EDITORIAL

From hopeless to hopeful

Posted

If the ongoing financial crisis experienced by the Warwick School Department can be symbolically represented by a cataclysmic thunderstorm looming over the city, then recent events and negotiations between the city council, mayor’s office and the school committee could similarly be represented as an optimistic beam of light breaking through the charcoal-colored clouds.

While we are far from declaring Warwick’s financial situation as being all sunny skies and rainbows moving forward – there still exists significant, some say insurmountable legacy costs that threaten the stability of the city unless significant changes can be made to collective bargaining agreements – it is important to point out progress when it is seemingly being made.

We find it encouraging that it was Anthony Sinapi, the freshman City Councilman who less than a month ago pushed forward an initiative to vote no confidence in the school’s finance director, Anthony Ferrucci, who orchestrated an amendment to a resolution during the eleventh hour of a council meeting that already was pushing midnight to provide more funding to the schools than was originally planned.

We also find it encouraging that it was Steve Merolla, City Council President, who for months has harped on the schools for being unreliable with their financial projections and reporting, that put forward that initial resolution to save school sports and then, after several council members expressed a desire to hold off on adopting Sinapi’s amendment until a vague time in the future, seemingly provided the push necessary to get the amendment approved and sent to the school committee in time to actually make a difference.

Merolla has been insistent throughout the conflict that he cares about the schools and, in particular, school sports. He has often hearkened back to his high school quarterbacking days at Toll Gate High as being essential, formative years in his life. The experience ultimately prompted him to put forth the resolution to provide $1.3 million to save the sports program, but we ultimately commend his willingness to adjust on the fly and listen to those who told him that such a constricted effort might fall flat amidst the mountainous list of cuts that occurred alongside the sports programs.

Such flexibility is rare in politics, especially among those who have been unapologetically outspoken critics of the school department and have directly challenged the validity of their financial need. It demonstrates not only an understanding of the gravity of the situation at hand, but also a willingness to set aside their personal biases and come to a compromise.

Likewise, on the school side, school committee members have stuck to their volition regarding their financial need and have not sold themselves short. They continued to try to work with a city that, at times, has seemed unwilling to budge in their position. Now, with their quick response on Tuesday night to the city’s resolution that was passed Monday night, there is a good amount of hope that sports can be saved in time, and other crucial programs, positions and services as well.

Also not to be forgotten has been the activism of the public. Members of the local sports community and advocates for the schools have been relentless in their pleas for the two sides to work together and find some way to come to a middle ground. Merolla mentioned during their meeting on Monday night that the testimony from the public played a role in his warming to Sinapi’s amendment. Whether you believe him or not probably depends on your level of cynicism, but we see no reason to disbelieve him.

Mayor Joseph Solomon, despite his own criticisms of the school department and refusing to budge on helping them close their $4 million deficit for the school year that just ended with anything other than private pension money (which is, objectively, still a very bad idea), comes out of this looking like someone willing to negotiate as well. While he did not put forth a resolution or amendment as Merolla or Sinapi did, he hasn’t stood in the way once this new plan formed – which is worthy of praise as well.

While things are still very much in the hypothetical stage, the gears of this long-gummed up engine are starting to church towards a solution once again. There is talk of a special meeting of the city council being called as early as Saturday to isolate the $4 million allocation from within the city budget and approve its appropriation to the schools although this, too, is prospective at this point.

What would happen after that – and what would become of the other $3.7 million in cuts that would remain – is still up in the air. But in the scope of a problem that, at many points in the past month has appeared hopeless, we’re willing to cross our fingers and hope that the storm that once appeared to be a harbinger of destruction might only be a regular old thunderstorm after all.

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Hillsgrove Hal

In their rush to shoehorn praise for Mayor Solomon into this editorial, the Beacon staff trample over basic facts.

The idea to withdraw WISE pension money to balance the FY19 school budget was illegal (meaning it violated IRS laws), according to an attorney who reviewed the plan, and it would have cost several million more dollars to pay back taxes for every year that it originally had tax-exempt status.

It wasn't just "a very bad idea," nor should Solomon get any credit for what is, essentially, flip-flopping on it once the school committee made clear they would not go ahead with it.

And he doesn't get any points for getting out of the council's way after so many weeks of bumbling from one PR disaster to another that reflected as badly on them as it did on him.

Maybe if it hadn't been for all of Solomon's misguided criticism of the school department (while he presided over a city budget that included two huge tax increases and still hasn't released last year's audit), the city council would have shown some courage in the first place and responsibly funded the school department instead of dragging the city through another several months of humiliating headlines.

And let's not forget the fine print that could come back to bite them: The school department has to "repay" the city $1 million a year for the $4 million that balances the FY19 budget, and the city council and mayor are forcing themselves into the school budget process.

Its just more "Look over there!" behavior to distract people from their mismanagement of the city budget -- and, at least from what I've seen on this website and social media, it's not working.

Friday, July 19
John Stark

Oh good Lord!! "Thunderstorms"..."rainbows"... Unicorn sightings might be more apt. Here's the reality: Weather systems come and go. What's on the ground remains the same. $4M or $14M. Hell, it could be an additional $40M!! We have a system of public education in which an overwhelming majority of students are not close to meeting academic expectations, and teachers are compensated at a rate that is vastly disproportionate to the demonstrated academic outcomes of their students. This is all glossed over, or openly ignored, in a zeal to fund an athletic program that has broadly and severely underachieved for decades, with anemic rates of participation, all while competing against schools with one-half the enrollment of Warwick schools. And all that is with funding out the proverbial wazoo. The Beacon does a disservice to its readers by ignoring the broad decay that has befallen Warwick's schools, "rainbows" not withstanding.

Tuesday, July 23