School budget review stops before it starts

Galligan wants teacher/student counts, forces meeting adjournment

Posted 5/4/23

School Committee Chair David Testa had planned to go to Mayor Frank Picozzi on Tuesday with a school budget request less than the $6.5 million in additional funds proposed by the superintendent and …

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School budget review stops before it starts

Galligan wants teacher/student counts, forces meeting adjournment


School Committee Chair David Testa had planned to go to Mayor Frank Picozzi on Tuesday with a school budget request less than the $6.5 million in additional funds proposed by the superintendent and more  in line with municipal budget increases.

But the committee never considered Superintendent Lynn Dambruch’s $189.3 million budget even though it was the only item on the agenda. Rather, on a motion made by freshman member Shaun Galligan, and backed by freshmen members Leah Hazelwood  and Michelle Kirby Chapman, the committee voted to adjourn on Galligan’s contention he needs additional  enrollment and busing information to decide on teacher staffing and bus allocations. The meeting has now been rescheduled for today at 5:30 p.m. at Toll Gate High School.

The superintendent’s $189.3 million proposed budget would be financed by $141.5 million in city money, an increase of $6.5 million from the current budget and $45.1 million in state funds, an increase of $4.7 million. Federal and other local revenues would make up the balance.

Mayor Picozzi said Tuesday he has an amount in mind for city funding that might be stretched with ARPA funds for one-time expenses.  He didn’t disclose the amounts, but he made it clear it is not what the superintendent proposed.

School Committee approval of a budget would give the mayor a blueprint of what the committee deems important as he finalizes his budget for the City Council. In the best of worlds, the mayor and the committee are on the same page when the budget reaches the council.

It doesn’t look like there’s enough time for that to happen now.

On Tuesday with no new meeting date set – the earliest possible being Thursday because of the 48-hour posting notice – the mayor said he would move ahead without a committee-approved budget. Driving the process is the first of two and possibly three Council budget hearings starting May 22. By ordinance the council is to have received the mayor’s budget a minimum of 11 days prior to the public hearing.

“I’m moving forward now,” Picozzi said explaining he wouldn’t delay his budget deliberation for schools that make up more than half of the city budget.

“I chalk it up to a difference of opinion,” Galligan said Tuesday morning of the events that had taken place the night before. He reiterated he needed additional information for the department to operate “a lean” budget.

What might that total?

“I don’t have a figure. It could be greater than the $6.5 million (in additional funding requested by the superintendent) or less.”

In a statement issued Wednesday, Galligan said: “In my opinion, had we proceeded on Monday evening blindly, it could have been detrimental for our children, the employees of Warwick Public Schools, and the taxpayers. The budget funds the vision of our school system, and more importantly, the educational or resource needs of our students. We need to get this right, and slowing things down for 48-hours I felt was low risk yet presented a high reward, that reward being a sound budget.”

The superintendent went through a department by department presentation of the budget last Thursday night. Neither questions by the committee or the public were permitted with the intention that would occur at Monday’s meeting.

Galligan’s action was apparently planned, since neither Hazlewood nor Kirby Chapman asked questions regarding his premise that the absence of the information was in violation of committee policy.

Galligan’s maneuver was a first in school budget deliberations according to longtime school observers.

Testa said he had no request prior to the meeting from Galligan for the scheduling and busing information. Citing budget policies that data is to have been provided by the administration, Galligan asked “are we saying we’re not going to follow our policies?”

Galligan also pointed out the superintendent’s budget proposal does not include a capital budget as required by the Rhode Island Department of Education.  Testa countered that the department has filed a capital budget with RIDE.

In response to Testa, Assistant Superintendent William McCaffrey said scheduling for the upcoming academic year doesn’t start until June and student counts are subject to change as families move in and out of the city. Those counts also impact the number of buses required.

Testa warned the committee “we’re playing a dangerous game,” adding that the department is at the mercy of the state and the city for funding. At the outset of the meeting, Testa said he thought the superintendent’s request was too rich and he planned to recommend a series cuts. Pointing out he has followed many school budget debates, he ventured that even should the mayor back a $6.5 million increase in the school budget he’d bet the council wouldn’t. He said the mayor and council were “generous” in granting an additional $5 million in the current budget and he didn’t see $11.5 million over two years.

As Galligan sought to call for a vote on his motion to adjourn the meeting, Testa said they were still in the “discussion phase” and called on committee counsel Andrew Henneous whether they could proceed in light of the policies cited by Galligan.

Henneous said, given the way the policy is written, the committee would not be in violation if it proceeded with the budget discussion.

Testa questioned what Galligan hoped to achieve and again warned committee members they were playing a dangerous game. The vote was 3 to 1 to adjourn. Karen Bachus, the fifth member of the committee, was not present.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, Darlene Netcoh, president of the Warwick Teachers Union backed the superintendent plan to add special education teachers and an early childhood coordinator. She also endorsed the construction of new high schools. Mary Townsend, president of the Warwick Independent School Employees asked for committee support of school ground crews.

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