WARWICK, RI — As Warwick School Committee members considered how they might cut as much as $8.5 million from Superintendent Philip Thornton’s FY20 $174.4 million budget, postponing Title XI locker room upgrades, delaying sports scoreboard updates and recycling used Chromebooks were among the considerations.
Thornton’s budget proposal is $9.6 million more than last year, a fraction of which will be paid for by a $1.1 million state aid boost, but the FY19 budget is already about $4.6 million short due in part to the Warwick City Council’s reluctance to fund last year’s budget increase request to add $8.1 million to that year’s school spending.
“We have no idea how much money we’re going to get from the city,” School Committee Chairwoman Karen Bachus said during Tuesday night’s budget hearing, which reviewed the budget requests from the curriculum, athletics and secondary education departments, which had already experienced one round of pruning by Thornton.
The imperative to avoid spending was obvious as School Committee members asked questions aimed toward doing without various items.
Committee member Judy Cobden asked if the $150,000 forupgrades to the boys and girls locker rooms at the Career Tech Center and TollGate to bring the areas up to date and also address Title IX federal lawrequiring equal sports accommodations for male and female students, might bepostponed.
Thornton noted accrediting reviews for Tollgate first raised
Aubrey Lombardi, standing in for AndrewHenneous, the School Committee’s legal counsel, pointed out the perils of defying Title IX requirements, noting it exposed the district to expensive lawsuits.
“They could sue you in federal court, and there could be ahuge penalty,” Lombardi said.
Warwick Schools Finance Director Anthony Ferrucci noted thatthe locker rooms were in the budget because parents and students have beenasking about them for some time now, so Lombardi’s warning wasn’t farfetched.
“If it doesn’t move forward, I would expect something tohappen very quickly,” Ferrucci said.
Committee Member Kyle Adams asked about whether spending $2,500 on removing unused lockers from Pilgrim High was worth doing in light of the tough financial outlook.
Director of Secondary Education Robert Littlefield said itwas a small item, but one that would head off an anticipated hazard as thelockers would likely draw unproductive attention from students, and would be anesthetic improvement for the school.
Bachus said she didn’t think anyone on the Committee isparticularly concerned with esthetics at the moment.
“So guess what? That $2,500 is gone,” Bachus said.
Testa suggested reusing Chromebooks of graduating students,which are usually left in their hands since the hardware and software isusually outdated by the time a student graduates.
During public comment at the end of the meeting, DarleneNetcoh, Warwick Teachers Union president, said Testa’s idea could be used toput Chromebooks in the hands of elementary school students who currently sharethe devices with fellow students, whereas secondary students each have their own.
Testa also suggested doing without upgrades to the district’sathletic field scoreboards, though he acknowledged they’re in dire need ofreplacement and/or repair.
“I know the scoreboard at Pilgrim, it’s laughable,” Testasaid.
“Perhaps we could go to people-powered scoreboards,” Bachussuggested.
The School Committee will continue hearing from School Department heads during a third budget hearing Wednesday night, and is also scheduled for a fourth hearing Thursday night, at 6 p.m. and 5 p.m. respectively, in Warwick Veterans Middle School’s auditorium. A slideshow from the three presentations, a copy of the proposed budget, and agendas for the next two evenings, are embedded below.