Council cuts school bond request to $40M

Posted

The Warwick School Department will be able to go forward with their request for a bond to repair the city’s aging school buildings, however they will only be eligible to potentially receive less than half of what they originally hoped for, as the Warwick City Council approved an amendment to the department’s request during a special meeting Tuesday evening.

Instead of approving the department’s request to support an $85 million bond referendum to go to the state legislature, Ward 9 Councilman Steve Merolla proposed an amendment to chop that down to $40 million, with the understanding the department would have to return during the next election cycle in 2020 to ask for the remaining money to continue the school repairs.

“After sponsoring the last bond referendum in 2006, I think we need to exercise a little bit more control and oversight so it’s not every 12 years that we come back; that maybe in this case it’s two years from now that we have a meaningful discussion,” Merolla said.

Merolla had expressed multiple times during the past few meetings regarding the bond that he was worried about “history repeating itself,” referring to a $25 million bond approved in 2006 that promised additions to schools that were ultimately torn down instead, and required a long freeze on releasing the moneys over concerns of paying the debt service during the Great Recession.

“I realize these gentlemen weren’t here,” Merolla said, referring to Superintendent Thornton, finance director Anthony Ferrucci and other members of the current school administration. “I also realize these gentlemen might not be here in a few years. It’s up to this council to exercise its discretion, its knowledge, its will on what happens – not another 12 years from now, but more constantly – and have more input.”

Karen Grande, bond counsel for the city answered many technical questions about the proposed bond. One point in particular she mentioned was that splitting up the large bond into two separate referendums could pose a potential risk.

“I wouldn’t recommend putting the referendum on at different times, because what if the first one passes and improvements get made, then the second one maybe doesn’t pass so that part of town doesn’t get improvements?” she said.

Ward 2 Councilman Jeremy Rix agreed about the potential risk of the decision, and was the only council member to vote against the amendment, which passed 8-1.

“I don’t think that Warwick voters are selfish. I think Warwick voters are interested in looking out for their city as a whole,” he said. “However I can see from a voter’s perspective where, say their local school gets fixed up following the initial $40 million bond, and then they don’t see what’s in it for them or their area…so they would be less inclined to vote in favor of that additional bond money.”

However others on the council found the amendment to allow for other potential opportunities in the future.

“The school department is not going to be able to do $85 million worth of repairs in two years,” said Ward 5 Councilman Ed Ladouceur. “I doubt that they will be able to do half of that in two years. It’s also clear to me that we do need to do some repairs on some buildings, as I said at the last meeting – the right repairs to the right buildings. It’s also completely clear to me that, in the big picture – the local picture of growing this city and maintaining our status as the second largest city in this state – that we need to build a new school. We may need to build two new schools.”

Council president Joseph Solomon saw the amendment as a trade-off that still left the matter, ultimately, up to the voting citizens of the city.

“This is a fair compromise where I believe the school department can go out to the state and say, ‘Hey, we voiced our plans for a proposal of repairs for council support, but they squeezed that penny. We tried to get as much out of them as we could,’” he said. “I think the main decisive factor now isn’t the council, isn’t the state legislature, isn’t the school department, isn’t the administration – it’s going to be the voters of the city of Warwick…And I think that’s very important.”

While Mayor Scott Avedisian supported the school department's original $85 million bond issue, he was pleased to have the council address the issue of school repairs, even though the amount is less than half of what was proposed. He feels it important, assuming legislative approval of the proposed bond, that the school department identify projects in each of the city's schools to ensure that when the referendum comes before voters in November that they see it as affecting them.

"They need to make a good case to the voters," he said of the department.

Avedisian doesn't believe, however, that it is "an easy sell," as some of the more costly projects such as heating systems and roofs are not seen, yet critical to providing a good learning environment. He said health and safety "are paramount."

Asked whether in fact the schools could address close to everything identified in the $85 million bond, as state-matching funds could be as much as 50 percent, Avedisian said, "that is a gamble."

"We don't know what legislators are going to do," he said.

Avedisian also touched on calls for a new school, as proposed by Ward 5 Councilman Ed Ladouceur. He thought a new school bond issue might have difficulty gaining voter approval, as it would benefit one neighborhood rather than the city as a whole.

"You make one neighborhood really happy and the others not," he said.

What this means for future repairs

To reiterate, this action by the city council merely means that the school department can send in their Stage 2 application to RIDE for potential reimbursement for school capital projects. Currently that rate sits at about 40 percent, but if a state bond referendum passes this November for $250 million, that reimbursement could rise to a full 50 percent reimbursement by the state.

For the school to actually get access to this funding, thought, the bond still needs to be approved by the state’s general assembly and then approved by the voters during the November election cycle.

“We’re very appreciative of the city council’s support for $40 million,” said Thornton during a phone interview on Wednesday morning. “That's a good first step in the process of getting our schools where they need to be.”

Thornton said that he and Ferrucci, as well as members of the school building committee, were scrambling to revise their Stage 2 application to reflect what repairs could be included within the new bond amount – which is due to the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) by today, Feb. 1. The deadline is one of several important dates for schools to adhere to if they are to qualify for state reimbursement.

Thornton said that they would still prioritize needs based on the most crucial repairs. That means that the 12 fire alarm systems due for replacement would still get fixed, as would roofs, and ADA compliance measures and asbestos abatement would still be enacted.

However Thornton said the $40 million would fall short of completing all the proposed repairs for HVAC systems, and he did not have a specific list of which schools would be excluded from the first bond request and that would be included.

“It looks like the demarcation line would be in the HVAC line,” he said, adding that he would “have to wait to see how it all shapes out” before being able to confirm individual schools that would be affected. The school building committee is planning on putting together a revised, complete list during a 7:30 a.m. meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 6.

Some quick calculations revealed that $40 million would, indeed, be able to take care of the proposed $24,765,317 needed for fire alarms, roofing, ADA improvements and asbestos abatement. However mechanical improvements would add $34,541,988 to those costs, meaning that remaining bond money would only cover seven of the proposed 14 HVAC systems, which, according to the school department, projections cost around $2 million apiece.

Thornton said that the school department would make the best of the situation and release the finalized list of proposed repairs when it was available.

“Hopefully [the state reimbursement percentage] will be the same in two years,” he said. “We got the $40 [million] and that's what we're moving forward on.”

(With reports from John Howell)

Comments

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richardcorrente

I was there. Several meetings.

I saw all the City Council members asking questions because they were understandably skeptical of a School Committee that was caught lying so often. I heard one member previously say that we should have a forensic audit of the School Committee. Last night I heard "I think we need to exercise a little more control." I heard "I'm worried about history repeating itself."

And then I heard the City Council motion to give them another $40,000,000 of taxpayers money. I was stunned. When it was all over I asked one of the City Council members "What is stopping the School Committee from spending this $40 million dollars ANY way they want?" He/she replied "Nothing!"

I go on record as being 100% against this. I agree that we need major repairs to our schools. I just don't agree that the School Committee (SC) can be trusted with $40 million ADDITIONAL dollars of taxpayers money, especially when they have no accountability for ANY money they have EVER received, and won't have any accountability for this $40 million either. I hope I'm wrong but judging by the actions of the last few years, I am convinced that the problem lies in having the SC control the money. We certainly don't need another "Assistant Principal of Climate and Culture" do we? What we need is for our teachers to receive their back pay without being lied to. Add $40 million (with no accountability) to the $160 million taxpayers have already given to the SC (with no accountability) and it's easy to see the magnitude of the problem.

This is a $40 million-dollar credit card that the taxpayers can't afford and the SC can't be trusted with. I hope the voters turn it down. I wish the City Council did.

Albert Einstein said "The definition of "insanity" is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result". Isn't this the same thing Warwick did in 2006??

Happy Valentines everyone.

Rick Corrente

The Taxpayers Mayor

Thursday, February 1
CrickeeRaven

As all of the fake "mayor's" claims have already been thoroughly debunked in other comment boards, I will spare readers another repetition. Suffice to say, the school committee regularly accounts for its spending and is bound by its agreement with the city to spend this bond money according to the plans presented.

His imaginary conversation with an anonymous city councilor aside, the fake "mayor" should not preach about accountability as long as he is failing to legally report his campaign spending.

Happy 277 days until honest, responsible, taxpaying voters again reject his candidacy.

Thursday, February 1
CrickeeRaven

What is truly pathetic is that the fake "mayor" suggests the school committee and city council are "insane" when he has posted the same false talking points over and over again in this website, despite the facts being provided many times -- and that, after eight of his party's nine City Council members voted in favor of putting the school bonds on the ballot in November, he insists that his delusional opinion matters in the slightest.

He clearly does not care that he, himself, is meeting that definition of insanity by running another campaign for mayor while making objectively false comments and refusing to correct them. He is repeating his past behavior and expecting a different result -- but the result will be the same again this November.

Thursday, February 1
Thecaptain

Corrente is all in favor of giving the teachers retro active pay. Do the students get retro active parent / teacher meetings? Do the parents get retro active parent / teacher conferences? Do the students get retro active after school help? Do the students get retro active field trips? do the students get retro active dances? No ! So why should teachers get retro active pay when for 2 years they did not abide by their basic responsibilities.

Friday, February 2
davet1107

I had promised myself that I would not reply to anymore of Mr. Corrente's Beacon comments but unfortunately, this latest one forces me to break my promise to myself and I'm replying here as a taxpayer, not a SC member.

Mr. Corrente, if you or anyone else has a scintilla of evidence that bond funds from the 2006 bond were spent on anything other than capital projects, then produce it. Let me help you to understand where that $25 million was spent: Approx $1.8 million for Pilgrim's roof in '09; $8.2 million for Vets HVAC; $300K for ADA-compliant elevator @ Vets; $2 million for Vets roof; $10-$11 million for state mandated fire code work at all schools; $600K for Pilgrim & Vets auditorium renovations and Pilgrim & TG fiedls work.

As to the council person who told you that we could spend bond funds "any way we want", if true, then that council person is stunnignly ignorant of how bond funds can be used, The fact of the matter is that the School Department has to submit to RIDE every project that needs to be done for the $40 million request because they have to approve them for reimbursement - and those are the projects that get done. So there are 'strings' tied to bond funds. And, the Council has to approve any funding request for bond monies So, frankly 'the lady doth protest too much' when we hear that the Council can't have any "say" - if they don't like what the School Department has done with capital projects they can simply refuse to release additional funds.

And for the last time, the School Department budget is audited annually by a third party auditor that is hired by the City, not the School Department. Repeating the same lie over and over again does not make it true but it can make the one look silly. Also, when you repeatedly imply, rather clumsily, that capital improvements can somehow come out of an operating budget, 85% of which is dedicated to salaries & benefits for employees, you simply display no knowledge of schools and their budgets.

Finally, why don't come right out and tell folks exactly what it is that you and some others really want - an appointed School Committee? There's no need to dance around it by using verbose and clumsy prose. And as a taxpayer to whom you want to appeal for a vote, why have you been silent on the fact that over the last 9 years (up until this year), the school's budget allocation from our property taxes has been flat but the city's budget allocation from our property taxes has risen in excess of $30 million dollars? Who is responsible for the share of our property taxes devoted to schools going from 60% to just over 51% and the City's share going from 40% to nearly 50%?

David Testa

Friday, February 2
CrickeeRaven

Another incisive comment, Thecaptain. Consider that, as one example, students went on a field trip to the central library last week -- the first time in three years they had this opportunity. You rightly point out that Warwick students lost out on educational and social opportunities because of the teachers' decision to "work to rule."

You also correctly note that the fake "mayor" has no answers for his blatant pandering to the WTU, which indicates he was completely in favor of their tactics, which also included walking out of meetings with the school committee, setting up picket lines in front of City Hall, and shouting at the school committee at public meetings.

Do you find it pathetic, as I do, that the fake "mayor" would crow about accountability when he has not answered for the many factual errors in his statements and for his failure to properly file campaign finance reports? As we've seen many times, his only intent seems to be to make a spectacle of himself, repeating his disproven statements so that he can see them on this website and delude himself into believing that he has any chance of getting elected.

Friday, February 2
CrickeeRaven

Hello Mr. Testa:

As someone who routinely provides facts to disprove the fake "mayor's" statements, I appreciate the information you present to again dismantle his misleading claims.

Unlike you, the fake "mayor" believes that he can fool the readers of this site and voters in Warwick by simply repeating his lies over and over again despite having information provided to him. You may have seen the multiple times that I stated exactly what you explain about the issue of audits: The school department is audited every year by the same firm that audits the city.

Yet the fake "mayor" continues to suggest that such audits are not independent enough, and continues to call for withholding school funding [including paying for teacher salaries] until such an expensive, punitive, and ultimately futile audit could be conducted.

I also believe that you are correct to suggest that the fake "mayor" wants an appointed school committee -- one, which in his delusional mind, would be appointed by him.

The one area where I respectfully disagree with you is in questioning the changes in school vs. city expenditures: It is a fact that the school population has been falling for a decade or more. It is also a fact that state funding has increased year over year while the number of children in Warwick schools has fallen, independent of the recent consolidation.

While you are right to point out that the local school appropriation has remained nearly level, the overall education budget has increased every year. I'd also point out that the new teachers contract just added some $4.5 million [including an additional $3 million from the city] to the school budget, and that the new bonds, if approved, would add $40 million to the city's debt to pay for school repairs.

So, your evaluation of the past is correct, though it fails to account for the present and future city contributions to the school department.

Friday, February 2
Kammy

Richard Corrente, who is running for the Office of Mayor, made certain statements in the comment section of this article. Since he is running for public office, I believe strongly he needs to provide specific and factual documentation/verification of his statements.

1. $160 million unaccounted for and not audited– Provide proof that they have not been accountable for the money. Dollar amounts that are not found in the public records of the budget that you believe were spent on something it wasn’t allotted for. Who is responsible for the spending of tax dollars on things not outlined in the budget. School Committee lying – Specific dates, names and what they lied about.

2. What City Council member did you speak to? We want to hear their side of the conversation and have them verify they used the actual word “Nothing” when you asked what is stopping them from spending the money as they want.

3. What lie was told about teachers receiving their back pay? Are they not receiving their back pay? What part of the budget will that be addressed in and how will it be accounted and monitored?

You have been called out on your statements many times. Today, you need to back up your statements. If you don’t, how do you expect people to respect your campaign and believe in what you say?

Friday, February 2
CrickeeRaven

As a follow-up to my prior comment, here are the figures for state school aid and school population by year since 2014:

- 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

Taken together, these figures show a net reduction of 328 students and net increase of $3.05 million in state funding.

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]

Friday, February 2
Thecaptain

I for one am anxiously awaiting a response from MAYOR DUMBNESS which would include 1 fact, 1 link, or 1 sentence that would make any of the readers think that he has any clue whatsoever to any aspect of the city's fiscal policies.

I would also love to debate his "plan" (which as we know is non-existent) for cutting spending and cutting taxes. We have all shredded his"ideas" which have proven to be revenue negative, especially his "buy a house, get a check" plan. But these are the kind of ideas generated from someone who beat his community out of in excess of $27,000 in back taxes, not to mention $500.81 in utility fees while living as a squatter at 177 Grand View Dr. for a period of several years due to the tax sale, foreclosure and loss of his home to Redstick Acquisitions. By the way, the documentation shows that the property was actually sold twice during his squatting session of 2+ years.

There must be a room at Butler that is vacant.

Friday, February 2
DannyHall82

Mr. Testa,

Thank you for fighting the good fight, no one fights harder.

Much respect to you sir...

Friday, February 2
WwkVoter

CORRENTE SAID:

"The definition of "insanity" is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result".

Happy Valentines everyone.

Rick Corrente

The Taxpayers Mayor

Kind of like posting obvious baseless fiction and general nonsense as "facts" over and over again on a local comments section?????

Friday, February 2
CrickeeRaven

Hi WwkVoter:

It really is stunning that, after three years of his buffoonish behavior, the fake "mayor" just keeps it up.

I share your frustration about his clear hypocrisy and repeated moronic comments; I do take consolation in the fact that so many other commenters understand the truth that he works so hard to ignore, which I am sure frustrates the fake "mayor."

I am also sure that frustration -- at people who provide facts and provable information that disprove nearly everything he says -- is to blame for his ongoing use of this site for free political advertising. Where more reasonable people would abandon false statements, the fake "mayor" instead casts himself as a victim of conspiracies, when in fact he is only a victim of his own inability to keep from humiliating himself.

Thank you for continuing to point out his failings and informing other readers of his total unfitness for office. I look forward to joining you and tens of thousands of honest, taxpaying voters in overwhelmingly rejecting his candidacy again this November.

Saturday, February 3
davet1107

Crickee, thanks. Our population has absolutely declined while state aid has increased, though next year I believe they're looking at an approximate $800K reduction. But also, back in 2009-2010, the city cut it's maintainence of effort by the full 5% allowed by the state at that time which was approximately $5-$6 million and up to this current year, only restored $800K to that. (We were the only city to do the full 5% and every other one that reduced, restored it all shortly thereafter.) Also, in that same time frame, it has closed buildings and reduced staff. One bone of contention for me though, is to compare Cranston's population increase over the same period and it's increase in state aid. Currently, Cranston receives nearly $20 million more than Warwick and you won;t see any rational ratio of theeir increases.

David Testa

Saturday, February 3
WwkVoter

School Committee member Dave Testa sounds very rational and aware of the issues including important details. That's a good thing. So I just went to his web page and read his bio. I think we have a quality elected person here.

Saturday, February 3
Scal1024

Mr. Testa, Thank you for the clarification in terms of past bond money spent on school improvements. Even if you are commenting as a taxpayer, the times you have commented make me feel good about my choice last November. It would be nice to have better candidates across all city offices.

I would say the same of Mr. Hall who I hope runs again for an elected office. The times he has commented here he has shown a good grasp on issues, and comes off as someone who is honest whether popular or not.

It can get negative on here and I wouldn't exclude myself from that at times. I just wanted to say a couple positive things about people who seem like they're in it for the right reasons.

Saturday, February 3
CrickeeRaven

Mr. Testa:

Like other commenters here, I appreciate your reply. I also looked at Cranston's numbers to compare with Warwick's, using the links I provided earlier:

2014-15: 10,457 enrollment, $46.6 million state aid, $140.8 million local

2015-16: 10,441 enrollment, $50.6 million state aid, $144.6 million local

2016-17: 10,415 enrollment, $55.4 million state aid, $149.5 million local

2017-18: 10,364 enrollment, $58.1 million state aid, $154 million local

Taken together, that's a difference of 97 in enrollment, and increases of $11.5 million in state aid and $13.2 million in local contributions.

Compared that to Warwick's reduction of 324 students [my earlier statement of 328 was incorrect] and net increase of $3.05 million in state aid. At the same time, the local contribution in Warwick went from $158.8 million in FY2015 to $159.9 million in FY2016, to $161.1 million in FY2017 and $162.2 million in FY2018, an overall increase of $3.4 million.

Going strictly by these numbers, Warwick lost about 3.5% of its enrollment while getting 3.3% more in state and local aid, as Cranston's enrollment stayed basically the same while getting 13.3% more. Another way to state this is that Warwick's contributions rose at 25% the rate of Cranston's while its enrollment fell at three times the rate as Cranston's.

However it is expressed, the data show that Cranston's enrollment hasn't fallen as much as Warwick's and its contributions have increased at a faster rate as a result.

While I don't know whether this would be considered a "rational ratio," it does seem to follow logically that a school department that is losing hundreds of students should not get as much funding as another one that is not.

And as the consolidation continues in Warwick, there will be fewer buildings to maintain, fewer teachers to pay, and lower overall costs for the school department. Cranston is undergoing no such process, so a comparison is difficult to make.

Ultimately, as other commenters have suggested, the question facing Warwick is how to bring more students into our schools. Personally, I think putting an end to the labor disputes that have unfortunately characterized Warwick for nearly three decades is a start. That simply doesn't happen with one signed contract in five years. And that doesn't happen when what should be easy-to-conclude contract negotiations are dragged out for two years in arbitration, mediation, and court cases.

As I mentioned above, think about the educational and social opportunities that Warwick students just lost over the last three years amid the labor conflict; it stands to reason that ending those conflicts -- keeping Warwick out of the headlines for yet another round of teacher contract battles -- would improve those opportunities for students and lead parents to move to Warwick for our schools.

Monday, February 5
Thecaptain

GOP Chair Files Election Board Complaint Against Corrente for Failing to Report Ad, HQ Spending

by Rob Borkowski on February 6, 2018 in News to You

[CREDIT: Correnteformayor.com] Mayoral Candidate Richard Corrente

WARWICK, RI — Warwick’s Republican City Committee has filed a complaint against Richard Corrente with the Rhode Island Board of Elections Campaign Finance Division, asking for an investigation into the perpetually campaigning politician’s unreported campaign spending on a full-page Pennysaver ad.

Anthony Corrente (no relation to Richard) said the Pennysaver advertisement ran Dec. 17, but that no record of the ad appears in Correte’s latest quarter campaign finance report. A check of Corrente’s campaign finance reports of all of 2017 shows spending on the ad has not been recorded, Warwick Post reported Jan. 31.

Anthony Corrente is also asking the Board of Elections to investigate Richard Corrente’s spending regarding the latter’s failure reporting any expenses related to operating his campaign headquarters located at 1609 Warwick Ave., also related to the Pennysaver ad.

“In this advertisement, Corrente also states that people can visit him at “Corrente for Mayor headquarters, 1609 Warwick Ave., (next to Dave’s),” but “does not report any expenses” or “any contributions or personal loans” that would cover rent, utilities, or other costs.

No office costs listed for 2017; past rent went to payer of tax bills on Richard Corrente’s residence

A review of Richard Corrente’s campaign finance reports for 2017 found no mention of any payments related to the office at 1609 Warwick Ave. In fact, among the first quarter, second quarter, third quarter, and fourth quarter filings, the candidate only entered a $100 loan to the campaign in income and $44 to print new checks in expenses for the entire year.

NOW, CHECK OUT THIS:

Kilmartin Opposes Trump Administration Rule Giving Worker's Tips to Employers

In a review of earlier campaign finance reports, Warwick Post found that Richard Corrente paid $4,000 for the campaign office on Feb. 17, 2016 to Clay Shackleton, listed on state business filings as President of G W Realty, which owns Gateway Plaza. The check was paid to Shackleton personally, as opposed to to G W Realty.

Clayton A. Shackleton is also listed as paying the tax bills on 177 Grand View Ave. in 2014 and 2015, totaling nearly $13,700:

City tax records show that Clay Shackleton paid the delinquent tax bills on Richard Corrente’s residence in 2014 and 2015; Corrente paid Shackleton $4,000 for his campaign office in 2016. [Screenshots from Warwick Tax Assessor website]

City tax records show payments of $6,910.33 in 2014 by Clayton A. Shackleton for Richard Corrente’s residence.

City tax records show payments of $6,762.19 in 2015 by Clayton A. Shackleton for Richard Corrente’s residence.

Richard Corrente also filed to change the address of the campaign office to its location in Hoxsie from 177 Grand View Ave. on Jan. 19, 2017, and later put up signs on the storefront for his business, Bankers Mortgage.

Wednesday, February 7
CrickeeRaven

Well, well, well, Thecaptain, it is certainly good to see the local GOP chairman and media catch up to the truth about the fake "mayor" that we've known for months.

I wonder if we can expect continued (blessed) silence from the fake "mayor" on these latest revelations, or if he'll continue to use this site as his free political platform, now that his shady campaign finance activities have been exposed.

Wednesday, February 7