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Committee Reviews $4.9M Deficit Impact, Nixes Teacher Training

[CREDIT: File Photo] Warwick Veterans Jr. High School at 2401 W Shore Road.

WARWICK — Tuesday night at Warwick Veterans Junior High, the Warwick School Committee learned the district’s FY19 $99,274,023 salary line item is $979,000 over budget, and voted against $17,000 for teacher training, symptoms of a $4.6 million deficit they’re negotiating with the City to resolve.

[CREDIT: File Photo] Warwick Veterans Jr. High School at 2401 W Shore Road.
[CREDIT: File Photo] Warwick Veterans Jr. High School at 2401 W Shore Road.

The School Committee had filed a complaint against the City in Providence Superior Court, claiming it couldn’t comply with state or federal

law with the funding allocated for this academic year. The suit sought an order stating the City Council’s budget for the district isn’t enough, and asked the court to order the city to increase the budget by $4.9 million.

The School Committee dropped the suit, moving the dispute into mediation instead, in February, according to a Warwick Beacon report.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Anthony Ferrucci, Executive Director of Finance and Operations, explained the salary over-spend was due to additional staff approved by the Committee, the building aids pilot project, and a mandated court settlement requiring $304,000 in school aid to be paid to North Kingstown.

The settlement was the result of the North Kingstown school department filing a request with the state for withholding of state aid to the city of Warwick and remission of the funds to North Kingstown on Jan. 22.

The School Committee agreed last month to obey the Commissioner ofEducation’s order to the General Treasurer to deduct $304,040 from the school aid owed to the Warwick School District and remit those funds to the North Kingstown School Department.

The separate $39,134,139 fringe benefits line item was

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$674,512 over-budget, according to Ferrucci, due to medical costs for laid off employees of the district. Unemployment insurance accounted for another $247,841. The district had underestimated the impact of the layoffs, he said.

Out of district tuitions for career and tech and Pathways added up to $1.2 million to the line item, he said.

About $55,000 in the budget allocated for ice rink rental and pool rental was not authorized by the Committee. The two items will need to be reconciled with the city during upcoming mediation, Ferrucci said.

The committee voted 3-2 against approving $17,000 for professional development for 90 teachers at the Highlander Institute in Providence.

“I think every one of us here would like teachers to have this training,” said committee chairwoman Karen Bachus, who voted against the contract due to the district’s budget problems.

“It’s just a hard call because we’re stuck under a rock right now because we’re being scrutinized (by the city),” noted member Judith Cobden, who also voted no.

“This is not an easy choice,” said member Nathan Cornell, who voted for the funding. “This fiscal situation puts us in a difficult position.”

Member David Testa, who also voted yes, said the training cost was “a miniscule amount of money in the grand scheme of things.”

Bachus disagreed, noting “Our lawyer has advised us not to go forward” with the training. “This could backfire.”

In other business, the committee received a cyber security update from Doug Alexander, the district’s director of technology.

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Alexander discussed types of hacking including “phishing” – cyber breach attacks designed to persuade rank and file members of an organization to give the attacker secure access, and “whaling” – a phishing attack aimed at powerful individuals, which are used to obtain confidential information about teachers and students.

“It’s pretty sobering what they found on our network,” Alexander said.

“It’s a problem for teachers, it’s a problem for administrators, it’s a problem for students too,” said Testa.

Alexander said he would install network security software and anti-phishing software to protect staff and students.

The committee also approved a policy regarding the use of cell phones by students on school property. The policy reads, in part, that cell phones and all other personal electronic devices may not be used to:

● Disrupt classroom lessons with ringtones, beeping, or sounds of any kind.

● Photograph, record, or film others without their consent.

● Record a disruption on campus that can be used to degrade, threaten, intimidate, or dehumanize the person(s) involved

● Take pictures or record in school activity private areas such as locker rooms, counseling sessions, restrooms, and/or dressing areas

● Send or display pornographic or inappropriate messages, pictures or images including sexting.

● Capture, record, and/or transmit test information or any other information in a manner constituting fraud, theft, cheating, or academic dishonesty.

● Receive test information or any other information in a manner constituting fraud, theft, cheating, or academic dishonesty.

● Bully, humiliate, harass, or intimidate school-related individuals or violate local, state, or federal laws

Violations of this policy will result in disciplinary action, including confiscation of the offender’s personal device.