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.