Forecast shows schools need $8M next year, $25M by 2025

By JOHN HOWELL
Posted 12/10/19

Warwick Public Schools will need an additional $8 million next year to maintain the current level of operations, a consultant’s exhaustive audit of district operations has shown...

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Forecast shows schools need $8M next year, $25M by 2025

Posted

Warwick Public Schools will need an additional $8 million next year to maintain the current level of operations, a consultant’s exhaustive audit of district operations has shown.

The 69-page report was outlined during what was surely the first joint meeting of the School Committee and City Council in many years. The meeting was held Wednesday night at the student/school run Tides Restaurant at the Warwick Area Career and Technical Center.

While the wraps, cheese tray and cookies from Dave’s Marketplace contributed to a congenial atmosphere, attorney Matthew Plain’s findings – no less his observation that the cost of Warwick education exceeds by at least $2,500 per pupil of its neighbors; that Warwick teachers are among the highest paid in the state; and that union concessions are needed – were hard to stomach.

And if that was hard to swallow, school finance officer Anthony Ferrucci, using an assumption that about $2 million could be trimmed from next year’s budget for a total of $176.7 million, projected the school budget would climb to $197.4 million by 2025, an increase of $25.2 million over five years.

Ferrucci sees the five-year budget forecast as a “rolling document” that with the completion of the first year will project out the budget another year so that the committee has a grasp of where it is financially and what it can expect going forward in the next five years.

To some City Council members, the report by the law firm of Barton Gilman and Ferrucci’s projection is more evidence that city costs are outpacing its ability to raise revenue through taxation. (The four percent maximum increase in the levy allowable by legislation amounts to about $8 million.)

Ward 5 Councilman Ed Ladouceur lauded the cooperative tone of the joint meeting, observing, “We’re in a different place, we’re talking, we’re communicating.” But he said more needs to be done.

“We need to admit to ourselves that we have a problem.” On a scale of one to 10, with 10 being the worst, Plain put Warwick at a 10.

“This is a city problem. We have to make these cuts,” Ladouceur said.

Pushing costs

Plain touched on a variety of factors that push the cost of Warwick Schools, including the number of students placed outside the district for which it has to fund at the per-pupil rate of in-district students; the fact that Warwick has more teachers proportionally to other districts; and that Warwick shares in the cost of Social Security for its teachers at a cost of $5 million a year while most other school systems don’t participate in Social Security.

Discussion also focused on the disparity of state funding by district, prompting Councilman Jeremy Rix to question why Cranston receives an additional $24 million in state aid when the Warwick and Cranston system have comparable enrollment. Plain pointed to the school funding formula and how that is rooted in the demographics of the community. School Committee member David Testa and Warwick Teachers Union president Darlene Netcoh both argued Warwick isn’t being fairly rated and that there are higher levels of minorities and lower-income families than used for the basis of calculating state aid.

The district’s declining enrollment – 1,700 students in the last 10 years, Ferrucci said – has also put a dent in state funding. Meanwhile, he noted, mandates such as all-day kindergarten have pushed up costs and eliminated much of the savings of school consolidation.

There was consensus with the suggestion to appeal to state legislators for additional state funds for Warwick schools and the city.

Union concessions suggested

While Plain carefully chose his words and was challenged on some of the data he provided by Netcoh and James Ginolfi of the WTU, his conclusion that the union should make concessions or the district will be faced to seek legislative relief to insufficient funding did not sit well with the union.

The audit finds that Warwick’s total per-pupil expenditures exceed the state average by more than $22 million. Also, the audit concludes that although co-share on health insurance is 20 percent by contract, the current rates actually amount to 13 percent at a cost of $1 million to the district.

Netcoh questioned why the union had not been contacted for the audit, as they could have provided not only institutional history relative to existing conditions but also reliable data. As an example, she noted that the report’s total of Warwick teachers differs from the administration’s census and that both numbers vary from the union count.

Bachus said Monday she expects the report to be amended to reflect data provided by the union and that union representatives will be included in the second phase of the audit, which is expected to be completed after the first of the year. The second phase will look at the program offered by Warwick schools and “whether we are meeting the mark,” Bachus said.

Netcoh, who was provided a copy of the report prior to the meeting, read from a two-page letter questioning the validity of the audit.

“This report has inconsistencies, omissions, selective comparisons, biases, opinions and outright inaccuracies that render the findings highly unreliable and ultimately invalid,” she said.

She said Barton Gilman failed to look at savings that could result from the consolidation of selective school and city administrative services. What she called “one of the most disturbing elements” is the “opinion that longevity violates a state statute. There is no statute that bars longevity.”

Waving her paycheck stub, Netcoh termed the finding over the co-share of health insurance the “most egregious aspect of the report.” She claimed teachers have been co-paying more than 20 percent of the cost of health insurance.

“My estimate is that the school department will have to reimburse the teachers a couple of hundred thousand dollars for the amount that they have overpaid over the past few years,” she said.

Asked about the disparity following the meeting, Ferrucci shook his head. He said he would look into Netcoh’s claim, but he believes the current co-share is 13 percent. In looking at how to reduce the projected additional $8 million needed for next year, Ferrucci is planning on a $1 million savings from having teachers co-share a true 20 percent.

In a summary of school financing the report reads: “Stagnant, inadequate city appropriations to the schools, a shrinking student population [resulting in less state aid], and overly-generous contractual terms for certified personnel have all likely contributed to the district’s inability to adequately fund a high-quality education program.”

It goes on to say the district must “obtain relief from some of the material, financial terms of its certified personnel CBA [collective bargaining agreement].”

The long-range picture if action isn’t taken isn’t pretty.
“Inadequate programmatic offerings likely also impact property values, which ultimately impact both enrollment and the amount of money Warwick has available to appropriate to schools,” it reads.

Asked what she thought of findings regarding the pay of Warwick teachers and that the district has proportionally more teachers than comparable systems, Bachus said if that is true schools need to examine whether teachers are being used effectively to ensure the best outcomes.

Looking at the larger picture of city finances overall, Bachus feels the tentative agreement with firefighters fails to “claw back” sufficient benefits.

“It’s too little, too late,” she said.

As for possible concessions from the WTU, she said, “We don’t have a lot to work with. It’s about give and take, and we need something to give.”

Comments

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BeaconCommenter

Let me go grab some popcorn before the comments start rolling in.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019
bill123

Exhausting and worse, but not exhaustive.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019
bill123

The Beacon-designated “exhaustive audit” is contained in a PDF file created 12/5/19, and is entitled “Professional Instruction and Fiscal Audit Report”. The report refers to itself as an audit, and refers to the report writers as auditors and “The Audit Team”. The preparer was a law firm. However, I can’t find anywhere on the law firm’s website (bglaw.com) where it says they prepare “audits”, or what kind of professional service their audits are supposed to be. I’m not the expert, but from a common-sense standpoint, this is no audit.

There is no apparent reason to hire a law firm for non-legal services. The report reads like a biased, rambling 69 page editorial which never gets to the point. There are many pages of statistical trivia (such as pg 18-40). Within this same section of pages there is section entitled “Findings and Recommendations” (pg 27-40), but there are no recommendations, and it’s far from clear what the findings are. Vague and undeveloped legal argument is scattered throughout the report. Given the preparer and some of the content, the report also looks like a malformed legal opinion. Either way, it’s not signed or certified. It’s not clear why the report is valid for any purpose.

The $8M recommendation is promoted at pages 54 to 66. This is not an “analysis”, but only a pseudo-estimate based on opinion and limited hearsay fact. When it comes to facts, there are serious omissions. The city charter, Article IX, section 9-5, says: “The school committee shall prepare a financial report of its activities which shall be submitted to the mayor and city council within ninety (90) days after the close of the fiscal year, and within six (6) months of the close of the fiscal year, an audited complete financial statement.” The audit report said they are analyzing “fiscal practices” (pg 5) and they reviewed documents “to the extent they existed” (pg 14), without stating what does not exist. This is followed with generalized descriptions of what they purportedly found. They never said they found any audited financial reports. You can’t make a recommendation on anything, let alone an $8M increase, without working with true audited numbers. Maybe this part of the job was delegated back to the client, when they said the client should “expend considerable time and effort educating Warwick officials regarding the need to increase funding . . . ” (pg 53).

The audit team promotes the Caruolo Act (pg 11), which essentially says a city can turn on itself, dividing into adversarial parties over the issue of money, and give an appointed official (a judge) influence or control over public policy and discretionary acts constitutionally reserved to elected officials and the People. They offer curious if not bizarre advice: “The District should expend considerable time and effort educating Warwick officials regarding the need to increase funding to a District with already among the highest per pupil expenditures in the State ($19,585) . . .” (pg 53). Notice they don’t say the parents or taxpayers need “educating”, because even though the People paid for this report and will bear the consequences, what the People know and think does not matter to the swamp. What I think is, the “educating” should be focused on subjects like Violation of Separation of Powers, and Deprivation of Rights Under Color of Law.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019
justanidiot

beaconcommenter, if you don't like the comments, please feel free to leave at any time. we are here for civil discourse not for your amusement.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019
RichardBurton

Justanidiot- you are part of the problem.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019
Taxed Enough

Keep giving the teachers more raises that we cant afford for substandard performance. They don't care, and clearly, they cant do simple math. But then again, you have morons on the school committee, with 3 of them not even property tax payers. What a joke.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019
BeaconCommentor

justanidiot I am here for you, you are the only one on the comment page who makes sense. I will vote for you for mayor.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019
John Stark

Warwick: A smoldering cauldron of educational pathology. A place where more and more money is spent on fewer and fewer kids in order to produce academic outcomes have become a source of regional embarrassment. In fact, it is now clear that the longer a student remains in the (exceedingly expensive) Warwick schools, the less proficient they become.

Warwick: A place where neither the teachers union, administration, nor 'consultant' can agree on exactly how many teachers are on the payroll, but those who are seem to contract mysterious diseases every Friday at alarming rates. A place where home values continue to rise, thus obliterating the scare tactic that unless taxpayers come up with more money their home values will drop. Unless and until enough members of the SC cease to recognize the teachers union (an archaic entity if ever there was one) I hold out no hope that any of the above will change. What's the worst that can happen? A teachers' strike in which kids spend a few days not learning anything? Enter comment here_______________.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019
Warwick_Resident1998

Bachus, who’s school committee just gave away a sweetheart contract to teachers that the city most definitely could not afford has the audacity to claim the firefighters tentative agreement is too generous.

This is comedy gold.

Cut any admin positions which are not necessary Siam was they are top heavy. Close some more schools, and get concessions from the WTU. If they won’t give concessions (like when every other union in the city did back in 2011) then start laying them off.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019
Warwick_Resident1998

My previous comment should read “ Cut any admin positions which are not necessary since they are top heavy.”

Damn autocorrect.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019
Apollo

As I have said all along look at the school dept for answers to the budget.

The stats don't lie.

But, easier to go after fire and municipal. People are scared of school admin and the cop shop.

So blantantly obvious

Tuesday, December 10, 2019
wwkvoter

Heard scary things on WPRO today. Warwick is burying itself financially. Anyone else hear that report on Dan Yorke?

Tuesday, December 10, 2019
Roger

Wwkvoter,

If you are referring to Mr Block and Mr. Cote you can say no more. Nothing they stated was accurate. But please don’t take my word for it, come to the city council meeting on Monday and watch those two get smacked around. They are so far over their heads in trying to understand the contract. Come see for yourself. This might officially be the end of their tirades.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019
wwkvoter

Dan Yorke was on board with them. He said that he'd never seen a contract like it in any other agency in 30 years or something like that, Does it really undo the Tier Two 25 year retirement and put everyone back into a 20 years to retirement? I have no dog in this just trying to learn. Reason is that it sounds scary as hell, I want the city to remain fiscally viable.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019
Dan Yorke Podcast on the new contract

Here's the podcast Yorke and Block talk all about the contract

Tuesday, December 10, 2019
Dan Yorke Podcast on the new contract

https://www.spreaker.com/user/wpro/ken-block-follows-up-12-10-19

Tuesday, December 10, 2019
YankeeDoodle

Warwick is in Deep Doo-Doo, and anyone who thinks otherwise needs to climb out and wipe off their eyes.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019
Apollo

Article is about TEACHERS yet people on here obsessed with the fire dept. it's amazing! So blinded.

Lets talk about the school admin wanting 8 million more next year , 25 million in 5 years. NO MORE. We want 10 million in cuts from school dept by next year.

Close schools!

It'a a joke how much it costs per kid. Way more than other communities.

The grades kids are getting are so low.

Good investment?

I want to read comments about the schools.....Go

Wednesday, December 11, 2019
VoWarwick2017

People keeping using the phrase "Investing in our Schools" - personally, I think we need to treat it like an investment. If there is no ROI (return on investment) then there is no more money! Until we see the Warwick Public Schools displaying the ability to adequately provide foundational educations to you children then we should not increase the budget by one more penny.

But we know what will happen if we say no. We know what will happen if we tax payers get uppetty and demand that the Public Schools actually educate our children rather than babysit them.

They will threaten to cancel sports again. That will get the kids all worked up and engaged because, you know, sports is the fun stuff. We evil tax payers cancel the fun stuff and the kids will start protesting and as evidence shows that is to public and loud for us to ignore --- because it is embarrassing.

More of the same. Here comes more taxes, here comes more failing schools, here comes more children that the government has to take care of because they can't take care of themselves.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019
Patient Man

Apollo, nobody posted anything about the firefighters until you did.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019
Samuel

Block and Cote. Two idiots desperately looking for the attention they crave and spending their lives having absolutely no effect or impact on anything. Sad and pathetic. And Yorke with his little radio show is so glad to welcome them to the airwaves to the small group of people who actually listen to him. Mostly white republican males on disability

Wednesday, December 11, 2019
bill123

I listened to the podcast (link from the commenter above). One thing I noticed was, City Solicitor Tim Bliss was speaking to the city council in a public meeting. He offers his advice as someone who is nominated for city solicitor, apparently not yet confirmed, but he was already working as some form of assistant solicitor. I’m not the expert, but you can do your own research. On the surface it seems benign, but there is a serious problem with what he was doing, because it appears to interfere with the proper operation of government:

First, the city solicitor (or any assistant) is the attorney for the city officers. He is not the attorney for any citizen. When he speaks, it is legal advice for the city officer, governed by attorney client privilege in a government setting. That means his words are privileged, we don’t get to hear it, and most importantly, we do not need to. This properly places the burden on the city officer to speak to the public first hand, and show substance. That way the city officer can be held accountable. He is not allowed to say “I’m just following my attorney’s directions”

Second, the only exception I can think of is called “legal opinion”. This is a written document, in a specific format with three main sections, basically the same format you see in judicial decisions, examples of which you can find online. The city charter requires a written document, which is public. So if Mr. Bliss was publicly testifying about his written legal opinion, I believe that would be proper. But if he was giving his opinions absent such a document, then that’s privileged, and it’s not proper to present it in public. The public is required to hire their own attorneys. It is a conflict of interest or worse to impose one attorney on another party who is entitled to their own attorney. A public statement like this is easily but wrongly adopted by the city council, taking them off the hook to show substance. They just put on a dog and pony show starring their attorney.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019
Ben Dover

A school committee run by neophytes and dullards, with one possible exception, Testa. Here is the bottom line...Money is mobile. What is going on around the country, folks and businesses leaving places like CT, RI, NY, IL CA, WA, ME, NJ and headed elsewhere will happen here...It all ready is. Getting more money from the State? LOL...The State's shortfall is somewhere between 20-200M dollars, depending on who you talk with...Start fixing it here, the State is useless...

Wednesday, December 11, 2019
Libra

Until more than a dozen of the same citizens from Warwick show up for city council meetings... the government will continue to run roughshod over the taxpayers! Notice your water bill today? They keep raising the rates for chlorine smelling water

Wednesday, December 11, 2019
perky

the teachers should be paying more for there health care and they need to cut the school sports

Thursday, December 12, 2019
bill123

A duly authorized Inspector General is traditionally the proper department for conducting any investigation or audit involving a government agency. The state of RI does not have an IG. Instead, in this case, we have a law firm, Barton Gilman (bglaw.com), acting as pseudo IG. Allowing law firms, or anyone else, to fill an IG role is invitation for abuse. The unsigned audit report is intended to serve as a “historical document” (pg 5). This means it is intended to serve as a primary source of factual information, possibly even in a civil action court case (pg 12). The creation of historical documents in this manner is a violation of the public trust.

Thursday, December 12, 2019
Cat

It is one thing to talk about the WTU making concessions. It is another to actually try to move forward and enforce the changes. They are under contract. The issue I see is the administration keeps allowing contracts to be approved that are not beneficial to the taxpayers. Every time Solomon stands up to speak, he backtracks on what he previously stated. We are in dire financial straits. Two month later, we are financially stable. Where are the divergent dollar amounts coming from and why can't anyone confidently state what they are?

The City Council, the School Committee and the WTU all have a different teacher count and dollar amount for teachers and their contribution. That is a serious problem. No wonder the Warwick citizens are confused as to what is really happen in the city. The people who are running don't even have the correct data!

Thursday, December 12, 2019
Typical WTU

Please let's stop with shooting the messenger. This is modus operandi for the WTU. Go back 10 years, 15 years and you will hear the same excuses.

The data is wrong. The administration budget is causing all the problems. Focus on the one key aspect of the report. The comparison of the per student cost to the other communities.

Warwick's cost to educate a student at $19,585 is $3,419 more than Cranston. What's causing that? Maybe that warwick teachers are one of the highest compensated in the state.

Bottom line.

Major concessions need to be made to the next teacher contract.

But alas with the new Firefighter contract soon to be rubber stamped, forget about any concessions from the union.

Expect the kids to take it on the chin, with work to rule and all the non sense that goes with that.

Thursday, December 12, 2019
ben dover

Big. big numbers and headed down the road they make no sense...I'm still trying to figure out why jabba the hut Joe would run a campaign like he did, against two un-electable clowns, and then once elected, pivot 180 degrees...Why would he do that, after all he is a lawyer and CPA and many years on the City Council so why would he betray the taxpayers?

I may have been born at night but not last night and then it dawned on me...Why would he do this? The only reason I can think of is Joe doesn't have the time in city service for a big, fat juicy pension...Here is the question for you Joe...Do you run out of re-elections first or does the city apply for Chapter 9 first? We are in the perfect storm....Shrinking population, an undesirable school system and fixed and controllable expenses along with unfunded liabilities skyrocketing...OK...Go back to your nap....

Sunday, December 15, 2019