By ALEX MALM
Prior to releasing his budget, Mayor Frank Picozzi said he was prepared to increase the school allocation, but not give them the additional $5 million the School Committee was asking …
By ALEX MALM
Prior to releasing his budget, Mayor Frank Picozzi said he was prepared to increase the school allocation, but not give them the additional $5 million the School Committee was asking for. Then when the mayor's budget was published in a legal advertisement in last Thursday's Beacon, the city's allocation to schools reflected a $4.8 million increase for a total of $134.9 million of the school's $178.7 million budget.
What changed the mayor's mind?
From the start, the mayor told Superintendent Lynn Dambruch to squeeze out as much one time costs out of her budget that the city could fund through American Rescue Plan Act money without creating a structural deficit in the next fiscal year. The department came up with $1.2 million consisting largely of a math interventionist program, a reading curriculum program, and promethean boards. That cut the additional money coming from Warwick taxpayers to $3.6 million.
But Picozzi is hopeful of reducing that number by another $2 million to provide Warwick taxpayers additional relief without cutting the overall school budget.
During a budget briefing Monday with City Finance Director Peder Schaefer, the mayor disclosed an agreement with Dambruch that should the state increase aid to schools, the additional money would flow to the city thereby further reducing the city's allocation to schools. Picozzi has no commitments that the state will increase school aid or that state legislators or the governor will intervene to make that happen. Picozzi thinks a $2 million increase in state aid to Warwick schools is a reasonable expectation.
If he's right, Warwick taxpayers would be looking at an added $2.8 million for schools - a $ 2 million cut from what is in Picozzi's budget.
Picozzi spells out the plan in his budget message.
“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. 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.”
In a text message on Monday Assistant Superintendent Bill McCaffrey said, “We have no indication whether or not we will be seeing an increase in state aid at this time.”
“Preliminary numbers suggest we will be receiving the same as last year,” said McCaffrey.
Council President Steve McAllister supports the agreement.
“I think that's a good agreement,” said McAllister. “If more state aid comes, which I am hopeful that it will, that will offset as much as the city has to give and that can come back to the city and we can reallocate it or save it for a rainy day.”
The issue of additional state aid coming to the city after the Council approves the budget has been raised before in Warwick.
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.
Essentially the City Council approved a budget that included $854,007 in state aid. It was the “School Committee’s historical practice of omitting literacy set-aside revenue and expenditures from its budget,” according to the decision. The total amount requested including state aid 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.”
In the decision which was approved by the Commissioner of Education Peter McWalters it 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.”
Schaefer argues the $178.7 million school budget is "conservative." He notes that the Picozzi’s budget calls for a 2.8 percent increase in local aid.
McAllister on Tuesday said that he supported the city using the ARPA funds to fund part of the school budget because of what is being proposed to spend the funds on and that it is going to be spent on one time expenses.
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