Warwick – The city council approved a supplemental appropriation of $3.9 million for the school department Tuesday, restoring 17 line items in the education budget, including textbooks, teacher assistants and sports.
The amended resolution arranged for the supplemental appropriation through the reduction of budget line items including a decrease of $350,000 from professional services, $40,000 from the contingency line item, $328,578 from a 2018 lease for vehicles, $3 million previously allocated to asphalt/paving, and $266,896 for contractual obligations.
In a statement, Mayor Joseph J. Solomon praised the successful effort to redirect millions into the schools budget. School committee chairwoman Karen Bachus said she was “ecstatic” about the vote, noting all sports programs would be reinstated.
The School Committee unanimously approved an amended 2020 budget of $165.9 million last month which included cuts of $7,753,000, which included the elimination of all sports programs in the district, near last on a descending list of 17 spending priorities.
Among the items cut were 10 teacher assistant positions, funding for building improvements, mentoring, uniforms, equipment for schools, and $420,000 for transportation. The original proposed school budget had been $175 million.
The resolution states: The Warwick School Committee and the City will execute mutual releases acknowledging that the repayment terms stated herein and the supplemental appropriation described herein are in full settlement of any and all claims that the School Committee has for additional funding for fiscal years 2018-2019 and 2019-2020; and 2. The Warwick School Committee will conduct a thorough review of each of its 66
budgeted line items in comparison to comparable districts, such as Cranston, and to prepare a detailed report of such, which it will disseminate to the City Council at least six (6) months prior to submitting its proposed budget for the 2020-2021 academic year; and The Warwick School Committee will develop a plan of action to reduce expenditures, and will prepare a detailed report of such, which it will disseminate to the City Council at least four (4) months prior to submitting its proposed budget for the 2020-2021 academic year; and 4. The Warwick School Committee will allow the City Council or its designated representatives to participate in the entirety of the process for both the above stated review and the development of a plan of action, without limitation.
The resolution bore a few changes made at the suggestion of Rhode Island Auditor General Dennis Hoyle, including the elimination of a phrase requiring repayment of the $4 million school deficit for FY19 in $1 million yearly installments.
At Hoyle’s suggestion, Solomon’s amended resolution rearranged the FY20 funding sources drawn against to pay for the money added to the school budget. The original resolution called for:
- $1,000,000 from the contingency line item;
- $1,000,000 from the City’s Fund Balance;
- $1,085,474 from the road paving line item;
- $600,000 from the legal department; and
- $300,000 from the fire department overtime line item
In the new resolution, those re-allocations of funding were largely eliminated in favor of taking triple the original amount from the paving budget.
The paving budget had been identified during budget hearings last month as a very likely over-funded line item, by frequent budget watchdog Rob Cote and also in a WarwickPost.com analysis of the city budget.
“This amended resolution will ensure the health, safety and welfare of the city’s students, along with faculty and staff, while simultaneously adhering to the recommendations set forth by Auditor General Dennis Hoyle,” Solomon said.
Council President Steve Merolla said the school department overspent their budget by $4 million in FY19.
“People need to be held accountable,” Merolla argued.
Other council members voiced their objections to depriving children of sports and other extracurricular activities.
“I’m not giving up on the kids in the Warwick school system,” said Councilman Richard Corley. “I’m not giving up on the Warwick school system.”
Councilman Anthony Sinapi noted the schools were under a “time crunch” and pushed for a vote on the appropriation.
“Language doesn’t matter to me as long as the school committee gets their funding,” Sinapi said. “(Let’s do) whatever we can do to make it work.”
The amended resolution ultimately won unanimous approval from the council.
“I am pleased that my administration along with the city council and school committee were able to collaborate on a resolution that will ensure the fiscal stability of our City while also providing students with the sports programs that they cherish and the best academic curriculum. I would like to thank all the council members for supporting this resolution,” Solomon said after the meeting. “It is my distinct hope that as we move forward we can continue to have open dialogues about what is in the best interest of our students and City at large.”
The School Committee meets for their own vote on the additional funding on Thursday at Warwick Veterans Middle School at 6 p.m. The agenda for that meeting is embedded below: