Parents rally at City Hall ahead of school budget hearing
It may not have been as sunny as hoped, but that didn’t stop about 100 people from rallying in front of City Hall on Monday afternoon ahead of budget talks set for Friday night. Mayor Scott Avedisian’s budget proposes a hike in funding for the schools – about $165 million from last year’s $161 million – and Superintendent Philip Thornton’s $167 million budget requests an additional $4.8 million from the city.
Stephanie Shelton, newly inducted PTA President at Norwood School, said Thursday that the goal of the rally wasn’t necessarily to target anyone, but rather to keep up awareness of school situations and to remind city and school officials that parents and students are still “watching.”
“We want education to be a priority in Warwick. As taxpayers, we demand that we invest in our schools. At the same time, we fully expect administration to spend responsibly and invest in education,” she wrote in an email announcing the rally. "We need books, we need capital improvements and we need teachers. We do not need a PR firm, we do not need attorneys, and we don't need more administrators. We need to fix Warwick schools."
At Monday’s rally, Shelton reiterated what spending she’d like to see prioritized.
“I get that they’re trying to get a bond and that it will be a year or two before that can go into effect,” she said. “I’d just like to see the priority of the spending in some way directed to what’s essential to education and not for wrestling mats or football uniforms or gym floors.”
Teachers Union President Darlene Netcoh thought it was significant that parents organized the rally and that a large amount of people showed up despite the inclement weather.
“I think it’s significant that parents organized this event because they are so concerned about conditions in our schools and about having an appropriate teaching staff and about the communication,” said Netcoh.
Added Community Outreach Educational Committee Chair Nathan Cornell, “The parents are rightfully upset – I’m glad the parents are doing something about it. They’re trying to bring awareness to these issues because these are serious safety issues which are afflicting our schools and they need to be solved.”
Netcoh acknowledged a rocky road ahead, saying it’s “right” for the City Council to question the school department.
“I think it’s always good when the city supports its schools. I am concerned about the school department and the way it misuses funds, which has made the City Council naturally skeptical of them and if they do get the funds, then I hope they use them for what they’re intended,” Netcoh said.
Like Netcoh and Shelton, Cornell wanted to see the money spent “appropriately” if granted.
“I just want the money to be applied where they say it will be applied, and I think that’s where it will be difficult with the City Council…they have seen in the past how the school department says they’re going to use money for a certain thing and then uses it elsewhere,” he said.
Shelton felt unsure of the budget’s chances.
“I really hope that it goes through. I’d like to see an increase in spending for education,” she said. “I hope that the City Councilors are paying attention to what the people of Warwick are saying. I know there’s a lot of animosity between the… City Council and the School Committee and I just don’t know how it’s going to go.”
In a statement, Thornton clarified differences between spending discussions, saying “There have been many discussions in Warwick on the need to repair and upgrade the school buildings. This conversation is separate and apart from the operating budget being discussed currently in the City.”
“Mayor Avedisian's recommended budget provides for a 3 million dollar increase in the Warwick School Department operating budget,” he said, reiterating that “there has been agreement between Mayor Avedisian and myself that 2.4 million of that amount would be set aside for the settlement of the teacher's contract.”
Thornton noted district “improvements” such as “1 to 1 computers for all high school students next year, joining our middle school students which went 1 to 1 this year” as well as “Interactive flat panel displays for all high school classrooms, also joining the middle school which was completed this year.”
“Mayor Advedisian, City Council President Solomon, and School Committee Chair Furtado and I have discussed potential plans for a series of meetings to delve into the capital needs of the schools, (the roofs, windows and boilers, etc.) with a goal of putting forth a bond in the fall of 2018 to the voters,” he concluded.
Budget talks before the City Council begin this Friday at 5 p.m.