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Warwick City Council OKs Release of $4 Million In School Improvement Bonds


[CREDIT: Rob Borkowski] Warwick Public Schools Superintendent Phil Thornton answers questions from the Warwick City Council March 20.
[CREDIT: Rob Borkowski] Warwick Public Schools Superintendent Phil Thornton answers questions from the Warwick City Council March 20.
WARWICK, RI  — The Warwick City Council approved the Warwick School Department’s request to release the $4 million balance of $25 million in school improvement bonds approved by voters in 2006, but not before a debate over its use and two defeated amendments aimed at curbing the funding and directing how it should be spent.

Councillors Jeremy Rix and Richard Corley took exception with elements of the spending plan for the bond money. Rix was skeptical of $500,000 to clear trees and blast shale to create three new playing fields out of the single field at Toll Gate High School. Corley objected to the lack of information on exactly how $100,000 for a kitchen at Warwick Veterans Jr. High, $175,000 for the kitchen at Pilgrim High, and $86,424 for the kitchen at Winman school would be spent.

“Before I can justify authorizing taxpayer money to be spent on projects, I think it is incumbent on the city department that is requesting the money to give a detailed description on who the money is spent,” Corley said.

Rix proposed amending the release of the bond to subtract $500,000 for the fields and $375,00 for code compliance at Gorton School, the latter of which he said should be reviewed by an independent expert on building code compliance. The amendment, he said, should also include a note suggesting the money be allotted according to his objections. The motion was not seconded.

Corley proposed a similar amendment reducing the bond release to $1,560,400, with a note instructing Warwick Schools to focus the spending on repairs for Warwick Veterans Jr. High’s heating and ventilation system. It was seconded by Rix.

Councilman Steve Merolla pointed out the amendment was a non-starter, given the council’s limited authority over school spending, restricted to the amount, not the details.

“I appreciate what our colleagues are trying to do and their frustration,” Merolla said, but the council has no authority to dictate how the money is spent once they approve it.

Merolla said there was no doubt the school department needed the money, and pointed out the bond has been languishing unused for more than a decade. Also, holding them to a detailed line item description would be pointless, he said.

“If they justified every dollar, they could still come back and change it,” Merolla said.

“I do believe it’s within the due diligence of the City Council,” Rix said, to hold the school department to a stringent standard on spending.

In the 1980 RI Supreme Court case, COVENTRY SCHOOL COMMITTEE v. Albin RICHTARIK et al,, Justice Bennet R. Gallo wrote, “Under our law,[3] once an appropriation is made for the use of the school committee, the expenditure of those funds is within the committee’s sole and exclusive jurisdiction.”

Corley’s amendment also failed, with only Rix and Corley voting for it. The City Council voted to 7-2 to approve releasing the full $4 million shortly after, with Rix and Corley voting against.

Prior to the vote, Councilman Edgar Ladouceur and Corley each questioned why an agreement between the city and Warwick Schools to split the interest payments on the bond funds had not been written into the bond release request they were considering.

Warwick Public Schools Superintendent Phil Thornton said that had been left out of the document on the advice of the bond counsel.

According to the Warwick Post March 8, 2016 article, City Council Approves $5.1 Million Bond Release For School Repairs, that was left out of the bond release that year due to the consideration of the RI Health and Educational Building Council‘s standards.

Bond counsel Karen Grande, an attorney with Locke Lord in Providence, explained that the HEBC would not approve the bonds unless the Council, as the primary authority on the borrowing, committed to the debt without reservation.

“The lender will not be put in the position of having the City say, ‘Oh, no, we’re not going to pay for these bonds because it’s the school board’s responsibility,” Grande said.

In other news, the City Council also voted unanimously to rescind a request for an investigation into complaints about Warwick Schools Special Education practices, and approved broadcasting City Council meetings to be handled by the MIS department.

Rob Borkowski
Author: Rob Borkowski

Rob has worked as reporter and editor for several publications, including The Kent County Daily Times and Coventry Courier, before working for Gatehouse in MA then moving home with Patch Media. Now he's publisher and editor of Contact him at [email protected] with tips, press releases, advertising inquiries, and concerns.

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