EDITORIAL

Time to unite for our schools

Posted

When discussing large sums of money, it’s important to keep things in perspective. For most of us – newspaper employees definitely included – trying to conceptualize how far even just one million dollars truly goes is a difficult, if not wholly impossible task.

Keeping this in mind, it is even more difficult to try and wrap your head around municipal and school budgets, which require hundreds of millions of dollars to operate and function. Naturally, the more cynical among us will instantly turn to the belief that there is simply millions of dollars of fraud or waste happening within each budget balance sheet.

More often than not, though, the truth is simply more boring. Costs increase significantly depending on how many people your budget is responsible for and, in the case of school budgets, how many buildings you have to maintain, repair, staff and how many students you need to transport, educate and provide food for.

The Johnston School District, for example, has only eight schools with 320 teachers responsible for educating 3,190 students as of their 2018-19 school year. Their total budget for FY19 stood at $56,545,285. Warwick, on the other hand, is responsible for 20 school buildings and has about 867 teachers responsible for an enrollment of about 9,000 students. The most recently adopted budget figure for Warwick schools is around $171 million.

Fittingly, Warwick has about three times the number of students and about three times the number of educators. Johnston’s budget multiplied by three is around $168 million. Although that calculation involves generous rounding, it indicates that Warwick is not wildly off the charts in terms of budgeting. When you also factor in the fact that Warwick has faced significant declining enrollment and decreasing state aid, in addition to a contribution from the city that just barely rises above the 2010 funding level, it is actually surprising that the budget hasn’t ballooned higher.

Of that huge budget, it must be noted that the vast majority goes to salaries and benefits for teachers and administrators, to the tune of about $140 million (about 80 percent of the budget). Only about $4 million (2.3 percent of the adopted budget for FY19) was slated for school building improvements. Of that already low figure, another $500,000 has been slashed to try and help balance the budget following the $6.6 million shortfall experienced by the district following budget proceedings.

In general, this has been the unfortunate annual routine for our school department. By the time old and new expenses are taken care of, there is mere pittance left for maintenance or improvements to the schools. When emergencies emerge – like broken fire alarm systems in two schools this past year – administrators must sacrifice other portions of the budget just to stop the bleeding.

Any homeowner knows that preventative maintenance is the right course of action. Deferring things that need fixed and dealing with them when they finally break down beyond repair is a sure way to drain your bank account and, when it happens in school districts, it’s a surefire way to kill morale of students and staff who have to teach in buildings that aren’t up to modern standards.

It is important to emphasize that it is absolutely, one-hundred percent useless at this stage in the situation to play the blame game. There have been dozens of iterations of school committees and school administrations who have done the same thing – ignore the problem, kick the can and keep the train running on band-aids. Any number of different superintendents, school committee members and even city council members or mayors could have seen this problem incoming, but here we are.

However, now there is an actual opportunity to make a serious investment into the school district. On Nov. 6 voters will be able to decide if they want to keep hurling blame while proposing nothing of constructive value or if they want to step up and be part of the solution.

The bond, if reimbursed at the minimum level by the state, will result in $24 million in debt for the taxpayers. Spread out over 25 years, this level of debt is almost negligible in terms of what physically comes out of your pocket each quarter. There is absolutely no denying the need for some real improvements – we actually need about five times this amount of investment – and this is the start.

We implore you to read the news story on the bond and check out the presentation on the school department’s website to see where this money would go. It would directly impact our students’ and teachers’ lives for the better. There is simply no room left for petty arguments over things that happened in the past. This is our children’s future, and we will decide its quality.

Comments

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davebarry109

The problem, dear editor, is that the taxes keep going up and up in Warwick with no end in sight. How about we trim some stuff to attempt to make ends meet. Salaries cannot keep going up at 3% each year. That is unsustainable since it impacts what is paid in pensions. No one should expect a 3% raise every year but it has become the norm in Warwick, particularly in the schools. Our teachers are pushing 100,000 each with pay and benefits.

Friday, September 28
richardcorrente

Dear davebarry109,

Everything you said is correct except that you keep blaming the teachers. Their income, according to Salary.com is $160 a year more than Barrington teachers, and Warwick teachers educate FAR more students. Plus, as you know, they had to fight FOR 2 YEARS in order to even GET their 3% raise which netted less than $25 dollars a week. Their salaries are not the issue, especially with all the lay-offs they endured. It's the $165,000,000 budget that the taxpayers are paying! One and a half BILLION since 2009. I agree that some of that is going to salaries and pensions, but taxpayers need to see a INDEPENDANT AUDIT to get a clear picture, not an audit from friendly fellow-school-administrators from Pawtucket. If that shows abuse by the teachers, I will be the first one to say so. I strongly believe it will show massive abuse by the School Committee. Why else would they be so secretive? Why else would they insist on being the ones that selected this so-called "independent auditor"? Shouldn't it have been selected by lottery or the City Council?

Happy Autumn davebarry109.

Happy Autumn everyone.

Friday, September 28
Justanidiot

edumacate is such a harsh word master mayer. babysit is much more descriptive. boringgton teachers are tasks masturs and make there students learn stuff. ours just let da kiddies hab a gud time while der test scores go down and down. do youse want happys kids or glum learnt up kids that iz just gonna move away

Friday, September 28
Cat2222

I find it so odd that you keep recycling the failed talking points from your campaign on EACH AND EVERY article about the Warwick schools. No one bought into it RC. I guess I can appreciate that you are passionate about your points but when it reaches the end of its life cycle, it's time to move on. It didn't strike a chord with the citizens enough to rally around it and you. Is it possible that you are coming at it from the wrong angle or that you may not have the best idea? Also, most citizens are not angry at the teachers. They are angry with the Union. Most of us understand that the two are very different.

Monday, October 1
CrickeeRaven

Cat, it is truly pathetic that the two-time loser keeps repeating those statements that directly resulted in his second humiliating loss on Sept. 12, rather than learning the very obvious and clear lesson that you explain.

"Plus, as you know, they had to fight FOR 2 YEARS in order to even GET their 3% raise which netted less than $25 dollars a week."

This is a lie. The union's "fight" included work-to-rule, illegal sick-outs, pickets, and walking out of meetings, as well as pitting the arbitrators against the mediators and trying to pick the best deal -- which resulted in them getting an objectively worse contract than if they had just agreed to the same terms three years ago.

"I agree that some of that is going to salaries and pensions..."

Nearly 90 percent of the school budget pays for teacher salaries and benefits. That's not "some," that's "most."

"[T]axpayers need to see a INDEPENDANT AUDIT..."

First, it's spelled "independent."

Second, as has been repeatedly pointed out to the two-time loser, an independent third-party audit is conducted and published every year by the same firm that audits the city's books. Its independence has never -- except for the two-time loser -- been questioned.

"Why else would they be so secretive?"

The school committee followed the public and visible process to meet the law's requirements, including issuing a public RFP, meeting in public session to select the program auditors, and publicly releasing their findings. There was nothing "secretive" about this process at all.

"Why else would they insist on being the ones that selected this so-called 'independent auditor'?"

Because that is what state law requires. State law -- not the two-time loser's delusional opinion or conspiracy theories -- governs how a program audit is conducted.

Monday, October 1
JohnStark

Two points here. First, the editorial correctly uncovers the per-pupil expenditures of both Warwick ($19,000) and Johnston ($17,711). If the difference were multiplied by the number of students in Warwick, it would more than offset any budget 'shortfall'.

Second, the "homeowner" analogy. When I keep up with the maintenance or improvements in my home (inputs) I expect that my home will retain it's value or increase in value (outputs). In the Warwick school department, we are constantly asked to increase the inputs (tax dollars) while summarily ignoring the outputs (levels of proficiency in basic skills). I, for one, will not vote for another nickel unless and until there is heightened scrutiny on the part of the school committee as it relates to comprehensively addressing the deplorable state of student achievement in Warwick. It is the equivalent of putting on a garage and watching my home decrease in value, as the contractor urges me to add a bedroom.

Monday, October 1
richardcorrente

Dear Cat2222,

The problems continue. The issues are not failed talking points just because I didn't win a primary. Do you honestly believe that the 80,000 taxpayers that are paying the bill are angry with the union? On the campaign trail I never met one! I did, however meet thousands of taxpayers that despised the School Committee and, whether or not they voted for me, their comments were loud and clear. The School Committee is hated by most taxpayers!

My "talking points" have not reached the "end of its' life cycle". Some day, I will, but these issues won't go away until someone DOES something about them. I campaigned to "Cut Taxes - Cut Spending", for over a thousand days and spent over $40,000 of my own money. Except to criticize me, what have you done? Anything? Anything at all?

Happy Autumn everyone.

Rick Corrente

The Taxpayers Mayor

Tuesday, October 2
Cat2222

RC, I most certainly have done things for this community. I am an avid volunteer and I will always pitch in to do my part. As I have previously states, I have no political aspirations. That doesn't mean my contributions don't count.

I will have to disagree with you regarding the citizens hating the school committee. They are not hated by most taxpayers. You clearly have a bias towards the WTU and think the school committee is the axis of evil. By the way, are we working with you citizen count or the US Census count? I wouldn't want to mess up the percentages.

Tuesday, October 2
CrickeeRaven

Cat, if we've learned anything about the two-time failure, it's that he will ignore facts and make up his own version of events to justify his blatantly false statements. As you correctly point out, people in Warwick are far smarter than he thinks they are -- they, like we, understand that the union leadership is different from the individual teachers, and that the school committee is not the group of evil people that the two-time loser continues to claim they are.

None of his claims about talking to voters should be taken at all seriously. As we know, he spent a great deal of his time using this website for free political advertising and apparently believing that it would earn him election.

It didn't. His campaign slogans and talking points did fail -- not simply because he "didn't win a primary," but because he has lost two straight times, the second loss so big that this newspaper called it "a blowout."

And you're right to keep questioning his false statement about 80,000 taxpayers. He has continually ignored all evidence and fact that disprove this, even claiming that children are somehow among them.

What is perhaps the clearest proof of his total unfitness for office -- as proven by those two overwhelming losses -- is that he is again using the fake title he gave himself.

Honest, taxpaying voters rejected his candidacy. He does not represent them. Nor can he be considered one of them, after losing his prior residence to tax sale.

If he showed even the slightest ability to correct his many false statements and juvenile behavior, he might deserve some sympathy as simply being mistaken.

But he hasn't, and he doesn't.

Wednesday, October 3