October 22, 2014
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LETTERS
Waning support for our schools

To the Editor:

After having attended another School Department budget presentation to the City Council, it’s become increasingly clear to me that our elected representatives are not keen on supporting our school system at a level that would make it one that would draw new families to our city. One council member pointed out that “technically” they have not level funded schools because last year they appropriated $400,000 more than their original request – a victory for semantics, I guess since the previous six years saw level funding.

Another expressed his embarrassment at some of the things that the schools have been forced to do because of that level funding. He is correct, to which I’d like to add some further embarrassments. 1) Warwick was the only municipality to fully cut their Maintenance of Effort (MOE) by 5 percent in 2009 when the General Assembly allowed cities and towns to do so; 2) Warwick was the only municipality to maintain their original MOE cut; 3) In 2009 Warwick became the only municipality to force (yes, force) their schools to pay principal and interest on bond monies used for capital improvements to the buildings (the Pilgrim roof, fire code mandates, and the Warwick Vets roof).

What started as a $190,000 line item for the Pilgrim roof has now ballooned to $1.1 million and will only increase once the final stages of fire code upgrades are done at Aldrich and Gorton Junior Highs. These are 10- and 20-year payments so when our students lag further behind in technology and when more programs and services are cut, I’d suggest that parents aim their displeasure at the root cause – their council members and the mayor – because the buildings are owned by the city, not the School Department.

In fact, in 2006, voters approved a $25 million bond issue for capital improvements for our schools and the mayor then proceeded to not allow any of that money to be used (the Pilgrim roof in 2009 was the first use of those funds, I believe). What’s upsetting is that the General Assembly legislation that gave Warwick the borrowing authority states “all bonds … shall be obligatory on the city in the same manner and to the same extent as to other debts lawfully contracted by it…” It also states that the city “shall annually appropriate a sum sufficient to pay the principal and interest…” Sounds pretty clear to me as to who is supposed to pay. $1.1 million dollars can buy a lot of technology and programming. Another member asked questions of the administration on behalf of his constituents that, quite frankly, had little relevance to the presentation and could have been dealt with by a simple phone call or email to the administration. The council president leveled her annual charge that she believes the school administration is “top heavy” but, evidently, has not taken the time or energy over the years to investigate that belief to see if it’s actually true. It wouldn’t be that difficult to ascertain, but why do that when you can just level the charge?

I have a growing fear that many on the council and the mayor want to see an appointed School Board, a disastrous idea in my view for many reasons. Councilwoman Vella-Wilkinson’s ad hoc subcommittee to study the Charter Review Commission’s recommendations of term limits and appointing a school board has recently gotten a lot of play. The public, which is largely uninvolved, needs to pay very close attention to this, for should it come to be; it’ll accelerate the death knell of our school system. Great communities and great schools go hand in hand. Some seem to have forgotten this.

David Testa

Warwick


Comments
6 comments on this item

Mr. Testa, Are you a teacher and Warwick taxpayer? Just curious...I agree with some of your points, however, is this the same school department and school committee that for almost a decade needlessly kept schools open that had a census as low as 50% capacity in some places? That by closing these old albatrosses could have kept millions in the school department budget? Is this the body that refused to close Warwick Vets. despite studying the issue to death, hiring consultants to scrub the data, only to ignore the findings and keep Vets open, there by passing up an opportunity to save millions and keep that money in the school budget as the Mayor has maintained? This type of operating in the real world would be called incompetent and slipshod at the least and at the most fraud and a complete breech of financial due diligence. I'm an old man and it doesn't much matter to me...One way or another I will be out of here...But the very people you claim to be defending, the students, are the ones who will be mailed one gigantic bill for the way things have been run in this State for the last 50+ years...I feel for their future, which won't be here.

The Warwick School Committee has dragged out its plan to hire a consultant to study consolidation options. If the School Committee had properly planned the consolidation of buildings over the last several years(closing Aldrich & Gorton; reconfiguring Vets) full fire code upgrades may not have been needed, freeing up funding for computers, etc. It's past time that Warwick's School Committee & community face the dilemma it has-education programs vs. too many physical buildings. Funding is not available to provide a quality education program AND maintain/upkeep buildings at half capacity(a situation that's not likely to change based on student enrollment projections). Add to these facts the HOPE for all day kindergarten-the MONEY"s not their/available. If Warwick wants a quality program it's time to close/consolidate buildings that were designed to accommodate a much larger student population.

Having worked in the Warwick School Department for over ten years I know the concerns of Mr. Testa. The change that has to occur is to conduct a superintendent search for an educational leader who understands the need to work closely with staff, parents, union and city administration and be financially creative with the best interests of the students and not just saving money with "off the cuff" ideas that hold no substance. That person is out there and needs to be found - stop this sham of a substitute superintendent!

sadforspeced, AMeN!

Bendover,

I am not a teacher. I am a taxpayer. I supported consolidation and was one of, I think, two members who spoke in favor of consolidation at the public hearings regarding Vets/Gorton/Aldrich. The School Committee voted to table that. Admin supported consolidation so any frustration should be addressed squarely at the School Committee, in my opinion. My larger point is simply that the City is no friend of the schools. Don't forget that Council members Ladoucer, Travis, and Vella-Wilkinson were all against consolidation too and yet they criticize the School Committee for not consolidating! Let's see if their tune changes if this consultant recommends consolidation. Some Council members can demagogue the schools all they want -and they do - but remember that nearly every dime - every dime - of tax increase over the last 8+ years has gone to the city side if the ledger. That is an indisputable fact and those three council members say nothing, literally, about that. "Cut at the top", a favorite line of the three of them, makes a good sound bite but that's about it. I think total Admin salary & bennies totals $3 million or so and that includes all principals and assistant principals. Bottom line is that the many on the council are ignorant of what exactly comprises a school budget, what their State and Federal mandates are - which drives where and how the money can be spent - and they display that ignorance every year.

Dave Testa

Local property tax allocation

Schools

2008 $118,064,827

2009 $118,064,827

2010 $123,968,468 (federal stimulus accounts for increase)

2011 $117,769,632 (budget cut 5 percent, funds given to city)

2012 $118,644,632

2013 $118,644,632

2014 $119,082,464

2015 $119,082,464

City

2008 $67,056,675

2009 $76,149,571

2010 $78,525,638

2011 $86,807,409

2012 $93,363,131

2013 $97,409,464

2014 $96,038,730

2015 $97,739,773

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