Schools, council head for budget showdown


It could not be determined yesterday whether the School Committee intends to amend the budget it requested of the mayor before coming to the City Council next Tuesday.

But unless there are some dramatic changes in the request, the committee is certain to meet some less than friendly comment.

Warwick City Council President Donna Travis described herself as being “livid” with the School Committee’s request for an additional $3.8 million in city funding.

“I see it [the department] as so top-heavy,” she said yesterday. “I don’t understand why they can’t do some consolidation.” Travis claimed members of the school administrative staff “have assistants to assistants.”

Further, she noted that the committee gave raises to the teachers, non-teachers and administrators while other city unions agreed to three-year contracts that froze wages.

“They found the money in their surplus and gave them a raise,” she said.

The committee will be before the council next Tuesday for the first of three scheduled hearings on Mayor Scott Avedisian’s $283 million budget. Of that amount, $156.7 million is earmarked for schools, with $118.6 million funded by the city.

The overall budget is an increase of $3.6 million from the current fiscal year, with most of increased payments to the city’s pension plans.

Last week Avedisian said he held discussions with committee chair Bethany Furtado and Superintendent Richard D’Agostino during his budget deliberations and that they assured him schools could manage with level city funding.

In his budget message, he writes, “I believe that this funding is adequate for the School Department to meet its Basic Education Program and any other obligations the system is committed to, especially in light of continued decline in enrollment.”

He goes on to say he believes the School Department has opportunities for savings, which he doesn’t name, that “should be re-invested into the school system to provide quality education for our children.”

Calls were made to School Committee members yesterday with

Terri Medeiros reporting that, as of that point, no decision had been made whether to amend their budget request.

D’Agostino could not be reached on the question of what areas of the budget would be considered for cuts should the committee choose to amend the spending package, or the council deny appeals for additional funding.

In preparing its budget, the School Department included the continued operation of Gorton Junior High School. Closing the school and sending students to Winman and Aldrich would have saved an estimated $1.1 million in annual operating costs. Last week, however, the committee voted to reject the recommendation to close the school, favoring an analysis of the full system and development of a long-range plan looking at declining enrollment, state mandates and how the department would respond if required to provide all-day kindergarten.

Travis argued to keep Gorton open.

She said yesterday she believed the department could balance its budget without closing Gorton. Her suggestion is for the committee to make cuts from the school administration.

“They just keep inflating their pay checks,” she said angrily. “I think everyone has had it with them.”

Travis said she wouldn’t be holding back on her criticisms of the department and that she expects the committee will resort to threats of cutting athletics and other programs with high levels of public support in their effort to increase the mayor’s budget.

“I think they’re going to play that game,” she said.

Travis said a majority of the council feels as she does and she would be surprised of any support to give schools additional funds.

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