June 15, 2010

Warwick Dips into Reserves, Cuts School Budget

Marc Comtois

The Warwick City Council approved a $267 million budget and avoided raising car taxes (as proposed by Mayor Avedisian) by dipping into reserves to the tune of $2.7 million to offset city-side cuts. They also basically agreed with Mayor Avedisian's budget proposal and funded schools at 95% of last year ($117.7 million), which was $9 million less than the school department requested ($126 million). In the past, municipalities could not fund schools at a level less than the previous year, but the 95% level of funding for schools is allowable thanks to a new state law passed this year by the General Assembly.

The City Council also followed Mayor Avedisian's lead over the objections of the School Commitee and Administration and decided to sequester an earmarked $850,000 for funding school sports and activities. Based on information provided by the city, the Rhode Island Interscholastic League had no problem with the city funding the sports instead of the school department. I expect there will still be some contention regarding this money.

The end result is that the Warwick School Committee has little choice but to renegotiate the contract with the Warwick Teacher's Union and to come to a contract agreement with the Warwick Independent School Employees Union, who's contract expired in 2006. Based on looking at the numbers, the only way to achieve savings will be to increase the healthcare co-pay and to remove raises for the next fiscal year. The School Committee meets on Thursday at the School Administration Building to formally begin dealing with their downsized budget.

Overall, as research by the Warwick Tea Party shows, the city managed to foist off most of the reduction in state funding back onto the schools. Thus has been written yet another chapter in the ongoing contentious saga between the city and school department. Because there appear to be few options, as explained above, I suspect that at the conclusion of negotiations, the school employees--both unionized and non--will be paying more into their health care than their city-employed counterparts and that they will not be receiving raises (outside of the regular step increases, of course!) this year, unlike their city employed counterparts.

These are the common sense savings that Warwick taxpayers demanded, but they expected the city to do its part, too. For while it's true that the city did renegotiate contracts over the last year or two (as did the school department), those savings consisted of short-term reductions that would be made up in future years or reductions of previously promised increases. Additionally, it is plainly obvious that those renegotiated contracts still fall short given the current economic climate: things have gotten worse and what looked like "serious concessions" back then to some don't really even pass muster when compared to the private sector realities (if the ever really did). There is still plenty of room to cut. The City Council recognized that to be the case on the school side of things. It's too bad they didn't look in the mirror.

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You hit the nail on the head. The Mayor and city council deflected all the blame to the school committee when in fact there were plenty of cuts (employee benefits) that needed to be tackled on the city side.

We are not giving the schools a pass, they also need to reign in benefit costs, but to point all figrues at schools is wrong.

Nothing structural changed. Tapping into the surplus is as bad as the GA budgeting the $100 million from the feds. Now the city has a $2.7 million deficit starting the fiscal year on July 1.

At just over $3 the surplus is not adequate in the event of a real emergency. Credit rating agencies could downgrade Warwick's bond rating as a result.

If and when that doesn't come in is the city going to go back to schools again when more cuts in state aid to Warwick materialize?

Schools need to continue to downsize. They also need to remove the 20-teacher max layoff provision form the contract and get rid of the weighting of students (counting students with IEP as 1.5 to 2 students to limit class size) that account for 1000 virtual students.

The Warwick Tea Party will continue to monitor city and school leaders and urges Warwick taxpayers to join our cause to elect people into these seats that have the courage and conviction to tackle the difficult issues.

Warwick’s combined unfunded obligations are $201 million outstanding bonds, $388 million unfunded healthcare liability and $201 million unfunded pensions. These are the areas in the budget that need reform.

Warwick Tea Party

Posted by: Warwick Tea Party at June 15, 2010 10:45 AM

It isn't over yet. The school department will file a Caruolo suit to get their funding restored. Even though the GA included a provision in the budget allowing local funding to schools to be 95% of the current year, I heard the Caruolo Act was not modified to reflect this. If that is true, then I fear the school department will prevail in court and the city will have to hand over another 6.3 million to the schools. Where is that money going to come from? A massive supplmental tax increase, that's where. This is going to get very ugly and the taxpayers will be the ultimate losers. But what else is new.

Posted by: It's Not Over Yet... at June 15, 2010 5:43 PM
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