The Warwick City Council is putting the ball in the Warwick School Department’s court – and it remains to be seen whether or not they’re willing to play.
City Council President Steve Merolla called Wednesday afternoon to report he was docketing an item under unanimous consent to appear on the agenda for Monday night’s meeting, which if approved would allocate $1.3 million to the schools – enough to feasibly save school sports from being cut.
Merolla envisioned that money would have to come from various line items. He mentioned the $1 million line for “contingencies,” which is included as a means to cover prospective cost increases from new contracts, overtime and the road paving budget as three possible sources, although the ultimate decision would be up to the entire council. Merolla said Mayor Joseph Solomon would have input as well.
However, there is a catch. The schools would only receive the money if they agreed to use it to restore sports programming – and nothing else.
That’s likely to be an issue of contention with the schools, who have repeatedly insisted that there is a long line of priorities – 16 to be exact, according to their itemized list of cuts that made up $7.7 million in order to balance their budget in June, amounting to about $2.6 million – that come before restoring the athletics program.
Merolla said that the two sides have more time to come to an agreement on how to restore the other crucial school items that lack adequate funding, such as textbooks, elementary teaching assistants and student assistance counselors, but that the school sports program has a more stringent time restriction due to the need to generate schedules for the fall.
“The other issues we have a little more time to act on, but we only have one council meeting in July,” Merolla said. “I don’t think there's any reason the school committee should say no other than out of principle...We can work on other issues at mediation.”
Mayor Joseph Solomon confirmed on Wednesday that, despite a clash last week where the schools accused Solomon of trying to “narrow” mediation talks to solely be about school sports – to which Solomon snapped back as being “disingenuous” – the two sides continued to be in communication with each other as recently as Tuesday.
Merolla admitted that there were “a lot of other issues on the table,” but that restoring sports was particularly “pressing.”
“The kids should not be held hostage,” he said. “I think this is the right move for the community, it's the right move for the kids, it's the right move for the school committee and it’s the right move for the city council.”
Superintendent Philip Thornton was unable to return with a statement by press time in response to the development. School Committee Chairwoman Karen Bachus did not return a phone call seeking comment.