EDITORIAL

Time to play ball

Posted

The next chapter in the ongoing saga between the City of Warwick and the Warwick School Department is being written, and it will be very interesting to see how this one plays out.

The Warwick City Council has firmly and effectively placed considerable pressure on the schools, with news breaking on Wednesday courtesy of Council President Steve Merolla that the council would be offering $1.3 million to the schools with the specific requirement that the money be used to restore the sports program that was cut last month to help close a $7.7 million budgetary hole.

It’s a savvy move from the city, albeit an openly calculated one. The implications, to us, are clear. The schools now have a very difficult choice to make, and no matter which way they decide to go, it could have serious consequences.

The school department has clung to a consistent approach throughout tense negotiations with the city: They’re not going to entertain offers that only focus on sports. They have refused to let the issue be narrowly framed by holding the line on insisting that there are $2.6 million worth of items that must be funded before sports is restored – things like textbooks, teaching assistants for first and second grade classrooms, school crisis counselors and maintenance repairs.

However, until this upcoming Monday, all talk about getting $1.3 million from the city to save sports has been solely that – talk. As of Monday night, however, an official offer will have been made, and the schools will need to decide if they are sticking to their strategy. Amidst $7.7 million in budgetary need, to turn down $1.3 million would be a public relations nightmare, especially if that money could be used to immediately restore the most public embodiment of the budget crisis – sports.

Sticking to the strategy would mean turning down money out of principle – something that could spell disastrous for the schools, who have enjoyed a good amount of support from the public at large, as protests have more affected City Hall than they have the school committee or school administration. Social media sentiment has skewed heavily against the city for perceived financial neglect of the schools, although that can flip in an instant, especially if the schools were to turn down this money.

Further adding to the complexity is the school department’s preparations of a Caruolo Act lawsuit. Being offered money from the council could, regardless of the ultimate decision, have an effect on litigation. It may play in the city’s favor that they offered support to save sports programming. It would further help the city’s case if they continued to meet in mediation to discuss the saving of other top priority items (like the ones mentioned earlier) once sports are restored. If the schools decline the money outright, it may hurt their case that they have tried bargaining in good faith with the city prior to suing.

It seems to us that the only choice for the school department is to accept the offer, but only with a very clear message that such an allocation does not mean the budget crisis is solved. Mediation must continue – even if this money is allocated – in order to find more money to restore those essential programs and at least some of the other items on the 46-line long list of cuts, which is what was needed to generate $7.7 million.

The city is playing a political poker hand here and forcing the schools to call or fold. Calling may weaken their position in the future, but folding will ensure that they lose sympathy among the public and, potentially, in the courts – a place this journey seems destined to wind up.

The school department has made its priorities clear, and now so has the city. It’s time to play ball. 

Comments

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Hillsgrove Hal

The editorial writer clearly does not understand that state law prohibits the city from dictating how the school department spends money. The city's role is to make an annual contribution -- that's it.

So, no, it would not be "a PR nightmare" for the school department if it came back and said "We can not accept the illegal conditions being placed on the city's offer" -- it would be yet another failure by city officials to behave like the experienced, accountable public officials they said they'd be.

Thursday, July 11
Patient Man

Hal,

I clearly agree with you on the lack of competency of nearly all involved (sans Testa & Thornton); students will start to protest school committee meetings. SC will capitulate. They can still win the court case later.

How much would be raised if teachers agreed to give back the retroactive part of their raises? Would be a great gesture.

Thursday, July 11
Hillsgrove Hal

Patient Man, I have no idea how much the retro pay was for teachers, but it was paid two years ago and I don't think it's realistic to think the city could get it back. I also don't see any practical way for that to happen.

From what I remember reading about the last teacher contract, the city council wanted a deal; the former mayor wanted a deal; the school committee wanted a deal; and the union eventually agreed to a deal.

Then the city council apparently decided it didn't want to pay for the deal; I seem to recall $3 million being "put aside" and then when the final bill of $4 million came in for the first year, the council didn't put any more money into the school budget.

Just as the council seems to be operating under the idea that they can disregard state law that prohibits them from telling the school department how to spend its money, they also seem to forget or ignore that the city is responsible to pay for any contracts negotiated by the school committee.

That's straight out of the state laws that govern education funding; it's not a court opinion that could be appealed or some lawyer's suggestion that can be disputed.

Friday, July 12
davebarry

There is a right to an education. My taxes just went up 700 bucks a year. There is no right to play sports. Forget the sports.

Friday, July 12
Hillsgrove Hal

I wonder how the editorial writer feels about this lecture telling the school committee to "play ball," now that the city council is putting $4 million more into the school budget, without the obviously illegal condition to only use the money for sports?

Tuesday, July 16
Cat

You have to admit that the city council's manipulation puts the school committee in a very tough spot. You can't win an election being someone who voted not to provide sports for the students. Even if the money is desperately needed for other things.

I remember Richard Corrente going on about how if he was elected he would change Warwick to a Home Rule Charter so he could tell the school committee how to spend their money (or something along those lines). The funny thing about that is the city council hasn't been able to be fiscally responsible with the money they were given over the past 20 years. Most the council and new administration have been working for the city for many years. There is zero proof that you could do better if given control of the funds. It's comical. You aren't fooling anyone.

Tuesday, July 16
Hillsgrove Hal

Cat, I agree with you. The city council seems to be more interested in 'winning' political games than actually managing the city responsibly, and are not fooling anyone about that.

Also, the only thing I know about Corrente is that he repeatedly and falsely accused me of being someone else before getting banned from this website, so imagine my (lack of) surprise to know how totally wrong he was about something else.

Tuesday, July 16