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 for upgrades to the boys and girls locker rooms at the Career Tech Center and Toll Gate to bring the areas up to date and also address Title IX federal law requiring equal sports accommodations for male and female students, might be
Thornton noted accrediting reviews for Tollgate first raised the issue of the boy’s locker room with the district 10 years ago. He said Title IX required them to bring the girls locker rooms up to the same level. Thornton said the Title IX considerations often require dual upgrades throughout the district.
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 a huge penalty,” Lombardi said.
Warwick Schools Finance Director Anthony Ferrucci noted that the locker rooms were in the budget because parents and students have been asking about them for some time now, so Lombardi’s warning wasn’t farfetched.
“If it doesn’t move forward, I would expect something to happen 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 it was a small item, but one that would head off an anticipated hazard as the lockers would likely draw unproductive attention from students, and would be an esthetic improvement for the school.
Bachus said she didn’t think anyone on the Committee is particularly 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 is usually outdated by the time a student graduates.
During public comment at the end of the meeting, Darlene Netcoh, Warwick Teachers Union president, said Testa’s idea could be used to put Chromebooks in the hands of elementary school students who currently share the devices with fellow students, whereas secondary students each have their own.
Testa also suggested doing without upgrades to the district’s athletic field scoreboards, though he acknowledged they’re in dire need of replacement and/or repair.
“I know the scoreboard at Pilgrim, it’s laughable,” Testa said.
“Perhaps we could go to people-powered scoreboards,” Bachus suggested.
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.