The cleanliness of schools is an ongoing issue of importance to parents, students, teachers and administrators alike as the continuing budget impasse between the Warwick School Department and Warwick City Council lingers on now almost exactly six months following the departure of former Mayor Scott Avedisian at the inception of budget time in May.
At the heart of the issue is the school department’s inability to balance its budget – which it is required to do so by law – without making drastic cuts, which has included cutting janitorial staff to a level that necessitates some schools only being cleaned every other day, and some elementary schools not being cleaned at all over the weekends depending on the cleaning rotation.
However, with the recent couple of holidays, apparently the situation at Sherman School has been even worse than this less-than-ideal predicament normally precipitates.
“There has been no night custodian in a week at his school,” said Sherman School PTO president Karin Kavanagh in an email to administrators Wednesday morning. “They are supposed to have one every other night. Due to holidays and other confusion, our night custodian has been sent to his other school on the wrong nights with no back up for this school.”
Kavanagh shared photos of multiple trash bags piled in classrooms and dirtied sinks and floors.
“As you can see, the conditions are gross,” she continued in the email. “Teachers are bagging and tying up their trash due to fruit flies, the floors are disgusting. It's more than a few papers on the floor that need to be picked up – it’s dirty, and gross. This is the environment our students are learning in, and its unacceptable.”
Finance director Anthony Ferrucci responded to Kavanagh’s concerns on Wednesday, thanking her for bringing the issue to the central administration’s attention.
“On one hand, it is extremely difficult to clean our buildings with the staff reductions we experienced, on the other hand, it has come to our attention that scheduling around holidays was confusing,” he wrote. “We have corrected the holiday scheduling issue. It is the expectation that cleaning crews will go back and forth between schools not counting holidays.”
Ferrucci hinted at the possibility that the city could step in and provide additional funding “within the next couple of weeks” and, in turn, custodians could possibly be hired back. The ultimate question however, which lies at the center of this entire issue, is how much the city will be able to provide. An audit undertaken by the school department concluded the schools were entitled to an additional $4 million above what they were given at budget time in order to facilitate their needs, but the city has been mum on how much they feel they should be responsible to give.
The school department must also plug around $3 million in “contingencies” that are not funded in the current budget, including $500,000 that the school committee set aside to keep sports from being cut; $690,000 in unsuccessful tuition waiver requests to RIDE; and $1.75 million in principal and interest payments for a 2006 school bond the schools have vowed to no longer pay. These holes must be plugged before any funding can be allocated to make up for the $750,000 cut made towards custodians and clerical staff.
It should be noted that Mayor Joseph Solomon offered the schools $1.75 million to offset the costs of the bond funding, however that offer was never officially accepted or denied by the school department. Negotiations between Solomon, City Council President Steve Merolla, Superintendent Philip Thornton, Ferrucci and School Committee Chairwoman Bethany Furtado are ongoing. Plans to present the audit to the city council have been delayed for months now in lieu of these negotiations, but neither side has divulged much information about specific progress being made.