Schools unable to close budgetary gap
The Warwick School Department will be unable to pass a balanced budget, as required by state law, according to the official updated budget report prepared in advance of tonight’s meeting of the Warwick School Committee.
The revelation does not come as a surprise to those familiar with the department’s financial plight. The committee faced a funding gap of over $8.1 million when it went before the Warwick City Council in late May and early June, only to receive $1.5 million in additional funding from the city on June 2, leaving a remaining shortfall of about $6.6 million.
“Given that most of the expenditure increases are due to contractual commitments and with the loss of significant revenues, it has been determined that further cuts cannot be brought forward, lest the Rhode Island Basic Education Plan will not be met,” the report summary reads.
The report lists a summary of those increased expenses, which include $5 million in contractual salary increases to teachers as part of the new collective bargaining agreement, $1.7 million in commitments to building maintenance as mandated by state law, $1.8 million to continue paying down debt service from a 2006 school bond and $2.8 million in lost revenue from the state’s funding formula.
Updated from the last report in April, the new report includes net salary decreases of about $140,000, which includes a decrease in administrative costs of about $17,000 and decreases to WISE salaries of about $170,000.
Despite nine teaching positions in elementary science being cut – which reflects a systemic change in which elementary teachers will now teach science as a regular part of their curriculum, rather than separate science instructors only teaching a couple days a week – the amount of staffing actually increased from April by 1.3 full time equivalents, including 4.5 new elementary PE/Health teachers and three additional kindergarten classes due to new enrollment projections.
The school department has confirmed in the past that they are currently in the process of selecting financial and programmatic auditing consultants to perform two audits of the school’s operations – one focused on the costs associated with delivering the city’s education versus the results of those methods and the other an analysis of the department’s programming.
These steps are preliminary to enacting a Caruolo Action, a lawsuit waged against the municipality on the grounds of receiving insufficient funding to operate the schools to the level required by the state in its Basic Education Plan. Discussion of the possible Caruolo Action is on the agenda for the school committee’s executive session tonight, which is not open to the public.
The programmatic auditing consultant has already been approved by the School Committee in June, however the fiscal auditor has yet to be hired, and there is no bid award for these services on the meeting agenda, indicating that the search for a consultant is still ongoing.
Big budget items up for discussion
As reported on the agenda, the School Committee will vote on over $3.2 million worth of contracts and bids tonight.
The majority of this stems from the proposed awarding of insurance policies through the Rhode Island Interlocal Trust. The two policies would cover auto liability, general liability, property liabilities and workers’ compensation at a projected total cost of $1,857,547.
Another approximately $880,000 is being proposed to pay West Bay Collaborative Services for an alternative learning space for up to 28 students in grades 6-12 and an Opportunity to Learn program for between 8 and 12 students. These services would be paid for quarterly.
The balance of $462,570 comprises $65,000 of electrical work to be done at John Brown Francis; $13,500 for 50 Blu Ray players and 50 document cameras; $29,625 for 75 LCD projectors at the elementary level; $129,600 for student assistance counselors at the secondary level; $9,000 for antiplagiarism software at the high schools; $5,000 for an OPEB audit consultant; $19,000 for kitchen inspections; $11,250 for 30 Virtual High School licenses; and about $165,000 for custodial supplies.
Union President Darlene Netcoh expressed her surprise Monday at seeing the high amount of bids to go before the committee, saying that she felt there should be some degree of spending freeze while the department figures out what is it going to do about its budgetary issues.