PR firm gone in school department's FY19 budget

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Warwick schools will no longer budget for a communications consultant as of the newest recommended budget put forth for FY19 by Superintendent Philip Thornton, finance director Anthony Ferrucci reported last Thursday during a budget meeting.

The move is sure to be one that generates interest among those critical of the line item, described as simply “other services” within the superintendent’s overall portion of the budget. That line item had previously been utilized for the hiring of firms to re-do the district’s website and provide behind-the-scenes public relations.

“The superintendent has cut that line to zero so there is no funds available for any kind of consultants in the superintendent’s office going forward,” Ferrucci said, adding that reductions in legal fees have reduced the overall staffing budget for the Superintendent’s office by about $200,000.

That cut was one of many that trimmed the recommended budget from about $175 million to just over $170 million since department heads first communicated their budgetary needs in early March. “It was a $5 million search and validate for the last month and a half,” explained Ferrucci.

Still, due primarily to a negative change in the state school funding formula and the long-awaited new teachers’ collective bargaining agreement, which included raises in salary and in steps, the school department is still projecting an approximately 2.78 percent expenditure increase, amounting to a need for $4,625,742 in additional funding.

Still, the new budget includes ambitious initiatives that are intended to continue to progress Warwick’s educational mission moving forward. Some examples include a commitment to budgeting for the 1:1 Chromebook program for all incoming 6th graders and 13 new Promethean Boards for elementary school libraries to continue to support STEM learning, as well as purchases for the CAD and music labs at Toll Gate and the Studio 107 and Robotics programs at Pilgrim.

The budget also includes funding for continuing the SIMS (Summer Induction program for Middle School Students), which began with the aid of a Rhode Island Foundation grant last year and gave students entering middle school a chance to get acclimated with their new classmates and the school during a short “summer camp” type experience.

“We believe it’s an essential part of our work in transitioning the 5th graders and 6th graders into the middle schools. This year there are two grade levels moving up,” said Chief Academic Officer Sheryl Rabbitt. “It was very successful. We had a lot of good feedback from parents, teachers, students and we’d like to expand and continue that.”

Funding will continue to ensure that the remaining schools in the district can achieve NEASC accreditation, and Rabbitt touted other programs that will provide more assistance to special education and English-language learning educators, primarily through increased co-teaching.

At the heart of their efforts is increasing universal literacy, regardless of the type of student they are trying to reach.

“It’s a universal design,” Rabbitt said, likening the literacy programs to ADA-compliant sidewalk dips.  “It doesn’t prohibit anybody who walks, but it allows access for that person in a wheelchair. We use the same approach in education. What are best practices that have a universal design and have the greatest reach? And literacy across the content areas is the number one place where we can leverage gains for the aggregate and all students.”

Other necessary budgetary items include over $1 million for purchasing and fueling 10 additional buses to ferry kids from farther away as part of the elementary and secondary consolidation plans, which are being further implemented this fall as Randall Holden and John Wickes Elementary Schools will be closed, and John Brown Francis will become a new pre-K facility. All 6th graders will begin attending either Warwick Veterans Middle School or Winman Middle School in the fall as well.

As part of their capital improvement budget, Ferrucci pointed out how the schools will be able to begin projects through their capital reserve budget amounting to about $943,000, which will include mostly electrical work throughout the district and the necessary work to transition John Brown Francis.

Other projects included are a replacement of Pilgrim’s PA system for about $140,000 and the renovation of Toll Gate’s PA system for about $40,000. Holliman Elementary needs some renovations to its roof that is estimated to cost about $60,000.

Another need, which could not be included in the budget but was also discussed by Ferrucci, was three vehicles in the maintenance department of the Business Affairs Office. He said that they may not pass inspection again, and that some of the vehicles, which are used for plowing in addition to other uses, were almost 20 years old.

The Warwick School Committee will hold another budgetary meeting on Wednesday evening at 6:30 p.m. at Warwick Veterans Middle School.

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CrickeeRaven

According to the superintendent's recommended budget [posted here: https://www.warwickschools.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/24/2018/04/SC-Agenda-FY19-Superintendent-Recommended-Budget-4-10-18.pdf], the FY19 budget is expected to go up by $4,625,742.

That amount includes $3,922,564 for the new teacher contract and $507,320 for the WISE contract, a total of more than $4.4 million for staff salaries and benefits -- or fully 95% of the budget increase.

Tuesday, April 17
Justanidiot

gud teachers can't learn yer kids anyting cheeply.

Tuesday, April 17
richardcorrente

Warwick taxpayers have given over A BILLION AND A HALF DOLLARS to the School Committee (SC) since 2009. According to their mission statement, part of that money was supposed to go to maintain Warwicks' school buildings.

It didn't.

Part of that money was supposed to be earmarked for teachers future salary needs.

It wasn't.

Now the SC wants $40 MILLION MORE of taxpayers hard-earned money in addition to the $160 million they get annually with no accountability whatsoever. I say "NO!" Not another dime until they submit to an unbiased, independent audit from an outside source. The SC is suffering from a distrustful image that no PR firm can overcome.

Also, I discussed with Finance Director, Anthony Ferrucci, the idea of a "clerk-of-the-works" to oversee the checkbook of the $40 million dollar bond request that the SC is currently asking for.

I told him that I would openly and publically support the bond request IF THERE WAS A CLERK-OF-THE-WORKS and I will.

I told him that I would openly and publically campaign against it if there was no one overseeing the money and I will. That's the commitment I have made to the 80,000 taxpayers that are paying the tab.

Dear taxpayers,

Massachusetts has this provision on ALL projects over $3 million dollars. If the SC is being honest about their intentions, they should have no problem with this level of "accountability". So far, I haven't heard from Mr. Ferrucci. He was gracious enough to meet with me at Christmas time and I greatly appreciated that. We don't agree on a lot, but I left that meeting with a greater respect for him.

Anthony, you should consider the "Clerk-of-the-Works" idea with or without a meeting with me. It's a win-win-win for everyone. If the SC is sincere about how they are planning on spending the taxpayers $40,000,000, they should have no problem with this. They can pay for it with the money they saved from cancelling their unsuccessful Public Relations firm.

Sincerely,

Richard Corrente

The Taxpayers Mayor

Happy Spring everyone.

Wednesday, April 18
WwkVoter

PAY NO ATTENTION TO CORRENTE. He uses false and really childish data points, conflating accumulated spending which means NOTHING, with multi-year items, and attaches them in same year to per pupil spending. This is a classic "elevator which doesnt reach the top". All this despite proposing NOTHING that actually makes public policy sense. Corrente is almost more scary than funny. This is the best the Warwick Democrat party can do? I hate to be negative but enough is enough, being mayor is a serious and important job and Corrente's mockery of that needs to come to an end.

As to this PR firm, I never thought, for whatever reason, theirs of the districts, that a good job for WSD was the result, in my opinion. Was never dazzled with any kind of unifying brand for school communications that was both unique to each school, and consistent to the district as a whole. If we are going to pay the big bucks, we should get something that before long becomes instantly recognizable, is navigable, and gives every stakeholder what they came for almost effortlessly. I think the superintendent made a good choice to let this one go and maybe they can get back to it later.

Wednesday, April 18
CrickeeRaven

Hello again, WwkVoter.

Thanks for warning other readers about the make-believe "mayor" and his repeated false claims. As you rightly point out, once again he demands an audit that is already done, conflates bond money with the annual budget, and generally makes a fool of himself.

I look forward to joining you and tens of thousands of honest, actual taxpayers in voting against the make-believe "mayor" this November.

Wednesday, April 18
Justanidiot

iz you all denigrating our fine and really erected toxicpayer mayer?

Wednesday, April 18
JohnStark

Warwick will spend about $19,000 per student in the 2018-19 school year. We are told repeatedly that this is an "investment". 12.79% of Pilgrim students are proficient in Math, and 33% are proficient in Reading according to the most recent data from RIDE.

In contrast, over 70% of East Greenwich High School students are proficient in both Math and Reading. The Town of East Greenwich will spend about $15,100 per student, or 20% less than Warwick.

I can hear it now... "But EG is a wealthy community..." Fine. So let's consider our neighbors to the west. West Warwick will spend $15,300 per student next year, in a community that has a poverty rate considerably higher than both Pilgrim and Tollgate. Yet, 32.7% of WW students are proficient in Math, and 40% are proficient in Reading, levels that are significantly higher than both Pilgrim and Tollgate. Bottom line: Warwick continues to spend more, in many cases much more, than neighboring communities in exchange for vastly inferior measurable outcomes.

So as we ponder the idiocy of whether the city's schools need a pr firm, some navel-gazing members of the school committee may wish to question the relative "return" on "investment" on behalf of taxpayers, as well as the economic implications of an unprepared workforce in the near future. The anticipated silence from the SC would have me continuing to short WPS Inc.

Wednesday, April 18
WwkVoter

JohnStark, thanks for that data. I'm sure it is a complex picture, but you rightly point out some basics and comparisons. Hopefully we are going to improve. That also shows why standardized budget formats and achievement testing can help us see the big picture and identify where performance is, and isnt happening as it should.

Thursday, April 19
JohnStark

WwkVoter,

Thank you for the kind words. My broad concern is that we spend untold hours debating the need for pr firms and other trivialities, while losing sight of a basic question: How much do Warwick kids know, and what is it costing to impart that knowledge relative to surrounding communities? The results are in, and they are deeply disturbing. The school committee owes taxpayers an explanation to this profoundly fundamental issue. The silence (or ignorance) on the part of the SC reflects a complete abdication of both responsibility to students and accountability to taxpayers.

Thursday, April 19
Thecaptain

John Stark,

Please don't forget that according to the RI Department of Education report card on RI schools, Warwick students are 11% proficient in science. Can you imagine if only 11% of the students passed a science class taught by Mr. Christopher Brown? The beatings would commence!!

Thursday, April 19
richardcorrente

Dear WwkVoter,

"false and really childish data points"?

You are too much of a coward to even use your real name! Are old enough to be a "voter"?

My data is all verifiable. Feel free.

Happy Spring WwkVoter, whoever you are.

Rick

Friday, April 20
CrickeeRaven

Don't let the make-believe "mayor's" bluster intimidate you, WwkVoter. You explained your point clearly enough for people who can comprehend plain English.

As we've seen before, the make-believe "mayor" thinks that just because a number is "verifiable," he can then twist and spin it any way he wants. The only thing he proves with his repeated statement about a "billion and a half dollars" is that he wants to scare and confuse voters.

Or, look at this attempt at spin:

"[P]art of that money was supposed to go to maintain Warwicks' school buildings. It didn't. Part of that money was supposed to be earmarked for teachers future salary needs. It wasn't."

Neither of those claims are true. The school department budgeted and spent the money for building maintenance and equipment. There was not a line item for "future salary needs" in the school budget -- but there was one in the FY19 city budget controlled by his party's nine city council members.

The make-believe "mayor's" spin and name-calling over your use of a screen name will not change those facts. His soon-to-fail campaign and the money he wastes on it will not change those facts.

Thank you for getting the make-believe "mayor" to again willingly prove his unfitness for office.

Friday, April 20
WwkVoter

Raven, thanks. You make points better than I do.

Corrente doesnt intimidate me. BUT while on that topic, (before I knew much about him) I did note that he appeared to veiled threaten another commenter here. This was when his delusions of being mayor were strongest, before he was crushed by the barely-campaigning Scott Avedisian (who didnt even have to hang a single illegal campaign sign!). That actually piqued my interest because it was clear to my thinking anyway that Corrente, with any power at all could be a danger.

When I get old enough to vote, it sure wont be for mr corrente, or anybody remotely like him.

The only remaining issue is what the heck was the Warwick Democrat Party THINKING to allow this guy to even run under their name? Wow.

Oh,

Happy Spring Everybody

Monday, April 23
CrickeeRaven

Thanks for the kind compliment, WwkVoter.

I, too, remember the many times that the make-believe "mayor" told other commenters to "watch out" or suggested that he would sue them for publishing information that proved his statements to be false. This is clearly intimidating behavior, and as you point out, not acceptable for someone running for office.

As to why the local Democratic party allowed him to run under their banner: My theory is that they didn't have much choice; given their losing performance in the mayor's race since 2000, it's become clear that they do not consider the mayor's office to be attainable, and will let literally anyone who can collect the signatures put their name on the ballot.

The token support he's received from sitting city councilors, state legislators, and other Democratic politicians proves that they don't take his campaign seriously. [You can read a detailed review of his "support" from the party at this link: https://warwickpost.com/digit-spinner-richard-corrente-fudges-numbers/ ]

An obvious downside to this approach is that no one in the local or state Democratic party is providing any oversight or advice to the make-believe "mayor."

If they were, they would certainly suggest that he stop using a newspaper's website as his sole online platform, pay to get his website URL back [instead of letting it lapse and get taken over by a virus-spreading website], update and use his own Facebook page, and actually craft a political message that can withstand the barest scrutiny. But so far, this as proven to be too much effort for the make-believe "mayor," who will clearly take advantage of free political advertising as long as the Beacon allows it.

As you correctly point out, the actual incumbent mayor easily dispatched the losing candidate with little apparent effort in 2016. The one note I would offer on that point is that Mayor Avedisian is a regular presence at many community events, which -- to the degree that it can be considered "campaigning" -- is one factor in his easy time in getting re-elected.

I am glad to hear that, even before you are eligible to vote, you are making the effort to learn about local candidates. As I've said before, it's beneficial to readers that he is so willing to prove his total unfitness for office; that someone of your age can so clearly understand that is a great consolation.

Monday, April 23
Kammy

Definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results

It didn't work in 2016. It won't work in 2018. You have been called out publicly and in print because your numbers don't add up. You double down on the fallacies and then fire off about the numbers being correct and verifiable. Richard - they have already been proven wrong! You can't make an orange an apple no matter how hard you try.

You have also failed at making yourself likeable. Most people are not endeared by the facetious "Happy Spring Everyone!". "I am the taxpayers mayor". Heck, even the WTU hasn't come out publicly and endorsed you. What does that say about your campaign?

I am so tired of the complete and utter disregard you have for the intelligence of the constituency of Warwick. Thankfully there are only 196 days left to endure this ridiculous circus.

And to the Democratic Party - Is there not anyone else that is qualified to run for the office of Mayor in Warwick? Come on people, give us something to work with!

Tuesday, April 24