School sports on chopping block

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Facing an approximately $7.7 million budgetary deficit for the upcoming fiscal year that starts July 1, Warwick School Committee Chairwoman Karen Bachus reported via Facebook that essentially everything was on the chopping block – including all school sports, clubs and programs such as mentoring.

“I am very sorry to bring you the devastating news that Mayor Joseph Solomon and the Warwick City Council effectively level funded our schools at the budget vote last evening,” she wrote in a post on June 1, following the city’s adopting of the budget on Friday, May 31. “This decision effectively cripples the school department and forces us to cut necessary staff and essential programs for our students.”

She posted a long list of cuts which “will have to be made,” and yet still only amounted to about $5 million, even after hypothetically eliminating all the following:

“All sports; All clubs; Technology – Chromebooks, computers; All new textbooks; Pension; All Teacher Training and [professional development]; Cut Teacher assistants; Cut maintenance personnel; 2nd shift custodians not restored; Cut Mentoring; Cut VOWS; Cut High school accreditation process; Cut (CCRI) graduation,” she wrote.

The schools requested an additional $7.7 million for the upcoming fiscal year to cover rising expenses, but they did not receive close to that. Schools requested a total budget of $173.6 million. The council approved $165.9 million. In place of the added $7.7 million in city funds the council allocated an added $508,000 to the schools and agreed to take on principal and interest debt stemming from a 2006 construction bond, which amounts to a $1.7 million expense from the city that will be reoccurring until the bond debt is eliminated. The city council also approved a $6 million release of funding from the $40 million school bond that passed via voters this past November.

Mayor Joseph Solomon said through a press release on Monday that he found the city’s appropriation to the school department to be “appropriate at this time,” and that he intends to extend negotiations with school representatives “as part of his ongoing efforts to improve the relationship between the City and the School Department and address issues of critical concern in Warwick’s educational system.”

“I am hereby extending to the School Department a continued mediation process that can assist us in determining how best to provide for the students, teachers and staff of our City and balance our ability to do so financially,” Solomon said in the release.

Solomon clarified on Monday that the negotiations would strictly pertain to fiscal challenges presented in the upcoming fiscal year that begins July 1, and would not pertain to the school’s current-year deficit of about $4 million. That deficit became the subject of a controversial mediator decision handed down in May, which removed the city from any fiscal responsibility and has subsequently been challenged legally regarding its solution of taking money from the school’s pension plan.

“The mediator award speaks for itself,” Solomon said in a call on Monday. “Everyone heard the same thing, everyone acted in good faith. All of the sudden over a 48-hour period everything started changing. I stand by the mediator's award and by the representations that were made in those mediation sessions.”

School superintendent Philip Thornton was troubled by what he perceived to be a purposeful attempt to confuse the issue through the release.

“The third paragraph is inaccurate and intentionally misleading,” he said on Monday of the release, referencing the paragraph that includes how the city has increased funding by $508,000, provided $1.7 million in principal and interest payments and $6 million in bond funding.

Thornton said that the city did not increase its allocation to the school department, but rather the schools received an additional allocation from state aid – and that the city’s contribution to the school department has only increased a little over $14,000 since 2010.

“The city has effectively level funded the schools since 2010,” he said.

Thornton said it was misleading for Solomon to rope the $1.7 million in principal and interest into the argument showcasing their support for the schools since that money only fills a known budgetary contingency that already wasn’t included in their budget need and didn’t contribute to the $7.7 million ask. He says including the school bond funding is also misleading because that money cannot be used for the general operating budget.

Council critical of schools

During their deliberations to pass the budget this past Friday, the Warwick City Council spoke at length about their decision to not increase the allocation to the schools beyond the figures proposed by Solomon in his original budget.

City Council President Steve Merolla delved into the sticky, continuously developing history surrounding the school department’s relationship with the city council, going back to last year’s budget hearings where school officials, including Thornton and finance director Anthony Ferrucci, asked for around $8.1 million from the city – which eventually wound up at a year-end deficit in the range of $4 million.

When the council instead increased the allocation by $1.5 million, the schools eventually filed a lawsuit against the city, which was ultimately dropped in February as a show of good faith from the new school committee. Merolla talked about how the city, in mediation talks with the schools, discovered the over-contributions beyond the actuary’s recommendations to the school’s pension fund, and how an independent CPA found around $3.5 million in potential savings for the school department.

Ferrucci has since challenged the methodology and conclusion of that CPA analysis, but regardless the situation seems to be indicative of a serious lack of trust between the two sides.

“To listen to a certain individual tell us in the mediation room that they were proud of over-funding their pensions more than what was required by the actuaries, while they were not washing bathrooms and while they took away money from the mentorship program was infuriating,” Merolla said, speaking of Ferrucci. “It was infuriating. We didn't even get into the other issues on the list that the accountant identified.”

Ward 8 Councilman Anthony Sinapi was more pointed in his criticism of the school department and Ferrucci.

“We don't have someone from the school department giving us numbers that we can trust. It's unfortunate,” he said. He added prior to the vote approving the budget that, “I think the council is doing the best they can given the information, or lack thereof, that we're getting from the budget officer from the school department…I think our hands are somewhat tied given the current circumstances.”

Merolla took a wait and see approach regarding the school budget on Friday.

“I'm comfortable with where we are and I'll assume that we'll see what transpires over the next few months,” he said.

Comments

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justanidiot

da times to get rid of sports is hear. you wants johnny to plays hockey, send dem to mountain saint charlie. susie wants to play footsball, send her to hendicken.

Tuesday, June 4
davebarry

If school sports and clubs mean I have to pay an extra 100 bucks a week in taxes.....cut them! Our taxes are all ready going up 3.5% and we just had our valuations raised. I'm looking at almost $1000.00 more per year. CUT CUT CUT.

Tuesday, June 4
PaulHuff

Had they not given out raises they could not afford the current issue wouldn't have been nearly as bad.

Tuesday, June 4
Jimmy

There is so much fluff in the school budget. The money is there. They will not cut these programs.

Tuesday, June 4
justanidiot

day needs to cut backs to wats day had in my day, da three rs reeding riting rithmatic and recess.

Tuesday, June 4
Scal1024

Here comes the fear mongering from Bachus. Karen didn't seem too concerned about school sports or other programs when she voted to approve over $4 million in raises (which is a large part of the $7+ million debt that exists.) If we are truly at the point where we can't afford these programs why are raises being given to ANYONE right now? Something has to change and shame on every member of the Council and MOST members of the school committee (atleast Dave Testa doesn't spin us) for the mess we are in today. Before the "anti teacher" remarks come out I have teachers in my immediate family and I believe they do a great job as most teachers are there for the right reasons. This however, comes down to affordability. The school system is broken. Schools are closing and the budget hole seems to be growing larger every year. We're never going to get on the right track unless major changes occur. As things stand today I would NOT put my child in the Warwick School System, something I would've never envisioned as I was growing up in the school system myself.

Its funny, there weren't any "sickouts" this school year. Glad to see the school system as a whole is feeling much healthier. It's amazing what a raise will do for the immune system...even though it wasn't about the money, right? It was about what was in the best interest of the "students", I believe they said. Here we are 1 year later and while employees are getting ready to collect over $4 million in raises, the students have to wonder whether or not their favorite sport will be cut, or whether that after school program they love will be there next year, or whether or not they will ever attend another field trip for the rest of their school careers. The only message being sent to students is spare your tears and your hurt feelings kids, after all the teachers are doing it for you!

Tuesday, June 4
Cat

The city is overrun with unsustainable costs. You can look to each and every department, administration and facility and find places to make cuts. I am sorry you think your specific issue is of the utmost importance and simply can't be cut but so does everyone else. An unbiased party must come in and review process and procedures and start making responsible financial decisions because clearly the people we elected for the job can't manage to figure things out.

Tuesday, June 4
can't believe it

The teachers' union has their dream team. What a joke Bachus and company were. Bachus said she voted against teacher raises but check past issues of the Beacon, it's noted that she voted for them. Tell the truth Karen.

Karen was the obstructionist in years past when they wanted to consolidate schools. Think of the millions that could have been saved.

Karen has no game plan. She still hasn't answered why it costs close to $20k to educate a student in Warwick and yet other communities spend thousands less.

Bachus is so over her head she should resign.

Tuesday, June 4
phillipdrummond

Nice to see the Thornton playbook is alive and well. He threatened to cut sports and extra curricular activities when he was in Cumberland to get what he wanted. Saw the writing on the wall a couple of years ago and removed my children from this awful school system. Any organization that would institute work to rule and effectively turn their backs on the children is a district that I don't want my children to be in. No teacher in this district could ever convince me that they care about the children after that debacle. Parents have had it and the CTE program has been a blessing. Now Thornton wants to make changes because more kids are leaving than coming in to the city each year and I can guarantee getting rid of sports, clubs and mentoring will cause even more kids to go to NK and other surrounding school districts. What's hilarious is a year ago Thornton was trying to make the argument that kids were leaving Warwick because of sports and that the kids should have to go back to Warwick but now they want to cut sports which will cause some kids to leave. My children are now in a well run district with teachers who take a personal interest in seeing that their children succeed. It's the exact opposite in Warwick.

Any parent who takes their child's education seriously needs to look in to the CTE program and take their child out of Warwick or look in to private school if you can afford it. The teachers of Warwick can not, or in the case of work to rule, will not teach our children the skills needed to be successful in todays society. Lots of children have left and are better off and more leave each year because Warwick teachers, school committee, and city council are incapable of providing an environment that fosters sustainability and reliability.

Wednesday, June 5
RISchadenfreude

Before any cuts are made to student programs, daily costs of the teachers' and administrations' budgets need to be more closely analyzed.

Are administrators using city-owned vehicles, especially for personal business? If they take the vehicle home it's personal business. Period. Do they have cell phones provided by the taxpayers? Date programs for tablets that are used anywhere but on school grounds for anything but school business? Are any expenses and expense accounts audited? Overhead which was approved before the budget crisis needs to be analyzed to trim the fat from operating budgets, not student activities...this is how it's done in the real world.

Wednesday, June 5
carlene

THIS ARTICLE IS PATHETIC. THE CONSIDERATION OF CUTTING SCHOOL SPORTS SHOULDN'T EVEN BE ON THE AGENDA. SPORTS AND THESE KIDS IS WHAT MAKES WARWICK SCHOOLS SHINE. FIND THE MONEY ELSEWHERE, LIKE RAISES SHOULD HAVE NEVER BEEN GIVEN IF WARWICK IS IN A DEFICIT. CHROMEBOOKS? WHY. MOST HOUSEHOLDS EITHER HAVE A COMPUTER OR LAPTOP OR WHAT HAPPENED TO THE OLD FASHION WAY OF KIDS BEING TAUGHT BY THE TEACHERS, OH THATS RIGHT THEY DON'T GET PAID ENOUGH MONEY TO DO THAT, SICKENING. SHOULD BE ASHAMED.

WHEN SCOTT AVEDESIAN WAS MAYOR HE DID NOT LEAVE THIS TOWN IN A DEFICIT THE MONEY WAS ACCOUNTED FOR, TAXES DID NOT GO UP EVERY YEAR BUT FUNNY HOW MINE KEEP RAISING SINCE MAYOR SOLOMON CAME IN. SO I WONDER WHERE IS ALL THIS MONEY WARWICK HAD. MAYBE THIS SHOULD BE INVESTIGATED.

Wednesday, June 5
Scal1024

Carlene, you might want to read up on this issue a bit more if that is your understanding of what's taken place. Scott Avedisian didn't kick the can down the road for the City of Warwick, he shot it out of a rocket launcher and never looked back. Now our city is left to fix the mess he helped create and never bothered to address. Your taxes are being raised to help pay for Scott Avedisian's mistakes as Mayor. Bottom line. Mayor Solomon is not exempt and I certainly don't agree with everything he's done, but this problem didn't start with him and it's an unfair characterization to say it did. Your comment is precisely what's been wrong with our city for the last 2 decades. Everybody was too busy praising Scott Avedisian for a "job well done" because he walked in a few parades and ate chowder and clamcakes at a Senior Center. Nobody bothered to ask or even look into whether or not he was doing nearly as good of a job as he, or the Beacon said he was.

These problems didn't happen overnight. They're not going to be fixed overnight either. Every public servant in this city needs to be given a fair contract with a reasonable wage, health care and retirement benefits that taxpayers CAN AFFORD. Without that we are never crawling out of this whole. Ever. Councilman Merolla has stated the city would rather pay OT to the WFD than hire new employees and pay their wages and benefits. Is this something that could be used across EVERY department city wide and not just WFD alone? Why limit this approach to just the WFD? They are certainly not the only public servants working OT, so why are they the only Department who seems to get criticized for it? It might be worth looking into increasing overtime budgets in all city wide departments while reducing the overall payroll of the city, especially as pensions and retiree health care are becoming a bigger problem for the city ($280+ million OPEB with $0 currently budgeted to pay for it).

PS: It's time to stop playing politics with our students. This game of political football is unproductive. Karen Bachus is a liar. When the teachers didn't have a contract she was the loudest advocate they had, excusing their "sickouts" and grandstanding at every School Committee meeting. Now Karen is "shocked, just shocked I tell you" that of the $7 million hole, over $4 million is tied directly to employee wages. So remember when the money comes in and NONE of these activities are cut, just remember that Fear Mongering Fraud Karen Bachus and her strong advocacy for the teachers over the students.

SHAME ON YOU, KAREN!!!

Wednesday, June 5
John Stark

Carlene - I'm not sure how the article is "pathetic". It seems to me that the content of the article perfectly captures the issues before us. The problem, of course, is that there is a big issue not being addressed. I refer to the laser focus on financial inputs into the schools, and not one word about measurable outcomes. That is, in exchange for $170M of taxpayer money into the schools, or now over $19,000 per student, what are Warwick taxpayers receiving in return? Put another way, what is the relative quality of this public service for which we all pay dearly? Answer: Deplorable. At Pilgrim, 24.1% of students who took the SAT were deemed to be meeting expectations in Math. 24.1! By contrast, East Greenwich, which spends about 18% LESS per student than Warwick, had 76% of it's students deemed to be meeting expectations. So as the school committee demands more and more money for the USS Warwick Schools, someone may wish to inform them that the ship has hit a reef, is taking on water, and those who can have abandoned ship.

As for the phrase "SPORTS AND THESE KIDS IS WHAT MAKES WARWICK SCHOOLS SHINE", you'll have to be a tad more specific. "Shine" at what, exactly?!

Wednesday, June 5
Maggie

All I have to say is keep reelecting this school committee, because nothing changes if nothing changes! Where is all the savings from school closures? I know part of it went to a independent study on making Vets a middle school....funny how the independent study came up with what the FREE COMMITTEE came up with and delayed the closing of the two Jr. High Schools. How much was the CPA paid to find 3.5 million in savings? No one in the school department was qualified to find those savings? Bigger question will the school department implement those recommendations? Or will Bachus insist on more money being spent to save nothing? Bachus isn't sorry to bring devastating news, she thrives on blaming others! My property tax assessment went up 40K and I still have no sewers, no land .19 and a 100 year old house, with 100 year old problems. That extra 40K will be taxed though, with 1/2 of it going to the school department can't wait!!!!

Wednesday, June 5
Happy

To bring more families to Warwick parents expect a top tier school system, period!

Now, all the workers in every part of Warwick have top tier benefits for life, top pensions for life and top tier entitlement clauses.

Now it's time to make the schools top tier so that all the students of today will stay in Warwick to raise their families because of the fond memories!

WHAT WE HAVE TO DEAL WITH ARE THOSE FOLKS "WE" PUT IN OFFICE THAT ARE SCREWING THIS UP!

But, here is another idea, let's "say" we'll vote them out and not do it, keep them in power to see how LOW that they can bring us!

Thursday, June 6
Thecaptain

Where were all you people when the budget hearings were going on all these years with only 4 of us screaming about these unsustainable issues? And next week, the council chambers will be empty again as few people in this city actually have a grasp on the dire financial straights we are in.

Thursday, June 6