Schools cut $7.7M, including all sports; Solomon pledges to restore

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With chants echoing in the background from over 100 students who gathered in front of City Hall Wednesday morning to protest $7.75 million in cuts made by the Warwick School Committee the prior evening – which includes the entire $1.3 million budget for school sports – Mayor Joseph Solomon doubled down on his insistence that sports and afterschool programming will remain come this fall.

“Those people out there demonstrating, they’re preaching to the choir,” he said. “We’re with them. We’ve been with them from day one.”

The demonstrating students, however, didn’t seem to agree. They stormed through the front door of City Hall, posting up outside of Solomon’s office lobby chanting “Where is the mayor” and “We’re not stopping.”

The crowd was eventually calmed down when a few student representatives along with Pilgrim girls soccer coach Tom Flanders were given access to speak with the mayor in his office, where Solomon reportedly re-emphasized his commitment to restore sports and programming to students, leading to cheers from the demonstrators.

Solomon likewise said during his weekly interview with the Beacon, which he held despite the commotion happening outside his window, that he wouldn’t be stopping either when it comes to finding ways to bring back sports and afterschool programming by the time schools – which just dismissed for the summer on Monday – are back in session in September.

He said he was looking into ways to have the city take on some cost burdens from the schools to be able to save the programming, such as having city parks and recreation employees cut the grass and maintain sports fields, and examining other areas, such as the costs for supplies, for more possible savings.

But school personnel have dismissed this idea as pure folly. Superintendent Philip Thornton recently explained that five employees – at a total cost of $250,000 – cut all 103 acres of grass on all 19 school properties in Warwick. Not only would the city assuming these duties only account for a fraction of the overall cost of sports programming, it would allegedly violate the contracts of the workers who perform those duties for the schools.

“I’m not privy to their contracts, I’m not looking to violate their contracts, but I am looking to keep after school sports in place and afterschool programs in place,” Solomon said.

However, it appears that, once again, the city and the schools are not on the same page about exactly what restoring sports and programming actually entails.

Cuts prioritized, and sports not on top

During their meeting on Tuesday night to balance the $173.6 million FY2020 budget, which begins July 1, the Warwick School Committee unanimously agreed to 46 different line item cuts in order to free up over $7.75 million to close their gap between what the year will cost versus the total funding available to them.

“None of [these cuts] we wished we had to have on the table today,” said a somber Anthony Ferrucci, finance director for Warwick Public Schools. “Everything here is extremely important to the success of our schools.”

Those items were put in a prioritized list, with the items at the top being the first priority for restoration by the school committee should more funding become available. Sports did not even fall in the top 10 in terms of priority (it was listed at number 17 of 46 items). Things like math curriculum, textbooks and professional training for teachers to instruct curriculum all came before sports in terms of what would be prioritized for restoration.

What this means, according to the list, is that the schools would need about $4.1 million total in order to bring back everything on the priority list up to and including sports and afterschool activities. Sports alone would cost $1.36 million to reinstate. The school committee and Thornton have made it clear that restoring educational items of importance may have to come before sports.

Solomon said on Wednesday that there would be no objection from him or the council if they could be assured that a $1.3 million allocation from the city to the schools would be utilized to bring back sports and afterschool activities.

“I would love to say at this point that if we gave them $1.3 million, it would be assured. There would be no objection from the council, but there’s no assurance of that,” he said. “We can get the money, that’s not the issue. It’s how the money is spent.”

However, School Committee Chairwoman Karen Bachus emphasized that a $1.3 million allocation for sports would not solve the problem at hand during a visit to the Beacon office on Wednesday afternoon.

“It’s not just about sports,” she said. “It’s about academics, it’s about clubs, it’s about music, it’s about drama. It’s about student assistance counselors for kids who are suicidal and strung out and start to use drugs or get involved with gangs. It’s about a lot more than sports. Sports are very important, but it’s not just about sports…They believe that their problem will go away if they take care of sports.”

Caruolo Action incoming

Solomon and Bachus confirmed Wednesday that the city and schools were likely headed to court over the issue, which would be the second time in about six months that a so-called Caruolo Action would be pursued.

The first suit was dropped shortly after the new school committee was sworn in this January, which was a show of good faith from the new committee with Solomon and the city in order to meet in mediation and figure out how to address the budget deficit for the current fiscal year.

However, in the months that have progressed since the lawsuit was dropped, relationships between the new school committee, the city council and Solomon have soured. Bachus and School Committee Vice Chair Judy Cobden were vocal in their disappointment with the city’s funding allocation during this budget year, which included $1.7 million to cover principal and interest payments on a 2006 school bond but otherwise kept the maintenance of effort identical to last year’s funding level.

This is despite a request for about $7.7 million in funding aid from the city. A significant chunk of that ask comes from contractual raises owed to Warwick Teachers’ Union and WISE Union members, along with fringe benefits and other non-staffing increases.

“We cannot continue to sit and talk and get nowhere,” Bachus said when asked if a lawsuit was on the horizon. “The mayor has made it very clear that he does not plan to give us money to cover the raises or to cover anything else.”

Solomon said that he would prefer to go the mediation route, and that he will continue to offer that option, but the city will also be prepared should the matter go the way of litigation.

“Mediation effectuates the same thing, I think, when you have a meeting of the minds with a neutral arbitrator…It’s a lot less costly. I like using those resources towards education,” he said. “But if they choose to go the more costly route, so be it. It’s their right to do so. I can’t tell them don’t do it. We’re prepared to present what we have to present.”

Where to go from here?

What the city is left with, once again, is an impasse between the city’s government and the school department and its elected school committee with regards to what exactly the severity of the need is for schools, why things have gotten to this point and who should be on the hook to solve the problem.

Some on the City Council believe the schools have mismanaged money and have either wasted or refused to report savings achieved from closing schools and reducing staff, along with a student population that has been reduced by over 2,000 from 10 years ago.

“Last time I checked, if you have a cable box in your house and you decide to not have a cable box, the cost goes down, not up,” said Council President Steve Merolla during Monday night’s City Council meeting.

Merolla took issue with the notion that schools have been “level funded,” despite the fact that over 99.9 percent of new property tax revenue going to the city side of the budget since 2010, with the city contribution to the schools increasing by only about $14,000 in that span. He contends that the school district’s budget has increased from $157.8 million in 2008 to about $174 million this year, and that between the aforementioned declining population and closed schools and contributions from state aid, there should be more money available.

“We're committed to getting these issues resolved,” he said. “We're going to continue to work very hard to get that done, but it's disingenuous to only give the public what the city side is 'increasing' when you don't talk about what the state did and you don't talk about what happened over those 10 years and how much your costs should have gone down.”

These points of view were also shared by Ward 3 Councilman Timothy Howe, who is also a math teacher in Pawtucket.

“As an educator, as a taxpayer as a representative of the city, if any business or any person sitting at their kitchen table going over a budget, if they eliminated their cable bill and they eliminated their electric bill and they eliminated their gas bill and they sold their summer home, I think we all can agree they'd have a little extra money to spend,” he said. “You can throw millions and millions of dollars at a situation and it will not solve the problem.”

A dark day for Warwick

The Warwick School Committee took no pleasure in slashing programming and all school sports Tuesday night.

“It's truly a dark day for the city,” said Nathan Cornell, committee clerk. “I'm sorry for everyone because this is going to be terrible. I wish these cuts weren't happening. This is going to kill our school district and in effect it's going to kill our city. It's terrible.”

“I said from this seat a year or so ago that I believed there was a reckoning coming. I thought it was last year, but it's this year. It's here,” said committee member David Testa, who still has a daughter in the school system about to be a senior at Pilgrim. “The only two words I have for you is, 'I'm sorry.' I never thought this day would come. Never in my wildest dreams.”

Testa reiterated his belief Tuesday night that only through additional funding can the schools begin to solve the problems at hand.

“We got here because of what I have called a starvation of funding,” he said. “I truly believe with every fiber of my being this is not a spending problem, it's a funding problem. Despite what other people might think.”

Superintendent Thornton kept his comments brief, agreeing that more funding is the only solution.

“These very difficult cuts, including textbooks, teacher assistants, sports and clubs, come after having closed schools and having reduced staff in previous budget years,” said Thornton. “Warwick Schools are at a crossroads. More funding is needed for education in the city of Warwick.”

During her visit on Wednesday, Cobden reiterated her disgust that she had no choice but to vote for a total cut of sports given the dire situation the schools are in. Cobden, a varsity athlete who still holds a school record for goals against in field hockey at Pilgrim High School, teared up during the meeting on Tuesday and later held up her old Letterman jacket as a symbol for her commitment to trying to find ways to avoid the inevitable.

Those efforts ultimately proved not to be enough, despite going line by line through the budget looking for savings. She took issue with Solomon’s statements that he could swoop in and save sports by taking over duties that belong to the schools.

“Nobody is going to be a hero in this,” she said Wednesday. “It’s bad.”

Comments

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justanidiot

mans, what a politicals move. da only thang peoples really care about is jocks sew to get any action they threaten people to their core

Childish

Thursday, June 20
Patrick Ramsey

These cuts are 100% the fault of the Thornton Administration and they should be FIRED! They have trapped the current school committee and city council with the allure of high priced headlines and expensive programs the city can not afford, for years!

I went through the archives and looked at Warwick Schools articles over the Thornton Administration's term. Overspending has been happening since he arrived!

Year 1 (2015-2016)

A consultant was hired to show Warwick needs more administrators, even though they are closing schools. A consultant also used by Thornton to add administrative positions in Cumberland.

Here is a list of the administrative positions that have been added, that did not exist, since Phil started in Warwick.

Chief Academic Officer (130k+)

Director of Curriculum (110k+)

Director of Technology (110k+)

Coordinator of Technology Applications (100k+)

Coordinator of Teaching and Learning (100k+)

Assistant Principal of Teaching and Learning Pilgrim (100k+)

Assistant Principal of Teaching and Learning Warwick Vets (100k+)

Assistant Principal of Teaching and Learning Toll Gate (100k+)

Assistant Principal of Teaching and Learning Winman (100k+)

Assistant Principal of Climate and Culture Vets (100k+)

Assistant Principal of Climate and Culture Winman (100k+)

Some of these may be renamed positions but I think most, if not all, are NEW! It was hard to determine exactly how many positions were added, Warwick Public Schools is about as transparent as a brick wall. Salaries are estimates and don’t even include benefits.

I saw where the Warwick School Committee hired an auditor to refute claims of administration over-staffing. The whole situation was clouded by questions about the auditor not being independent. Questions were raised and never answered. It wouldn’t surprise me if the auditor was fraudulent and wasted more tax-payer dollars. Auditor credentials were never listed.

With decreases in population and consolidation on the horizon, you can make an argument that these positions should have never been created in the first place. That's well over a million dollars in administration added in a couple of years.

This year also includes a public relations firm and expensive lawyers that tried and failed to break the unions.

Year 2 (2016-2017)

Even though the SMMA consolidation report listed all the urgent facility issues with the schools, the Thornton Administration decided to redo auditoriums and entry doors.

Then later in the year, when the fire alarm systems fail, steam pipes break, air quality is questioned, and roofs leak... unbudgeted emergency spending needs to happen or the schools can't open. How convenient, now the Thornton Administration gets both and the burden is put on the Warwick taxpayers.

Maybe we just need a bond which I'm sure will have a great impact on the Warwick tax bill. Voters never go against bonds for schools and they knew that. Thornton is a crisis profiteer.

It's all about headlines with the Thornton Administration, a picture of a new fire alarm box just doesn't get the clicks.

You can also include an expensive security system called Mutual Link. I'm not sure what it does but it's never mentioned again after an article in the Beacon... but it's still budgeted.

Year 3 (2017-2018)

Chromebooks for every student, grades 6-12. Even though there are no research reports or case studies that show this type of learning works, Warwick was full steam ahead. The hiring of coaches and technicians to support the initiative. Again, it's a nice headline. Wow, Warwick is ahead of everyone else. What they didn't tell the community is they had no idea how to pay for this moving forward.

When it happens, the Thornton Administration gets all the applause. When the city can't afford the financial burden, the city council are the bad guys. They get the negative press for the Thornton Administration's lack of planning.

Where're the results?? If this expensive alternative approach to learning is effective, we should be competitive on RICAS and SAT. We're not though, if we were in Massachusetts, we would be near the bottom on RICAS and are near the bottom on SAT performance.

You can also add Promethean boards in every classroom. Wow, what a headline! What they didn't tell you is the boards run an old software and will be useless in a few years. Where was the research? Where are the case studies?

This is the year they also added middle school sports. That's fantastic, who doesn't like sports for kids. What they didn't tell you, is that a much less expensive intramural program would have been more responsible considering the yearly cost. Again, city council are the bad guys for having to take it away. There is just simply a lack of financial planning at the school department.

This year also includes the Cedar Hill controversy and the Gorton Administration Building renovations and air conditioning, those numbers were never released to the public.

Year 4 (2018-2019)

Teacher contract raises are coming into effect from a contract negotiated and signed by the Thornton Administration. If you couldn't afford the raises then why did you agree to them??? I have to admit, "Teacher Contract Settled" is a great headline!

Consolidation savings disappear in a blink of an eye. If there is one line item that should have decreased significantly, it should have been the supplies line item. You take the supplies from the closing schools and use them in the schools that are still open, pure logic. However, the supply and program line items have increased in the last 2 years. Where did all that stuff go? Dumpsters?

Elementary students are getting a new science program and health! The cost looked reasonable in the article but then I read closer and that was just two grade levels. So, the cost will only continue to rise each year as more grade-levels get added. Remember that when the school department is asking for millions over budget, next year.

There is also a math and English purchase on the way. Maybe it just isn't the right time to make these moves with the budget in such disarray.

This year also includes the sunbutter and accounting controversies. It's been a banner year.

My point with this whole exercise is that many of the decisions by the Thornton Administration, over the last 4 years, have been luxury items. Nice to have but not needed.

They have completely failed on the necessities and now the school department and the city are in financial trouble. The school department will get bailed out by the bond which will shift the burden to the taxpayers but what about the city? I sincerely believe that the Thornton Administration does not care about the future of the city of Warwick or its students. They only care about making themselves look good in the media and passing the blame to the current school committee or city council.

Most of them don’t live here and have no accountability to Warwick citizens. They were not elected and had their contracts renewed by a lame duck School Committee after failing our students for most of their 1st contract.

The Thornton Administration needs to be held accountable for the decisions they've made. The city council should have complete oversight on how the school department spends tax-payer dollars.

Thursday, June 20
RIPeanut

Unit legacy cost and current salaries are stabilized it will only get worst for the city. While cutting sports fix the budget but it does not solve the problem.

Thursday, June 20
Breaking News

Breaking News: sports restored. Mayor Salamander replaces all coaching positions with friends and family. Crisis adverted.

Thursday, June 20
Dave Testa

Patrick, seriously, you need to fact check before you let your emotions / hatred run away with you. Besides some of your chronology being wrong, for the sake of consistency I'l l use yours.

Year 1: in case you missed it, the VP positions were added because they consolidated secondary schools and significant;y increased student populations in all the remaining secondary schools. And if you took time to see how many, if not most, other districts (including the high performing ones) staff their building admin to student ratios you would find the same ration. But I guess trying to implement those things that high performing districts do is just bad when Thornton does it. With respect to a Chief Academic Officer - many districts, even ones much smaller than Warwick, have an Asst Supt, CAO - so you can call the position what you want but it's not an unusual position within a district. The Director of Tech position dovetailed with the implementation of the 1:1 Chromebook initiative which, evidently, you didn't approve of. So a district of roughly 10,000 total computer users can get by with whom exactly, to manage all of that? But if not Chromebooks and a leap forward into technology (the world which the students - you know the ones who they're supposed to be preparing - will live) then you would have been OK with using outdated textbooks. The auditor wasn't hired to refute any claims. Rather it was hired to take the Rube Goldberg-like Org chart that existed and streamline it. I believe that the net result of that exercise was a net reduction of positions in Admin. The PR firm, which I supported in theory, but didn't like the work produced was short-lived. But to claim that it and the legal counsel were hired to try to "break the unions" is unbelievably ridiculous on its face.

Year 2: Again, had you checked our facts you would have seen that the entry way and auditorium work was done with the few remaining bond dollars from the 2006 bond. There was not enough to do much of anything 'big' with the, I think, $2.5 million or so left. And as the parent of a Pilgrim drama club student who told me of the 'no-go' areas on the Pilgrim stage that were 'roped off' because of weakness in the floor, I full supported this work. In fact, the stage was structurally unsound and my daughter and others sons and daughters were exposed to that even before Thornton arrived. But you seem to be OK with that and you want to criticize Thornton for fixing that which should have been fixed long before he ever got here? Really? Have fun with that. The fire alarms, all of which were fully functioning at the time the entry way / auditorium decisions were made, were always part of a bond referendum. You are being completely disingenuous (like so many others when it comes to this stuff) and are doing nothing more than Monday morning quarterbacking on this issue - it's intellectually lazy. Further if you think Svengali Thornton ginned up the need for a bond then you display a level of ignorance to school infrastructure that is hard to fathom. Mutual Link was reported on quite a bit actually in the Beacon and I believe the company made a couple of appearances at SC meetings. Mutual Link works - ask the parent of any student whose had a medical emergency where it was activated. That's nothing but a cheap shot based on God only knows what.

Year 3: Chromebooks - we already know how you feel about that but the 1:1 initiative started before 2017. But the coaches were hired in large part to train the teachers in the technology because Warwick was so far behind the technology curve (which you were evidently OK with) and teachers needed training. And to imply that "..they had no idea how to pay for this moving forward' is ludicrous. As far as Promethean boards are concerned, I have had several teachers tell me how much they like them and in the times I've shadowed students in the secondary schools for the past three years, the vast majority of teachers are using them. I'll take their word for it.

Year 4: the contract was signed by the school committee and the SC owns it. I'd also add that there was significant Council frustration at the lack of an agreement. The school dept estimated $3 million for the first year. If you had checked your facts, you would know that the Arbitrator's decision awarded the 3% (the $3 million) and then added a retro piece that added another $1 million. The Arbitrator's decision bound both parties to language but not money so the SC could have accepted all of the language changes and said 'No' to the raises. I'm guessing that you would have supported that. Your screed about supplies is just silly. As far as elementary science is concerned, you have no idea what you're talking about. Further on you rail about achievement. Well, how we did science at the elementary level was one of the main reasons for our dismal scores at the secondary level. So implementing a new, proven, curriculum that increases the amount of science instruction our students receive by a multiple of 5 should have waited until, in your opinion, we could afford it - as defined by you? Wow. The same reasoning holds true for Math. Our math scores are not good because our math curriculm, which was in place before Thornton got here, was not good and not aligned to what our students should be learning. So let's keep screwing the kids because you think it ".. isn't the right time." to buy curriculum?

We do agree on one thing - that our achievement as a district stinks. In large part that's because we have not had good curriculum that was aligned to the standards on which we're assessing our students. So that's being changed and none of it is free. To not do this is the definition of insanity.

Finally, in your entire diatribe you never once mention city funding of schools. To not even acknowledge the city's role is utterly ridiculous bordering on being an apologist for how they've treated schools. The fact of the matter is that over the last 10 years city funding for schools increased .0011% and the total school budget .035%. Over the last 7 years (the post 5% cut year) city funding increased .065% and the total school budget has increased 1.1%. Go find out how much yours and my property taxes have increased in those years and how much of that money has gone to the city side of the ledger. Hatred for Phil Thornton doesn't result in good analysis......

Thursday, June 20
phillipdrummond

At least when Thornton complains about kids leaving to go to other districts to play sports he won't be wrong. It's telling when administrators and teachers who live in Warwick put their own kids in private school or put them in a different district. I don't know if its too late for next year but the ship is sinking and now is the time to jump ship , if you value your child's education then it's time to abandon this city and move on. Both sides are incompetent and the people who get the most blame are us the taxpayers because we as a city put these people there. CTE program is you're best way out. Research it

Thursday, June 20
had enough

So let us compare the school department and the city to see who really deserves our additional tax dollars this year. One has been able to balance its budget with no additional revenues for seven years, the other has nearly doubled its spending over the last seven years. One has properly funded retirement plans the other does not. One maintains its facilities to make them usable, safe and even inviting, the other has neglected the infrastructure to the point that much of it is unusable (annex building, Buttonwoods senior center, Mickey Stevens Complex, roads ………….).

Thursday, June 20
Daydreambeliever

It's about the kids and it's always about what's best for the kids. What baloney are they trying to feed us? They could give 2 you know what's about our kids.

Previous comment is correct f they care so much why not all of or the majority live in the city and send there own children to our schools?

They know the answer they aren't good educators. Thankfully my daughter's have graduated i fell for some of you who still have children in our schools.

I've never once believed any of them when it's about the children it actually sickens me.

Thursday, June 20
Patient Man

Who to blame

1. Avedisian Didn't properly fund schools, was overly generous with unions & never asked for concessions from retirees

2. City Council that starved the district of money

3. School Council members (not all members) that put the union in front of students & delayed school consolidation

4. Teachers union who never negotiated in good faith, padded IEP #'s, taught to rule & participated in sick outs

5. Parents, teachers & students that fought the consolidation plan

6. The Beacon that fired Bob Cushman & was never critical of Avedisian

7. The electorate that voted for Avedisian, Solomon, Bachus, Cobden etc.

I'm sure I missed some

Thursday, June 20
vision

Could it be that Thornton is just not a good administrator and does not have the ability to work the budget properly. Why was he given another contract when he has not shown any improvement. Schools close, staff reduced and still no money to show for it. Oh that's right, Phil, the techers raises took it. What a stooge. The schools are suffering under his 'leadership' (LOL) and they may never get back to where they once were with him.

Thursday, June 20
Get Real

There is a question whether sports should be funded by the taxpayers. The time for that discussion is now.

It is amazing that the loudmouth, blowhard Bachus isn't being held responsible for this mess. For years she and her cult fought school consolidation etc that would have saved millions. The spectacle taxpayers were subjected to at school committee meetings was deplorable.

I glad to see the teachers will step up to the place and forgo part of their raises. That a joke.

How about the 2 new school committee members (Corben and Cornell). They are impressive. Corben first act on the committee was to settle a vendetta with a former track coach. Words can't describe how incompetent Cornell is.

Time to have a vote on the competence of the school committee. Dave Testa is the only one who deserves reappointment.

Thursday, June 20
The Skipper

OH! Don't cut out the sports!

No you can't increase our taxes.

No you can't cut our teachers salaries.

No you can't close schools despite shrinking enrollment,

No you can't cut superfluous programs Like Drama, Theater, Band, Glee club, or any program that teaches feminism. GLBTQ promotion, social justice, or any other politically correct crap.....

When I went to school I had English, History, Math, and Science. for sports they made us do laps around the school or kick a ball, or throw the basketball at the hoop. They did this all and kept the school budget within limits.

the problem is entitled snot nose kids and the adults who are coddling them.

the teachers Union has gotten the pay up to an average of over $60,000.00 dollars a year for a job where you only work 6 months a year,and the benefits are way better than you'd get at Electric Boat G-tech, Toray plastics or Amgen.

Unless you change your basic approach you guys are screwed.

Thursday, June 20
Fed up

Robert Cushman‎ to The Taxpayers' Spin

An open letter to Warwick Citizens:

With all of this news on Warwick’s financial problems splashed all over television, newspapers and social media, galvanized by the recent elimination of school sports, it makes me angry that the citizens of this city have been asleep at the wheel for so long letting the political leaders off the hook for creating this mess.

I’m sorry to inform you, but you are directly responsible for this mess. Your lack of involvement in the political process allowed the problems to fester and grow to the out of control proportions we are facing today. And if you think what is happening now is a one-time problem, you need a serious wake up call.

Many have been warning of this day for years. We were ignored and demonized.

This is the tip of the ice berg. These problems will continue to occur annually with the severity exponentially increasing.

Drive down any main road in the city, walk through a city or school building or visit a recreation area to experience firsthand the degradation in the city.

Water and sewer infrastructure is literally crumbling under are feet. You think the closure of Sandy Lane this past winter was an anomaly, get used to it. With estimates of $200+ million funds needed in the next 20 years to perform annual maintenance and no plan to raise those funds, failures like that will become routine.

Talk to some of your neighbors who own a home assessed in the $200,000 to $300,000 range. Assessments have skyrocketed, $50,000, $60,000, and some over $80,000. In another week those folks will soon be realizing the sticker shock when their tax bill has increased $600, 700 and $800+ range. Talk to the elderly on a fix income and ask them what they will have to cut out of their disposable income to be able to afford to make that kind of payment.

And all the while we have city leaders pointing fingers, blaming schools when their own spending is out of control and just about every new tax dollar collected in the city has been allocated to the city budget.

School Committee Chairwoman Backus complaining schools need more money yet signs a contract giving $13 million in teacher raises that they now can’t afford to pay? Where was the planning? Where is the coordinated approach by school and city leaders to figure out what is affordable and adopt negotiating guidelines to meet those limits? There isn’t any. It’s every-man for himself.

Where was the 5 year forecast that would have shown that the police, DPW and school contract should never have been signed? Oh yeah, I forgot, the Mayor stated that he could blow his noise with such a plan and the plan was never released.

Where are the givebacks from the union leaders who have won every step of the way in negotiating more and more lucrative salary, pension and healthcare benefits for their members that are un-affordable? Yet with the city facing a financial crisis and cherished programs being cut, they refuse to make a shared sacrifice to restore programs and they still want even more.

In the last decade more money is being spent in the city budget for people who use to work for the city, that provided services in the past, then the people performing services today. How much longer can we afford that to occur?

But no one really knows that. Some folks are content with using the kids as political pawns, making noise, holding a couple of rallies. They will be content and go back to sleep when school sports programs are restored.

In the meantime the very fabric of the city is being destroyed by politicians who are allowed to implement Band-Aid approaches that kick the can down the road while the city continues on it death spiral. Scott Avedisian did exactly that over the last 18 years and continued to get re-elected year after year.

So what are you going to do about it?

All of the stakeholders in this city really need to make a commitment to understand the serious structural issues plaguing the city and schools. If you can at least commit to do that, you will then have the ability to see through the political spin and hold the political leaders across the city accountable and elect people who are willing to solve the problem.

Profiles in courage are needed from our elected leaders to make the difficult decisions to put the city back on sound financial ground. That means confronting organized labor in the city and schools. It means demanding major structural changes in contracts that will save millions of dollars by reducing the unsustainable growth of legacy costs in the city budget and the unsustainable growth in active employee costs in the school budget. It means reallocating that money back into programs and service we have come to expect in Warwick without raising property taxes each year.

So it time for you to raise up and demand change. Are you willing to do that? Are you willing to support people with the will to tackle these issues and not abandon them when organized labor mounts a campaign to throw them out of office after one term for speaking up as I was 12 years ago?

If a larger group is interested in organizing and learning the facts let me know. I am committed to help.

Friday, June 21
Scal1024

So Bob Cushman, who was elected to BOTH the City Council AND School Committee is calling out taxpayers for their "direct" involvement in the city's financial problems? I'm searching for the irony. Accountability must be for everybody else in this city. Bob Cushman ain't got time for that!

Friday, June 21
Patrick Ramsey

David Testa, transparency is the problem! Budget presentations should not be surprises to the city council and tax-payers each spring… extra $12 million here or $7.7 million here. That’s why more oversight is needed by the city council.

I think you may have missed the whole point of the comment, none of the stuff mentioned is “bad”, but it has an opportunity cost. Adding administrators, in a consolidation year, will have an impact on paying the retro to teachers down the road. Adding Chromebooks and Promethean boards, at the numbers Thornton did, will have an impact on fixing major facility issues (like the stage at Pilgrim). Using old bond money to redo “full” auditoriums and entryways takes away the opportunity to use that bond money to fix roofs and fire systems.

It’s a classic case of caviar tastes on a tuna fish budget. Going 1 to 1 when we can purchase carts (like other districts Warwick’s size), putting in a full middle school sports program when an intramural program will do just fine, or renovating and adding air conditioning to Gorton when you had an administration building on Warwick Ave.

I admit I do not know what Mutual Link is or have any idea about curriculum costs but money is money. If the curriculum needs to be purchased now, something else has to go, we can disagree on what that is. Thornton, through school committee, cuts student activities and sports (because that gets people to picket at city hall), I say take a closer look at administration and technology.

I think a “hatred” of Phil Thornton is the wrong word. A better word would be “inadequate”. I have relatives in education, in other parts of the state where he was superintendent, and Phil Thornton is seen as a poor leader and administrator in many circles. They predicted everything that would happen correctly, right down to constant budget issues. Don’t drink the kool-aid, I think you significantly overestimate Phil Thornton’s popularity in Warwick and look at his performance with rose-colored glasses.

The last two springs have been very frustrating from a taxpayer and parent standpoint and deserve some criticism. Consolidation of schools should equal consolidation of budget, that’s how it works everywhere else.

Friday, June 21
John Stark

Can we just get to it? The Warwick School Department, once a shining star in the state, has become a cauldron of broad and severe underachievement. Academically, the schools are an embarrassment. Especially at the high school level. I haven't heard a comment in a very long time from any member of the school committee relative to academic proficiency, or pervasive lack there of. You have abdicated responsibility and turned a blind eye to measurable outcomes that can only be described as deplorable. And you want additional funding?! Yeah, because $19,000 per student is not nearly enough. Underachievement is infectious and has clearly been contracted by the city's athletic teams, as well. Especially on the boys' side. Success begets success, and there might be more support to retain sports if Tollgate and Pilgrim occasionally were successful while competing against schools of the same size. But with very few exceptions, Warwick's schools compete against much smaller schools. And even then, are broadly unsuccessful. Why? There's either something in Warwick's drinking water that precludes kids from athletic success, or an identity of underachievement that permeates the system. One is fixed with chlorine, the other with wholesale changes that hold both students, teachers, and coaches to a much higher level of expectation.

Friday, June 21
Scal1024

I applaud Mr. Testa for his openness and honesty while discussing our schools. On more than one occasion he has replied to comments on here, some negative, but atleast you have a better understanding where he's coming from afterwards.

I wish that level of transparency was shared by ALL members of the School Committee. It is shameful that Karen Bachus rallied behind the teachers every chance she could, sick outs or not while they were without a contract, only to now share her "disappointment" in the fiscal ramifications of said contract. That is not putting the students first, that is putting your friendships and political allies first. How she can keep a straight face during these meetings is a mystery to me?That is not leadership and to continually allow her to talk about "the poor kids" is embarrassing! We need to demand more accountability out of our elected leaders and as far as I'm concerned Bachus is toward the top of that list.

Friday, June 21
Dave Testa

Patrick, there hasn't been any "..extra $12 million here or $7.7 million here.". You make it sounds like schools budgets contain surprises. I know what opportunity costs are and I think you are equating hindsight with opportunity costs. "Adding administrators" is a complete mischaracterization - you know that just about every 'new' position was to deal with the secondary consolidation and the increased student populations that resulted in the four secondary schools and, again, those building admin : student ratio are very much inline with the norms across the state. So I don;t understand what your point is - is it that consolidation shouldn't have happened because it resulted in "new" admin positions?

Your argument about entryways & auditorium and roofs and fire systems is not an example of opportunity costs - it's hindsight. It was stated at that time that fire alarm systems and roofs, among other capital needs would be part of an $85 million bond request based on the SMMA & Jacobs reports.

Your charges about using Chromcarts instead of 1:1 is, in my view, a very weak one. Further when you say that Admin should not have been consolidated into one building because "..you had an administration building on Warwick Ave.." is nonsensical. You do know that admins were spread around in three buildings - Greene, Vets, and Warwick Ave. You also know that the front portion of Warwick Ave was unusable because it was a sick building. You do know that all of the Admins could not fit into Warwick Ave. You also know that combining all in Gorton allowed a) the space at Greene to be used to bring students back into district that we had previously sent out of district, thus saving significant out of district costs (at least $65-$75K per student); b) vacating Warwick ave thus saving roughly $75-$80K per year to operate that building and eliminate a building that you no longer needed, and c) the space at Vets was needed for middle school students. And every place that Admins were at was AC'd (they do work year round). Gorton was not "renovated" unless you call replacing bathrooms renovations. The total spent on Gorton was, I believe, $330K and would pay for itself in 2-3 years, tops. But you can't look at what was spent there (with all the offsetting stuff included) and say that if they didn't spend that two or three years ago then there'd be money for sports today. That's not opportunity cost - that's hindsight.

Like you I too have family members in other districts whose kids were schools when Thornton was their Supt and they were very satisfied with the education their kids were getting while he was there. So I guess you are saying that none of the successes that NK or Cumberland have had has had anything at all with anything that Thornton had done while he was the Supt in those districts?

Friday, June 21
dave testa

John Stark, I share your concern about Achievement. That's why I fully supported the formation of an Achievement subcommittee a year or so ago. When one looks at the demographic make-up of Warwick and its socio-economics, we should regularly be, in my opinion, in the top 5-8 districts in the state. That said, this year's Toll Gate valedictorian is heading to Dartmouth and was a National Merit Scholar. their Salutatorian is attending Brown. Last year (or the year before, I can't remember right now) Pilgrim's valedictorian attended MIT So while I agree that three examples do not a case make, I think it can be done. But when this district for decades taught science to its elementary students twice a week and then once a week and our science scores tanked as those elementary students became secondary students we shouldn't be surprised. When the Math curriculum we used was insufficient and didn't teach all of the standards that we'd test them on and our secondary scores tanked we shouldn't be surprised. It wasn't too many years ago when a third grader at school X did not learn everything that their counterpart did at school Y the next neighborhood over. Both of those are finally now being addressed but, as you know, change won;t happen overnight. Someone once told me that our problem was what we teach and how we teach it and I couldn't agree with that more.

Friday, June 21
can't believe it

So let me understand this....Bachus negotiates behind the scene to give these outlandish contracts and now she cries we don't have money to pay for them.

Other than Testa, the other 4 school committee have never had children in school.

Corben, Adams and Cornell don't even own homes. What does that trio care about how much the contracts cost? They aren't paying for them.

I agree leave the one adult (Testa) there but fire the other 4.

Friday, June 21
PaulHuff

Patient man,

This statement jumped out at me.

“1. Avedisian Didn't properly fund schools, was overly generous with unions & never asked for concessions from retirees”.

Why would Avedesian ask for concessions from retirees when the underlying issues haven’t been addressed such as removing healthcare for life and automatic colas from non-vested current employees and new hires before they become retirees?

Instead of focusing on catching the water why not try and stop the leak first, or at least slow it down.

Friday, June 21
John Stark

Dave Testa,

With respect, yes, it can be done. And Warwick has some terrific kids. But broadly, it's simply NOT being done. You mentioned three exceptional kids in the last two years. Nearly 1300 kids graduated in those two years! I'm sure many others went on to good schools. But you generally don't evaluate a school using the top kids as a variable, nor do you use the bottom kids. Rather, there's a fat middle that is clearly being poorly served. Fewer than 1 in 4 Pilgrim juniors was deemed to be competent in Math by RICAS results. At Tollgate, fewer than 1 in 3. Meanwhile, 20% of Tollgate's junior class is deemed to be educationally handicapped. What is going on up there?! A few miles away at East Greenwich, 76% of juniors are deemed competent, and 6.7% are educationally handicapped. And btw, EG spends about 15% less per student than Warwick. There are demographic differences, I get it. But those discrepancies are astounding! Has anyone on the SC committee taken a deep dive with all this? Does anyone even know? And if people do know, what is being done to hold school leaders accountable? By any reasonable definition, the system is failing, failing badly, and appears to be getting worse. And it is most certainly not a question of money.

Sunday, June 23
Patrick Ramsey

It sounds to me like a vote for Testa is a vote for Thornton. They should be called "Thornesta".

David Testa is a well-respected community member with unquestionable ethics and should have no problem getting re-elected to the Warwick School Committee.

Thornesta has a questionable track record, slippery ethics, and would have trouble getting elected student council president at Pilgrim High School.

Monday, June 24
Scal1024

Patrick, what are your thoughts on the raises that were given to Warwicks teachers? Now that you know the district is financially cash strapped, do you feel like teachers calling out sick and forcing the administrations hand was the best thing for the students? Do you think its fair that sports, clubs and many other after school programs are being cut at the same time teachers are receiving a 9% raise over 3 years? I understand your frustration but the name calling like "Thornesta" really undercuts the argument you're trying to make. It just comes across as you trying to squeeze in some more WTU Talking Points into the conversation.

Monday, June 24
Get Real

I just read that sport coaches cost $750000 thousand. Why don't we get volunteers to coach and the we only need $600000 to continue sports not the $1350000 projected.

Remember what loudmouth Bachus and the teachers union always say " It's all about the kids".

Monday, June 24
Scal1024

Get Real, the problem is they need over $4 million total to bring back sports. The items were prioritized by the school committee by what they deemed most important (rightfully so in my opinion). Sports came in around 17th out of 46 items (if I'm not mistaken) meaning they cannot just take a chunk of money and apply it to just sports. They would need enough money to cover items 1 through 16 first. If I have any of that incorrect, someone feel free to let me know.

Monday, June 24
Warwick Missed Another Deadline

https://www.wpri.com/news/warwick-misses-another-deadline-amid-financial-turmoil/

Monday, June 24
phillipdrummond

You are correct Scal and you pointed out something that I think a lot of people don't understand and that is that any money that the school committee gets is not going to sports. Whether through the lawsuit or the two sides make a deal I think the schools will only get enough money to cover the essentials needed for the kids to continue their education. Sports and clubs are seen more as a privilege. Although I disagree but if the choice is for the kids to have library and textbooks or to play sports then its a no brainer that you have to get the kids books. I will be surprised if sports is reinstated next school year. It's probably a good idea to drop sports for the next couple of years so the school committee can get its house in order. The deficit is going to be even bigger next year and I haven't seen or heard anyone talking about the future going forward unless the plan is to sue the city every year for more money or go to the city, hat in hand begging for money. It's a shame that it has come down to this. Sports is what everyone is talking about but I think the bigger story is that they can't even afford textbooks. That's just sad and so wrong on many levels. Regardless of who is at fault, just fix it so that the few kids who will be left in the Warwick school system have an opportunity to get a decent education.

Monday, June 24
wwkvoter

What a disaster. missed deadlines (thats a HUGE HUGE red flag!) AND, the sleepy taxpayers arent worked up because they havent gotten the big tax bill. To make matters worse (for any meaningful reform), we just had a reval, so we'll have many really angry taxpayers who wont understand reval vs tax hike, and some who benefited from the reval will shrug. Also, those who have a mortgage may not see the change until their mortgage holder adds it into the bill but that should be pretty fast I would think.

As drummond just pointed out, scraping through this year with a max tax increase, raiding the savings almost dry, and some deeper cuts wont help the next year and beyond as the OPEB and other giveaways add up to unsustainable costs.

Yet according to the link above, the state isnt quite ready to intervene under the Fiscal Stability Act. Incredible!

This poor planning and over-promising will hurt the taxpayers and also the city workers as well. One more thought, the "blue cross for life" that cost wasnt always an extravagant benefit as I recall it was started way back when insurance was actually quite cheap, and it looks like no one wanted to be the one to take that away when the costs for health insurance spiraled.

And now Warwick has crumbling roads, schools, a savings sucked dry, max tax hikes every year going forward, and no chance to even catch up despite having a pretty robust and diverse tax base. Sad.

Tuesday, June 25
Scal1024

Wwkvoter, the other issue with "Blue Cross for life" is employees were never expected to live that long when this benefit was implemented. It was a different time then and not to sound morbid but I think the belief was people would retire and within 10 years or so they'd pass away with their spouse not far behind them. Great advancements in technology and health care have driven the average life expectancy up and the system has never caught up to it. As you said, nobody wanted to be the politician that took that benefit away, they'd be run out of office faster than they could ever say "reform".

Even today my fear is that nobody on the City Council wants to confront this problem. They'd rather wait until they have no options left at all. By then, many of them will be retired, collecting their own pensions and health care and laughing at the mess they've left for others to clean up. It is the equivalent of being the hotel maid after Zeppelin leaves the room and it is a shame. Not 1 member of this City Council has shown any guts whatsoever and the most outspoken on this issue, Merolla, has severely damaged his credibility by withholding the audit information while voting on Union contracts (as reported by the Boston Globe.) There are no adults in the room, no bold leadership and the only people who are feeling the effects are taxpayers and students. I truly hope something drastic changes because right now I am not optimistic anything gets fixed. We have to ask ourselves if not now, when?

Tuesday, June 25
Johnny Tsunami

Has anyone reached out to the yogurt guy for a bailout like the lunches?

Tuesday, June 25
John Stark

On one hand, it would appear that "participation fees" are a plausible solution to the sports issue. About one-third of public schools nationally charge some type of fee to play sports, but none in RI of which I'm aware. However, there are multiple problems with this policy. In Warwick, participation rates are already so low in many sports that the revenue generated by participation fees would be irrelevant. Affordability is also an issue for many families, as is the issue of playing time. If you're paying $450 for your son to play football you'd like him to get playing time, which is not a guarantee. Finally, participation fees are a nightmare to collect and manage, administratively. I don't have the answer but I do know this: The school committee simply does not view high school athletics as anything approaching a priority. And that is not the fault of the city council,

Finally, two questions for Dave Testa, whose openness is admirable:

1. How much does the school department spend on substitute teachers over the course of a school year?

2, To what do you attribute the dramatic spike in teacher absences on virtually every Friday throughout the school year?

Tuesday, June 25
Phillipdrummond

Charging a participation fee for sports requires an exemption from RIDE and RIDE told them no last year. The committee explored doing that along with charging to take the bus. Unless a private benefactor comes in to save the day I don't think sports is going to happen. Been hearing talk of teams fundraising and that might work for some teams but not the majority.

Tuesday, June 25
Jimmy

Scal,

Blue cross for life is not for Life. It’s until your 65. Then Medicare kicks in.

Tuesday, June 25
wwkvoter

jimmy does it convert to the cheaper blue cross 65+ that many people have to cover the gaps in medicare or does it just stop completely at 65?

Tuesday, June 25
Jimmy

At 65 EVERY employee goes into Medicare. Some get Plan 65. Which does supplement Medicare. I do remember seeing this cost during the Health care consultants presentation. It’s not very expensive.

Tuesday, June 25
Scal1024

Thank you for the correction on health care at 65+, Jimmy. The point still stands when it comes to pensions. People are living longer now than they were when defined benefit plans were enacted. That system is no longer sustainable (not that I'm saying you disagree, I'm not sure what your opinion is on that.)

Tuesday, June 25
Jimmy

I agree 100% Scal, changes need to be made that are mutually beneficial. There are some great ideas/proposals from the union believe it or not. Negotiations are on going. We shall see.

Tuesday, June 25
What is Jimmy Smoking? Health care cheap?

"At 65 EVERY employee goes into Medicare. Some get Plan 65. Which does supplement Medicare. I do remember seeing this cost during the Health care consultants presentation. It’s not very expensive."

Why then is the OPEB unfunded liability $350,000,000?

City - Retiree Healthcare Cost

Annual Premiums Pre 65 Single plan

Classic Blue $9,548.04

Healthmate Coast to Coast $7,891.80

Dental $331.08

Family

Annual Premiums Pre 65

Classic Blue $23,404.92

Healthmate Coast to Coast $19,303.08

Dental $1,056.48

Annual Premiums Post 65 Single

Blue Cross Plan 65 $2,118.00

Blue Chip for Medicare $3,024.00

Dental $331.08

Annual Premiums Post 65 Family

Blue Cross Plan 65 $4,236.00

Blue Chip for Medicare $6,048.00

Dental $1,056.48

Tuesday, June 25
Dave Testa

John Stark,

As was stated earlier, RI doesn't allow for charging students or their families to participate in sports. I can't agree with you that the School Committee doesn't consider sports "anything approaching a priority." Everything that was cut was important and my opinion is that, should additional funds come in, the SC should try as best as possible to balance academics and sports but, again, that's my opinion. To answer your questions:

- Current ytd, the schools have spent $1 million on substitute teachers. In FY2020 they've budgeted $1.5 million.

- As for the second question, anything I offer up would have a very healthy does of speculation in it so I'll pass on that one.

Tuesday, June 25
Scal1024

What's Jimmy Smoking/Stacia/SabrinaV, Rob or whatever username you are using these days yes the cost of health care is out of control. Do you think the out of control costs on health care are the responsibility of the politicians who approved this benefit without ever implementing a system to pay for it? It seems you have enough animosity toward the unions that I'm not sure you can ever be objective on this subject. This is the fault of the people who were using their influence in office to pad their vote totals with no regard for the long term damage they were causing.

The cost of pensions has also skyrocketed. Do you blame the employees who've always met their contributions anytime they were asked? Or do you blame the politicians who underfunded pensions for years while approving contract after contract and raise after raise. Personally, I have a hard time blaming someone who's worked 20+ years, met all of their obligations yet is still told they need to "give back" to the City. Does that seem fair to you? Although I know change is needed with the current system, we also need to respect those that have worked their whole lives for the better of this City with the expectation they would retire with good benefits.

The unions have said they are willing to meet at the table. It's time for the administration to make a deal. Even if they concede in some areas (vested employees remain in the current system, 5 years of service or less will be moved to defined contribution plans etc) it's better to move the ball 1 yard at a time instead of throwing a Hail Mary once a year. Enough with the ribbon cuttings, enough with the sound bites, it's time to fix this mess!

Wednesday, June 26
perky

they do not need sports and the mayor has no right to take money from road repairs to pay for it fix the roads

to save money let the kids parents pay for sports for there kids and the teachers are over paid make them pay more for there health ins

Tuesday, July 2