Schools, city clash on mediation talks

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The Warwick School Department and city of Warwick continue to be at odds regarding the means to solve budgetary deficits for the fiscal year that officially ended on June 30 and the one that began on Monday.

Worse, the two sides appear to not be on the same page following a press release that was sent out and co-signed by Superintendent Philip Thornton and School Committee Chairwoman Karen Bachus on Monday afternoon.

“The School Committee has been advised by the Mayor that the City will no longer participate in mediation over the 2018-2019 School Year budget, nor will he entertain any mediation for the 2019-2020 budget other than sports and clubs,” the release reads.

However, Solomon said during a phone interview on Monday that this was wholly inaccurate, even “disingenuous.”

Solomon said he was contacted by Bachus on Friday but was unable to respond as he was at dinner. He said he planned on responding to her following his return from attending a funeral on Monday. However, when he returned to his office, he found the release on his desk – and much to his surprise it indicated he had cut off the possibility of mediation for the year going forward.

“The last I heard was the attorneys are going back and forth to select a mediator,” he said. “I don’t know where that [statement in the release] originated from, but it's grossly inaccurate.”

Nevertheless, the release from the schools states the mayor’s “position” would require the School Committee to illegally withdraw $4 million from its private pension fund to cover the approximately $4 million deficit for FY19, which it has been directly advised not to do by a tax attorney. That opinion was further parroted by Auditor General Dennis Hoyle in a letter to both sides sent out in June.

The release states that “such a withdrawing is illegal and would result in full re-payment of the monies, plus interest and penalties.” The aforementioned opinion from an attorney consulted with by the School Committee concluded that a withdraw from the pension fund “cannot be made without incurring ‘financial penalty or adverse tax consequences’” in violation of the federal Internal Revenue Code of 1986.

As he has in the past, Solomon disagrees with the notion that withdrawing from the pension fund would be illegal. That approach was reached through mediation that commenced last year and concluded this spring, but since the mediation award was written, the schools have maintained that they did not agree to the terms as portrayed by the city and by mediator Vincent Ragosta.

“There is nothing illegal in his [Ragosta’s] conclusion,” he said. “There may be penalties the school department wasn’t aware of that may be short term, long term, or there may be none. They indicated that they did that in the past, but there is nothing illegal.”

Thornton said the school department would be listening to the advice of the tax attorney, and school officials have been provided no feasible alternative from the city on how to handle the lingering $4 million deficit.

“The mayor’s office has not given us any legal foundation on how we could do this,” he said.

Solomon said the FY19 deficit was “yesterday’s news” and that he was focused on dealing with the budget going forward – a budget that has seen $7.7 million in cuts, which has resulted in all sports and after school activities getting chopped.

Not only that, the release notes, but also all money for textbooks; all teaching assistants for grades one and two; a reduction of custodial hours by 12 percent; all middle and high school assistance counselors; four maintenance positions; 90 percent of the technology hardware budget; and all professional development and workshops for teachers.

“These cuts are devastating to the district and the community,” the release states. “We implore the Mayor to come to the table to discuss the budget for both 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 for the benefit of the students, employees and all Warwick constituents.”

Solomon reiterated on Monday the city was committed to saving school sports through either a budget allotment or by taking over some services. The mayor’s office sent out a release in response to the school department’s on Monday afternoon as well.

“As we prepare to mediate the FY19-FY20 budget, my priorities will continue to be that of the schoolchildren, and the sports and extracurricular activities that they deserve,” it reads. “I will not allow the emotions of our students, parents, faculty or staff to be used as pawns as these discussions proceed.”

However, this stance is what Thornton said he takes issue with, believing that Solomon is “narrowing the scope” of negotiations for the current fiscal year as being restricted to only after school sports and activities, when there is much more at stake than only those items. For context, school sports encompasses about $1.36 million of the overall $7.7 million in cuts made in June.

“We can’t limit the scope of the conversation to just sports and clubs,” Thornton said. “While those two items are important, educational items certainly need to be a part of the conversation as well.”

Solomon said on Monday that he was still committed to finding a solution through mediation – saying it should be called “Mediation II.”

“Let’s select a mediator and go forward with Mediation II for the benefit of the schools and students and everyone involved,” he said.

Comments

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Johnny Tsunami

can't these bafoons get on the same page?

Tuesday, July 2
justanidiot

solomen and thernton fiddle while warwick burns

Tuesday, July 2
Hillsgrove Hal

Solomon disagrees with the school committee's statement that he walked away from meditation, but calls the FY19 deficit "yesterday's news."

He insists that the WISE pension withdrawal is legal, despite an actual lawyer saying the exact opposite.

He wants to micromanage the school department to pay for (popular) sports programs but nothing else.

Meanwhile, the FY19 budget year ended with a $4 million school budget deficit and FY20 is starting with a $7.7 million school deficit.

However he may try, Solomon will not make any of this go away.

Tuesday, July 2
wwkvoter

"Solomon said he was contacted by Bachus on Friday but was unable to respond as he was at dinner. He said he planned on responding to her following his return from attending a funeral on Monday."

why not throw in a couple days in Oahu too...

Mayor is a SEVEN DAY A WEEK JOB, especially in a full blown crisis. Even if Solomon says it's not his fault, this damn sure IS his problem to solve since the city pays for the schools. Friday... Monday... and he is confused about whet kind of signal that sent???

am I missing anything here?

We clearly need the state to step in at this point.

Tuesday, July 2
Patient Man

If Thornton wasn't involved I wouldn't know who to believ. Solomon & Bachus are so full of crap. Solomon is out of his mind. Articles like this show me we definitely need state oversight.

Tuesday, July 2
SaltyJake

Again, WHY is it OK to pull funds OUT of a pension system to pay bills??? Its for paying retirement of employees. This is a horrible, uneducated decision that will inevitably come back to smack the taxpayers in the face. And, possibly result in legal action against the city with penalties. All bad for the Warwick taxpayers. The city and school committee should get on the same page. The whole lot of them are a bunch of idiots.

Tuesday, July 2
15 years from now

Unites States President Solomon Administration

Hello who is this Putin, No I can't talk right now.

What an emergency? Not now, can't talk. I'm busy, yes I'm in the bathroom. But I have to finish my sun butter sandwich for lunch.

everything is great. no worries. call back later.

Tuesday, July 2
Joe's cousin

He's a dope.

Tuesday, July 2
Hillsgrove Hal

Has anyone explained to Solomon that the mayor of a city can't just decide what is and isn't legal?

You know, someone like a city solicitor, who's paid to advise the mayor on legal matters?

Oh, wait, that's right -- Solomon hasn't hired one.

I'm sure it'll be fine, though.

The record for mayors who lurch headlong into battles over school funding without appropriate legal advice must be pretty good, right?

Right?

Wednesday, July 3
bring back ruggeiro

where is ruggeiro? we could sure use some more illegal side agreements to get the union to give back a coupe dollars today for a few thousand upon retirement.

Wednesday, July 3
Scal1024

Joe was out to dinner Friday and had a funeral service on Monday. If only there were, and I know this sounds crazy, say two days in between Friday and Monday where Joe could've had more time to get things done. We could even call these two days the "weekend". I mean, I'm sure students are never asked to bring work home in between Friday and Monday. Seems complicated! Maybe Joe is trying to get on that BlumShapiro work schedule?

Much like everything else over the last year with this administration the optics are terrible. Seriously, if the problems this City is facing now don't require working 7 days a week, when will they? If the argument is "this is what the last mayor did" well, I thought Joe was supposed to be different from our previous Mayor? I'm sure the Beacon appreciates the paper full of quotes they recieve from this Mayor every week but at some point his staff needs to recognize this isn't serving ANYONE well and it's time to get to work! When the only answer you have for the schools financial crisis is "I guarantee you sports will NOT be cut" it creates a perception that Solomon doesn't have his priorities in order. When his instinct is to ignore a call on Friday and return it on a Monday, that doesn't fill me or anyone else with optimism that he wants this fixed at all costs. With every article that comes out my confidence disappears.

Wednesday, July 3
FASTFRED WARD 4

I,ll just keep my mouth close.

Wednesday, July 3
bye bye Joe

jumpin joe has left and gone away, hey hey hey.

Wednesday, July 3