WARWICK, RI – Following widespread opposition from parents and teachers, the Warwick School Committee voted 5-0 Tuesday against seven staff cuts totaling $700,000 proposed by Superintendent Phil Thornton.
At their May 6 meeting, the committee approved a $177.8 million FY21 school budget after cutting $3.6 million from Thornton’s $181.4 million proposal.
The $3,552,268 cut put the budget request at $177,886,400, which still leaves an increase of $8,347,732 over the FY20 budget. The Committee had set out to cut $8 million from Thornton’s proposed budget.
The proposed positions to be cut, according to Thornton, were:
- Physical therapy
- Occupational therapy
- Speech therapy
- .5 phys Ed
- .5 career and tech
“We have to look at these and make tough decisions,” Thornton said before the vote. “We have to balance our budget.”
“This is the result of a failure of what we weren’t willing to do,” said member David Testa, referring to the committee’s efforts to make reductions in non-staffing sections of the budget.
Member Nathan Cornell noted the loss of the positions, which was to include elementary school teachers and librarians, speech language pathologists, physical therapists and middle school guidance counselors, would be “disastrous.”
“This is really going to hurt us and our students,” Cornell said.
“We’re going to have to find the money elsewhere,” said Vice-Chair Judy Cobden. “These services are essential.”
“We don’t have enough positions to cut,” said committee chairperson Karen Bachus. “We don’t have enough stuff to cut. If this city doesn’t put education first, then the city will continue to spiral downwards.”
In written comments to the committee, several parents and district employees expressed their objections to the layoffs.
“Having spent the majority of my career as an elementary educator, I feel strongly that library media specialists are absolutely essential at the elementary level,” said Pauline Pinto, a teacher at Warwick Veterans Middle School.
Darlene Netcoh, President of the Warwick Teachers Union, said the positions “are vital to the well-being of students and should not be eliminated.”
The committee also discussed reassigning funding from a planned HVAC project at Pilgrim High School to Winman Middle School.
“Since January 2019 Warwick Public Schools has had two issues come to light which has prompted the reconsideration of investing in Pilgrim High School,” Anthony Ferrucci, the Director of Finance and Operations, wrote in a letter to Bachus.
After Winman’s heating system failed, “it became obvious that the pipe rotting and heating controls were in much worse shape than expected for the age of the building,” Ferrucci said.
“The Building Committee’s meeting on April 2, 2020, by a vote of 6-0 authorized me to present a recommendation to the School Committee to seek moving $8,000,000 from the Pilgrim High School Project in Bond Phase I to Winman Middle School for an HVAC system to be installed,” Ferrucci wrote.
Testa recommended the Committee should seek the City Council’s approval first.
“I want us to be extremely transparent to the community,” Ferrucci said. “We want to invest (the money) properly.”
The committee also adopted new policies regarding student attendance, dismissals, and suspensions: The Warwick Public Schools asserts that the rate of attendance necessary to meet these goals is ninety-five percent. The only exception to the attendance policy shall be extenuating circumstances verified by school personnel. These include: Extended/chronic personal, physical, or emotional illness as verified by a physician or dentist, extended hospital stay as verified by a physician or dentist, extended recuperation from an accident as verified by a physician or dentist, or extended contagious disease within a family as verified by a physician or dentist.
All schools in the Warwick School Department, at the discretion of each school’s Building Level Administrator, or other authorized school administrator, may suspend a student for:
- Violating written school rules, including but not limited to, the Student Handbook, Student Discipline Code, the Statewide Bullying Policy, or school committee policies to the extent that those school regulations relate to the rights set forth above, or where a student represents a threat to those rights of students, teachers, or administrators.