Thornton builds case for capital school bond

City Council members invited on school tours outlining deficiencies

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Usually, school administrators go out of their way to show off what is best in school.

Starting Wednesday, Aug. 23, however, and continuing every Wednesday until Nov. 8, the department will showcase what needs to be done in each of the city’s schools, starting with Cedar Hill School. The mayor and the City Council have been invited to take the tours, as the administration and School Committee build a case for a capital school bond issue for the November 2018 ballot.

“I hope there’s a better understanding [of the renovations and upgrades required of schools],” Superintendent Philip Thornton said Friday.

The list, which includes heating systems, roofs, windows, doors, electrical systems and much more, is extensive and has been ranked by priority.

Earlier this year, starting with a list of Warwick school building deficiencies identified by the Rhode Island Department of Education totaling an estimated $196 million, the school department identified $85 million projects to be done over the next five years. The plan was to gain City Council approval of an $85 million bond that would then require General Assembly approval to appear on a special election ballot this November.

Although vetted by a building committee comprised of city and school officials – Ed Ladouceur was chosen to represent the City Council but resigned from the panel on grounds there was a preconceived outcome to the study – the plan never reached a vote of the Council Finance Committee. Ladouceur, who chairs the committee, argued the committee should have the benefit of the state study that was to have been released in May.

Now Ladouceur wants to show Council members and state legislators the extent of the work that needs to be done. He is also looking for feedback on whether the officials feel the work is not properly prioritized, doesn’t need to be addressed or is less than what needs to happen.

There is also concern over lining up council, legislative and, eventually, voter approvals so Warwick schools get its share of state funds should they become available.

Is the administration still targeting an $85 million bond issue?

“To us, it is still $85 million,” said Thornton. “We would love to do more.” Thornton is concerned to what level the city is prepared to take on additional debt and whether voters would approve an even larger bond.

Yet when the $85 million bond was proposed there was sentiment that the department should be looking at a new super middle school rather than pouring money into older buildings. The estimated cost of such a school was $100 million or more.

“That’s one building, what about the other 18?” asks Thornton.

In addition, Thornton believes what the department has been able to achieve at Veterans Junior High School, where the department is ahead of schedule on installing new heating and adding an air exchange system, lighting and ceiling tiles, is illustrative of what renovations can do.

“The $8.6 million spent on Vets has added decades on that building,” he said.

Elected officials will be invited to tour Vets to view the work done. Steve Gothberg, director of school buildings and grounds, is hopeful HVAC work on the school will be finished late this year rather than next year. He also aims to have the end of the school working off a septic system tied into city sewers this year.

“I don’t want to pay any more pumping charges,” he said.

Work is likewise progressing on air conditioning of Toll Gate rooms, including the library.

“To do it well we really need a plan and a bond,” Thornton said of school building upgrades.

“You have to act, but you can’t fix things up without a capital budget,” he said.

Mayor Scott Avedisian, who plans to attend all but two of the school tours, favors the plan to show council members the work that needs to be done. He thought the tours would also be beneficial for state legislators who will be asked to vote on enabling legislation should a bond gain council approval.

The calendar of tours is as follows: Aug. 23 Cedar Hill at 3 p.m.; Scott at 4 p.m.; Aug. 30 Warwick Neck, 3 p.m., Sherman, 4 p.m.; Sept. 6, Pilgrim, 3 p.m.; Sept. 13, Hoxsie, 3 p.m., Holden, 4 p.m.; Sept. 20, Toll Gate, 3 p.m., Career Center 4 p.m.; Oct. 4, Vets, 4 p.m.; Oct. 11, Robertson, 3 p.m., Greenwood, 4 p.m.; Oct. 18, Park, 3 p.m., Wickes, 4 p.m.; Oct. 25, Francis, 3:30 p.m., Holliman 4:30 p.m.; Nov. 1, Winman 3 p.m., Drum Rock 4 p.m.; Nov. 8, Oakland Beach, 3 p.m. and Lippitt, 4 p.m.

Comments

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richardcorrente

The School Committee (SC) wants another $85,000,000?

Why don't they allow an audit of the $160,000,000 Warwick taxpayers have already given them... every year ... for the last ten years ... in a row. The SC staff is growing by about 30% in the last year alone while the Warwick teachers numbers were decreased by about the same 30% in the same time year.

And STILL no teachers contract?

Are you kidding me??!?

And the SC wants MORE?? $160,000,000 times ten years is OVER A BILLION DOLLARS! What happened to the TAXPAYERS BILLION DOLLARS? Can you answer that first ... please ...?

The teachers, parents, students and TAXPAYERS deserve to know.

Happy Summer everyone.

Rick Corrente

The Taxpayers Mayor (dedicated to the Warwick taxpayer)

Tuesday, August 15
Thecaptain

Mayor Dumbness,

The non taxpayer, tax delinquent, tax cheat, child support cheat, small claims cheat, squatter, has the nerve to post that he is dedicated to the Warwick taxpayers. He must have had mild stroke.

Tuesday, August 15
Marccomtois

Mr. Corrente - in answer to this boiler plate complaint of yours, allow me to present info from the most recent proposed budget (I compiled prior to final passage and haven't had the time to update - so some of this has no doubt changed, but it is illustrative of the past ten years). FYI, all budget info can be found on the City of Warwick website or at the School Committee. (Specific to the 2017 numbers used below, I found them here: http://www.warwickschools.org/PDF_Files/Business/2017/Fy2017%20SC%20Adopted%20Recommended%20Budget%20as%20of%204-28-16.pdf). Yes, it took some time, but I was able to do it and I'm not running for Mayor! Which makes me wonder if you really are wondering where the money went or if you're just trying to score political points (I think we know the answer). Anyway, read on.

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SUMMARY

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TOTAL PROPOSED SCHOOL BUDGET - Total: $161.1 million; City Contribution: $119.4 million

PERSONNEL COSTS - 80% of the budget - $129.3 million - is salaries/benefits ($92.2 mil in salaries; $37.1 mil in benefits)

PURCHASED SERVICES, OUT OF DISTRICT COSTS, TRANSPORTATION - 11.9% of the budget - $19.2 million

That leaves under 10% for regular maintenance and repairs (even well-maintained equipment wears out and breaks), supplies and day-to-day operations. Paying debt service on school improvement bonds historically funded from the city-side of the budget (they own the buildings) also comes out of here ($1-2 million, if I recall).

That is where the money has gone.

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SPECIFIC BREAKDOWN

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From p.27 of Budget

Warwick Teachers Union personnel - $67.6 million (73.3 % of salaries; 41.9% of total budget)

858 personnel -avg. salary $78,800/year

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p.29

WISE - $14.3 million (15.5% of salaries; 8.9% of total budget)

372 workers - avg. salary $38,400/year

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p.25

Admin - $4.7 million (5.1% of salaries; 2.9% of total budget)

44 Admin (includes 31 principals/asst principals) - avg. salary $106,000

$1.7 million for 17 Elementary Principals - avg. salary $100,000 (1.8% of salaries; 1.1% of total budget)

$1.4 million for 14 Secondary Principals/Assistant Principals - avg. salary $100,00 (1.5% of salaries; 0.9% of total budget)

$1.6 million for other 13 Director/Central Admin positions - avg. salary $123,000 (1.7% of salaries; 1% of total budget)

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p.26

Middle Mgmt - $1.2 million (1.3% of salaries; 0.7% of total budget)

17 personnel - avg. salary $69,500/year

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p.30

Other support Personnel - $1.8 million (1.9% of salaries; 1.1% of total budget)

54 personnel, includes 48 bus monitors, school committee stipend ($5,000), subs, referees, etc.

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p.28

Professional Stipends/Support - $2.1 million (1.3% of total budget)

Used for extra pay for coaches, club advisors, subs, summer school, athletic directors, etc.

=============

Purchased Svcs - $2.8 million

Purchased Property Svcs - $1.2 million

Transportation - $7.8 million

Out of district costs - $7.3 million (IEP placements, Career and Tech out of district, charters)

And a couple million in debt service on bonds the School Committee had to take out to pay for previous building fixes.

Wednesday, August 16
Thecaptain

Thank you Marccomtois for joining in the conversation and becoming yet another person who realizes that Corrente never performs research, has no idea how to look up anything, has never performed and APRA, and just shoots from the hip with non fact BS. His pandering attempts are comical at best and each additional comment he makes proves his complete lack of any skill set required for public office. That is of course, outside of the issue of his tax delinquencies, multiple law suit losses as a defendant, and complete fiscal ineptness.

Wednesday, August 16
Bob_Cushman

Thanks Marc for presenting the facts. I also have spent many hours presenting facts comparing city Vs School spending that Mr. Corrente fails to acknowledge.

Local tax dollars allocated to schools & city

2008 $118,064,827 City $67,056,675

2009 $118,064,827 City $76,149,571

2010 $123,968,468 City $78,525,638

2011 $117,769,632 City $86,807,409

2012 $118,644,632 City $93,363,131

2013 $118,644,632 City $97,409,464

2014 $119,022,154 City $95,126,026

2015 $119,482,464 City $94,207,182

2016 $119,611,376 City $107,970,246

2017 $119,482,464 City$107,124,488

City Rainy day fund drawdown to support the city budget.

[2008, $3,996,263] [2009, $3,634,009] [2011, $6,382,000] [2013, $806,000] [2015, $3,600,000] & [2018, $3,000,000]

Total = $21,418,272 

Property Tax Allocation in 2008, Schools 63.8%, City 36.2 %

Property Tax Allocation in 2017, Schools 52.7%, City 47.3%

New Property Tax Dollars Allocated Since 2008

City $40,067,813 or 96.6%

School $1,417,637 or 3.4%

City Employment Level 2011 was 777 people. In 2017 it was 824 for 6% increase

School Employment level in 2011 1541. In 2017 it was 1340 for a 13% decrease.

Richard who is really responsible for out of control spending in Warwick, the school side of the budget or the city side?

Wednesday, August 16
Kammy

Richard, what I want to know is, if you were in the position of Mayor right now, how would you tackle the problem presented in this article? We have schools that have deficiencies that need to be addressed and right now there is a tentative plan in place. Are you in agreement with the bond? Or do you have another option that you think would work in this instance?

Wednesday, August 16
wheelchairman

The idea of building a new Super Junior High was in addition to repairing the other schools. It makes a lot more sense to build new in certain case and invest in the infrastructure of Warwick school. I know we can't replace every school in the district.

To the "Taxpayer Mayor"

Please stop. You honestly have no clue what your talking about. In the $160 million they don't have the money for real capital improvements. In order to do any plan , be it build new or repair existing we will need a bond. Go do research, real research like many in the comment section has done. I may not always agree with some here ( on their opinions on you 100% so) they come prepare to debate. You have to respect that. If you wanna be taken seriously by both sides....you might wanna take a lesson from the Captain or Mr. Cushman. I know deep down we all want Warwick to be better, we just have different opinions on how to get there.

Dean

Wednesday, August 16
richardcorrente

Dear critics,

The School Committee receives $160,000,000 and from the moment they receive THE TAXPAYERS MONEY no one, including the City Council OR THE TAXPAYERS THAT ARE PAYING THE TAB have any control or can even "advise" how it is spent. That is by city charter and that is the root of the problem. In my research that you so quickly determine that I don't do, I have learned that they have a cash reserve for their health benefits. There is over $4,000,000 in that reserve. It has increased every year for 18 years (the same amount of time that Avedisian has been Mayor). Not one penny has ever been withdrawn from it IN EIGHTEEN YEARS and I can't figure out WHY, DEAR GOD, WHY they even have this "cash reserve". I suspect it is one of the many places they deposit taxpayers money without benefiting the TAXPAYERS THAT ARE PAYING THE TAB! We NEED an audit of the School Committee to get a handle on where the money is. Ask any City Council member. I have! If you find one that disagrees with me, let me know.

As far as Bob_Cushman is concerned, he says I failed to acknowledge the City side of the budget. He's right! That's because the above article is NOT about the City side. It's about the School Committee budget. I still consider him one the most intelligent citizens in Warwick, and have said so on many occasions. He just missed my focus on this one.

The best comment comes from Kammy, who is actually looking for a solution. Thank you Kammy. Here it is.

As Mayor I would invite both sides to "lock themselves in" and not leave until we have negotiated a new teachers contract. Kammy, you have previously stated that your children are grown, so you have no real "skin in the game" but you also said that the quality of life in Warwick will be greatly enhanced if the teachers finally receive a new contract. I couldn't agree more! That should be our ONLY focus for now. I would join in that "voluntary-kidnapping" and sit and negotiate as long as it took to get an agreement. The Teachers Union seems agreeable to do this but the School Committee does not. (It worked for Mayor Joe Walsh!) The current Mayor has not participated in the first year-plus of negotiations and when he finally did, I was the first (one of the first) to applaud his new-found efforts.

Now, as to the School Committee receiving $85,000,000 MORE! Kammy, until the taxpayers know where their present $160,000,000 (per year for ten+- years) went; until we have an independent audit from an outside source; until the questions that the City Council continues to ask get answered, I am absolutely against borrowing MORE of the taxpayers money and giving it to the School Committee in hopes that they will "spend it wisely". I have compared our cost-of-educating-each-student in Warwick with every other city and we are the most expensive BY FAR. Warwick is even more costly than Beverly Hills! (by about $4,000 per year per student!) I wrote about that in a previous article. If we add another $85,000,000, without ANY guarantees where it is being spent I am sure, Kammy, that a huge portion will be spent on School Committee "staff" and very little will be spent on the items that you and I agree the schools need! Have you ever asked why the School Committee staff is growing at about 30% in the last year or so, while the number of teachers are decreasing by the same 30% or so? The teachers have and so have I. I think we agree on the need for improvements. We just have to have some better control of the money. After all, didn't we already give the School Committee over A BILLION DOLLARS OF TAXPAYERS MONEY? What "capital improvements" did they spend it on? We didn't even have sewers at Vets! The taxpayers were paying for the septic to be pumped more than once a week! Kammy! That's insane! We need an impartial watchdog to assure that any new money will be spent on capital improvements ALONE! Maybe someone like you, Kammy. Maybe the City Council? Maybe Bob Cushman. If you were supervising it Kammy, and you controlled over a BILLION DOLLARS IN THE LAST TEN YEARS, would Warwick have schools that are in better shape?

It's not the need that is the issue. It's how the School Committee serves that need. So far, they haven't done a very good job in my opinion. (i.e. David LaPlante i.e. The Ragosta Report). I have spent the last several years talking to teachers, parents, Attorney Ragosta, and School Committee members. Dean Johnson (wheelchairman) is wrong. I do know what I am talking about. He should ask teachers, parents, and the members of the City Council what they think about the School Committee. I have.

Remember, the School Committee isn't asking for $85 million. They're asking for $85 million MORE! That's $245,000,000 for one year! Divide that by 9,000 students and our cost-per-student becomes over $27,000 PER YEAR! It makes you stop and wonder how much it would cost to bus the students to Beverly Hills doesn't it.

Happy Summer everyone.

Rick Corrente

The Taxpayers Mayor (dedicated to the 80,000 Warwick taxpayers that are paying the tab)

Wednesday, August 16
wheelchairman

That's not how bonds work Richard. The school committee just doesn't get $85 million dollars placed into it general fund to use as it pleases. They have to submit proposals to multiple authorities (R.i.d.e for reimbursement and city council to actually have to borrow the money). Those proposals have to meet certain requirements.

Dean

Thursday, August 17
Marccomtois

Mr. Corrente,

Your continual calls for an "audit" is a political red herring verging on conspiracy mongering. As I laid out and as the info Bob Cushman has provided, the fact is that 80% (or more in past years) of the school budget is spent on salary and benefits. So of the BILLION dollars, $800 MILLION has gone to paying staff (and 70-75% of that has gone to the teachers). The other 20% can quite easily be accounted for thanks to the Uniform Chart of Accounts (as explained before, it's mostly "cost of doing business" expenses with a relatively small amount for building upkeep).

The City Council's job is to provide oversight, which they do every year at the annual "take the school department to the wood shed" portion of the budget hearings. As for the $4 million health care cash reserve, I believe that is a hedge against increasing health care costs that helps with offsetting said costs against the collectively bargained (and I believe fixed) rate of employee health care contributions (again, mostly teachers). But that is just a guess and I'll certainly defer to anyone who may know.

As far as the negotiations, it takes two to tango. It's one thing to "publicly" negotiate by talking about the methods and forums, it's quite another to no be public about what your offers and counter-offers are. With arbitration, court rulings and mediation all coming to a head soon, I think we'll have an answer (and then where will that talking point go?).

Finally, I'm not generally what would be called a "politically correct person", but you parenthetical reference to Dean Johnson as "wheelchairman" was pretty despicable.

Thursday, August 17
Marccomtois

Mr. Corrente - Mea Culpa, I see that Dean Johnson's own handle is "Wheelchairman". I sincerely apologize.

Thursday, August 17