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Warwick Schools Face $6.2M Deficit, COVID-19 Risks

[CREDIT: Warwick School Committee] The Warwick School Committee meeting streamed via zoom on YouTube Nov. 10, 2020.

[CREDIT: Warwick School Committee] The Warwick School Committee meeting streamed via zoom on YouTube Nov. 10, 2020.
[CREDIT: Warwick School Committee] The Warwick School Committee meeting streamed via zoom on YouTube Nov. 10, 2020.
WARWICK, RI – The Warwick School District projects a year-end budget deficit of $6.2 million, resulting from COVID-19 related staff increases and unrealized contract concessions, Chief Budget Officer Anthony Ferrucci said.

Ferrucci told the school committee the financial problems have been a long time coming.

“Going back to early August 2020, when Warwick Public Schools’ Covid Reopening Task Force announced the need for an additional $15 Million dollars to reopen schools and comply with CDC, federal and state Covid guidelines, the community was put on notice that the school department could face a serious deficit if additional funding was not secured,” Ferrucci said Tuesday.

According to Ferrucci: an unrestricted Fund Balance of $1,597,000 is covering a lot of unanticipated costs that will evaporate going into next year’s FY22 school budget.

  • Salaries are over budget by $3 million, the net result of not achieving breakage and/or contract concessions as planned, raising hourly rates to $15.00, adding unbudgeted staff and teacher coverage to meet COVID requirements.
  • Fringe Benefits are over budget by $330,000 which is directly tied to salary cost increases.
  • Outsourced custodial services cost $935, 550.
  • Moving classrooms to and from Veterans Middle School cost $336, 015.
  • School lunch program support cost $350,000.
  • Special education out of district tuition cost $500,000.
  • Utilities cost $200,000.
  • Auditing and legal services cost $90,000.

Ferrucci said a second stimulus package from the federal government might offset some of the district’s expenses.

The School committee also grappled that night with a return to full in person learning in spite of a jump in COVID-19 infections in Rhode Island.

Jeff Taylor, the Director of Technology for the district, told the committee there were 2,226 responses to a survey sent to parents at the beginning of the month. According to the responses:

  • 59.4 percent preferred to send their student for four days of in person learning.
  • 25 percent of parents preferred full distance learning.
  • 15.6 percent preferred to remain with the hybrid model – two days of in-person instruction and two days of distance learning.

“It’s important to understand if anyone wanted a four day option,” Taylor noted.

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“I have concerns, and until those concerns are addressed, I need to make a timeline,” said Assistant Superintendent Lynn Dambruch.

Taylor said a survey will also be sent to teachers.

“Obviously we all know that four day in-person learning is best for the kids,” said member Kyle Adams. “But we also need to think what’s safe for the kids.”

“It’s not just asking teachers if they want to come to work,” member Nathan Cornell said of the survey. “This is asking teachers if they want to go into a situation where they could die. Older adults are more likely to suffer ailments from the coronavirus and could possibly die. These kids could be spreading (the virus) to teachers and staff. We’re asking them to put themselves at risk.”

“There’s a process if you have underlying conditions or you’re compromised,” said member David Testa. “As the Department of Education has said and the state has said, being afraid isn’t a reason not to come to work.”

Testa and Cornell clashed over the surveys, which had been sent out to parents and sixth grade students.

“You want to have a say over the wording of the questions and you want to have the data before anyone else has the data,” Testa said to Cornell. “The majority of (school) districts are back in full in person and have been since Sept. 14th and there has not been a significant spike in cases.”

“It’s not going well right now since we went back to hybrid,” Vice Chair Judy Cobden noted. “A lot of the parents are complaining. I get calls. I get text messages. I get e-mails. It’s not going well and that needs to be solved before we do anything because I feel like these students are being dismissed because they’re at home.”

Cobden was concerned about the increasing rates of COVID-19.

“We can look at these numbers and they’re going to fluctuate,” Cobden said. “We need to learn from our teachers to find out how this can be done very well because I do hear from teachers and some of them have great ideas.

I think we need to send the survey out to get those ideas so we can all work together. It’s about teamwork. We’re in a crisis right now.”

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The committee will vote on a learning plan on Friday.

In other panemic-related news, the City of Warwick and the School Committee, along with the Rhode Island Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, have agreed to an SBA COVID-19 Capital Fund related to capital improvements addressing the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.

The grant, in the amount of $167, 351, was used for capital improvements such as ventilation, filtration, electrical, plumbing, HVAC, system and air quality testing, or other associated work.

Ferrucci noted the funds could only be used for eligible expenses incurred between July 1, 2020 and Aug. 31, 2021.

The Committee also heard from Steven Gothberg, Director of Buildings and Grounds, and Kevin Oliver, Facilities Maintenance and Operations Manager, who visited Toll Gate High School and Winman Middle School and shared their Oct. 14 field observations:

  • The Winman M.S. has an HVAC system that is capable of providing outside air to the classrooms, however during colder winter months the AHU hot water pre-heat coils freeze up resulting in the school requiring to close the outside air dampers and shut off the fresh air to the spaces.
  • The Toll Gate H.S. does not have any outside air being supplied to the interior classrooms. Dedicated fan coil type units are installed below the ceiling with ceiling mounted exhaust grilles. These spaces do not have operable windows.
  • The Toll Gate H.S. has Unit Ventilators with outside air capability for the exterior classrooms. These spaces also have operable windows.

Gothberg said the air purifiers had been 100 percent installed in the city’s elementary schools and were 98 percent complete for the secondary schools.

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.