Why Warwick can’t afford new schools

Posted 6/22/22

To the Editor,

After paying very close attention to all of the presentations relative to the construction of two new high schools in the city, and after obtaining all of the official documents …

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Why Warwick can’t afford new schools


To the Editor,

After paying very close attention to all of the presentations relative to the construction of two new high schools in the city, and after obtaining all of the official documents from the school department on the application process and cost projections, combined with the fiscal notes furnished by the City of Warwick, it is abundantly clear that this city is in no way financially capable of building two new schools.   The math is fairly simple and available to any taxpayer.  The caveat is that you actually have to read the documents and do the math for yourself.  Here are my findings.

On Feb. 7, 2022 the Warwick City Council approved the Warwick School Dept. Stage 2 application to move to the Rhode Island Dept. of Education for the approval of the bond.  As of Feb.7th, the application was not even complete, and no members of the council had seen it in its entirety.  The application was not complete until Feb. 15th, yet the mayor approved it on Feb. 11th according to the official city documents.  Problem number 1 in my opinion.

In the first week of March, through the APRA process, I received a thumb drive from the school department with the completed stage 2 application.  All 2000+ pages.  Bob Cushman and I took several days and reviewed the entire application.  I in turn, contacted RIDE to discuss a number of questions that I had developed after the review of the application.

Starting at the zoom city council meeting of Feb. 7th , I noted several errors in information that was relayed to the public that I take issue with that I will explain.

The first issue was noted when the city finance director explained to the council that the school project was estimated at a cost of 350 million dollars but since it was estimated that the state would reimburse approximately 150 million dollars that the city would have to go to bond for only 200 million.  This was incorrect as the city is responsible to bond the entire amount of the project and then receive annual payments from RIDE.

Next, after the review of the application in part “04 Pilgrim”, page 5 shows the total cost of the two schools at 350 million, yet on page 6 the amortization schedule shows the cost break down based on a 300 million dollar project.  Just a minor 50 million dollar error.  The schedule shows the total debt service to the city at 450 million with a reimbursement of 157 million leaving the taxpayers with a 292 million dollar debt on the project.  However, these numbers are off by the 50 million dollar error and the associated debt service on that 50 million.  So in fact, when the error is corrected on the schedule, the net cost to the taxpayer after the state reimbursement is in excess of 365 million dollars.  Just a minor math error on public documents made by your city officials. 

Projects running over budget

It is also important to bear in mind that those numbers are the “best case scenario numbers” as put forth on official city documents.  Currently, projects of this magnitude are running as much as 20 % over budget.  I also found that the commodities costs were grossly underpriced.

Other disturbing issues such as the demographic study which shows the Warwick enrollment continuing to decline up to and including 2042 begs the question why we need larger schools than we already have, but let that go.

We constantly hear from the school department and from the city that the construction of the schools needs to be a “shared sacrifice”.  We are told that the teachers are in dire need of new buildings as the learning environment improves with new state of the art buildings.  So because this is a “required shared sacrifice” I made another APRA request asking for the breakdown of where all employees of the school department (teachers, admin, and all staff) currently reside.  The startling information that I received back indicates that 67% of all staff of the Warwick School Department live outside of the city of Warwick.  1288 live outside, 614 live within the city.  So in other words, two thirds of the employees don’t live in Warwick, don’t pay taxes in Warwick, don’t send their children to Warwick schools and will suffer no impact of property tax increases due to the school construction project costs.  Is this a shared sacrifice?  Let’s face it, approximately 80% of the entire school budget is allocated to salaries and benefits.  The above information has not all been readily available to the public which I think it should be seeing as the council has determined to have the taxpayers vote on the construction project.  But there is also other important information that should be shared.

Earlier this year the Warwick School Dept. hired the financial consultant Barton Gilman to review the schools fiscal status.  In addition to the statement made by their own consultant that the department was “A FINANCIAL TRAINWRECK”, other information was brought up that the taxpayers should be aware of.  For example, the report indicated that the Warwick Teachers Union is the highest paid in the state and that if in fact they were paid “on par” with the rest of the state (a small pay cut) the city would realize a savings of 20 million dollars.  In addition, if the union paid 20% co-pay for healthcare the city would realize another 1 million in savings.  The consultant goes on to state that the luxurious benefits and salaries that the Warwick School Dept. employees enjoy is unlike any other district.  Please go to the following link to review the presentation.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OH32bEMLG18

Only weeks later did 3 of 5 members of the school committee, having just heard the words “financial trainwreck”, vote to give another $8 million in raises.  The employees of the city just cannot have it both ways.  Continuous annual raises, longevity, the best healthcare plans, and now new buildings that the average taxpayer simply cannot afford.

Put it to a teacher vote

 found these issues to be disturbing because in fact, this is not a shared sacrifice.  I do however, have an answer for this debacle.  Since the annual debt payment for the school construction project is indicated on the official documents as 22.5 million dollars, let’s put this idea to a vote.  The unions agree to take a modest pay cut of say 10% and increase the healthcare copay by 2%.  Put that to a vote.  Not to the residents, but to the school department employees.  If they agree, we build the schools, if not, no new schools.  My guess is that it would be shot down in a second.  Even better, let’s have a few of Warwick’s math teachers that live in Warwick, look at the amortization schedule, the city budget and our current debt, and tell us how to make the payments.

The fact of the matter is that the residents of Warwick are in this predicament due to reckless spending that has taken place for decades.  The city council has been a historic failure to the residents as they have never had the foresight to look at the future cost ramifications to the city and its ability to maintain infrastructure.  They have been corrupted by union favoritism, there are countless examples of the overwhelming majority of council members over the years not being able to answer financial questions, and they have been complicit in giving away the store.  The urban decay in the city is rampant, and for anyone to think that just because we build new schools, people will move to Warwick, is pure fantasy.  Not withstanding the horrible proficiency levels that the city has had for years.

In my opinion, having the ability to perform simple math, read city documents, and having been involve in dozens of school construction projects from the elementary to university level, this proposed project will be catastrophic to this community and put us into receivership rapidly.  I don’t think that the seniors on fixed incomes would welcome this, nor do I believe for a moment that this tax structure would be a lure to potential new residents.

Rob Cote


letters, editorial


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