June 8, 2010

RE: Warwick School Activities Latest to Face Cuts

Marc Comtois

Students protested against a potential cut in school sports and other activities outside of Warwick City Hall last night prior to and during the scheduled City Council Budget hearing. One of the prime movers was information provided by Warwick Schools Superintendent Dr. Peter Horoschak explaining the budget crunch and the various budget scenarios being floated. The best case scenario for the schools would have them level funded at $123,968,068 (which is $2,814,466 below the School Committee's budget request).

To make up this difference, the Superintendent outlined the few areas of discretionary funding available for cuts. Line items categorized as discretionary funding included such things as field trips (which are mostly covered by PTO/PTAs these days, frankly), gifted and talented student programs, student mentor and assistant programs and, the largest item, school activities, including sports. All together, these cuts would total $2,475,126, which was still not quite enough to cover the shortfall. However, the Superintendent did include an important qualifier that was missed by many. "Any further reductions will require negotiation of concessions from the two school department collective bargaining units." That is where the real cost savings can be made up.

Mayor Avedisian spoke to the issue and explained that he had found $850,000 in his budget to fund student programs and would ask that the money be earmarked for that purpose only, not to be sent to the School Committee to be spent at their discretion. Where did he find the money? The car tax, of course.

Dr. Horoschak also addressed the meeting last night and explained that the School Committee and Administration would consider a Carullo action depending on which version of the budget was approved. That would be unfortunate and probably quixotic, given the recent history of such attempts. A Carullo action would not be needed if the contracts are reopened and responsible fiscal steps--no pay raises and a 25% co-pay on medical insurance, for instance--were negotiated. That is why it behooves students and parents to keep the pressure on the city council and the school committee to go into the areas of the budget where there is the most spending--and potential savings: personnel costs. Many speakers made this point to the members of the City Council and the Mayor last night. There is a School Committee Meeting tonight. Now it's their turn.

ADDENDUM: It wasn't only the School Department that was seeking to cut sports. The Warwick Police Department proposed defunding the paid positions (Director and Secretary, I believe) of the Police Athletic League and folding them into the Parks and Rec departments. Many parents and members of PAL were on hand to defend their program as well, and explained the importance of PAL in the community for keeping kids off the streets and learning about leadership and discipline.

They also explained that while money would be saved by cutting these positions, the program would suffer because the various grants and funds and nation wide contacts to which a PAL has access would be lost. In other words (using arbitrary numbers here), cutting $100,000 out of the Police budget would cut 2 positions and may save money for the City, but it would end up losing $300,000 in donations and other money that is regularly raised for PAL by those who fill the positions.

They certainly painted an bleak picture. But I ran a sports league as an unpaid volunteer and I find it hard to believe that there is any requirement that the PAL pay it's leaders. I'm fairly certain that the grants and contacts and benefits of a PAL affiliation could still be realized if the positions were made all-volunteer.

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Wait, isn't Warwick the city that has the inordinate number of IDPs? Can't someone take another look at those?

Posted by: Patrick at June 8, 2010 9:30 AM

Patrick, Off the top of my head...20% of Warwick students have IEPs (Individual Education Plans) along with the concomitant weighting of being considered 1.5 or 2 students for student/teacher ratio calculations. Basically, Warwick has 1,000 invisible "students" with the current weighting. Warwick is the only city in RI that does this, which explains a portion ($11 million) of the difference in school budgets between similarly sized Warwick and Cranston (around $40 million). All of this was reported by the Beacon a couple months ago.

Posted by: Marc at June 8, 2010 10:54 AM

As far as the 20% of students having IEP's lets look at the true numbers. There are 2500 students with IEP's there are a total of 11,000 students in the Warwick Schools. Out of the 2500 I question how many are 504's that require little or no services so that number has never been discussed.
As far as weighted classes students that have speech etc, should not be counted as 1.5. But students with Autism should be counted it is a proven fact that smaller class sizes benefit children with special needs.
One of the committee members stated the possibility of pulling out of the Rhode island interscholastic league in order to strong arm them into reducing their fee's. I wish they would do this with the Association of School Committees.

Posted by: Tom at June 11, 2010 8:29 PM
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