Schools unable to close budgetary gap

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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.

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CrickeeRaven

"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..."

As frequent readers know, the make-believe mayor supported the WTU through the contract negotiations that directly resulted in this spending increase, while at the same time arguing against the new contract language that allows the school committee to exceed the prior limit of 20 layoffs per year for purposes of consolidation.

It is a certainty that he will try to argue in favor of the salary increases and claim that the school committee is mismanaging its money -- while pretending that those two ideas are not related.

Tuesday, July 10
richardcorrente

I was there. The School Committee (SC) meeting last night. I saw genuine pain on the faces of all five members of the SC. I watched carefully as they agonized over necessary cuts to their budget and I honestly appreciated their efforts. I have criticized their actions many times in the past but last night they showed what appeared to be genuine concern for the 80,000 taxpayers that are paying the tab.

There was one area that I felt they should have cut but it seemed to be off limits for anyone except Karen Bachus. The administration. Why, I kept asking myself, wasn't ANY mention of a nominal cut there? How about all the members of the administration making six-digit incomes? Why couldn't they do their fair share and take a 5% or10% cut, if only to show good faith? The taxpayers have given the SC OVER A BILLION AND A HALF DOLLARS since 2009. The SC was supposed to use that money on educators. For years, they refused. Finally,when they agreed to pay by December 20th, (4 days before Christmas), they reneged. And now anonymous critics like CrickeeRaven, are trying to blame the teachers for the mismanagement of funds. How? They never had "funds" to mismanage? But the SC did. And it just seems to me that they could have, and should have taken a few dollars out of their pockets FIRST. At least those at the very top of the income range. That's how I feel, and I have heard from hundreds of taxpayers over the last three years, who feel the same way.

Happy Summer everyone.

Rick Corrente

The Taxpayers Mayor

Wednesday, July 11
CrickeeRaven

"How about all the members of the administration making six-digit incomes?"

According to the last Form 990 filed by the WTU in 2017, union president Darlene Netcoh makes a union salary of $35,097 in addition to her teaching salary [adding up to a six-figure income], while George Landrie, also listed as president, makes more than $80,000. Those salaries are paid by taxpayer-funded union dues, but the make-believe mayor has never suggested that those should be reduced: https://projects.propublica.org/nonprofits/organizations/50349852/201730909349300803/IRS990

"The SC was supposed to use that money on educators. For years, they refused."

This is a lie. 90-plus percent of the school budget pays for teacher salaries and benefits. The school committee never "refused" to pay teachers -- as proven by the contract offer that the school committee originally proposed and was ultimately accepted by the WTU after two years of needless work-to-rule, pickets, sickouts, and other PR stunts.

"Finally,when they agreed to pay by December 20th, (4 days before Christmas), they reneged."

This, too, is false. The city council -- which the make-believe mayor supported at the time and is now attacking for its poor budget decisions -- did not release the funds to pay for the new contract in time for the December school payroll. They also blamed the school administration for the delay, when they all knew full well that the contract had been signed and could have voted to release the funds at any time.

"[Commenters] are trying to blame the teachers for the mismanagement of funds."

No, this is yet another case where the make-believe mayor fails basic reading comprehension. I ask other readers who understood the previous point to be patient as I try to put it in simpler terms for the make-believe mayor:

The school committee is asking for $8 million.

$5 million of that is the teacher contract.

It is dishonest to attack the school committee for "mismanagement" while supporting the contract they signed. One can not say the contract was good and then say the resulting budget increase is bad.

In other words, the make-believe mayor is trying to make two contradictory points, pander to the WTU, and bash the school committee -- but in reality, failing to do anything other than humiliate himself with his dishonest statements.

Wednesday, July 11
patientman

The loss of state aid because of the funding formula is a concern. Some clarity on what the changes are would help understand why. Also cut the $880,000 for the alternative education program. $22,000 per student is ridiculous. Students need to behave or lose their taxpayer funded educational opportunities.

Wednesday, July 11
PaulHuff

I guess they shouldn’t have handed out the 5 million in salary increases then if they couldn’t afford it.

They would have only had to trim 1 million instead of the 6 million if they were fiscally responsible.

It’s really simple. If you can’t afford to give your employees raises, you don’t give them raises. It’s a slap in the face to the taxpayers to cry poverty when our tax dollars aren’t spent frugally.

Wednesday, July 11
WwkVoter

Maybe we just need an override like this?

https://www.wpri.com/news/local-news/se-mass/rehoboth-passes-budget-override-preventing-several-cuts/1308483721

Wednesday, July 18