May 4, 2009

In Warwick, Voting on School Budget, Maybe Closing a school?

Marc Comtois

The Warwick School Committee will be meeting to vote on the FY 09-10 School Budget and will also render its decision on whether or not to close a school. The meeting is at Winman Jr. High and starts at 5:30, but the Committee will go into executive session almost immediately and the public portion is slated to start at 7 PM.

One of the big questions surrounding the school closings was how much money was saved by closing/reconfiguring 3 elementary schools last year. This information was finally released late last week (PDF). In short, the estimated savings was $2,683,424 and actual savings totaled $2,695,008. That's pretty close, though there was an overestimation of savings associated with cutting personnel (salary, benefits, etc.). Most of the difference was made up by re-mapping bus routes, which necessitated only one additional bus instead of the 5 that were estimated. One quick note: it has been proposed by several parents at these various meetings that all school employees (admin, teachers, janitors, etc) take a 1% cut across the board to help save a school. It's just not that simple in a collectively bargained world, though.

Whether a school is closed this year or not, tight budgets and school closings lay in Warwick's future for the next few years. This is due to shrinking student population and a need to become more efficient and cost effective in educating students. Because past Warwick School Committees (on which some of the current School Committee members also sat) acquiesced (or kicked the can down the road) in negotiations with the Warwick Teacher's Union, they are left to nibble around the edges of their budget to find savings. There are always cuts that can be made, including in the Administration, but employee payroll and benefits make up the lions share of any entity. This is not "going after" school employees, it's an unfortunate reality. When times were good, their contract negotiations reflected that. Well, now times aren't so good.