Shorthanded custodians fret school cleanliness

Posted

By ETHAN HARTLEY

The school year is more than a month old, and the real impact of the budgetary crisis besetting the city’s school department is becoming apparent in a most unfortunate way.
As a result of the loss of seven custodians and seven clerical staff responsible for a wide variety of tasks, including the purchasing of cleaning supplies, schools are not being cleaned in the way that custodians know the schools need to be cleaned, or the way they know the students deserve.
“In the big picture, it’s not that we’re not doing our job, but it’s harder for us to do our job,” said Bob Perry, Pilgrim High School night custodian with 17 years of service in the Warwick School Department.
The custodial cuts – which were deemed necessary by the Warwick School Committee over the summer to free $750,000 in order to balance their budget – have resulted in understaffed teams of custodians responsible for the same large spaces. The layoffs have resulted in custodial teams splitting the schools into “areas,” that they clean on a rotating cycle.
At Pilgrim and Toll Gate High Schools, five custodians are cleaning seven areas, meaning there will be parts of the schools that cannot be cleaned until the following night. Winman and Warwick Veterans Middle Schools each have one fewer custodian than cleaning areas as well.
“You’re always doing catchup. You’re always trying to clean the areas as best you can – we don’t stop working – it just never gets cleaned the way it should be cleaned. That’s what we’re dealing with right now,” Perry explained. “Bathrooms aren’t cleaned the way they should. There’s trash left behind in two areas, and it’s nobody’s fault – it’s cuts. We don’t have an efficient way of doing things because we’re always behind the eight ball.”
Things are even more severe at the elementary level, where only three of the district’s 14 elementary schools were able to retain night custodians – the early learning center at John Brown Francis, Lippitt and Oakland Beach – and the other schools can only be cleaned every other night due to the shorthanded staff. This means that custodians coming in on a morning shift following a night of no cleaning have their work cut out for them, in addition to their other responsibilities.
For parents, especially those active on the Facebook group “Let’s Save Warwick Schools,” the obvious concern, aside from the aesthetic unpleasantness of uncleanliness in the classrooms, is the potential for spreading of disease due to surfaces not being significantly disinfected.
“I would hope not,” Anthony Ferrucci, financial director of Warwick Public Schools, said on Friday of the possibility of increased illnesses. “We’re cleaning as thoroughly as we can, but if they’re not going in and wiping down desktops every single night, which they physically cannot do, then as long as that desktop hasn’t been hit, I would say it has been exposed.”
Although student attendance numbers provided by the superintendent’s office show that the total number of students who have been out sick as of Oct. 4, 2018 is actually lower this year than in 2016 and 2017 (382 absent in 2018; 424 in 2017; and 466 in 2016), those numbers come with the caveat of being at the onset of the worst time of the annual flu season, so some expect the number to rise.
“Down in the gym, you’re dealing with Mercer, influenza, and this is the bad time,” Perry said, who was a successful wrestler on the Pilgrim team during his tenure in the early 80s. “It’s coming.”
Sherman School PTO President Karin Kavanagh is troubled by the situation as it cuts into use of the school after school hours [the PTO has to pay for a custodian if one isn’t on duty] and for health reasons.
“I’m very concerned once the flu season comes along,” she said.
For custodians like Perry who, for years, settled into a routine of cleaning their particular “areas” along with their coworkers, the adjustment has been hard to make and is a tough pill to swallow. However, despite the frustration, he understands the complexity behind the situation as well.
“You become family here,” Perry said. “I’m family with the teachers, I’m family with the kids. We’re here all the time. After being here 17 years, it’s sad. This isn’t about the money, it’s about trying to do my job. It’s hard for me to do my job when I’m not able to do it the correct way. And I don’t blame anybody, because their hands are tied too.”
Although she is not looking to point fingers either, Mary Townsend, President of the Warwick Independent School Employees (WISE) Union, says that facts are facts when it comes to how the school department got into the situation it finds itself in today, referring to when the city chose to slash the school budget by the temporary maximum 5 percent following the end of the Great Recession.
“The bottom line is when we took that 5 percent cut, other districts got it back, and Warwick never got it back,” said Townsend. “If you look at that 5 percent and look at the non-maintenance of effort year after year after year, if you let it build up, it just gets larger and larger.”
Townsend is not alone in pointing out lack of funding as the ultimate cause of the district’s woes. Whether or not the schools have been fiscally responsible over the past decade or so is at the very heart of the disagreement and potential lawsuit bubbling beneath ongoing meetings between city and school officials. Another meeting was held on Wednesday but did not result in any resolution made public.
“It was an honest meeting,” Superintendent Philip Thornton said of the hour and a half meeting between Mayor Joe Solomon, City Council President Steve Merolla, School Committee Chairwoman Bethany Furtado and school finance director Anthony Ferrucci. “I think both sides are truly making efforts but we haven’t really put it to rest.”
Multiple members of the city council have argued that the school department has not been fiscally responsible, and should have realized significantly more savings as a result of their declining enrollment and consolidation of schools. When the school department put forward its budget ask of about $8.1 million in funding from the city, they received only $1.5 million on top of the level-funded budget put forward by former Mayor Scott Avedisian prior to his departure in mid-May.
As a result, the schools had to cut about $6.6 million from the budget through staff layoffs and various programs, in addition to unfunded liabilities that now loom, such as a $500,000 unpaid “contingency” that was put aside to save sports from being cut; $690,000 in an unsuccessful attempt to get a waiver from RIDE to not participate in the state Pathways program; and the $750,000 in custodian cuts, which clearly cannot be a long-term solution moving forward.
Meetings will be held by the city council and school committee on Oct. 15 and 16, and will shed more insight into how far these negotiations have actually gotten the two sides.

After school activities suffer

Another consequence of the loss of night custodians has been the ability for schools to utilize the school buildings as community spaces for extracurricular activities and clubs.
While in normal years, a custodian would have been working in a building until as late as 10 p.m. prior to locking up, this year the shorthanded staff cannot dedicate any time to unlocking or locking doors for after school activities.
As a result, all non-sanctioned school activities – meaning all uncoached sports and all clubs or activities that don’t have a compensated adviser leading them – must pay a fee of $108 for a custodian to come in for a four-hour shift, which is the minimum shift allowable under the WISE contract, in order for them to be able to utilize the building for their activity.
“A lot of the clubs and activities only run for an hour and a half or two hours with 20-25 students in activity. Those costs are really hampering their ability to do after school functions,” said Ferrucci. “So, they’re looking at thousands of dollars in potential bills, and they don’t have that kind of money for 25 kids to meet twice a week for an hour and a half.”
Ferrucci said that club leaders, community and parent advocates for non-sanctioned groups have gotten creative in trying to work around the situation, and that he has been allowing groups to fill out a single building use form and split the cost of bringing in an additional custodian.
“We’re willing to work with people, I’m not trying to get $100 per group,” Ferrucci said.
While they have been somewhat lost in the shuffle of the custodians being cut, the seven clerical positions that were cut have also had impacts on those working in the schools. These positions included purchasing agents, library clerks, a member of the special services office that was responsible for reporting and processing data on special needs students and a secretary for the curriculum director. All of these jobs have been absorbed into other employees’ responsibilities, stretching them thin.
Still, Townsend said multiple times while speaking of the situation from outside Pilgrim High School on Tuesday that the conversation should be about moving forward, not dwelling on who should be blamed or arguing with one another.
“The focus, for me, is on the students and what can we do?” she said. “Even with the frustration and disappointment and the discouragement, the WISE members are doing the best they can to clean the schools and work for the students.”

Comments

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Justanidiot

It is not important to have clean, healthy schools. It is much more important to have varsity sports.

Thursday, October 11
Cat2222

No offense but everyone has something to say about what is being cut and no cut is a good cut. Where does that leave things? We still have buildings to maintain, students to teach and teachers to pay. But we don't want higher taxes and we don't want to lose anything but WE DON'T HAVE ENOUGH MONEY IN THE BUDGET. Maybe it is time to recreate the wheel!

Thursday, October 11
Scal1024

Justanidiot, don't forget Freshman and Jr Varsity sports as well. Cat said it best, nobody wants to see their own personal interests cut. However, at what point do we say enough? After school clubs cannot meet because theres nobody around to lock the doors? With due respect to the folks involved WHAT ARE WE DOING? When schools can't be properly kept up (as is being stated first-hand by the custodians) we are heading in the wrong direction. Tough choices have been made already but there are MANY more left on the vine that need to be made immediately. We cannot do this to ourselves for another 5, 10, 20 years. Some cuts may hurt but after years of neglect we are where we are. I am not optimistic about these cuts being made, but it needs to happen.

Thursday, October 11
richardcorrente

Dear Cat2222,

You're right.

"We still have buildings to maintain, students to teach and teachers to pay." However if we just reversed the massive raises and new appointments (like an Asst. Principal of Climate and Culture, or the Asst. Principal of Teaching and learning), the School Committee just gave themselves, Warwick would have hundreds of thousands of dollars to fund what our, "80,000 taxpayers that are paying the tab" actually need.

Again, you're right. "WE DON'T HAVE ENOUGH MONEY IN THE BUDGET" And you're right a third time "Maybe it's time to recreate the wheel." My only add-on is that it should come from the excessive overcharges (in my opinion) from the School Committee.

Happy Autumn Cat2222.

Happy Autumn everyone.

Rick Corrente

The Taxpayers Mayor

Friday, October 12
CrickeeRaven

Cat, don't let the two-time election reject's attempts to twist your words get to you.

He's trying to use your words to justify his delusional and false statements.

"However if we just reversed the massive raises and new appointments... the School Committee just gave themselves..."

The school committee did not "give themselves massive raises." The five members of the school committee receive a total of $20,100 in annual stipends -- the information, which the two-time election reject has clearly never read, is on page 22 at this link: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1Fx77pF3qwnMI8EERaRPK3CqSmIJTeL4E/view

There were no "new appointments," those were administrators from other schools who were moved to the consolidated middle and high schools.

And in fact, page 17 of that budget document shows a reduction of two administrators for a savings of $250,000.

"My only add-on is that it should come from the excessive overcharges (in my opinion) from the School Committee."

The two-time election reject's opinion is based on ignoring publicly available and easily verifiable information about the school budget -- there are no "excessive overcharges," the school committee did not give themselves "massive raises," and there were no "new appointments."

The actual reason for the increased school budget is -- as it has been in the past -- the teacher salary increases that the two-time election reject repeatedly supported in his comments over the past two years that shamelessly pandered to the WTU and made false accusations against the school committee.

We and thousands of our honest, taxpaying neighbors are having a happy autumn knowing that we were 100% justified in rejecting the candidacy of the two-time election reject.

Friday, October 12
WwkVoter

How can corrente keep posting such easily verifiable FALSE information? Truly Crazy.

Friday, October 12
richardcorrente

Dear WwkVoter,

I keep posting information that is 100% verifiable, like the massive raises and 2 examples of the newly created administration positions. (maybe you didn't read that part). I then offer my opinion which, even someone like you has to admit, I have a right to.

You on the other hand, just state your opinion as fact, offer NO verifiable information, and you don't even have the courage to tell the readers who you are. That is a total lack of credibility.

You anonymous coward of a critic.

Happy Autumn everyone.

Rick Corrente

The Taxpayers Mayor

Friday, October 12
CrickeeRaven

WwkVoter, don't let the two-time election reject's bluster and name-calling get to you.

He's obviously working so hard to ignore the information provided above that he can't do anything except engage in more juvenile behavior and lying.

"I keep posting information that is 100% verifiable, like the massive raises and 2 examples of the newly created administration positions."

This is a lie.

He provides no proof or source for his claims -- and all of the available information [which I provided with a link to the FY19 school budget] actually shows exactly the opposite.

We already know that the two-time election reject does not care about anything except what's been printed by the Beacon -- so here's an article explaining that, of the $6.9 million increase requested by the school committee, $4.5 million was a direct result of the teacher contract: http://warwickonline.com/stories/school-dept-proposes-170-million-budget,133113?#comments

Another $1.8 million was for the bond payment -- which Mayor Solomon later withdrew.

So, of the remaining $5.1 million, $4.5 million was -- again -- due to the new contract.

The two-time election reject is lying. That's not "massive raises" for the school committee.

And no matter how often he calls you names for using a screen name -- while refusing to correct his obvious lies or acknowledge the true verifiable facts, which is the textbook definition of cowardice -- nothing he says or does will change those facts.

He is wrong. The correct and true information proves him wrong.

He repeats his lies because he lacks any restraint in humiliating himself.

He uses a made-up title because he thinks it somehow more credible. It doesn't.

He has already made a disgraceful spectacle of himself -- twice -- and lost in overwhelming fashion as a direct result of his behavior.

That he continues to engage in this behavior and believes that it helps him is a defect in his thinking, not yours, or mine, or that of our thousands of honest, taxpaying neighbors who rejected his candidacy again on Sept. 12.

Friday, October 12
Cat2222

RC,

Your argument that money could be saved by cutting the raises and new appointments from the administrative side don't hold up against the facts. Since 2015, the number of administrator positions has been reduced by 13%. That is more than the 10% reduced by the layoff of instructional teachers during the same time span. The “massive raises” that you believe the administrators just gave themselves is also not supported by the numbers. Other than the superintendent, other positions have a salary that is $800 lower than other like districts.

Teachers’ salaries are the bulk of spending in Warwick. That is not new information! 87% of teachers in Warwick are at or above the top step for pay (20 years), which means they earn a salary of $87,166. 42% are on Step 10 which means they earn a salary of $81,427. According to the WTU, the reason why so many are at the top step is because teachers must stay in the district longer to achieve full pension. This isn't a for or against teacher’s argument. Simple fact: Our teachers are paid higher than other districts and that reflects in our budget.

Everyone will have to feel the pain of cutting out line items from the budget. It is unavoidable. The important thing to remember is that it will work once everyone learns how to adjust to the new norm. It happens every day in the private sector and even within our own family. The time for finger pointing needs to be over. It is time to roll up our sleeves and get to work.

Friday, October 12
PhillipDrummond

Sports were a big part of my childhood growing up. It allows for kids to meet in a school supervised setting outside of the classroom. For some kids it's a needed activity that allows them to get some physical activity plus sports teaches a lot about life and having to cope with adversity. Each year more and more kids are leaving the Warwick school district. The school my kids go to have taken more kids from Warwick and they welcome it and will take as many as they can handle and we pay for it. Parents are pulling their kids and putting them in charter schools, putting them in different districts, going to private school and even home schooling. You make parents have to pay an exorbitant amount for public school sports and you will see an exodus from the Warwick school district. Like it or not sports plays an important role in a lot of kids lives. Limiting sports to only those who can afford it, could be the straw that breaks the camels back for a lot of parents but hey it's only sports, schools are meant to be prisons of education and learning. No fun allowed. They already limit PE and recess so why not just do away with all forms of physical activity.

The cuts are going to be necessary I can't argue against it but I think they need to be done gradually. The administrators and teachers are going to get their salaries so the people who lose out are everyone else mainly the students.. A lot of people are saying that this isn't the time for finger pointing but I think finger pointing is part of the process of figuring out what happened and making sure that those who made such poor choices aren't allowed to be positions of power again. It's why we have elections.

Saturday, October 13
WwkVoter

We cannot solve or constructively discuss the school budget issue with this corrente subject, because he lives in delirium.

Is it possible that corrente is "afflicted" with something, causing him to lie constantly even when shown documented facts that he can see are the truth?

This could be medical. Thank God he was crushed by the voters who were wise to his unsuitability. Hoping corrente gets some help. Imagine how surprised he will be once he has the clarity, whether by meds, therapy, or lots of both, to see things how they actually are. At that moment he would certainly need to be attended.

Saturday, October 13
Scal1024

PhillipDrummond, I agree sports are very necessary in our schools. I would hope Administrators could find other ways to trim the budget than to cut, or make sports a paid activity. My fear is there is no political appetitie for the serious cuts it will take to correct these problems. Sports do have a big impact on our students and I agree with alot of what you said.

Saturday, October 13
WwkVoter

It's pretty simple, you need X dollars to fund the Basic Educational Plan, and then we as a community decide what to add on to that. (No one just does a skimpy BEP). Things like smaller class sizes, technology updates, specialists, and sports - which are necessary to a good educational experience for our offspring - are added like a la carte, debated, and decided by our elected school committee.

And we did the consolidations, which I reluctantly agreed with, and those savings are now part of the budget. There are no more big ticket savings to be had.

I disagree with the janitorial cuts, and most cuts because it's not like we had a Cadillac education system to begin with. At the end of the day, it costs what it costs. Rob Cote has mentioned numerous city side savings. I'm not expert enough to assess those but maybe there's something there to be had if they take an honest look.

Sunday, October 14
Justanidiot

Just wait until a bunch of kids get sick because a school is dirty or injured because it is not maintained. Wait, what am I saying. They don't care one whit about the students. Just wait until a teacher/administrator gets the sniffles of stubs a toe. Then we will see some action.

Monday, October 15
Thecaptain

Cuts to every service line item in the budget, yet the teachers and the unions continue to add more expense to the tax payer with no additional benefits to us. Sounds about right if you are a democrat.

Monday, October 15
ThatGuyInRI

Once again the failed mayoral candidate is spouting his factually incorrect arguments.

There are not "80,000 taxpayers" in Warwick, there are just over 80K residents. Not all residents pay taxes to the city. If you're under 18, or don't own a home or car, then you don't pay any taxes to the city.

Please consult the population data here: http://worldpopulationreview.com/us-cities/warwick-ri-population/

The bigger problem is nobody wants to raise taxes but the fact of the matter is that the cost of all services provided by the city continue to go up and always will. So we either get OK with increased taxes, or get OK with less services, there is no other option.

3 days ago
patientman

ThatguyinRI,

Poorly managed cities have to raise tax rates. Well run cities raise revenue by growing revenues, not rates. More businesses and higher home values are vastly superior ways to raise revenue. 4.25% annual tax raises aren't sustainable.

3 days ago