Of $1.4M school surplus, $500,000 is for keeps
The good news is the Warwick School Department is projected to finish the fiscal year with a “significant surplus.” The bad news is a large portion of that surplus will need to be carried over to fulfill obligations in the FY 13 budget. That was the message behind Chief Budget Officer Anthony Ferrucci’s presentation given to the School Committee last Tuesday.
Ferrucci said the department expects to finish fiscal year 2012 with a projected $1.4 million general fund surplus. During an earlier meeting in April, Ferrucci had projected a $249,000 surplus for FY 12.
“During our presentation [in April], we noted a number of initiatives that were to be undertaken this spring. Some of the initiatives were completed; the rest have begun but have not been completed,” Ferrucci said. “Those projects cannot be accounted for in FY 12. For this group of activities, we will show an increase in surplus but will have to dedicate the surplus to FY 13 as the projects are currently underway.”
Ferrucci said while the projects are underway and purchase orders were issued to various vendors, under accounting rules, unless the projects are completed and in use by June 30, the cost cannot be assigned to the fiscal year.
“Our process will require us to report that the funds were not spent, however, we do have a significant amount of purchase orders that will need to be honored by the end of August and these funds will be needed to cover those expenses,” he said.
Ferrucci said $300,000 of the surplus would need to be dedicated to finish the projects under contract.
In addition, Ferrucci said $600,000 of the FY 12 surplus would be used to reinstate teacher stipends for professional development days. He said the district usually holds two professional development days throughout the year, one in August and one in March, each costing approximately $300,000.
School Committee Vice Chairman Patrick Maloney asked if teachers would be trained on the new Aspen computer system as part of professional development, since, he said, the system should have already been up and running long before now.
“Professional development will include learning the Aspen computer system,” said Dennis Mullen, currently serving as an evaluation fellowship administrator working with the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) but who will officially become the director of secondary education starting Sept. 1. “We’ll be starting with secondary [teachers] so they can learn the grade book aspect, and the elementary teachers will work off of that. One hour of the professional development day will be devoted to Aspen training.”
After accounting for carryover funds, Ferrucci said that should leave the school department with an approximate $500,000 surplus for FY 12, nearly double what was projected in April.
Ferrucci said there were several factors that led to the surplus.
“We were fortunate to have had an extremely mild winter, which allowed us to save on energy costs, and we reduced our transportation costs due to tardiness of receiving our contracted new buses,” he said. “These events, coupled with the efforts of our administrators, have allowed us to achieve a significant surplus for FY 2012.”
Ferrucci said natural gas, fuel oil and electric savings totaled $360,000. Addressing transportation costs, he said, under the busing contract between the district and First Student, that First Student was to provide new buses. The buses were supposed to arrive in January and were projected to cost approximately $400 per bus per day, which would cover the bus and the driver, but Ferrucci said because the buses didn’t arrive until June 25, it was only costing $200 per day per bus, thus saving the district about $5,000 per day.
Ferrucci said $315,000 was saved in the area of purchased services, thanks to the efforts of district budget managers.
“It’s a tribute to the staff that they were able to achieve their targets and realize a savings,” Ferrucci said, adding, “we’re getting more comfortable with the budget process.”
Although the surplus was good news, committee member Terri Medeiros cautioned the audience things could have gone very differently.
“If we didn’t have the winter we had and if we got the buses on time, we would have been in the hole,” she said. “As much as I’d love to have another winter like the one we had this year, we just can’t count on that.”
Ferrucci said the department is projecting higher utility costs in the FY 13 budget for that reason, and added that there won’t be any break on transportation costs now that the buses have arrived.
In July, the committee approved $4.3 million in cuts in order to balance the FY 13 budget, which resulted in a $156,092,357 operating budget for FY 13.
Prior to the FY 12 budget update, Marie Cote, who served as acting principal of Pilgrim High School in the absence of Dennis Mullen, who left to become an evaluation fellowship administrator with RIDE, was approved as the new principal of Pilgrim.
“Any decision I make is to protect the child; the kids know I love them,” she said. “It will be a challenge without an assistant principal, but I’m willing to take on challenges and I’ll do my best to represent Warwick.”
Mullen said there are many who love Pilgrim, “but no one loves Pilgrim more than Marie Cote.”
He continued, “Her love of the school and the kids came through loud and clear during interviews.”
In other committee news, committee member Eugene Nadeau plans to introduce a resolution at the next meeting calling for the elimination of pensions for newly elected school committee members starting in January.
“I don’t believe any elected officials deserve a pension,” Nadeau said.
Nadeau said, currently, members must serve on the committee for a minimum of six years before becoming eligible to collect a pension at age 60. Nadeau’s resolution will not apply to current committee members.