Mayor doubts added funds will provide taxpayer relief
Governor Lincoln Chafee made the state’s cities and towns a hallmark of his State of the State and budget address Tuesday.
While that is welcome news to Mayor Scott Avedisian, he questioned yesterday how a projected additional $800,000 in state aid to Warwick schools will actually provide relief to property taxpayers, as Chafee would like to see happen.
And while more funding is good news, Superintendent of School Peter Horoschak said it falls short of the $3 million more the department may need in the fiscal year starting this July 1.
Avedisian said the governor met with mayors and town and city administrators prior to making public his budget calling for the proceeds from a 2 percent increase in the meals and beverage tax – projected to generate $38.3 million – to be earmarked for school aid. The mayor said there were reservations that added funding for schools would relieve pressure on property taxes. He pointed out that questions remain to be answered about the city’s maintenance of effort and whether it can reduce its school allocation.
Yet, Avedisian observed, the mayors agreed school funding seemed the “fairest formula that has some logic and research to it.”
“Schools are going to ask for millions more anyway,” Avedisian predicted.
And it would appear he’s going to be right although the budget process has just started.
“We have greater financial needs for next year,” said Horoschak. “It might be as big as a $3 million gap.”
Horoschak said the department is in the process of identifying 40 teachers to receive layoff notices by the March deadline. Under the teacher contract, the department cannot layoff more than 20 teachers in a given year.
“Right now we don’t have 40,” Horoschak said, “but more than 20.”
In addition to reductions in staff, Horoschak said the department doesn’t know how the teacher contract that expired last August will impact costs. The union agreed to voluntarily increase the co-pay for health insurance from $11 a week to 20 percent of cost as contract negotiations continued at an estimated saving of about $2 million to the department.
“The added state aid we feel we’re entitled to,” Horoschak said. Under the school aid formula, school aid would increase anyway in the next fiscal year. Chafee’s nearly $40 million increase, however, is about $11 million more than the formula call for.
The city’s maintenance of effort was the subject of a School Committee suit against the city last year. Schools contended the city’s maintenance of effort was $123.9 million according to a memo from Deborah A. Gist, commissioner of elementary and secondary education. That amount was based on what the city provided in 2009. The city argued the minimum level of city taxpayer support was $117.7 million or $6.2 million less.
The court found in favor of the city, but said the city did not have the right to hold back $875,000 for school athletics.
The mayor and city council allocated that amount to a city recreation account to ensure schools would not use the threat of eliminating sports programs as a means of leveraging more funds.
With the funding for athletics, the city allocated $118.6 million to schools in the current budget.
Horoschak said he considers the $118.6 million the city’s new maintenance of effort allocation.