Schools project $1.2M increase in budget


School Department directors began their budget presentations Tuesday and wrapped up last night. The School Committee is scheduled to adopt the budget at an April 23 meeting, in time to submit it to the city and the mayor by April 26.

The superintendent’s recommended $160,575,627.24 budget for fiscal year 2014, as compared to the committee’s most recent revised adopted FY13 budget of $159.3 million as of March 12, is projected to increase by eight-tenths of 1 percent, or $1.3 million.

In addition to rising expenses, Chief Budget Officer Anthony Ferrucci projects a $2.6 million decrease in revenue, which “puts Warwick Public Schools in the unfortunate position of needing to seek additional funds from the city in order to maintain the current level of buildings, programs and services.”

The recommended budget includes a $3.8 million increase for a total request of $122.4 million in local city allocation.

On the revenue side, Ferrucci projects an additional $614,262 in state aid. And while the department has relied on an approximate $2 million surplus annual carry over for the past three years, that surplus has now been fully utilized and only a small surplus is projected for the FY13 budget, resulting in a total lost revenue carryover of nearly $3 million.

The school department has undergone major undertakings in recent years, such as the closure of elementary schools; having Warwick school employees pay 20 percent toward medical premiums, saving the district millions of dollars annually; and outsourcing in-house transportation, resulting in the reduction of 64 staff positions and saving hundreds of thousands of dollars annually, which has allowed the school department to achieve balanced budgets and surpluses, even with a 5 percent reduction in local support, according to Ferrucci. However, no such undertakings are included in the FY14 recommended budget, including the closure of Gorton Junior High School, which is projected to save $1.1 million.

The Long-term Facilities Planning Committee has recommended closure of Gorton and is scheduled to present its recommendation to the School Committee at the April 23 meeting. Superintendent Richard D’Agostino said two public hearings would be held before the School Committee votes on whether or not to accept the recommendation.

Departments that presented budgets Tuesday included: Elementary Education; Secondary Education, which included Athletics; Special Education Services; Human Resources and Compliance; and Buildings and Grounds.

Initiatives included in the recommended budget are the following: all buildings and programs in existence as of April 1 are budgeted; limit of 10 staff reductions as capacity and building scheduling nears alignment with current staffing; maintaining level funding of textbooks, which includes $650,000 for a new math series; maintaining relatively level funding for technology, “even though many initiatives are considerably underfunded”; building, capital improvements and fire code issues that continue to threaten the district; and cutting all professional development funds for substitutes and stipends.

“It is our intention to reseed these [professional development] lines with surplus dollars from FY2013, to the extent available,” Ferrucci said.

David LaPlante, director of buildings and grounds, said his budget includes $200,000 for building initiatives, which breaks down to $135,000 for a new roof at Park Elementary, covering the balance of the contract not funded by bonds; $50,000 for a new boiler; and $15,000 in contingency funding for emergency repairs.

According to Ferrucci, funding the balance of the district’s capital needs, including Phase III of the Fire Code initiative scheduled for the summer of 2014, will be addressed separately in the fall of 2013 as a request for releasing additional bond funds from the authorized bond of 2006.

Ferrucci said two of the most pressing issues facing the district in next year’s budget are $1.1 million in tuitions paid to other districts for career and tech programs and charter schools, as well as $699,857 in debt service.

Unlike other public schools, Ferrucci said, Warwick Public Schools is committed to pay bond principal and interest from operating funds.

The following is a list of initiatives, by department, not included in the recommended budget.

Under elementary education, eight additional reading teachers, to work with students in intermediate grades, at a cost of $$640,000; full-time nurses at all schools for a cost of $420,000; and a K-12 science supervisor at a cost of $120,000 have not been included.

Director of Elementary Education Robert Bushell said even though current textbooks in the health curriculum are 18 years old, a new series of K-6 textbooks that address bullying and social media use has not been included, as well as math consultants, which are needed to address the district’s weakest subject area.

“We will have four computers in each classroom, but we need to work on increasing that,” he added.

Under secondary education, three deans of discipline, one at each high school, for a total cost of $360,000, and stipends and student licenses as part of a credit recovery program to help students attain needed credits and graduate, at a cost of $20,000, have not been included.

Director of Secondary Education Dennis Mullen said he feels the deans of discipline would be able to assist principals and assistant principals who are now devoting more of their time to the new teacher evaluation system. Related to that, Mullen said, is an intermediary service provider, which had been funded through the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) to assist in the transition to the new evaluation system, which is not included in the FY14 budget since funding will have to come from local dollars next year. Also not included is a director of instructional technology, which Mullen feels is a necessity with what RIDE is demanding of districts.

“I’m concerned that experienced principals and teachers who have questions will have no one to turn to and no one there to answer them,” he said.

Other items not included that Mullen covered but which fall under central administration was a centralized enrollment system, including four support staff with supervision for full implementation, at a cost of $185,000, and a district-wide time and attendance system for $75,000.

Under special education, a new behavior classroom, including one teacher and one teaching assistant, at a total cost of $150,000, and elementary inclusionary classrooms and student anxiety stress release program at a total cost of $550,000 have also not been included.

Under buildings, grounds and capital items, the following have not been included: $2.8 million in top priority items not yet funded from the community-approved 2006 bond; $2 million for a new roof at Warwick Vets High School; and $45,000 for refurbishing locker rooms in all high schools, which are badly in need of repair.

Finally, the cost of cutting all substitutes and stipends for professional development is approximately $1 million.

The following departments were scheduled to present their budgets at Wednesday’s meeting, after the Beacon’s deadline: Curriculum, Federal Programs, Technology, Office of Business Affairs, and the Career and Technical Center portion of the Secondary Education budget.

The School Committee is scheduled to adopt the FY14 budget on Tuesday, April 23.


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What’s Up With That

I think I have this right. Less students + buildings below 50% capacity + wage increases = new school budget with a tax increase.

Friday, April 12, 2013