The Warwick School Committee on Tuesday night voted unanimously in favor of hiring a program audit consultant to perform an analysis of the Warwick Public Schools district and make a determination as to whether or not they are performing in line with state standards outlined in the Basic Educational Plan (BEP).
The total cost of $15,740 to the district will have to be added to the budget, as it was not part of the Superintendent’s recommended budget for FY19. The consultant is Robert Hicks, of Wakefield, who has been superintendent of schools in East/West Greenwich, South Kingstown and Block Island. Hicks was also called upon to be a consultant for the receiver of Central Falls as the city went through its bankruptcy process in 2012.
The hiring of Hicks completes half of the necessary process to prepare for what seems to be an imminent Caruolo Action to be waged by the School Department, which is a lawsuit filed against a municipality that seeks additional funding for the schools on the grounds they cannot adequately provide educational programming based on funds allocated.
The other part of the independent audit would examine the financial implications of programming deployed within Warwick schools and make comparisons to how similarly sized districts, such as Cranston, perform their own operations. The two audit consultants are designed to work together on making these recommendations – however no bids for the financial portion of the audit were received by Tuesday’s meeting.
Finance Director Anthony Ferrucci said he is still actively seeking bids for the financial piece to the audit and would be setting up a schedule with Hicks by the end of the week. Provided they can secure a consultant, he expects the audit work to occur throughout July and August and for their recommendations to be ready by September or October at the latest.
“If we need to seek additional funding we need to do it while we still have time to manage the budget,” Ferrucci said.
As it stands, the School Department received $1.5 million of the additional $8 million requested from the Warwick City Council during budget proceedings. Ferrucci and Thornton have indicated multiple times that they will be unable to simply cut their way to a balanced budget, which is why they are preparing to possibly take the city to court.
If the School Department projects a deficit for the upcoming fiscal year during their next meeting in July, it will automatically trigger a separate financial audit from the state Office of the Auditor General to confirm or challenge their fiscal situation.