According to the revised 2014 school budget approved last week by the School Committee, the school department could end the year with a $1.7 million surplus.
Chief Budget Officer Anthony Ferrucci said total revenue is projected to increase by $2,078,664, while total expenses are projected to increase by $343,772, bringing total revenues and expenses to $161,503,831 and $159,768,939, respectively, as of March 11, resulting in a projected surplus of $1,734,892.
Rather than carry that surplus over to next year’s budget for reoccurring operating expenses, as has been the practice with previous surpluses the last couple of years, Ferrucci recommended the surplus be earmarked for non-reoccurring capital investments, such as the Veterans Memorial High School roof repair.
The committee agreed.
“While the projected surplus is good news, especially given the fiscal conditions of many other school districts in the state, we must continue to recognize that the current operating budget is still reliant on $2.4 million of carryover [$4.1 million less the $1.7 million surplus] from fiscal year 2013,” he said. “This structural deficit is an issue the administration is keenly aware of and has been actively attempting to address over the past two years.”
Ferrucci explained that funds for the Vets roof repair had initially been included in a bond resolution request for capital improvements but had to be removed when it became apparent Gorton and Aldrich junior high schools would require fire upgrades following the School Committee’s decision to table the recommendation to close the schools as part of a consolidation effort to move the students into a re-purposed super junior high at the Vets building, with Vets students being dispersed between Pilgrim and Toll Gate high schools. Ferrucci put the cost of repairing the Vets roof at $2,381,562.
“The reason [the] Vets roof was originally included is based on the NEASC report that Vets High School may lose its accreditation due to the condition of the building, most notably the impact of roof leaks within the building. This condition still exists,” he said.
Committee member Jennifer Ahearn asked what would happen if Vets were to lose its accreditation.
“Colleges look for accreditation, and without that seal, there would be a dramatic impact on students,” Ferrucci said.
If the projected $1.7 million surplus was earmarked for the Vets roof repair, Ferrucci said it would leave a balance of $646,670 to make up, which he said “will be funded either through additional surplus accruing during fiscal year 2014 and/or through funds remaining from the two bond issues addressing fire code.”
In arriving at the projected $1.7 million year-end surplus, Ferrucci said there are three positive items impacting the July 16th adopted revised budget, which include a $1,882,325 increase in carryover funds from 2013 based on audit results; a $119,774 increase in carryover of state restricted set aside funds; and a $72,147 increase in state aid due to reimbursements for targeted special education high cost expenses as identified by the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE).
In the area of expenses, while the department saw increases in some areas, it was able to achieve savings in others, resulting in only a $343,772 increase.
The biggest savings came in the salary line item, a total of $1,346,048. The two biggest contributing factors included savings of $514,000 due to staff cuts and breakage, or replacing retiring staff with less senior staff at reduced salaries, and $915,000 in savings in professional development stipends and substitutes as a result of participation in those activities falling far short of what was expected when the budget was first crafted.
The largest increase under expenses was a 50 percent increase in capital equipment and other non-reoccurring spending at $1,002,371. This is largely due to summer building projects approved at the Feb. 11 School Committee meeting, including HVAC work at Lippitt Elementary School, among a list of other needed items at various buildings, ranging from windows to boilers to roofs, the total cost of which comes in at $882,150.
An additional $114,142 is needed for realignment to equipment and technology for Partnership for Assessment and Readiness for College and Career (PARCC) test preparation and district wireless initiatives.
In other committee action, the addition of a central registration clerk position was approved 3-1, with Karen Bachus abstaining.
Rosemary Healey, director of human resources and legal counsel for the school committee, said the position was needed in order to ensure accurate data and records are being handled in a consistent manner for the safety of students.
“If our data isn’t accurate, we run the risk of losing sufficient RIDE funding,” she said.
The position would be a full-time position of 35 hours per week, 52 weeks per year and salary would range between $31,000 and $38,000.
Ahearn wondered if building secretaries could handle the responsibility, but Healey said that doesn’t work.
“We have 24 people entering data differently. It’s not being done on a timely basis or clean manner,” she said. “The secretaries are entering the data when their time allows, which isn’t fast enough for when we need it. All other districts we spoke to have gone to a central registration process.”
Bachus said she didn’t know what to believe and what not to believe from the current administration.
“We cut librarians, cut 30 teachers next year and created a fellowship coordinator position at $130,000, which I don’t feel is helpful to kids,” she said. “I think teachers and librarians are important for kids and not a fellowship coordinator. I want us all to get on the same page for the kids.”
In other committee news, assistant director of curriculum Dr. Anne Siesel’s report on after-school teacher training opportunities and workshops that started being offered in December sparked debate when it was revealed that many teachers weren’t showing up to the workshops despite signing up for them.
“Starting in December, we offered a number of teacher workshops,” Siesel said, which focused on the STARR assessment program, the Aspen computer program and differentiated instruction, among other areas. “All workshops were held after school and teachers that showed up received a stipend. We had 30 to 35 people sign up, with very low numbers actually attending.”
As an example, Siesel said one workshop had 26 teachers signed up to attend but only two showed up.
This revelation caused committee members to question whether the workshops and trainings should be offered if teachers weren’t going to take advantage of them, especially since, according to Siesel, the workshops were a result feedback from teachers requesting help in certain areas.
“If we’re offering teachers an opportunity to learn something and they’re wasting it, maybe we shouldn’t offer it,” Bachus said.
Committee member Eugene Nadeau said it was disrespectful to sign up and then not show up and asked whether any of the teachers that didn’t show up provided any reasons as to why.
Siesel said many teachers did provide reasons for their absence, some of which included having prior commitments, but she also said some teachers said they were told by the Warwick Teachers Union (WTU) not to attend.
“We’re doing this for the benefit of the students in the Warwick School System, but this borders on disgrace. All the effort gone into it is not worth it if we’re getting these [attendance] percentages,” he said. “It’s disappointing to me to see these figures. I wish it were different.”
Committee member Terri Medeiros took a different tact, saying those that did show up should be commended.
“I think of the workshops as similar to an open house, where some parents will show up and others won’t,” she said. “If two people go, they should be commended for attending. There’s a massive weight on teachers with mandates and laws … it’s daunting.”
Nadeau said it’s a case of doing to teachers versus doing for teachers.
“Mandates interrupt instruction to teachers,” he said. “Instructional development is what we’re doing for the teachers.”
The proceedings got even more contentious when WTU President Jim Ginolfi walked up to the microphone at the front of the auditorium in an effort to address what he termed as “an accusation by an administrator against the union” but was denied the opportunity to speak by committee chairwoman Beth Furtado, who said Ginolfi could speak during the public comment portion of the meeting later and that now was not the time to address it. After raised voices and some arguing back and forth, Ginolfi returned to his seat and waited until public comment.
“Unfortunately, a personally insulting accusation was made by an administrator under a new business item,” Ginolfi said during public comment. “I can’t get to the matter at hand in two minutes [time allowed to speak per person], but I extend an invitation to the School Committee to call me to discuss the matter. The union supports professional development if it’s done properly and offered to everyone.”
Darlene Netcoh, English teacher at Toll Gate and a regular attendee of school committee meetings, said because the workshops were offered after school on a voluntary basis doesn’t offer each union member an opportunity to attend, as people may have other commitments they need to attend to.
“The teachers are given a website to look at or asked to attend after school; that’s disrespectful,” she said. “Clerks and building officials are pulled out during the day to train for Aspen, but it’s different for teachers.”
According to a posted bulletin for WTU members, Siesel sent out a memo dated Nov. 22, 2013 “regarding workshops that are being offered to teachers after school as part of a Professional Development Academy.”
The bulletin goes on to say no agreement exists between the WTU and the School Committee establishing a Professional Development Academy, nor has the School Committee or Siesel notified the union of the establishment of such an academy.
“In addition, some of the workshops being offered are matters that are currently in litigation before the Rhode Island State Labor Relations Board or are subject to our ongoing discussions regarding RTI [Response To Intervention],” the bulletin states. “It is the position of the Warwick Teachers’ Union that our members will not participate in these workshops until an agreement has been reached.”