WARWICK, RI – The Warwick School Committee voted Tuesday to adopt Superintendent Phil Thornton’s $193.5 million FY22 budget with $500K tacked in hopes of reversing declining student enrollment.
Committee member David Testa believed there was “no justification” to ask the city for more funding: “This is about population. No one likes cutting positions. This is strictly population driven. We’re bleeding kids.”
“This is another tough budget,” acknowledged member Karen Bachus, noting the five percent cut from the school department budget in 2009 was “pretty devastating.”
“I’d like to see us regain population,” Bachus noted.
“It’s been a tough year for everybody across the board,” said Committee Chairwoman Judy Cobden, noting she was “deeply mad” when parents insinuated the committee voted to cut sports programs from the budget in 2020 as some type of negotiating tactic.
“It was one of the toughest things I had to do,” Cobden continued. “We could not cut programs and services that allow children to meet their educational needs.”
At the committee’s April 13 meeting, Robert Baxter, Director of Finance and Operation, said the district is facing a projected budget deficit of $7.5 million and recommended the elimination of 34 teaching positions. At the Warwick School Committee’s April 14 meeting, they solidified the plan.
Darlene Netcoh, President of the Warwick Teachers Union said the idea that teachers were to blame for the deficit is “particularly galling and completely outrageous.”
“If there are no teachers, then there is no need for your bloated administrative bureaucracy and no need for a school committee,” Netcoh continued. “You are all superfluous.”
“I don’t think anyone in this room is blaming the teachers,” Cobden said. “There is a population decline. We don’t have money to play with in a positive way.”
Member Nathan Cornell proposed asking the city for an additional $1 million. $500,000 would be designated for personnel and $500,000 for programs and services.
“We do have programs that could use a shot in the arm,” said Superintendent Phil Thornton.
Cornell’s amendment was rejected, so he proposed asking the city for the additional $500,000. Cornell, Cobden, and Kyle Adams voted yes. Testa and Bachus voted no.
Baxter noted the federal government has provided several financial aid programs to offset the additional expense associated with the district’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to Baxter, “The district experienced about a 15 percent enrollment decline in the eight years from FY2010 through FY2017, a loss of about 1,400 students or approximately 175 students per year.
The district experienced an accelerated loss of another 1,121 students, about a 10.4 percent decline over the four years from FY18 through FY21, a loss of 224 students per year on average. We are projecting the loss of an additional 120 students to be enrolled in FY22.”
The committee tabled a decision on which high school building renovation projects to recommend to the Rhode Island Department of Education.