Added school surplus reduces need for cuts
On Tuesday night, the School Committee met to approve a budget for next year, utilizing a $2.5 million surplus. However, cuts still needed to be made to cover the full $3.4 million deficit.
It was initially estimated by Chief Budget Officer Anthony Ferrucci that the surplus would be around $1.3 million. However, following the close of the fiscal year, more funds were made available than expected.
“It was a perfect storm in our favor,” Superintendent Richard D’Agostino said yesterday describing savings on a number of budgeted expenses. They included a reduction in out-of-district tuitions for special education students and salary savings resulting from retirements.
Because of the added surplus, many of the proposed cuts from the June 27 School Committee meeting were re-instated. As described in the budget proposal, cuts were re-instated based on highest priority.
Re-instated items include interscholastic sports, out-of-district tuition, charter school tuitions, transportation, music and art equipment, technology-related hardware and extracurricular activities.
Cuts that remained include fuel cuts, a number of staff positions and the ALAP program.
D’Agostino explained that cuts to staff were necessary due to declining enrollment at schools.
“As we continue, our numbers tend to go down, as well as the need for instructors for those children,” said D’Agostino. He did not have the exact number of eliminated positions available at press time.
ALAP, or Accelerated Learning Activities Program, is often proposed to be cut because it does not affect a large population of students. ALAP is a specialized program for advanced students and includes three staff members.
Jacqueline Harris-Connor, a member of the Long Term Facilities Planning Committee, responded to a comment on the Beacon’s Facebook page regarding the elimination of ALAP.
“In order to save ALAP, there were members of the School Committee who were willing to extend the walking distance for some of the students and not give them bus services at all,” wrote Harris-Connor, adding that this would take away bus service from those in the elementary schools in particular.
She referred to ALAP as a quota program that does not benefit all of those qualified to be in it.
“Unlike resources that are available to ALL learning disabled children in Warwick, only a small percentage of children are invited into ALAP every year because there is limited availability,” wrote Harris-Connor.
Harris-Connor added that unless the program was extended to all qualified students, like remedial resources are, it should have been stopped.
“Maybe down the line it will be brought back in a broader sense,” she wrote.
A broader sense is certainly what D’Agostino is thinking about when it comes to ALAP.
“We hope to go in a different direction [in terms of ALAP],” said the superintendent.
By providing increases in professional development and classroom materials, D’Agostino believes they will be able to integrate the advanced learning components of ALAP to students directly in their regular classrooms.
Students in ALAP are brought out of their regular classroom to work on their advanced work, but D’Agostino believes it is the responsibility of the classroom teacher to provide for all students, regardless of their performance level.
“I think we can reach more kids that way,” said D’Agostino.
Beth Furtado, chairperson of the School Committee, said the revised budget featuring reinstatements from the $2.5 million surplus passed with amendments.
D’Agostino said the amendment regarded the use of custodians following extra-curricular activities.
Other amendments such as the reinstatement of the full-time librarian at Gorton Junior High School and the reinstatement of ALAP all failed, according to the superintendent.