As the administration drafted the budget for the upcoming fiscal year, Mayor Frank Picozzi and school administrators made a verbal agreement that any state aid in addition to the amount …
As the administration drafted the budget for the upcoming fiscal year, Mayor Frank Picozzi and school administrators made a verbal agreement that any state aid in addition to the amount originally projected would be withheld from the city’s local appropriation.
Now that the state budget gives Warwick Schools an extra $1.6 million, the question is whether both parties will follow through with the arrangement.
“There is one caveat attached to this budget proposal; this Administration believes strongly that additional State aid should offset City contributions of either City or ARPA funding to the WPS budget,” Picozzi’s budget address reads. “The Administration of the WPS has agreed to this caveat. We may know this before the City budget is enacted, and I will propose a change in City contributions at that time if additional State school aid materializes. If that is not known in late May, when the City must act on a final budget, I will insist that additional State aid offset City contributions or be reserved for the future year.”
Warwick was in a similar situation in 2003 when the General Assembly approved an additional $600,000 in state aid over what the governor budgeted.
According to a Commissioner of Education decision in 2005, the City was required to pay $600,000 to the School Department after a decision was made by the Commissioner determining that all state aid had to be turned over to the Department.
“School Committee’s historical practice of omitting literacy set-aside revenue and expenditures from its budget,” according to the decision. The total school budget including state aid and the city appropriation was $135,653,602.
The School Department after the Council voted on the department’s budget received an additional $600,000 in state aid.
“In July 2003, the General Assembly approved a state education operational aid amount which increased the Warwick school district’s allocation by $600,000 over the Governor’s proposal,” the ruling reads. “The City has refused the School Committee’s subsequent requests to credit the additional $600,000 to its account.”
The decision which was approved by the Commissioner of Education Peter McWalters states “In Dawson v. Clark, the Rhode Island Supreme Court stated that ‘once an appropriation is made by a city council or town meeting for use of the school committee, the expenditure of those funds so appropriated is within the committee’s sole and exclusive jurisdiction.”
“In June 2003, the City appropriated $135,653,602 to the School Committee. The Committee is entitled to spend those monies and the City is obligated to fund the appropriation,” the ruling read. “In July 2003, the General Assembly allocated an additional $600,000 in state education aid to the City. As §16-7-23(b) states, these funds are to supplement previously-allocated monies and they must be appropriated by the municipality to the school committee in the same fiscal year even if the municipality has already adopted a school budget. The additional $600,000 in state aid is not to be distributed through the previously-adopted school budget. It is to supplement that budget. In this case, it is to be added to $135,653,602 previously appropriated to the School Committee.”
In a recent interview Picozzi said he plans on holding back the full “$1.6 million.
Picozzi explained that in his view the difference between what happened in 2003 and now is that the city and the school district didn’t agree on what the appropriation was while now both sides have agreed. Picozzi said that nothing was signed by either side because he trusts that the school district administration will follow through with the agreement.
As far as the possibility that new School Committee members may not agree with the decision and would potentially seek the full local appropriation and the additional State Aid Picozzi said he isn’t concerned.
“We appropriate the money they would have to sue me,” said Picozzi.
Asked if he has any concerns with a new majority of the School Committee being elected next year and the possibility that the new members may not agree to the terms, Council President Steve McAllister said in a text message “I have no concerns they would do that.”
“The school department will need additional funding from the City in the future, so going back on their word would be a poor decision that would have a long term negative impact,” said McAllister. “No matter who is on the school committee, the city council or who the Mayor is, we all have to work together. I do not expect any issues.”
Assistant Superintendent Bill McCaffrey said in a statement “we are grateful for the school funding increase and the continued support of Speaker Shekarchi , Majority Leader McCaffrey and the Warwick delegation for putting the City of Warwick and our students as a priority in this years state budget.”
“We will continue to work closely with Mayor Picozzi and his administration on school finances or any other issue that may impact the students and children of Warwick,” said McCaffrey.
In response to multiple requests for comment David Folcarelli a spokesperson for RIDE said “RIDE cannot offer a comment at this time, as the language in the school budget recently adopted by the Warwick Town Council providing that ‘additional State aid should offset City contributions of either City or ARPA funding to the WPS budget’ raise legal questions that may be the subject of a request for hearing and decision from the Commissioner.”
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