Schools at epicenter of budget debate

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There are already questions about former Mayor Scott Avedisian’s proposed $310.6 million budget, but it appears there will be a limited number of people to answer them when the City Council begins the budget review Tuesday starting at 5 p.m. in Council Chambers.

Last Friday, in a move that came as a surprise to Acting Mayor Joseph Solomon, city finance director Bruce Keiser announced his immediate retirement. Keiser had worked with Avedisian in drafting a no tax increase “maintenance budget” that basically level-funded departments. Solomon acted swiftly to allay concerns that there would be no one from the prior administration to present the budget.

He issued a press release that City Treasurer Brian Silvia would step in to do the job. Then on Tuesday Solomon learned that Silvia would be leaving to accept the post of Coventry town finance director. There was some question when Silvia would leave, but on Wednesday Solomon issued a release Silvia would be staying for the budget presentation.

Critical to budget deliberations and whether the council can sustain a no tax increase spending package is the school allocation. Faced with a decline in state funding and an increase in payroll resulting from the teacher contract settled this winter, the School Committee drafted a $171.4 million budget calling for an $8 million increase in city spending.

“There is no way they are getting $8 million [more],” Ward 5 Councilman and chair of the council finance committee Ed Ladouceur vowed Tuesday. Ladouceur said he would listen to the school presentation, but he can’t see giving that much more to schools.

Ladouceur also questioned why Avedisian level funded schools.

“We know there is X amount of dollars in that contract [the teacher settlement] and you know you’re facing increases, so how can you level fund it knowing you can’t pay it?” Ladouceur asked.

Avedisian did not return a call on Wednesday.

“This is a very difficult budget season,” Ladouceur said. He finds it notable that after serving 18 years as mayor that this is Avedisian’s first no tax increase budget. Ladouceur did not expound on what he thought that meant.

As for the budget process, Ladouceur concluded, “It’s not going to be pretty and I don’t think it’s going to be painless.”

To make it as easy as possible, school finance director Anthony Ferrucci has boiled down pages of budget details into a three-page summary that he plans on presenting Tuesday night. The digest that he estimates will take about two minutes to present was emailed to council members yesterday.

Ferrucci said the intent of the document is to illustrate how contractual obligations and the economic impact of negotiations and teacher step increases affect the budget. In addition, he will show that the School Committee’s action to consolidate elementary schools will save $4 million, and if that weren’t to happen the budget request would have been for $175 million, an increase of $12 million in city funding.

Ferrucci said he aims to “connect the dots” to illustrate what has driven up department costs, the loss of $1.6 million in state revenues and the use of a $1.2 million surplus in the current budget and those impacts on the budget. He said the requested budget represents a 3.19 percent increase in overall spending. Because of the reduction in state aid and dependence on city funds to make up the difference the overall increase in city funding, should the $8 million be approved, would represent a 6.6 percent increase.

Asked about his meeting Monday with Superintendent Philip Thornton, Solomon said he was interested in learning how the schools arrived at its budget and the school’s decision to seek bids for an auditor. An auditor would be needed should the committee bring legal action on the basis that the budget approved by the council fails to adequately fund schools in compliance with state standards.

Asked specifically of the requested budget, Solomon said, “I don’t know how the taxpayers can bear that.”

While Solomon was invited to participate in the budget process and would have been presented “options” according to Avedisian, he chose to let Avedisian draft the budget.

Surely, Silvia will be asked the reasoning behind level funding schools.

In a release issued Wednesday Solomon said, “It is never easy to see an employee as dedicated as Brian leave. But, it is my understanding Brian has been looking for new professional challenges and opportunities for quite some time. I wish him nothing but the best when he starts his new position, and I look forward to his continued support as we begin budget hearings next week. He, along with my administration, will continue to work together in the best interest of the taxpayers.”

Silvia said in a statement, “I thank Mayor Solomon for his understanding and encouragement since speaking to him about my decision to take on this new role. However, I remain committed to making the budget process run as smoothly as possible. While leaving is bittersweet, I will always be grateful for the opportunity to work with the talented and dedicated employees here in Warwick.”

The release notes that Solomon has participated in the municipal budget process for the last 18 years, eight of which as Council President has spent countless hours in budget hearings and scrutinizing proposals.

The release reads, “As such, the budget will continue to be presented in a transparent way with comments and concerns from taxpayers being of the utmost importance.”

Comments

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richardcorrente

The School Committee (SC) wants MORE. That's not a surprise. They ALWAYS want more. The students Warwick educate are far LESS. The number and square footage of buildings are far LESS. The number of teachers Warwick has to pay is far LESS. Yet the SC wants MORE. The only thing that's increased is the number of administrators and the money Warwick taxpayers have to pay them. It seems to me that the ONLY reason the SC wants MORE is for the sole benefit of THE SCHOOL COMMITTEE! If the students, teachers and school "square-footage" are all down by a certain percent, shouldn't the SC budget ALSO be decreased by the same percentage? That sounds logical to me.

Here's something else that doesn't sound logical. Acting Mayor Solomon was invited by outgoing Mayor Avedisian to participate in the budget process. Solomon chose not to.

Bad idea.

I think I know why. I think Solomon didn't want to take the blame. Too late. He is the Mayor. The buck stops ON THE MAYORS' DESK. Joe decided not to participate but he absolutely NEEDS to.

As Mayor, I would have been involved from day one. The 80,000 taxpayers that are paying the tab are watching. And voting.

Happy Spring/Summer everyone.

Rick Corrente

The Taxpayers Mayor

Thursday, May 24
bendover

More inane ranting from dickie....DICKIE...Go and read a State budget document sometime and explain how outlying communities, (Warwick) get a fair shake when over 70% of the money goes to 5 cities and towns, and has for years? Yes, by all means, let the voters continue to send the same useful idiots back to the State House year after while expecting a different outcome. DICKIE, just give up and quietly fade to black.....You have become boring.

Thursday, May 24
CrickeeRaven

"The only thing that's increased is the number of administrators..."

False. The current teacher contract includes 3-percent raises for the next two years, on top of the raises and retro pay that cost the city $4.5 million more this budget year.

The make-believe mayor continues to ignore reality in favor of pathetically trying to score political points against acting Mayor Solomon -- which, as honest, taxpaying voters already know, will not work. He will find himself a two-time election loser and a minor footnote in Warwick election history.

Thursday, May 24
Scal1024

-The tax delinquent fraud candidate Rick Corrente had no rebuttal for his glowing praise of Joe Solomons work right here on this site Sept 1st 2016.

-He also has no rebuttal to the fact he wants to RAISE BEACH FEES on EVERY driving resident in Warwick.

-He has no rebuttal to what spending he would cut, or what taxes he would cut and how he would pay for it other than saying "new taxpayers".

Now he wants you to believe he's some type of advocate for schools. Well, he also claims he's an advocate for taxpayers while trying to raise fees before he ever even gets in office.

The bottom line is Rick Corrente is all talk, ZERO ACTION. He can't tell you how much a single proposal of his will cost. He also can't tell you how he'll pay for any of these things DAY ONE. If he's proposing raising fees now, what do you think will happen when he gets his hands on the budget? The only way Corrente can afford "buy a house, get a check" without increased spending is to raise taxes. Anything else he says is a lie unless there is a method from which to pay for it. "New taxpayers" won't be here day one Rick, so who will pay for these things???

One thing is for sure, Corrente will either blatantly ignore the question, run and hide, begin commenting under other articles. This embarrassment isn't qualified to be on the City Council, nevermind mayor.

Friday, May 25
DannyHall

Richard,

The Council has adequately fund schools in compliance with state standards, How is it that the School Committee would only benefit? I see it as everyone benefits especially our kids.....Now where in the budget would you cut? Cutting a 100k Administration position does very little nor does laying off teachers help the learning environment for our kids. How would you address safety concerns with our Schools? We can't with less funds....

Don't take it as me being rude or anything but when do we say enough? Looks at neighboring communities that started rebuilding and renovating schools years ago and still continue today. All the test scores are improved with improved learning conditions. All of the issues we face now were predicted by Former School Committee member Friel and School Committee/Councilman Cushman 15-20 years ago but we kicked the can down the road. We the voters approved a bond for School repairs I believe in 2006 but the prior administration refused to let the School Committee use it for repairs.

Maybe I'm biased now because I'm blessed to have a beautiful little girl but the future of our State is dependent on our kids and the tools we give them.

Friday, May 25