$1.3M in cuts proposed to fund teacher raises

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Superintendent Philip Thornton revealed last week a list of potential line items on the chopping block in order to free up money to pay retroactive pay raises for the teachers, which went into effect with the approval of the new collective bargaining agreements between the Warwick School Committee and Warwick Teachers’ Union.

“As you recall last spring, we didn’t contemplate retroactive pay in our estimate to the council,” Thornton said. “Having said that, we want to start having the discussion about what potentially could we reduce to balance the budget.”

While the following line items are merely preliminary ideas at this time, they are items that the school department was at least exploring trimming from its budget. Some of the bigger items among the $1,326,500 in total proposed cuts were:

  •  The administration explored cutting the entirety of $50,000 budgeted for contracting therapists who assist vision-impaired students at Rhode Island College’s Sherlock Center;
  • $10,000 of a remaining $20,000 could be cut from the line item used for tutoring services for kids who are hospitalized for an extended period of time;
  • $225,000 total in cuts to professional development and training services to district-wide initiatives, including $50,000 specifically for conferences and workshop activities;
  • $250,000 out of $417,083.45 to pay out-of-district tuition for kids from Warwick who are not having their educational needs met within Warwick. These may include kids in DCYF custody who must be placed in another district or kids who require home-schooling;
  • The schools may be able to save $85,000 by not making a final lease payment on printing/copying machines purchased over the summer;
  • $190,000 out of a remaining $401,172 budget for general supplies and materials, including $40,000 of the remaining $49,187.81 available for athletic supplies and uniforms;
  • $400,000 out of a remaining $727,741.78 in technological hardware and software costs. This money was intended to be spent on creating a disaster recovery plan for the district’s data center, and upgrading the district’s network security.

Various department heads were not excited about the possibility of these cuts.

“That wouldn’t look good at all,” said athletic director Kenneth Rix. “I have three pages of stuff that still needs to be purchased for spring sports.” Rix said these supplies covered everything from uniforms, baseballs and softballs to a new batting cage and safety netting for the baseball diamonds.

Doug Alexander, director of technology for the school district, said that making such a significant cut to his budget would disable him from going forward with his two biggest initiatives remaining for the year – ensuring that a natural disaster wouldn’t cripple the district, and protecting against security breaches in the school’s network.

“Given the experience of other districts a far as losses and water damage, it highlights the importance of having a business continuity and disaster recovery plan when it comes to your software and your network – and that’s exactly what we’ve been talking about doing and preparing a bid for,” he said. “The software side is network security…we really sorely need better network security because a data breach would be the last thing we need in this environment.”

In regards to potentially cutting counseling services for hospitalized and vision-impaired children, Toll Gate teacher Matt Hodge gave a strong rebuke during public comments.

“To go through departments and make it seem like, ‘Well, in order to pay those teachers we're going to have to take money away from visually impaired kids or kids in hospitals.’ It's shameful, what you're doing,” Hodge said. “You had no problem spending money like drunken sailors on Gorton and the new health club at Toll Gate and all kinds of other things. But now you're going to take services away from really needy kids because of the ‘greedy teachers’? It's a public relations game that is really distasteful.”

Union president Darlene Netcoh criticized the school administration in a statement, saying that in their $160 million budget they should be able to find cuts that don’t affect student learning and achievement.

“I am sure that the WSC and its administration can find savings that do not affect the services that students receive,” she said in a statement. “For example, they recently posted two newly created assistant principal positions at a cost of roughly $150,000 for each. Also, they do not need a public relations firm, which represents $100,000 in this year’s budget. Eliminating these three costs would save $400,000.”

The two new administrative positions Netcoh mentioned are an “Assistant Principal of Teaching and Learning” for Winman Junior High School and an “Assistant Principal of Climate

and Culture” for Warwick Veterans Junior High School.

But why do these proposed cuts even have to be discussed in the first place?

The school department, by law, must operate on a balanced budget. The cost of giving teachers raises – which includes a retroactive pay raise for last year and raises for the current and next year – is actualized at $4,586,801, at an average of a 2.3 percent effective pay increase.

The council – in an attempt to push the two quarreling sides into solving the contract dispute – level funded the school department’s budget over the summer with the verbal agreement that they would get make additional money available to pay teachers a salary increase once a contract was successfully negotiated. However it was never actually agreed upon in terms of how much that figure would actually be.

Should the council only release the money that was originally projected by the school department to be needed (at the time, they did not anticipate factoring in retroactive pay raises to the salary increase), the school administration would need to make about $1.68 million in budget cuts in order to balance their budget.

The school department will only know exactly how much needs to be cut from their budget when they appear before the Warwick City Council on Wednesday, which is when the council will take action on how much funding to release. The school department is asking for $4 million from the council, which would leave around $600,000 to be cut.

“We do realize this is higher than what was discussed in June 2017,” Ferrucci writes in the memo sent to the council outlining the mathematics behind the situation. “As a reminder, at that point in time, a retro pay raise was not being considered.”

Ultimately the amount that is released by the council is up to them.

In a conversation Saturday, City Council President Joseph Solomon was not receptive to approving additional funds beyond what had been withheld.

The school committee seemed positive that they would be receiving at least $3 million, and hopeful that they could perhaps secure more, as they argue they could not have predicted the costs of hypothetical retroactive pay increases during budgetary hearings.

“The city can say we said [$3 million] and it’s three. If they want to stick to the three, that’s their prerogative,” said school committee member David Testa during school committee’s Jan. 10 meeting. “My hope is they would see the math here – the math isn’t lying. I would hope they would give us somewhere closer to the [$4.5 million], and not closer to the three.”

School committee chairwoman Beth Furtado took the moment to speak on her frustration with the level of funding the school department has received, both locally and from the state.

“The school department, in my opinion, is grossly underfunded and has been grossly underfunded for years,” she said. “We’re at a level now that we were at previous to FY2009, before we even hit double digits. To go 10 years and not have an increase, I believe it’s wrong.”

“It also needs to change at the state level,” she continued. “The funding formula is, in my opinion again, grossly out of whack. When four districts get 75 percent of the funding from the state to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars and the other 33 are left to share 25 percent of that funding, it’s wrong. The ones that can affect that change are the reps and the senators that sit on Smith Hill. They’re the ones that need to do something about it, and the ones from Warwick really need to step up.”

Comments

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richardcorrente

What we are experiencing here is a total lack of accountability of the $160 million dollars each year that goes into the School Committee (SC). They have received OVER A BILLION DOLLARS since 2009 and much of that money was supposed to go toward renovations and updates of our schools.

The money never got there.

Also, the School Committee was supposed to set aside budget monies for teachers salaries, both present and future.

That money never got there either.

They admitted that they "didn't contemplate retroactive pay". (see Superintendent Thornton's comments above).

They absolutely should have. (did they think there wouldn't be any?)

Now they want to fund their missteps on the backs of the students, even when the Teachers Union points out how the School Committee is adding expensive staff members, a decision that can easily be reversed.

Last year the School Committee let go dozens of teachers while at the same time they added dozens of staff (at enormous salaries).

As I have said for three years now, "We need an audit of the School Committee budget!"

It needs to be from an independent third party with the results posted in the Warwick Beacon. I recommend that we "don't give them another dime" until they allow it. By our charter, once Warwick taxpayers hand over $160 million dollars per year to the School Committee, no one can tell them how to spend it. So I have said, for three years now, that we need to demand an independent audit BEFORE WE GIVE THEM A DIME! Since we can't make them accountable AFTER we give them our hard-earned money, let's make them accountable BEFORE!

The 80,000 taxpayers that are paying the tab deserve better. They don't trust the School Committee and neither do I. If the SC wants to rebuild the trust they have clearly lost they should sign on to this. So far, they haven't. Again, I ask, (for three years now) "Which SC member is going to step up to the plate and suggest an independent audit to clear the air?" You do want to get re-elected. Don't you?

Happy Valentines everyone.

Rick Corrente

The Taxpayers Mayor

Tuesday, January 16
Thecaptain

Corrente, just shut up already. Are you that impaired that you cant even see that all of the cuts that are being made to give the greedy teachers more money are coming from line items that are services to the students? But its all about the kids right?? How dumb can you be???? The world may never know.

Tuesday, January 16
CrickeeRaven

All the fake "mayor" is interested in is bashing the school committee, Thecaptain. That's his entire purpose with his repeated falsehoods and displays of ignorance. As loud as he was calling for more pay for teachers, now he is criticizing how the school committee is trying to budget for it.

You rightly ask "How dumb can [he] be?" He seems to have reached a new depth of self-delusion by suggesting that school committee members may lose their reelection campaigns if they don't agree with his mindless demand for an "independent audit" [while ignoring the fact that the same firm audits the city and is considered independent enough to do that job].

Happy 293 days until Nov. 8, when tens of thousands of honest, taxpaying voters who will reject his candidacy and show that his continued efforts to mislead them will again fail.

Tuesday, January 16
FASTFREDWARD4

Hey captain. teacher are not greedy, they go to college then they get there masters, and then they work. You can,t really think that if you go to a lawyer with a auto in jury he.ii take 15% of the settlement. He or she would say WALK/ O I forgot your MR know it all, By the way the fire chief is still working.

Wednesday, January 17
Thecaptain

Hey FASTFRED,

Judging by your punctuation and grammar, it would appear that you have attended the Warwick Public Schools.

Wednesday, January 17
Kammy

Political maneuvering on behalf of the WSC, WTU and Corrente. Add in the Finance committee, the budget and you get a 3 ring circus. Welcome to Warwick, RI. Maybe the taxpayers should picket at WSC and WTU to make their point. Enough is enough people. Let's stop playing games and get down to fixing the problem. And no, Richard, you don't have a seat at that table.

Wednesday, January 17
Thecaptain

1.3 million in cuts on the way to balance the budget of the contract that Avedisian agreed to without a fiscal note. Now the monies come from cutting services to the kids. BUT ITS ALL ABOUT THE KIDS. RRRRRIGHT.

Wednesday, January 17
PaulHuff

Thanks again to the greedy teachers.

Wednesday, January 17
ThatGuyInRI

Let's just save the city the entirety of the school budget by closing the school system, no more budgetary problems, no more "greedy teachers," nor more "incompetant school committee," nor mor budgetary "waste," everyone is happy.

According to Dick we'll save a BILLION dollars in less than a decade that'll be great for the taxpayers and the city right?

What will people have to complain about then?

Thursday, January 18
Bg9385

So the WSC negotiated a contract incorporating retro pay and pay raises going forward without taking into consideration WHERE that money would come from in the budget? Sounds about right. Now he's going to "recommend" cutting money from areas that would directly affect students. Let's call this for what it is - Thornton is trying to turn all of this back on the teachers because of their "it's all about the students" statement. It's a political move more than anything else. I'm sure there are plenty of ancillary areas that could be trimmed, but why put in the effort when the quick, easy, and honestly gutless move is to paint teachers as the bad guys.

Thursday, January 18
Kammy

Bg9385 - Aren't you trying to do the very same thing? Paint the WTU as blameless and lay it all on the WSC? Political maneuvering was done by both sides. The blame game needs to stop and everyone needs to put their collective minds together to create a workable budget that doesn't put the students in the line of fire.

Thursday, January 18
Thecaptain

I think that it is important to note that 64% of the teachers DO NOT reside in Warwick. They could give a damn what the implication is to the Warwick taxpayer. Ferrucci continues to make major accounting errors, yet he is still employed. There was never a fiscal plan to give the retro active raises, but as soon as Avedisian got involved, the labor got everything they wanted. Bear in mind that certain members of the school committee were not even allowed to attend the hearings.

It would be interesting to see the posture of the teachers if the SC said, either you give concessions to make up for the additional 1.6 million, or we have no choice but to cut services to the kids. My guess is that the teachers will be all too willing to cut services to the kids to maintain the retro pay.

Thursday, January 18
Bg9385

What exactly is there to blame the union for? Negotiating and signing a contract? Wow, those scoundrels. God forbid they do what a union does. In my opinion the fiscal onus falls on the committee. Their job is to allocate the budget. Not the union's fault if the committee doesn't know how to do that. It's also my opinion that Thornton is publicizing cutting funds that would impact the students. Take notes of what he's suggesting versus what will actually be cut. Feel free to disagree. That's the beauty of opinions.

It's entertaining the amount of complaining that takes place surrounding elected officials. The city only has itself to blame. You elected these people. Sweet stat that 64% of teachers don't reside in Warwick. I guess you should be thanking them based on the outcry?

Thursday, January 18
Kammy

Yes, of course the union was doing what the union does. City-wide sick outs, chronic absenteeism and the demands of increases when they are already are one the highest paid teachers in this state. No maneuvering there at all. At least I am willing to concede that both sides have valid points and neither side is blameless. The reality of the situation is while finger pointing continues the only real losers in this mess are the students and the taxpayer. By all means, continue with the endless BS. People will continue to move away from this city because their taxes are high, their schools are falling apart, their students scores are abysmal and no one seems to have the ability to work together for the better of the people of the city.

Friday, January 19