NEWS

MAYOR TO SCHOOLS: Get closer to zero increase

Posted 4/27/22

By ALEX MALM

On Tuesday night the Warwick School Committee sliced about $1.4 million from the $179 million budget presented by Superintendent Lynn Dambruch.

If that number stands, the schools …

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NEWS

MAYOR TO SCHOOLS: Get closer to zero increase

Posted

By ALEX MALM

On Tuesday night the Warwick School Committee sliced about $1.4 million from the $179 million budget presented by Superintendent Lynn Dambruch.

If that number stands, the schools are looking for an additional $4.4 million from the administration. That’s still too much says Mayor Frank Picozzi.

“They have to get a lot closer to zero than what they have,” said Picozzi.

Picozzi said the administration planned for a school increase of about half of what the department is requesting.

“We can’t afford that. The residents can’t afford that,” Picozzi said.

Picozzi said that last year the school department was level funded at the district’s request but said that due to enrollment the city could’ve cut their budget by five percent but chose not to.

The biggest line item cut from the department’s request was $800,000 out of the $1.8 million for the WISE union pension. The proposal came from Vice Chair David Testa.

“It’s not something I relish at all,” said Testa.

Testa also proposed cutting 10 out of the 14 building aids from the budget for a savings of about $135,000.

Tetsa proposed budgeting for $550,000 breakage (the savings generated between retiring hired paid personnel and those replacing them). Finance Director McGrath said that usually breakage is around $400,000 to $600,000 so the $550,000 is a good starting point.

Other cuts approved include $5,000 from alarm services, and $10,000 from the gasoline line item.

Testa is concerned about the number of cuts proposed in maintenance.

“I am concerned about the level of maintenance cuts we are making,” said Testa.

Testa also noted that he is concerned with the added $5.8 million ask to the city and is going to look for more items that could possibly be cut before Thursday’s vote.

“We have to come up with a realistic ask,” said Testa.

Testa’s proposal to cut $5,000 from the snow plowing over time was also approved.

“We’re just rolling the dice with this,” said Testa.

Cobden, who said she got a better picture of what goes on with snow plowing, said that she was nervous about cutting funds from the line item, but ultimately agreed to it.

Another line item that was agreed to be cut was $25,000 from the severance line item. McGrath said that the $300,000 estimate was based on retirements which he said is hard to predict.

Restored to the budget was $16,000 for VOWS and $25,000 for MentorRI.

 

Personnel cuts

 In the original budget proposal by Dambruch it calls for the reduction of 22 WISE union positions and 15 teacher positions bringing the personnel budget for the department to $100.3 million.

The positions proposed to be cut haven’t been identified yet. According to Human Resources Director Kimberly Ruggieri, the reason for it is because the final budget isn’t approved meaning changes could be made.

Darlene Netcoh, the President of the Warwick Teachers Union argued that in past years the public and the unions have been made aware of what proposed positions are being cut at this point so the union leaders and members of the public have an opportunity to make their case for keeping them.

“If they say that the cuts are due to enrollment and scheduling, then they should already have the schedules done, and they should know which positions they can cut,” said Netoch.

Netoch also pointed out the number of position cuts doesn’t mean that many people will necessarily be laid off. For example, if a high school math teacher position is cut but there is a retirement then no one would lose their job from the department.

Committee member Karen Bachus asked how many administrative positions are being cut from the budget.

“If everyone has to feel a pinch then there has to be somebody from management,” said Bachus. An answer wasn’t provided.

Mary Townsend, president of the WISE Union, said that her biggest concern was any proposed cuts to the building and grounds department.

Townsend said that a lot of work has gone into restoring staff to where it used to be and said that any additional cuts would make it even more difficult for the small staff at the schools.

For example, at Vets, which she said is the largest middle school in the state, there are only two custodians to clean the school during the day.

In response to criticism from Warwick Watchdog Rob Cote in regards to teachers pay, Netcoh said that education requires personnel. She said that union had a zero percent increase for two out of the last six years.

“Education is a labor intensive institution,” said Netcoh.

 

 

Garbage pick up

During the meeting Committee member Kyle Adams pointed out that the budget is calling for a significant increase for rubbish disposal.

Kevin Oliver, Director of Maintenance and Grounds said the district was informed by the city that they would no longer be able to pick up their trash and the school district would be required to find a private company to do so. Oliver said that if they had to privatize it the cost would be about $300,000 per year.

“Unless this is a temporary thing I have a really big problem with this,” said Testa.

Testa said that after going through the budget multiple times he wasn’t sure what else could be cut from the proposed budget.

“When I tell you there’s nothing else here there’s nothing else here,” said Testa.

Testa said he thought it was a conversation that the administration needs to have with the city.

“If this district has to start paying for its own trash pickup then let’s lock the doors, the lights because this is just ridiculous,” said Testa.

Asked about it on Tuesday night, Liz Tufts a spokesperson for Picozzi said in a statement “A month or two ago the Mayor had a meeting with the DPW and School Maintenance. The City asked them to explore the possibility of the school taking over responsibility for their trash disposal. This was just a discussion to see if it would be feasible,” said Tufts. “The Mayor never had any further conversation with them. He was never told that the price tag would be $300,000 in the school budget, until contacted by the press today. That price it is not financially prudent, so the DPW will continue trash pickup at the schools.”

 

ARPA Funds

Asked about using American Rescue Plan Act funds to help with the school budget, Picozzi said on Tuesday “It would create a huge cliff you can’t recover from. ARPA funds are temporary.”

“You can’t use ARPA funds just to get yourself out of hot water,” said Picozzi.

Picozzi said that the Administration asked the school district to look at some one-time expenses that could be used with ARPA funds and to present them to the Administration.

“We’re going to see,” said Picozzi.

Council President Steve McAllister in a statement on Tuesday said “The way the charter is set up the Council/Mayor can not tell the school department/committee how to spend any funds they receive from the City. Therefore, I would have a number of questions and concerns about giving them  ARPA funds.”

“ARPA funds are one time funds that need to be spent on one time expenses. I am not sure of what one time expenses the school department would have,” said McAllister.” The school department also has their own federal funds they can use. I think there are a number of legal questions that would need to be addressed before I would consider this option.” 

 

 

Buses for sports

Cobden pointed out that many teams have been late for games and in some cases have been canceled due to buses being late.

The buses for sports are about $20,000 each for Vets and Winman and $86,000 each for Pilgrim and Toll Gate.

Cobden’s proposal was to cut the sports buses for the two high schools. She said that it isn’t about hurting sports, but said that she didn’t understand why the district is paying for services that aren’t being provided.

During the beginning of the pandemic, Cobden pointed out that student-athletes had to get their own transportation and that the district didn’t get many complaints.

Ken Rix, the athletic director for the district, said that the bus issue is a statewide problem and he has fielded calls from other schools asking for games to be delayed due to their buses not coming on time.

“I just think it’s an expense that we have to look at,” said Cobden.

Adams said that if the district is going to have late buses next year for students then he isn’t sure about not having buses for sports.

“I feel like we can’t do one without the other,” said Adams.

Testa said that he wants to make sure there is a majority of support from parents before doing it.

“Parents may not like that,” said Testa.

After consulting with their attorney Andrew Henneous, it was decided to table the vote until he determines the liability of it.

 

 

WELC

For several weeks one of the concerns that have been discussed by members of the community is possible changes to the Warwick Early Learning Center.

At the last meeting Gary Coppolino, director of special services for the district said that one of their programs which runs from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. had to be looked at because they couldn’t provide transportation next year for that time period. He said that the two alternatives discussed were moving the program to a half day program or to a full day program.

He said that no decisions had been made regarding the program.

“The proposed cut of the 1 p.m. bus service to WELC was made without consideration of the needs of the population at hand. The majority of classrooms at WELC (10 in total) arrive at 8:45 and leave at 1. It has been said that this proposal was put forth in part as a measure to save the district money, but these students will still require busing no matter what time they leave for the day, which will still come at a cost,” said Michelle Schattle in a letter read by her colleague. “Ms. Cobden visited our classroom last week and I would invite the other members of the School Committee to do the same before voting on the budget. I would respectfully ask that the members of the committee please do the right thing for our students and do not vote to cut the 1 p.m. buses to WELC which would force unfortunate and ill-advised changes to a system that is working well for the whole school, and has been proven over time to be in the best interest of the students we serve.”

Cobden said that she wanted to rescind the cut of about $400,000 from transportation in order to keep the 1 p.m. end time for at least the next year.

Testa said he didn’t necessarily disagree with Cobden but said that he wanted to hear from Dambruch and Coppolino on Thursday  about any updates they may have regarding WELC.

Cobden agreed to table the vote.

 

 

Under funded

Cote during public comment cited a report done by the consultant firm Barton Gilman that was hired to do a financial evaluation for the Warwick School Department.

Cote said that the report concluded by saying “The Warwick School Department is a fiscal train wreck.”

Netcoh argued that during the great recession cities were allowed to underfund schools by five percent under the maintenance of effort and said that Warwick is the only city not give it back to the school district.

“If the schools are a fiscal train wreck it’s because the city made it that way,” said Netchoh.

Bachus also argued that the district hasn’t been funded properly.

“There’s a reason why we’re not in the top five or the top 10,” said Bachus.

 

 

Next steps

A vote by the School Committee is expected to take place at 6 p.m. at Warwick Vets Middle School. Once the budget is approved it will be sent to the City Council for their consideration.

Making the cuts: School Committee Vice Chair David Testa proposed $1.4 million worth of cuts that were approved during Tuesday’s budget hearing. The district is still seeking about $4.4 million in additional contributions from the city ahead of their vote on Thursday.

Debate Continues: Warwick Watchdog Rob Cote and Warwick Teachers Union President Darlene Netcoh exchanged words following public comment during Tuesday’s School Committee budget hearing. (Warwick Beacon Photos)

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