Schools to draft new budget despite lingering deficit

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The Warwick School Committee will commence budget hearings on Monday to work on the FY2020 budget (which begins July 1), despite still facing an approximately $4.6 million deficit in the current year’s budget, which ends June 30.

It’s a precarious position for the schools to be in. They continue to meet with city officials regarding a potential infusion of money to help resolve that budget gap, but those meetings have been ongoing since last November and have still not yielded any signs of a compromise or anything substantial.

School Committee Chairwoman Karen Bachus said the city cancelled a meeting last week in order to take more time going over budgetary documents requested by their legal counsel, and that the two sides are set to meet again “soon,” but she did not feel that soon meant the meeting would occur before the committee begins its budget hearings.

So how exactly can the school committee and administration account for crafting a new budget when the current one has yet to be resolved?

“It's complex but it's simple,” said school finance director Anthony Ferrucci on Wednesday afternoon. “I'm approaching Monday night's meeting not addressing the current year. Whatever the results are from the current year will speak for themselves.”

Ferrucci said he plans to forecast next year’s budget using the baseline of the FY19 budget, which amounted to around $164 million, and project the fiscal need based on expenses that can already be accounted for.

Some of those expenses include out of district tuition for the Rhode Island Department of Education’s (RIDE) Pathways program, which provides students the option to attend school in other districts at the expense of their home district. That cost was budgeted at $399,000 in FY19, but Ferrucci forecast that the cost for FY20 would be closer to $1.6 million. The budgeted number was so low because while adopting the current budget the school committee attempted to get a waiver from RIDE for those costs, citing a significant financial burden. That request was denied, and now the state is calling for the bill.

Other expenses to note include personnel salary raises that amount to $3 million between Warwick Teachers’ Union members and WISE Union members and $6.5 million in non-staff-related increases, including $4 million in anticipated increases for fringe benefits. All told, when Ferrucci crunched the numbers back in February, the schools anticipated $12 million in additional expenses above and beyond the current deficit for next year.

“It's a big number,” Ferrucci said of what number the department has arrived at in terms of financial need. Ferrucci said that Superintendent Philip Thornton had already begun the process of identifying potential cuts in the budget, but declined to comment on exact figures until they come out during the hearings, which will run four days between Monday and Thursday next week.

Bachus said that, with three new members of the school committee being elected in November, adding an additional hearing day was crucial to ensuring they understood the budgetary process.

“This is basically a brand-new team,” she said.

That new team will have to grapple with perhaps the most dire financial situation seen by a school committee in Warwick in recent memory, as the schools were forced to cut janitorial staff and some of their supplies (like floor wax) and the $102,000 budget for Mentor Rhode Island to try and close the budgetary hole that still remains unresolved for this year.

As of Wednesday, those cuts will remain in effect and those services unfunded heading into next week’s hearings, although Ferrucci has voiced in the past that the administration recognizes the need to bring custodians back. The aforementioned $12 million figure from February included the cost of bringing back custodians and the Mentor program.

Unfortunately, that $12 million figure is simply insurmountable given the 4 percent tax levy increase limit.

“We all know $12 million is not going to fly,” Ferrucci said. “We're not legally able to do that.”

Ferrucci said that at this point, he did not have a deadline date from the state Auditor General regarding when the school committee needs to balance the budget. He also said he had hoped that the city and school department would have come to a resolution by this point.

“The facts haven’t changed since we were meeting back in November,” he said. “I was hoping with the change [of school committee members] and the settlement with the elected officials [regarding the lawsuit], we would have this resolved before the 22nd of April.”

Despite the magnitude of the challenge, Bachus and Ferrucci were trying to think positively.

“It'll be a good dialogue next week,” Ferrucci said. “We'll see where it goes and take it a day at a time.”

“Hopefully the trust issue between the schools and the city is improving. I don't want to blame anybody because there is no blame,” said Bachus. “I have to believe that the right things will happen. It's always darkest before the dawn.”

Budget hearings will commence Monday, April 22 and run through Thursday, April 25. All hearing will begin at 5:30 p.m. and be held at Warwick Veterans Middle School.

Comments

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Fedup

Time to cut salaries. The contract should be revisited due to the fact that Avedisian entered into the contract on false fiscal projections. Teachers are way overpaid for the product that they produce. Time to chop chop.

Thursday, April 18
PaulHuff

Sounds like it is time to lay off 4.6 million dollars worth of teachers.

Thursday, April 18
DannyHall82

4 Of those School Committee members are Puppets for the Teachers Union, that contract will never be restructured.

Thursday, April 18
BeaconCommenter

Time for all the keyboard warriors to crap all over the Warwick teachers. Beacon comment section is a cesspool.

Thursday, April 18
reo

its time to make cuts to the school system if the parents dont like let them pay a percentage of there kids education

Friday, April 19
reo

kids comming out of school today can not even figure change if they dont have a calculater or a cell phone

take the computers away and go back to using books

Friday, April 19
Scal1024

Makes you wonder how they were handing out 9% raises over 3 years? Beacon Commenter YOU are part of the problem with that kind of rhetoric. Anytime there are budgetary issues addressed on this site in regards to the schools you and others cry it's an attack on the teachers. It's the oldest trick in the book: Play victim anytime you are being criticized publicly. If there is such "anti teacher sentiment" why were they given 9% raises, why was a majority pro union School Committee elected? Oh but 2 people on a comment board suggest laying off teachers and suddenly this place is a "cesspool"? You know what I think is a cesspool Beacon Commenter? A coordinated effort to leave schools understaffed by staging a "sick out" over an expired contract. That's about as classless and selfish a move as I've ever witnessed in my life. Warwick has some great teachers that care so much about every student they teach, but they are being undermined by the tactics of the union and their leadership as a whole. The last contract that was given out was reckless given the financial stability of the city, I'm not sure how anyone can argue against that. Rather than counter the argument, you instead chose to attack the commenters on this website. Why not state your case? I'm not claiming I know everything, I don't. I just don't want our city to continue heading towards a fiscal black hole. You can disagree but atleast have an opinion other than trashing others.

Unfortunately, Danny Hall is right. The Committee with the exception of Dave Testa are there to get the teachers the best deal possible. They are there to help the students so long as it doesn't get in the way of union business and that is a DISGRACE. How does this problem get solved? I don't see the contract being opened up and renegotiated so that seems like a non starter. Layoffs are capped so while some may consider that a popular option I also believe that's a non starter.

When this contract expires I think there should be an overhaul of the "step increase" system. Teachers are living longer and as a result working longer and retiring later. I don't know if it could even be done but it seems like something that should be looked at. Even if the School Committee had to grandfather in teachers with "X" amount of time in so that it mostly effects new hires/employees w/ less than 10 years in. The other aspect that should be looked at is health care but I could spend another 4 paragraphs on that. All I'll say is we should be looking at ways to shift costs to employees where applicable. Personal responsibility/how you use your health insurance as well as wellness incentives can go a long way. If others disagree with my opinions, make your case. I'm open to hearing other ideas and I'm not suggesting all of mine are right. I just don't want to be debating the same problems in 5, 10, 20 years...

Friday, April 19
Patient Man

Where do you find $12,000,000 in cuts? Cutting sports & extra curricular activities would really suck for the overall educational experience. Hard choices are going to have to be made.

Friday, April 19
wwkvoter

Scal, the school committee was elected by the voters in Warwick. If the members are too "pro teacher" because the teachers supported some of them, then the public is either okay with that or at least indifferent. Look at East Greenwich, the public cleaned out the "reformer" council (and town manager), because they didnt like how things were being handled. Our public seems to generally support our city employees and tends to reelect elected members who approve their contracts the way they are written. Believe me, if the public wanted to go the other way, the force would be unstoppable. But they dont, the public likes the way things are more or less.

Put another way, I dont think the last election in Warwick was hacked by the Kremlin! The public knows the costs, as most homes are owner occupied and they get a tax bill. And they voted. I'm confident that our democracy is healthy and has worked as intended.

Friday, April 19
Scal1024

While I don't dispute that our elections are fair (I never have), generally speaking I do dispute the education and awareness of the average voter.

Friday, April 19
Can't believe it

Bachus is a disgrace. The way she conducted over the years disqualifies her for office. Is she still receiving disability checks ? She seems to get around alright to me.

Be interesting to see how she solves the school funding problems...wonder if she is still swearing like a sailor in the school committee meetings.

Friday, April 19
Fedup

All this and the Water Dept. Head states that "the infrastructure is failing and that we need 100 million dollars minimum, over the next ten years to do the overdue repairs". He continues and states " I say a prayer that the water main under 95 doesn't fail". Where is that money coming from?

Friday, April 19
wwkvoter

Fedup, the only way to pay for that is to jack up the water bills. To get to the 100 million over ten years, would have to see how much revenue comes in every year by 10 million more and see the percentage increase. OR they could go for long term bonds, 30 or more (?) years... like our property taxes, it's going to be a matter of HOW MUCH will the increases be.

Saturday, April 20
Cat

Taxes and rate hikes will be the demise of the city. The can has come to a dead end, no more kicking it down the road. People will leave this city in droves when it costs too much to live here. The city will no longer have enough taxpayers living her to pay for the wages, raises and pensions that were promised. It is a disgrace.

Monday, April 22
wwkvoter

Cat I agree that they have over-promised and deferred maint that has become a tidal wave of spending requirements, necessitating tax hikes.

However, when you say people will "leave in droves" due to the extra costs, lets look at that. Warwick median income per household is $63,000 per year. Property taxes for an average home are $3500 (estimating). That's 5.5% of a household's income on average.

Lets say the property taxes go up by an astounding 20% which would take 4 or 5 years at least. That's $700, or, 1.1% of median income. Do you really think people will uproot to move "in droves" for 1.1% ? WHERE will these "droves" go to? All surrounding communities have similar (or higher) residential tax bills.

We're in for a round of tax increases. All Warwick can do now is prevent the next round by electing officials onto the council and school committee who will be more careful about obligating too much future monies. Dont hold your breath about either the "leaving droves" OR the electorate engaging the political process to reduce costs all that much.

Monday, April 22
DannyHall82

Most Voters do not pay attention to School Committee, we have 2 City Wide Seats and 3 District Seats. Why we have this system boggles my mind, We have a Council person in all 9 wards but only 5 School Committee members? My point is when you have a large teachers union getting involved with local elections it’s impossible to beat that. You are lucky to cover a Ward during the summer never mind a district covering 3 Wards or Citywide. Now add a family and job while trying to knock on as many doors as you can. The 3 newly elected candidates had no job commitments which helps but also had a teachers union phone banking, doing literature drops, mailings and covering all of the polls on Election Day. We need this City to get rid of the current seating structure on the School Committee and change it per Wards to mirror the council, it can only be more helpful adding more minds and ideas to the table. Plus you’ll eliminate the amount of damage outside interference could do by shrinking the area a candidate has to cover.

Just my thoughts, I campaigned Citywide nearly everyday with my wife while we were expecting our first daughter in November. Areas where I did extremely well in during the primary were targeted by a Union and practically eliminated the gains I had made. That same union had every poll covered, I get it....it’s part of the game but it’s definitely not a level playing field. I feel lucky that we have Mr.Testa.

Wednesday, April 24