Fixed increases have schools looking for $5.8M more from city

Posted 4/20/22


When Mayor Frank Picozzi served as the Chairman of the Warwick School Committee he sat across from former mayors Lincoln Chafee and Scott Avedisian to discuss the school …

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Fixed increases have schools looking for $5.8M more from city




When Mayor Frank Picozzi served as the Chairman of the Warwick School Committee he sat across from former mayors Lincoln Chafee and Scott Avedisian to discuss the school department’s proposed budgets each year and to negotiate.

Now from the same corner office at City Hall Picozzi is prepared to do the same as the mayor.

If the School Committee approves Supt. Lynn Dambruch’s proposed budget it could mean schools are looking for an additional $5.8 million from the city.

On Tuesday the School Committee held its first budget hearing for the proposed 2022-2023 district budget.

“The district faces challenges in both areas where sources of revenue like State aid are on the decline putting more of the burden on local sources,” Tim McGrath School Finance Director wrote in a memo ahead of the meeting. “This is compounded by rising prices for goods and services due to systemic inflation.”

On Tuesday McGrath said the biggest increases in the budget are out of the district's control. He cited salary increases of $3 million; healthcare increases of $500,000 and state pension increases of $1.8 million increase and  $900,000 for WISE pension corrections.

McGrath also highlighted the original budget manager requests for 2023, which was $196.9 million. After $11 million in cuts and allocating about $5.4 million in grant funds to different line items the total requested budget came in at $179.5 million.

“We did put a lot of resources in ESSER grants,” said Dambruch. “We had to be creative in getting the things we really need.”

As for revenues the proposed budget calls for the city to allocate $135.8 million towards the budget. The current budget was $129.9 million from the city.

An issue that McGrath also noted is that the district’s state aid decreased this year from $40,224,931.70 to $40,217,404.00. McGrath said that normally there is a slight increase for state aid.

McGrath also pointed to out-of-district tuition revenue as declining. The 2023 budget projects losing $550,000 in tuition compared to this year’s.

“We're not seeing the same number of students attending the CTC program as we have in the past,” said McGrath.

Personnel with salaries and benefits accounting for about 80 percent of the proposed budget.

The proposed budget calls for 22 cuts from the WISE union and 15 cuts to the teachers union.

A list of the positions being cut wasn’t made available to the public or School Committee during the meeting.

Warwick Teachers Union President Darlene Netcoh said after the meeting she was not provided with a copy of what proposed cuts are being made in the budget for teachers. A request made by the Beacon for a list of the proposed cuts went unreturned at the time of publication.

Vice Chairman David Testa said he hopes there is a way around making cuts to personnel.

“There has to be other ways to be creative to not cut people,” said Testa.



No control

Following committee approval of a budget, it is submitted to the mayor. The mayor then submits a city budget along with proposed tax rates to the council. The council then conducts a series of budget hearings where it reviews the budget department by department before voting on a city budget. The mayor has the opportunity to veto the budget or amend department appropriations that the council can override. But while the mayor and council have authority over the total school appropriation, they have no say on how it is spent.

“When you can’t control the revenue side of the equation it makes it difficult,” said Testa.

Testa also pointed out that the vast majority of the budget is out of their control in the sense that they are contractual items.

In most parts of the country Testa pointed out that the school committees and cities and towns have their own tax levies which he would favor.

“It's really a bad system,” said Testa.

Testa said he wasn’t prepared to propose any changes during the meeting and would wait until next Tuesday’s meeting.

“$5.8 million is a lot of money,” said Testa.

It was pointed out by Testa that last year the school district had a balanced budget.

Testa said it is their job to look over the budget and come up with a number to present to the City Council.

“I would be very comfortable with whatever we present,” said Testa.

On Tuesday morning Picozzi said that they anticipated a percentage increase for the school department request. Picozzi said that the total increase in the budget can be around $8 million for the city and school district budget combined without exceeding the tax cap.

Picozzi said that with the cost of groceries going up, and with gas prices hoovering around $4 a gallon he said it wasn’t a good time to increase taxes by a significant amount.

“It would be a huge tax increase and with the state of everything now people can’t afford that,” said Picozzi.

Picozzi said that he first found out about the request after reading an online Beacon story on Friday.

“We're trying to go through their budget now and see what’s going on. I know it’s always a negotiation,” said Picozzi.





Ahead of the budget hearing one of the key issues discussed on social media was possible cuts to the Warwick Early Learning Center after Director of Special Services Gary Coppolino met with staff.

Committee member Karen Bachus' request for the Administration to explain what was happening with the program was met with applause.

“We have not made any decisions about WELC,” said Coppolino.

Coppolino said that one of their programs which runs from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. had to be looked at because they couldn’t provide transportation next year for that time period. He said that the two alternatives discussed were moving the program to a half day program or to a full day program.

“Everything else was just looking at ways to be creative and getting more students in the door there,” said Coppolino

School Committee Chair Judy Cobden said that there were many versions of the story that she heard about what was discussed during that meeting. She said the School Committee is the one who makes those decisions.

Cobden said that she found the answer from Coppolino to be vague.

“I don’t know what the truth is at this point,” said Cobden.

Cobden said that she didn’t think any student already in the program should lose services.

Camely Machado, Manager of Non-Instructional Student Services said this was the first year that students were picked up from that program at that time and it was done this year as a trial run.

“It was introduced to us as a pilot,” said Machado.

Machado said that the main concern is that due to budget cuts they wouldn’t be able to provide a bus at that time.

“Were asked to cut and were asked to make those tough sacrifices,” said Machado.

Cobden said that she was happy that the Extended School Year program was able to be funded through grant funding. The program was subject to public outcry after there was discussion of the program not being able to be funded in its entirety earlier this year.

Machado pointed out that the transportation costs for the program weren’t able to be covered by grants and is part of the transportation budget.



What's next

Testa pointed out that it is expected that many people will want to speak on the budget yet on Tuesday public comment wasn’t on the agenda.

For that reason and because typically there are more than two budget hearings scheduled, he said  there should be a second meeting scheduled next week. While the rest of the School Committee agreed, a date wasn’t set because the topic wasn’t on the agenda.

On Tuesday Picozzi said he is set to meet with Dambruch on Friday.







schools, funding


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