WARWICK, RI — The Warwick School Committee cut $155,000 from eight line items in the district budget Tuesday night at Toll Gate High’s auditorium, piecing together funding to bring back one and a half elementary guidance counselors.
Warwick Schools Finance Director Anthony Ferrucci said the district is contractually obligated to bring back the six laid off guidance counselors starting at the top step, or pay rate, which would be those compensated at about $100,000, including benefits.
That means, Ferrucci said, that the district will only be able to hire one full time elementary guidance counselor and one part time guidance counselor for all 16 of Warwick’s elementary schools.
The bulk of the cuts enabling the return of the elementary guidance counselors were provided by School Committee member David Testa, who proposed cutting $35,000 for a new vehicle, $20,000 from the HVAC line item, $20,000 for website development from the $120,000 communications budget,$10,000 from natural gas, $10,000 from gasoline, $10,000 from electrical and $10,000 from diesel fuel, all of which was approved by the the School Committee handily. The $115,000 was added to the line item for elementary guidance counselors.
School Committee member Karen Bachus attempted to amend Testa’s motion to make the cuts with her own suggestion to cut the $120,000 for the communications fund, the money spent by the Warwick School Department to public relations firm Martin & Associates, to handle the department’s communications with the press and through social media, and also for a redesign of the district’s websites.
Bachus was the only School Committee member voting for the amendment. School Committeeman Eugene Nadeau voted no. The rest of the Committee abstained, killing the amendment.
“Got that, folks?” Bachus said to the crowd.
The $115,000 cut went through, however, with Testa and Bachus voting yes and the rest of the Committee abstaining.
Later that night, Bachus made a proposal to remove $40,000 from the common core coach position. That measure passed, with Nadeau and Testa abstaining, Bachus and Furtado voting for.
“I guess everyone wants to give the Superintendent (Phil Thornton) what he wants. I want to give the kids what they need,” Bachus said.
During public comment, Jonathan Lautieri, father and teacher, referenced the money spent on the PR firm Martin & Associates.
“I’ve always felt that the best PR is to do things the right way,” Lautieri said. Instead, he said, the money spent on public relations could have been better spent bringing back more laid off teachers.