programs and services then the short term emotional response that is driving the current opposition.

While teachers, parents and specifically students from Warwick Vets chorus singing to keep their school open is understandable. What is more important, having no chorus, no sports programs and students remaining in a half empty building that needs millions in repairs, or consolidating facilities where millions can be saved and reinvested back into infrastructure needs and maintaining great programs such as the chorus in a newly refurbished building?

Robert Cushman

Former Warwick City Councilman and Chairman of the Warwick School Committee


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