With no alternatives, schools balance budget on backs of salaries, programs

More than $5 million in cuts are not guaranteed

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As a heavy summer rainstorm pounded the roof of the Warwick Veterans Middle School auditorium Tuesday evening, the Warwick School Committee poured over line item after line item looking for any unnecessary fat to trim from their FY19 budget, as they faced an approximately $1.5 million budgetary gap that required closing under state law.

By the end of the night, a balanced budget was indeed reached and approved by the committee, but it would be more accurate to report that a budget was “hypothetically” reached, as there are more than $5 million worth of assumptive reductions that may not actually be possible to realize.

Before delving into the bigger picture, the committee was able to close the $1.5 million gap by voting to not fill multiple positions they had originally budgeted for, including an elementary social worker and four library clerks at the secondary level. They also slashed the entirety of the unencumbered professional development budget, amounting to over $100,000.

The committee also cut about $300,000 in equipment and services, including $80,000 worth of floor waxing supplies, $30,000 worth of library books and the entirety of the $104,000 set aside to enable Mentor Rhode Island to work with the schools.

Even with these cuts, a $570,000 shortfall remained, which brought winter and spring sports back onto the chopping block for the second time. Once again, committee member at large David Testa put forth the motion to save sports from being slashed, which was ultimately passed with the support of Chairwoman Bethany Furtado and vice president Eugene Nadeau.

Hoping for the best

Since the $570,000 for sports was reinstated, to balance the budget finance director Anthony Ferrucci accounted for the deficit in a category known as “contingencies.” This essentially gives the school department the ability to balance the budget without having a definite source for the money yet.

The hope is that this unfunded contingency can be covered in one fell swoop from a method that is sure to generate even more controversy in the coming weeks – a proposed 1 percent cut to salaries from both school administrators and members of the Warwick Teachers’ Union, which would save about $900,000 according to Thornton.

Union president Darlene Netcoh declined to comment on the proposal to reduce salaries by 1 percent, as she hadn’t received anything officially in writing from the school committee in regards to the request as of Wednesday afternoon.

Additionally, the school department is hopeful they can secure waivers from the Rhode Island Department of Education to unburden themselves from certain expenses, including requests for the district to not have to pay $690,000 for the state Pathways program and to see if they could get a special waiver to be able to start charging students a $1 per day fee to ride the bus and start charging for extracurricular activities, as Massachusetts does. Those requests were sent out Wednesday by Superintendent Philip Thornton and the state must respond in 10-15 business days.

Another cut that is not guaranteed to be possible is the school department’s decision to no longer pay $1.75 million of principal and interest payments stemming from a 2006 bond. While they have cut the figure from the budget, the city may fight the issue and the state could intervene to decide who is responsible. That may also wind up in a legal dispute, as the school department insists the bond charged the municipality with paying principal and interest.

Not good for anyone

Other expenses cut from the budget, like cutting 15 custodians, were fought by school committee clerk Karen Bachus through a motion to restore them but did not garner a second to reach an official vote.

“These are some of the lowest paid positions in the system and they do some of the most important work; keeping our schools clean and disease free,” Bachus said. “I just don’t think it's going to work without them.”

Other members on the committee stressed that nobody is in favor of the cuts now coming before the committee, which were necessitated in the wake of a $6.6 million shortfall after the Warwick City Council voted to award the schools $1.5 million of an $8.1 million ask by the schools. The schools argued that rising costs and slashed state contributions offset savings from declining enrollment and the closing of schools, however the council was not moved to provide more funding.

“It's an unenviable position that this committee is in, that this district is in and that our employees are in,” said Furtado. “I've never seen anything like this. I'm not really sure where else we can go. We've turned over every rock, every table, and it's dollars and dimes here and there.”

Despite Bachus going line by line for over an hour over budget items she sought clarification on, Ferrucci was able to provide exact dollar amounts for what was already tied up in projects and what couldn’t be cut further. Despite hers and the committee’s efforts, the only non-sports program restored through cuts was $20,000 to save the Volunteers of Warwick Schools (VOWS) program, which was accomplished by slashing the Mentor Rhode Island budget entirely, rather than just by half as originally proposed.

“Ms. Bachus's list of questions has certainly proven to me that there isn't one penny here, and I fear that some of these things we're asking about will possibly have repercussions some time during the year,” said committee member at large Terri Medeiros.

“There's a reckoning coming and if we don't think that's going to happen we're kidding ourselves,” said Testa. “It may get uglier before it gets better or it may just get ugly period. For me, and I think I speak for the five of us up here, we will scratch, fight and claw for every penny we can get...As it stands right now, it's just not there.”

A meeting Furtado had tried to schedule between Mayor Joseph Solomon, City Council President Steve Merolla and the city’s finance department to hash out possible courses of action was at first delayed from Thursday to Friday and then, at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, was cancelled “until further notice.” Courtney Marciano, press secretary for Solomon, said that the meeting was actively being rescheduled.

Committee members urged people to reach out to the members of the city council and the mayor’s office to come to the table and work with the school department to see if there is anything to be done to help the fiscal situation.

“I'm praying that anybody who has an email address will write to the city and ask them to please be part of our team because we just want to work with them,” Medeiros said.

Comments

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Justanidiot

whats do weeze need wit liberries and books anyway. footballs is more important. readings is overated, youse can gets everything on youtubers.

Thursday, July 19
richardcorrente

That's me in the bottom left hand of the above picture. I was there. I saw the genuine pain on the faces of each School Committee member and I sincerely appreciated what they were agonizing over during the meeting Tuesday night. I didn't hear then, any mention of cuts to the administrations income though. Today I am reading that they would consider a 1% salary cut ONLY IF THE TEACHERS DID THE SAME. That would be an equal way to "share the expense" IF BOTH SIDES HAD EQUAL PAY INCREASES AND EQUAL NEW HIRES OVER THE LAST TWO YEARS! BUT THEY HAVEN'T!. Not even close. After two years of stone-walled negotiations when the Warwick Teachers Union (WTU) was willing to sit and negotiate but then-Mayor Avedisian and the School Committee (SC) were NOT, it seems to me that the only equal way to distribute this short-fall today would be as a percentage of total salary-increases-and-new-hires over the last two years. That way, the administration would be giving back the same percentage of money they spent on salary increases AND NEW HIRES over the last two years, as they were asking the teachers to give. This is the ONLY math that is honestly an "equal treatment". If the SC had given themselves the same nominal raises that the teachers received, AND took the same layoffs, they would have "equal treatment" with the teachers. But they didn't. They gave themselves excessive raises and added new hires to the administration like an "Asst. Principal of Climate and Culture" and an "Asst. Principal of Teaching and Learning", while at the same time they were laying off teachers by the hundred. You can't ignore that inequity. You just can't. It's not fair to the teachers, the students, the parents and the 80,000 taxpayers that are paying the tab.

Happy Summer everyone.

Rick Corrente

The Taxpayers Mayor

Friday, July 20
Scal1024

It is astonishing how clueless Rick Corrente is about our school system. Especially when he sits so close at these meetings, you'd atleast think he'd pay attention to something other than peoples faces. Rick you often talk about the $1 billion the school committee spent over the last decade. How much of that $1 billion was to fund the teachers salaries and benefits? In fact Rick, you were in favor of raises for the teachers in this last contract that the WTU went to the mat over (sick outs, work to rule, no field trips) and now you want to blame the School Committee and the administration over the money not being there to fund things? You can't have it both ways. A candidate for mayor cannot discuss the topic of schools if they cannot comprehend or acknowledge how much salaries and benefits have eaten up the budget FOR DECADES. Anyone pretending anything different is not being honest with voters.

Another clueless pandering post by the Tax Delinquents Mayor. What is comical to me is Rick Corrente is running to the far left of Bernie Sanders, and even the Progressive Democrats didn't even bother to interview him. The fake mayors erratic campaign continues to unravel day by day.

Friday, July 20
CrickeeRaven

My gosh, Scal, the make-believe mayor just keeps putting more effort into looking like a fool.

Nothing he wrote above is true.

The school committee didn't "give itself raises," there were no "new hires" of assistant principals, the school committee didn't "stonewall," and they didn't "layoff teachers by the hundred."

Only in his delusional, pandering mind does this version of events exist -- just as only in his fevered imagination does the possibility exist that this may help his nonexistent chance to be elected.

It does not help the WTU to have a lying, tax delinquent, clearly delusional candidate parroting his own false narrative. The union clearly knows this, or else they would have offered some kind of support for his pathetic behavior.

But they haven't. There has never been one public word from the WTU in favor of this collection of lies by the make-believe mayor.

Add the teachers to the long list of honest, taxpaying voters who have nothing to do with the make-believe mayor. He is alone in his misguided behavior, and is just too stubborn and arrogant to realize it.

Friday, July 20
Scal1024

Crickee, it is truly shameful to watch the behavior of the unraveling Corrente campaign. His campaign started out as distorting certain facts (the total taxpayers Warwick has lost in a decade, total students Warwick has lost in a decade, total # of businesses lost). Then as Rick Correntes campaign became increasingly desperate (due to you and Captains great work exposing his tax delinquency, as well as more recently with 3 other candidates opposing him in the Democratic primary: Solomon, Ferla, Carbone) his behavior has changed again. Correntes campaign went from distorting facts to coordinated, blatant lying. This behavior is truly pathetic, and along with his rampant tax delinquency reveals alot about the character and intentions of Rick Corrente. I join thousands of Warwick voters in rejecting this lying, pandering wind bag.

Sunday, July 22
CrickeeRaven

Scal, as I've mentioned before, I think one of the core defects in the make-believe mayor's approach to his candidacy is that he apparently didn't think anyone would look into his past record. He started his 2016 campaign with a letter to the editor that claimed he'd been treated unfairly by the city in the way his properties were assessed, and suggesting that Mayor Avedisian and unnamed "relatives" had gotten lower property valuations.

Now, I'm sure you'd agree that serious and reasonable candidates would 1.) make sure those claims were true before having them published in the local paper; and 2.) would make sure he, himself, didn't have any kind of questionable past in terms of tax payments.

He failed on both counts. Turns out, he had one property's valuation go up by $5,000 and another's go down by $5,000, meaning his taxes on those two properties stayed the same. Then -- and this is the part that has snowballed into the disgraceful behavior by make-believe mayor that you rightly point out -- it turned out that he wasn't paying taxes on his residence because it had been sold at tax sale. He even admitted this to the Beacon -- and then spent three years denying it.

Not only that, but a look at Avedisian's property valuations showed that his went up, meaning he was paying higher taxes than the make-believe mayor.

All of this information is right here: https://warwickpost.com/correntes-attacks-fail-on-the-facts/

You're correct, too, in saying that his behavior has only gotten worse, which honestly I wouldn't have thought possible given where it started. A serious candidate would have admitted to his falsehoods and come up with the money to pay the back taxes on his residences [instead of wasting $40,000 on a political campaign].

Not the make-believe mayor, though. He somehow thought it would be better for his futile campaign to continue making false statements on this website [including those lies about the changes in the city's population, student enrollment, and business sector that you mention], attacking other commenters for using screen names, and flip-flopping on his prior support of the elected officials in his party.

The one consolation is that he will never -- ever -- be elected to any office in Warwick. He has done this to himself, by repeating lies and denying the factual and easily verifiable public information that has enlightened honest, taxpaying voters about his true character. His stubbornness in refusing to understand this is his problem -- not anyone else's.

Like you, I expect that voters will overwhelmingly reject the make-believe mayor on Sept. 12.

Sunday, July 22
bendover

Could ANYBODY show me in the RI Constitution, RI General laws, the Warwick City Charter or book of ordinances it is possible to have a "hypothetical" balanced budget? You people should be before a judge explaining yourselves.

Sunday, July 22