Schools first up in budget review
In front of an assembly of more than 55, the first of three budget hearings for FY2013 took place Tuesday night and detailed the finances of the school department, as well as MIS, personnel, employee benefits and fixed costs.
A discussion of the school department’s budget dominated most of the meeting, with Mayor Scott Avedisian recommending that the department be level funded at $156,240,638 with a local appropriation of $118,644,632.
The School Committee adopted a recommended budget for FY2013 at $160,476,738 on April 24. The request is $5,291,594 more than the revised FY2012 budget of $155,185,144 and $6,166,594 more than the original budget. The revised budget also incorporates the transfer of $875,000, which was recently authorized by the council for school sports.
The spending plan assumes state aid revenues of $34,556,006 and a local government appropriation request of $122,880,732, a figure that’s $4,236,100 more than the current year’s appropriation.
More than 50 percent of the school department’s local appropriation increase is attributable to fire code and building improvements, said Avedisian. As opposed to funding these items through the operating budget, Avedisian recommended the City Council authorize bonding through Rhode Island Health and Education Building Corporation, or RIBEC, which provides a lower interest rate and potential reimbursement for a portion of the proposed improvements.
“The decision was made to move forward with bonding,” Avedisian said at the hearing. “That allows us to reduce the recommendation by $2.5 million.”
Moments before the school department’s Superintendent Peter Horoschak and Chief Budget Officer Anthony Ferrucci addressed the assembly, School Committee Chairwoman Beth Furtado said she and the rest of the members of the committee, including Patrick Maloney, Eugene Nadeau, Chris Friel and M. Terri Medeiros, believe that their presented budget is “responsible.”
“We have the responsibility to provide the best possible education to the youngest members of our community, the students of the Warwick school system,” she said. “These are tasks we take very seriously.”
Then, Horoschak and Ferrucci outlined proposed initiatives, as well as those that they view as top priorities. As noted, fire code projects were on the top of the list.
With fire code variances set to expire in three years, the Warwick Public School system is required to bring all buildings up to current standards no later than Aug. 31, 2014. To meet those standards, the school district has approved a three-phase plan, with each phase projected to cost $3.3 million to $3.5 million. Each will consist of construction on eight to 10 buildings throughout the district.
The first phase is scheduled for this summer, with funding to come from what’s left of the RIBEC bond. The second phase is projected to take place during the summer of 2013 and the third is projected to occur in the summer of 2014.
Aside from fire codes, another top priority is buildings and grounds in the amount of $860,000. Costs include boiler replacements, kitchen hood fire suppression upgrades, a new roof at Park Elementary, window repairs at John Wickes Elementary and an elevator upgrade at Winman Junior High.
Special education, curriculum and technology were among other issues. Most of their expenses, said Horoschak, were non-personnel line items.
“The school department continues to decrease its personnel costs and also reduces costs for transportation by $1.23 million, which was achieved by special education student transportation beginning in January 2012,” Horoschak said.
The only pay increases, he said, are for members of the Warwick Teachers Union that are required by state law. However, he also suggested a 20-percent co-pay for health insurance for active employees.
This fact pleased constituents in attendance, such as former councilman and school committee chairman Bob Cushman, as well as Roy Dempsey, John Kennedy and Roger Durand, who each addressed the council. Durand, in particular, praised Ferrucci’s efforts as chief budget officer.
“If the city adopted what the school department did, we would be good,” he said.