Expect quiz on Vets heating system

Council to hear school request to release bond funding

Posted

Answers.

That’s what Councilman Ed Ladouceur, chair of the finance committee, says he wants from the School Department before considering a request for funds to replace the aging heating system at Veterans Junior High School. The cost of that job is projected at $6 million. Specifications for the job have been advertised and school chief budget officer Anthony Ferrucci expects to have bids in another month.

Hopeful that bids come in at $6 million or less, he said yesterday, “I’m still biting my fingernails.”

But if the manner in which the finance committee handled the school request for $85 million in building repairs and upgrades is an indication, the School Committee should be biting its fingernails over the release of $4,060,400 in bond funds approved by voters in 2006.

Under the school administrative plan, the upgrades to Vets would happen over the next two years, with the first phase of work being done this summer. The existing steam boiler system would be replaced with natural gas fired roof air systems. The elimination of the steam system would make for drier conditions and provide improved heating controls throughout the building.

The money would come from two sources: $4.8 million schools already have approval to borrow from the 2006 bond, plus what would come from the last of that $25 bond – the $4.06 million.

However, following consideration of the department’s $85 million school building bonding request, which never reached the council floor, it is apparent that not only are there questions about selected school projects, but also whether the city might be better off investing in new schools, rather than fixing up old ones. Vets was one school suggested for replacement. The cost is significant.

Estimates to build a school to house more than 1,000 students is $100 million. The cost of building new schools and upgrading others was placed in the range of $400 million by some of those attending the finance committee hearing earlier this month. Saying he wanted more information and in particular a state Department of Education assessment of school improvements, which won’t become available until May, the committee voted to postpone consideration of the $85 million bond. The action virtually makes it impossible for the School Committee to gain state legislative approval to bring the bond before voters in a special election this fall.

This pushes the school five-year plan for upgrades ranging from the removal of asbestos to the replacement of roofs, heating systems and classroom improvements back at least a year.

Superintendent Philip Thornton is resigned to that possibility.

“I guess we wait until 2018,” Thornton said of voter consideration of a new capital school bond. But Thornton doesn’t want to wait to replace Vets heating. Bond funds approved by the voters are available for that work. The council must, however, approve their release.

“We’ll see how it stands on its own merit,” Ladouceur said of the school request to free up $4.06 million. Ladouceur said the school administration has “to be a lot more forthcoming to me” for him to approve the plan. He said he is looking for “accountability,” which he feels he didn’t get on funds spent last summer on upgrades to the gymnasiums, auditoriums and other public areas at Vets and Pilgrim.

“I want to know where it was spent, how it was spent, because I’m hearing they over spent [the $3.1 million budget] by 30 percent. They’re going to have to do a lot more than walk in and ask for $4 million. I want documentation.”

Documenting the projected costs to Vets heating should be relatively easy. The question may be whether the council is comfortable making more improvements to the school if there is sentiment to build a new school. And if the council advocates a new school, which would need voter approval of the funding, what to do about Vets in the interim.

A factor that could play in the decision is the results of an air and mold study to be done at the school.

“It’s going to be tight,” Ferrucci said when asked if those reports would be available in time for the council meeting March 6. He thought some “preliminary reports” could be available by then.

Ladouceur isn’t convinced it’s a dire situation.

“The sky is falling; the heating system is failing. They haven’t done due diligence. They’re in the business of education, not construction.”

Referring to improvement last summer, Ladouceur said, “They spent a lot of money on feel good stuff. That makes me question their priorities. I have to gain a lot of confidence with this School Committee that they’re not going to be overspending it.”

Of the $4.06 million schools are seeking to access, in addition to $1.2 million for Vets heating, $500,000 would be earmarked for additional athletic fields at Toll Gate, $560,000 for school door locks system wide; $250,000 for kitchen improvements at Winman and Pilgrim; $250,000 for renovations to the former Greene School to expand the West Bay Collaborative program operating there; $375,000 to bring the Gorton gym and auditorium up to fire code with sprinklers; $500,00 for the Vets elevator and $300,000 for contingency.

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richardcorrente

"Accountability!"

What a great new requirement for the School Committee! The taxpayers have given over a billion dollars of TAXPAYERS MONEY to the School Committee since 2009 and they haven't been accountable to anyone, EVER. (Not the Mayor; not the City Council; no one!)

Now they want more? Are they out of their minds? I strongly recommend an independent audit FIRST!

The taxpayers (that are paying the tab) deserve that FIRST!!!

They deserve to know what happened to their BILLION DOLLARS that the School Committee has already spent FIRST!

The biggest expense the taxpayers have is the School Committee.

The biggest problems (lawsuits, health issues, contract issues etc.) facing Warwick Taxpayers are coming from the actions of the School Committee.

The simple solution is an audit from an outside unbiased independent source. The cost (to the taxpayers) should be in the $30,000 range for a simple audit and if it uncovers any major wrong-doing we could then upgrade it to a forensic audit. I believe the benefit to the taxpayers as well as all parties involved would be many times the cost.

$160,000,000 A YEAR is a lot of TAXPAYER money. They have a legal and moral right to know where it is spent. They don't.

It's the biggest problem Warwick Taxpayers are facing in my opinion. I applaud the "accountability" demand by City Councilman and Finance Chair Ed Ladouceur.

Happy Spring everyone.

Rick Corrente

The Taxpayers Mayor

Friday, February 17
davet1107

Mr. Corrente,

The School's budget is audited every year by an outside third party. By law they can't run a deficit. Their budget is a public document for everyone to see. They also provide 'trend' data in their budget to compare to, i think, the previous two years.

If you think that they're "out of their mnds" for requesting bonding to do sorely needed capital improvements because we've neglected buildings for the last 25 years, then I don;t klnow what to tell you. I welcome a good, open debate about our schools but it's increasingly clear that we can't have one. Lastly, this recent request for the balance of funds from the 2006 bond referendum - yes, 2006 - inclkudes $1.2 million to round out the funds needed for the Vets HVAC system. The previous $4.2 million that the Council approved last year is already 'in the bank'. Suddenly some are questioning how "dire" the condition is of the Vets heating when $1.2 is being requested and yet I don't recall that same question being asked when they asked for $4.2 million. Funny, that is. Anyway, ask teachers at Vets (current and former) if they think the heating system is in good, or more specifically, non-dire shape.

Friday, February 17
richardcorrente

Dear Dave1107,

You're missing the point. You might be trying to pull the wool over the taxpayers eyes.

No one that I have spoken to on the City Council and even the School Committee believes that there exists an independent audit.

If there is, prove me wrong and provide it to me. If not, please stop harping on an audit that doesn't exist! Why would the entire City Council be demanding accountability if the School Committee already gave it???

And as for "dire need".

Don't lie and say that I don't believe there is "dire need"'. I agree that there absolutely is. I just don't trust giving a dime more money to an organization that has mis-spent the BILLION DOLLARS PLUS that taxpayers already gave them. The School Committee won't tell us how they spent the hundreds of millions of dollars taxpayers already gave them and yet they want us to give them $85 to $90 million MORE, claiming that this time they will spend it on the present "dire need" even though they can't show they ever spent the past monies on past "dire needs".

I distrust the secretive Warwick School Committee very much. I believe they are spending the taxpayers money in a very dishonest, self-serving way. Everyone I speak to feels the same way, including taxpayers, parents, teachers and even students.

And, come to think about it Dave, why don't you?

Happy Spring everyone.

Rick Corrente

The Taxpayers Mayor

Friday, February 17
davet1107

Mr. Corrente,

I do strongly resent your accusation that I'm trying to "..pull the wool over the taxpayers eyes" and, frankly, your comments are getting more fantastical with every post. You express outrage at an organization that has had an essentially level funded budget for the last nine years and yet you are silent, literally, about an organization whose budget has grown by 50+% over that same time frame. Very selective outrage ther, sir. Lastly, I did not say that you denied that the Vets heating system was dire. Rather I was referring to the article and those mentioned in it as you never mentioned the heating system in your post.

David Testa

Friday, February 17
Okgo-okgo

Where's the money from all of the schools that have been closed already? Laid off a bunch of staff,, not paying electric or heating bills in those empty buildings should have resulted in extra money, right? If they knew the heating system was no good, why did they put kids in the damn place? When people said the plan was rushed, the school department didn't listen. The commttee that agreed to this consolidation should have to foot the bill from their own pocket. Taxpayers aren't responsible for this.

Friday, February 17
Scal1024

Another article for Rick to make baseless accusations on. Rick, for you to call anyone a liar is quite hilarious. You blame the school committee repeatedly, yet I can find multiple stories where you said it's not the time to point fingers at anyone. Way to talk out of both sides of your mouth.

Are you seriously suggesting the teachers are blame free? What concessions have they made over the last decade or two? Have you ever discussed cuts on the salary/benefits side for teachers? My guess is you haven't and you probably never will.

The fact you call David a liar (without any credible proof whatsoever) is a truly pathetic move by a rapidly fading FORMER candidate. I've never met David but atleast he can back up his argument with facts. Rick, you continually throw things against the wall without any proof or grasp of the issues at all. I'll take someone with common sense like David, over somebody who constantly lies to the voters like Rick Corrente.

Not only could Rick not name ONE single item in the budget he'd cut (his platform was "cut taxes cut spending") but he didn't even have the decency to look the voters in the eye and tell them he can't pay his own taxes on time. Not to mention the lack of specifics on ANYTHING he's proposed. You talk a great game Rick, but you don't have a clue what you're talking about.

Saturday, February 18
Okgo-okgo

Deflecting from answering questions with personal attacks and agendas other than children is gross. They never answer the questions and can keep spending other people's money recklessly. The taxpayers are footing the bill for these lawyers who keep protecting the people that made poor choices. It's a joke! Stop the sneaky lies, take responsibility stop spending my money to make yourselves look good and take care of kids. Enough is enough

Saturday, February 18
Scal1024

Okgo, you say they've laid off a bunch of staff, by contract they've been restricted on the number of layoffs allowed. Would you be in favor of increasing the number of allowable layoffs? I've crticized the school committee plenty so I'm not sure what agenda you'd be referring to. The only way these problems are going to be addressed is by BOTH sides conceding alot of ground. Thornton needs to stop implying this is solely about $$$ for the teachers, just as the teachers need to stop suggesting it's all about class sizes and programs for them. The truth lies somewhere in the middle and right now the truth is NEITHER side is putting kids first.

Saturday, February 18
Thecaptain

Its not that the Non-Taxpayer Mayor was late with "a couple of dollars", its the fact that every where he travels he leaves a trail of unpaid bills and litigation. Property taxes, utility taxes, car taxes, defendant in 14 civil cases, two civil cases as defendant against tenants, lost both, still refused to pay even after loss of appeal, court order and judgment. Then, he decides he can only pay $25.00 per month just to spite his tenant and takes 7 years to pay her back her damage deposit and costs of her damaged property due to his non- insured roofers who screwed up the job. Then there's the 9 years of contesting his child support.

From the court records:

" Further evidence that Plaintifff Corrente believed the order to be inequitable at its issuance is found in past court records from previous court appearances. The computation of Corrente's income has been the central focus of the past nine years of litigation.

Corrente has continually urged in past court appearances before different judges, that the Family Court's method of computing his income is inequitable because the court has not subtracted what he considers to be legitimate business expenses from his gross earnings. Appearing before Justice Michael Forte in the same matter on March 12, 1997, Justice Forte asks Corrente, "What's your annual income?" (Record, 3/12/97, page 12, line 7) Corrente responded , "Under $7000 per year, and I can prove that to you. My gross earnings is (sic) one issue. What I live off is a fraction of that, Yor Honor." (Record, 3/12/97, pg 12, lines 8-11) In the same court appearance, Justice Forte asked Corrente, "I'm asking you what your willing to pay temporarily until I can resolve this. If you're a good father - and I'm sure you're going to stand there and tell me that you are - then you're willing to pay something. How much?" (Record 3/12/97, pg 11, lines 8-13) Corrente responded - " I don't want to set a precedence (sic) Ten dollars a week is about what I can afford." (Record 3/12/97, pg 11, lines 14-16) to clarify Corrente's response, Justice Forte later asked,

The Court - "You're telling me, you can only pay ten dollars a week?"

Mr. Corrente - "Yes sir"

The Court - " You're telling me that on the record?"

Mr. Corrente - "Yes sir, I'll stand by that"

Mr. Watson - There is a W2 form that declares $40,000 in income in 1995

The Court - "What happened to that?"

Mr. Corrente - "Gross earnings, Your Honor, He's neglected to tell you the $25,000 that it cost me to make that, Your Honor."

The Court - " Well, we're going to have to wait. We'll deal with it at the hearing".

Mr. Corrente - "You cant look at gross receipts and consider them earnings, I wish you could."

In a court appearance before Justice Forte on January 28,1997, to determine his income for child support payments, Corrente stated on the record, "He (defendants attorney) does not know what my income is. All he know's is my gross receipts , and he's trying to manipulate this Court into believing that my gross receipts is my income." (Record, 1/28/97, pg 3 lines 22-25)

This small sample of on the record statements demonstrates plaintiff's concern with the court's computation of his income - specifically his contention that certain business and/or personal living expenses should be deducted from his gross earnings. It also shows the amount of money that Corrente believed he could afford to pay for child support: $10.00 per week. Corrente was aware at the time of the issuance of the May 27th court order that the court had not deducted the amounts from his gross earnings thathe had wished. He was also aware the the court order stated he must pay $223.15 per week for child support payments: $213.15 more than he stated on the record he could afford. It is hard to imagine how this order could ever have been considered "equitable" by Corrente in light of his previous testimony. His statement on the may 27th record confirms this theory. "

Saturday, February 18
Okgo-okgo

Putting the kids first is the only answer when your spending money on a school. Get it together.

Sunday, February 19
davet1107

After rereading this article, I'm struck by Councilman Ladocuer's comment that “They spent a lot of money on feel good stuff.". I'd respectfully (and strongly) disagree. The Pilgrim stage contained 'no-go' zones and was structurally unsafe and was replaced. The stage curtains were ancient. In fact, former Principal Marie Cote and her sister came in one weekend to mend them with fishing line so that they would be operable and somewhat presentable! (and she told thi to the City Council at a budget hearing) The sound system was awful and I can personally attest to it as an attendee of many a play and concert over the last 6 years. So they replace all that and and get criticized because the also replaced the original wooden seats! Not replacing the seats would have resulted in criticisms of doing things half-a**ed. (damned if they do and damned if they don't). The Vets auditorium, while not suffering from an unsound stage, was similarly abysmal and original to the school and was hardly ever touched since its inception. This line of citicism is realy thin on substance - so I guess our drama, chorus and band students didn't deserve updated faciltilties? The Pilgrim and TG tracks was un-runnable. The Pilgrim football field had hazards that injured our ahtletes. The Pilgrim football field had a sprinkler system that hadn't operated in years and was fixed. So our ahtletes didn't deserve updated accommodations either? The entryways at both Vets and Pilgrim were run down and, in some instances, broken. Some side windows at Pilgrim (adjacent to entry doors) were actually thin plexiglass that years ago had been used to replace broken original windows and could have been easily punched through to gain access to the building. So if these are considered "feel good" things then I shudder to think what would be considered serious things and, according to the article, the Vets heating system may not be all that bad after all? SMH.

Sunday, February 19
richardcorrente

Dear Scal1024,

"Baseless". "Baseless??"

Are you kidding Scal? Baseless?

OK, let me explain it so that you will understand.

Taxpayers give over $160,000,000 a year to the School Committee EVERY YEAR and we have teachers with no contracts; students with no Chromebooks; buildings that are literally falling down, and a School Committee that wants more money! There is absolutely NO ACCOUNTABILITY for the ONE BILLION DOLLARS PLUS that they have already received since 2009 and you want to give them MORE??

Scal, are you out of your mind? You know better than that. Don't you?

I know Avedisian wants you to attack me for his benefit, and I know it helps you get things from him when you do, but if you honestly believe that the School Committee is spending our money wisely, you are the only one not on the SC that thinks so.

Happy Spring old friend.

Rick

Monday, February 20
Bob_Cushman

Richard you state, “Taxpayers give over $160,000,000 a year to the School Committee EVERY YEAR and we have teachers with no contracts; students with no Chromebooks; buildings that are literally falling down, and a School Committee that wants more money!”

Yet over the last two years I have heard nothing from you but admiration for the manner in which former Councilwoman Wilkinson and former Council President Travis have handled the annual city budget.

In that 4 year time period the city budget grew by $14,583,733 in additional local tax dollars while schools received just $837,832.

Since you did run for Mayor and I will give you the benefit of the doubt that you may have performed some research on the city budget, please explain why the city budget needed $14.5 million or 95 cents out of every new tax dollar collected. Also if you can, please provide the “Accountability” on the part of city leaders regarding where they spent this new money.

Also help me to understand how the school committee has managed to balance its budget year after year when its local budget appropriation is less than what it was ten year years ago when you factor in the principle and interest now being paid out of the school operating budget for bonded capital improvements to school buildings.

Wouldn’t you agree that “students with no Chromebrooks; building that are literally falling down” are all products of this intentional scapegoating and defunding of Warwick schools by Mayor Avedisian and the Warwick City Council over the past decade?

Monday, February 20
MadInWarwick

It's simple to fix the accountability issue Ed Ladoceur wants, run the improvements on the city side like it should be. The schools should not be responsible for updating the buildings the city owns, period. If you want accountability, take som, and handle the project yourselves. Then you'll have nobody to blame but yourselves and we can see where the real issues are in this city. The heating system is going to fail, it's time to stop kicking the can down the road. Show some leadership and get the issues resolved for our children's sake.

Tuesday, February 21
davet1107

Mr. Corrente,

This will be my last post on this. You said: "No one that I have spoken to on the City Council and even the School Committee believes that there exists an independent audit. If there is, prove me wrong and provide it to me. If not, please stop harping on an audit that doesn't exist! Why would the entire City Council be demanding accountability if the School Committee already gave it???"

I think I'll have to prove you wrong. The school budget is audited every year by an independent audiitor who is contracted with for three years as part of a bid process. Currently, the auditor is Parlmele-Poirier & Associates, LLP. When the audit report is completed, it is a public document. I believe that FY15 is completed and FY16 is in process and should be completed by the end of March. Frankly, all anyone on the Council has to do is pickup the phone, call the school department, and ask for the information but I'm not sure how often that has happened.

Tuesday, February 21
Bob_Cushman

Here is the link to the annual financial audit referenced by Mr. Testa. http://www.warwickri.gov/sites/warwickri/files/uploads/full-report-2015.pdf

And Richard instead of continually attacking the school department, why don't you consider the following factual information and point your rage toward the city budget and the city leaders who over the last decade and have done nothing to address this fiscal crisis.

In the most recent Comprehensive Annual Financial Report produced by Parmell Poirier & Associates, LLP, dated April 1, 2016 they summarized the “Financial Highlights” as follows:

“At the close of the fiscal year, the liabilities of the City of Warwick exceeded its assets by $298,263,772”. The City’s total net position decreased by $333.2 million during fiscal 2015, due primarily to an increase in the City’s liabilities attributed to the full net pension liability for each of the City’s 6 pension plans.

“Over time, increases or decreases in the City’s net position are indicators of whether its FINANCIAL HEALTH is improving or deteriorating, respectively”.

The following table taken from a decade of city financial reports display changes in Warwick’s Net Position. Clearly the trend is not good. The ability of city leaders to hide these facts by not including these liabilities in the city books has finally come to an end with new accounting standards being imposed by the Government Accounting Standards Boards (GASB) that require city leaders to disclose the real liability numbers in the annual financial reports. Take a look at how dramatic a shift occurred reflected in the table below from 2014 to 2015.

The net effect of this increase is that more and more tax dollars are being allocated to pay for this debt then for city and educational services. A review of the city and school budget over that last decade proves this point. And it is only going to get worse as the unfunded liabilities continue to grow.

Year -- Total Assets -- Total Liability -- Total Net Position

2006 -- $451,018,002 --- $310,173,288 -- $140,844,714

2007 -- $453,215,005 -- $323,626,492 -- $129,588,513

2008 -- $448,783,583 -- $338,846,050 -- $109,937,533

2009 -- $435,356,400 -- $344,429,551 -- $90,926,849

2010 -- $430,514,151 -- $351,265,067 -- $79,249,084

2011 -- $436,992,698 -- $375,548,627 -- $61,444,071

2012 -- $430,481,871 -- $377,200,984 -- $53,280,887

2013 -- $427,219,132 -- $380,661,078 -- $46,912,971

2014 -- $422,487,917 -- $387,829,891 -- $34,942,636

2015 -- $458,539,465 -- $770,260,326 – (-$298,263,772)

Tuesday, February 21