Consensus elusive on school bond

Over 4 hours, Council questions School Department spending

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As of today, if there’s anything that all parties can agree about in regards to rebuilding the city’s schools, it’s that nobody can really agree about anything yet.

A meeting, which stretched to more than four hours and was intended to bring some clarity to the School Department about what direction the Warwick City Council felt would be best for the local taxpayers who will foot the majority of the potential repair bill, accomplished primarily instead what was a hopefully therapeutic session for some councilors to voice their frustrations about the behavior of past school administrations and bond-funded projects.

“You people are the deciding force – the school committee and the administration. We have no jurisdiction in that area,” said Council President Joseph Solomon prior to opening the floor for questions, setting a defensive tone. “So I just want to clarify those issues before that ball starts to roll and grow and then all of the sudden it’s, ‘the council has done this’ or ‘the Warwick City Council has done that, or is not doing this.’”

The council called the special meeting, held last Wednesday, to hear a presentation of facts and details in regards to the Warwick School Department’s proposal to go out for either $85 or $118 million in bond funding next year to begin repairing the city’s aging public schools – the average age of Warwick schools is 63 years. Presenting the details of the plan was Chief Budget Officer Anthony Ferrucci – who also chairs the School Building Committee.

Through the bond funding, Ferrucci reported that the department could replace five roofs, improve 14 HVAC systems and get the 14 remaining schools without an updated fire alarm system up to modern code, among other cosmetic improvements across the district. An exact breakdown of what improvements can be done with the $85 million bond, which was originally proposed last year but did not earn council approval, will be revealed in an updated master list during a presentation at the Dec. 12 School Committee meeting.

The council’s response to Ferrucci’s summary presentation – which included stacking the many voluminous, thick binders that encompassed more than five years of planning and data-driven studies on the table at the center of the council chambers – fell on a spectrum from cautious skepticism to palpable distaste and unease about giving the department such a large pot of money.

“Our kids deserve better, they really do deserve to have the schools in better shape…and we know we need millions and millions of dollars to do it,” said Ward 6 Councilwoman Donna Travis. “My point is I don’t trust the administration to do it. I’m going to be blank.”

“We can’t tell you how to spend your money. Over the years we’ve seen bond money get frozen for a number of reasons,” said Ward 9 Councilman Steve Merolla. “It’s not you [Ferrucci], you weren’t here, but it’s the institution that you represent and the forecasts that they made that this council member wants to avoid from happening again. So to say I’m skeptical about what the forecasts are for the future, I have good reason to, because I’ve seen it happen time and time again.”

In response to the open distrust, Ferrucci said that he hoped his track record since coming to the district in 2011 would help ease the anxieties stemming from bad experiences with past projects and enable the council to focus on the issue at hand.

“Some City Council members have, in fact, been burned by past administrations, and I acknowledge their points about having a level of mistrust because of the history,” Ferrucci said on Monday. “I’ve attempted throughout my tenure to be as transparent and forthcoming as possible, so hopefully they can attain a level of trust with the new administration.”

Changing plans?

Ward 1 Councilman Richard Corley made the argument that the School Department has changed up their five-year plans for school rebuilding at least three times since he has been in charge of the finances, and therefore trusting in such a plan was difficult to do. Ferrucci took issue with this point, retorting that the main nucleus of the five-year plans have remained consistent.

“The overarching theme, collectively, I think has been very consistent,” he said, adding that the plan has long been to utilize two junior high schools and two high schools and consolidate elementary schools to respond to declining enrollment numbers. “It has all ended up circling around to where we are today.”

Merolla and Ward 5 Councilman Ed Ladouceur made the points that it made them uncomfortable to give the School Department such a large amount of money because, once bond funds are allocated into the school’s budget, the School Department can feasibly do whatever they want with the funds, regardless of the projects they pitched during the budget hearings.

However Ferrucci said that this concern is unrealistic, as the City Council could refuse to release more bond funds the following budget season if the schools gave them reason to believe they would not be trustworthy with them.

“I think the City Council has that oversight tool already in place,” he said. “If they don’t like the direction it’s going or the projects that are entertained, they have the opportunity to shut it down.”

Other suggestions, like Ladouceur asserting the possibility of building a new “super duper” high school or junior high school to better accommodate those students, posed other points of concern for school administration.

Building new

“I think some individuals in the city have a desire to build new schools, for example a new middle school or high school,” said Superintendent Philip Thornton on Friday. “That’s a great conversation to have, but we have to be mindful we have many other schools to consider. If we build a new large high school for $100 million, how do we take care of the other schools?”

Thornton and Ferrucci point to the example of Warwick Veterans Junior High School, which has undergone a rehabilitative transformation that updated the entire HVAC system, installed a new sewer system and electrical capabilities – amongst a slew of cosmetic improvements like all new ceiling paneling, efficient lighting, a rework of the gym and auditorium – and all for less than half of what the state’s Jacobs Report estimated would be necessary.

While the improvements to Vets did not encompass every single detail of what the Jacobs Report included in their cost estimate, Ferrucci said it still showed that the department was proving itself capable of finding savings and stretching their dollars for all they are worth, rather than simply being wasteful.

“I believe the school department has demonstrated a really astute method for spending our bond dollars wisely to show what we can do for our schools,” he said.

While the sides didn’t conclude the meeting with a clear picture about whether it would be wiser to pursue the originally-planned $85 million or the newly-modified $118 million bond (to satisfy RIDE’s aspirational capacity standards which say Warwick needs additional elementary school space for its students), Ferrucci said that the school department looks forward to continue working with the city moving forward.

“The school department is continuing in its desire to work with city leadership and the city council in meeting the community’s objectives to make the schools in the city the best in the state,” he said.

Ferrucci will present findings from the meeting tonight to the School Building Committee and then present an updated recommendation about what the bond request should look like from the School Committee on Dec. 12. Any bond request will have to be made through a City Council resolution before Feb. 1 in order to meet RIDE’s deadline for reimbursement for school building projects.

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richardcorrente

That's me sitting behind Anthony Ferrucci in the picture above, trying to understand his eloquent, five-syllable words. His speech was "impressive", to say the least. He used phrases like "adopted capital projects plan" and "aspirational capacity initiative".

But when the smoke cleared and the mirrors were put back I storage, the fact remained that he wasn't just asking for $85,000,000 of taxpayers hard-earned money (with absolutely NO guarantee as to how the School Committee will spend it). He was asking for $85,000,000... more! He admitted that "These improvement needs go back to November 1st 2011" (That's a direct quote.) Since November 1st, 2011, the Warwick Taxpayers have given the School Committee almost ONE BILLION DOLLARS!!! That money, in part, was for these very needs! The School Committee has NEVER accounted for it and now they want $85,000,000 more!

One simple question:

ARE YOU KIDDING ME???!!!???

Let's not give the School Committee one more dollar of taxpayers money.

Merry Christmas everyone.

Rick Corrente

The Taxpayers Mayor

Wednesday, December 6
CrickeeRaven

The fake "mayor's" shame knows no bounds. His continued pushing of a conspiracy theory that only he believes [that the school committee "has never accounted" for school spending] despite clear and easily-found evidence -- the budgetary statements posted right on the school department website here: http://www.warwickschools.org/departments/district-financial-documents/ -- is yet another sign of his pathetic, delusional, and ultimately futile attempts to disparage the school committee and its work to update Warwick's school buildings.

Thankfully, tens of thousands of Warwick voters see the fake "mayor" to be the disgraceful, lying fraud that he is, and they will certainly prove that by decisively rejecting his candidacy again next November.

Wednesday, December 6
Kammy

Question: "absolutely NO guarantee as to how the School Committee will spend it"

Answer: Ferrucci said that this concern is unrealistic, as the City Council could refuse to release more bond funds the following budget season if the schools gave them reason to believe they would not be trustworthy with them. “I think the City Council has that oversight tool already in place,” he said. “If they don’t like the direction it’s going or the projects that are entertained, they have the opportunity to shut it down.”

Richard: How will you guarantee the funds are being used as promised?

Richard: How do you propose to fix the outdated public schools?

Richard: Do you support a super school?

Richard: What is your plan to cut spending as it relates to the schools?

Richard: If the improvements have been needed since 2011 and are not completed, what do you think caused the delay?

Richard: Are you in agreement with not moving forward with the school consolidation? What is your view and how do you think Warwick should proceed?

5 days ago
CrickeeRaven

Hello Kammy:

If his prior comments are any indication, the fake "mayor" is certain to reply with statements that have already been proven false. For example, I am certain that he will advocate for Warwick having a Home Rule Charter as a way to impose city oversight on the school department, despite the fact that Warwick has a legislative charter, which is identical in all but name to a Home Rule Charter.

He will also, no doubt, ignore the fact that no charter of any kind in Rhode Island actually gives the host community direct, line item control of school budgets -- not one.

The closest any charter gets to city oversight is in Providence and Woonsocket, where the mayor appoints the members of the school committee. I am sure you can guess how the fake "mayor" might respond to this suggestion: With ever more delusional claims of conspiracies between actual Mayor Avedisian and the school committee, which he has, as is typical of him, failed to support with fact in any way.

All of that said, I eagerly await the fake "mayor's" replies to your questions, which I am certain will have less to do with directly answering your questions and more to do with repeating fraudulent statements and disparaging the school committee.

5 days ago
richardcorrente

Dear Kammy,

Quite a few questions, but they are intelligent ones so here are your answers.

1. I will guarantee funds are being used as promised because, as I said in my 2016 campaign, "I won't give them a dime until they account to the Mayors office AND The City Council". The Mayor and the City Council promise to be accountable to the taxpayers. The School Committee promises to NOT be. You and I both know that, by charter, we are not allowed to suggest, advise, or influence the School Committee as to how they spend taxpayers money "The minute they receive it." Therefore I will intercede BEFORE they receive it, and yes Kammy, I WILL be accountable to you and the 80,000 taxpayers that are paying the tab.

2. We will fix our outdated schools out of the $160,000,000 we give the School Committee EVERY YEAR. Hey Kammy. If we gave you $160,000,000 a year, do you think you could afford to do some of these renovations and still pay the bills? I do.

3. No. I do not support one "super-school". Warwick has a long tradition of neighborhood schools. I support that idea.

4. See answer 1.

5. What do I see as the delay for improvements that have been needed since 2011?

Mismanagement. Greed. Theft. Padding the staffs of the School Committee (SC) at almost the same rate as they decreased the number of our teachers! Not caring about the students, or the teachers, or the parents, or the 80,000 taxpayers that are paying the tab. Just caring about the School Committee members and staff and their own agenda. When they fired $93,000+- annual salary, David LaPlante for writing checks for his own illegal enterprises, they hired his replacement for about $20,000 MORE per year. I asked a SC member what was their first offer? He/she said that it was the salary he ended up with. I asked "Why didn't you offer $60,000 a year FIRST??" He/she said "That's not the way it's done." Well Kammy, in the private sector that is a $40,000 a year job. In the private sector he would have been offered less; a lot less.

6. This is a painful answer. No. No one wants to close our schools, but we simply don't have the students.The aid Warwick receives from the state increases as the percent-of-students-per-capacity of each school does. Warwick schools are lower in percentage-of-capacity than other schools in other cities. Therefore, Warwick receives less state aid. Note: This does NOT mean percentage of students per classroom, just students per building. The issue of weighting is also an area that needs more improvement, both in Warwick and the state. The best answer is more population. Warwick has lost 5,800 taxpayers (and their students) in the last ten years according to the U.S. Census. Our student population has dropped from a high of 17,000+ to under 9,000 today. The Corrente Plan is aimed at reversing that trend Kammy, and I am committed to reach that goal. Any suggestions you have on bringing in new taxpayers, I will gratefully listen to.

Kammy, I respect you. You and I are often on opposite sides of an issue but your questions are intelligent and your comments are genuine. You said in a previous comment that you want me to ask the School Committee why they don't use the three and a half million (or so) dollars in the health benefits cash reserve fund. I will be there next Tuesday and, as I promised you, I will ask, but the School Committee has stated on many occasions that they refuse to answer any questions at these meetings. Translation "The School Committee will NOT be accountable to the audience, even though the audience pays their salaries."

Merry Christmas Kammy.

Merry Christmas everyone.

Rick Corrente

The Taxpayers Mayor

4 days ago
CrickeeRaven

Hell again Kammy:

As I predicted, the fake "mayor's" comments "have less to do with directly answering your questions and more to do with repeating fraudulent statements and disparaging the school committee."

- "The Mayor and the City Council promise to be accountable to the taxpayers. The School Committee promises to NOT be."

This is nothing more than a conspiracy theory cooked up in the fake "mayor's" fevered imagination. No school committee member has said they "promise not to be accountable."

- "We will fix our outdated schools out of the $160,000,000 we give the School Committee EVERY YEAR."

The fake "mayor" again ignores the fact that 90+ percent of the annual school budget pays teacher and staff salaries and benefits. The $160 million spent per year on schools does not simply accumulate as the fake "mayor" seems to suggest.

- "Greed. Theft. Padding the staffs of the School Committee (SC) at almost the same rate as they decreased the number of our teachers!"

Calling the school committee "greedy" is simply childish. The "theft" he mentions happened under the former superintendent. He, along with two other senior administrators, are gone. Blaming the school committee for the former administrators' misdeeds is dishonest and yet another attempt to mislead readers.

Much of the reduction in teachers was through early retirement and voluntary departures, not layoffs. Of 65 teachers who left, 22 were layoffs. The school administration has not added 65 [or 22] new positions, making this yet another falsehood from the fake "mayor."

He also continues to conflate the school committee [the elected officials] with the school administration [the appointed officials] without admitting this error. The school committee does not have "staffs."

- "The aid Warwick receives from the state increases as the percent-of-students-per-capacity of each school does. Warwick schools are lower in percentage-of-capacity than other schools in other cities. Therefore, Warwick receives less state aid."

Every community in Rhode Island receives state funding based on a variety of factors, and none of them are the "percent of students per capacity" figure the fake "mayor" has invented from thin air.

In fact, Warwick has received more [not "less"] state aid over the past four years as its population has continue to decline, independent of the high school consolidation. Here are the actual figures:

2014-15: 9,277 students; $36.05 million state aid

2015-16: 9,140 students; $36.75 million state aid

2016-17: 9.124 students; $38.2 million state aid

2017-18: 8,953 students; $39.1 million state aid

State aid figures are here: http://www.ride.ri.gov/FundingFinance/FundingSources/StateEducationAid.aspx

Enrollment figures are here:

http://www.eride.ri.gov/reports/reports.asp [select "Warwick" and the school years to view]

It is truly pathetic how the fake "mayor" continues to post such easily-debunked statements when the facts that disprove them are so easily accessible.

Like you, I look forward to joining tens of thousands of honest, taxpaying voters in Warwick in again rejecting his candidacy next November.

4 days ago
Kammy

Thank you Richard. You attempted to give answers instead of campaign tag lines. Unfortunately, CrickeeRaven was correct. Your answers have already been refuted by facts.

One of my biggest issues (setting aside the fraudulent statements) is that you are not unbiased. If you were to be elected Mayor, you have already given away that you side 100% with the WTU and regard the WSC as some sort of axis of evil. Compromise and balanced viewpoints are so important when in a leadership position.

I am very concerned about your behavior and statements. Your refusal to retract or restate your comments even in the face of solid proof and public record is alarming to me. I can appreciate spending your time and money trying to make positive changes to your city but I cannot condone the manner in which you are going about it. I am sure you are a likable person and that you have family, friends, colleagues that think you are a great guy. I can appreciate your desire to shake things up in the City, however, we aren't broken, we just need a little tweaking. Don't be a wreaking ball when a screw driver will fix the problem.

4 days ago
CrickeeRaven

I compliment you on another well thought-out comment, Kammy. It is quite curious how someone who claims to "respect you" would then try to mislead you and other readers.

Thank you for agreeing with me and tens of thousands of voters that Warwick does not need the fake "mayor's" delusional conspiracy theories or his false statements.

4 days ago