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School Committee Cuts $2M of $8M Budget Cut Goal

[CREDIT: Rob Borkowski] Warwick Public Schools Administration is located at 69 Draper Ave.

[CREDIT: Rob Borkowski] Warwick Public Schools Administration is located at 69 Draper Ave.
[CREDIT: Rob Borkowski] Warwick Public Schools Administration is located at 69 Draper Ave.
WARWICK, RI – The School Committee set out to trim $8 million from Superintendent Phil Thornton’s proposed FY21 budget Tuesday, but has only made a $2.2 million budget cut so far.

If approved as is, the school department’s budget next year will total $181,438,668, an increase of $11,980,824 over the current fiscal year budget.

Committee members agreed at their April 21 meeting that the increase was not feasible.

The Committee has until May 8 to deliver their budget to the City Council. Another meeting is scheduled for Wednesday to finalize the list of reductions.

“Every year this process is worse because we have less money and our costs go up,” School Committee Chairwoman Karen Bachus said.

The Committee discussed cutting $50,000 from program audits, $60,000 for professional development/training, and $12,000 for conference/workshops.

Vice Chair Judy Cobden advised cutting funds which would have been used to refurbish the gymnasium floors at Veterans Middle School.

Committee member David Testa floated the idea of deferring a raise for members of the WISE union.

“I don’t see the numbers,” Testa said. “I think we have to work very hard to arrive at a number I think is palatable.”

“You can’t take someone’s raise away from them without negotiating,” Bachus said, noting it was “inappropriate” to discuss contracts and negotiations in a public forum.

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The School Committee had commissioned an independent auditor to offer an opinion on the fiscal efficiencies within the school department and to suggest potential cost saving strategies, Ferrucci noted at the April 21 meeting.

“As of April 10, 2020, the program audit has been in progress for over seven months,” Ferrucci said, “According to the November 2019, Phase I report, page 67, the conclusion is: “Lastly, though the District may encounter savings opportunities over time, at present, it should expect the need to request approximately $8,000,000 more funds from the City in order to operate the District in Fy21. Regardless of the outcome of Phase II of this project, the District must explore contractual concessions from its collective bargaining units.”

Video link error nearly nixes meeting

At the start of the night, an incorrect video link threatened to stop the meeting just after it began.

The school department’s legal counsel warned the Committee about continuing the meeting if the public was unable to access the video on the committee’s YouTube channel.

“We tried to do it the right way and it’s not working in real time,” said Andrew Henneous, who was concerned about violating the state’s Open Meeting Law.

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The meetings have been held via video conference since the schools were shut down in March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Bachus said members of the public were watching the meeting.

Cathy Bonang, the Superintendent’s Secretary, advised the committee not to take any votes unless the correct link could be posted.

“They need to be able to get on based on the link that was posted,” Henneous replied. “If I understand correctly, if someone goes to the YouTube post that’s on our agenda, they cannot get into the meeting.”

The correct link was posted and the meeting resumed after a brief recess.

In other business during the meeting:

  • The Committee voted to approve an award for a three year service provider contract for internet access at a cost of $7600 annually to OSHEAN.
  • The Committee also approved a contract with AET Labs for Laser Engraver equipment to be installed in the new STEAM laboratory at Pilgrim High School at a cost of $76,796.
Joe Siegel
Author: Joe Siegel

Joe Siegel is a regular contributing writer for WarwickPost.com. His reporting has appeared in The Sun Chronicle in Attleboro and EDGE.