The stage is set for one of the most difficult budget seasons in recent school department history, according to school finance director Anthony Ferrucci, who gave a brief introduction into the revised FY 2019 budget during Tuesday night’s meeting of the Warwick School Committee.
While a more in-depth look at the budget will be presented at a specific budget hearing tonight at Warwick Veterans Middle School, Ferrucci unveiled the main bullet points, which includes a total revised budget for FY19 of $170,749,358.
“This budget is going to be one of the most challenging budgets that the school committee has faced in my tenure here in the last seven to eight years and probably in the last 10 years,” Ferrucci said. “There’s lots and lots of variables that are going to make it difficult to analyze the budget and difficult to digest.”
Those variables include various items that will impact next year’s expenses, most notoriously the approximately $4.5 million that will be necessary to fund the salary increases and contractual step increases for teachers following the signing of the new collective bargaining agreements reached towards the end of 2017.
The city is also scheduled to lose more than $1 million in state aid due to the funding formula reduction of 2 percent (from 40.5 to 38.5) and declining enrollment, which Superintendent Philip Thornton said on Tuesday night has declined about 10 percent from 2010 (from about 9,750 in 2010 to 8,750 projected next year).
Ferrucci also warned that the district should not expect any amount of significant surplus at the end of FY18, due to three significant school maintenance issues that had to be addressed, which include two fire alarm system replacements at elementary schools and the installation of a sewer line at Warwick Vets. He estimated the district would be fortunate to see a $100,000 surplus, whereas they had enjoyed surpluses above between $1 and $2 million, which could be reinvested, in recent years.
School Committee member Eugene Nadeau also took issue with the fact that the school department continues to have to carve out about $1.8 million (around 1 percent) of its budget to pay for debt service on a bond that was issued in 2006 – something he called “an outrage.”
The bottom line is that the city will be asking for an additional $6,900,526 over last year when they go before the City Council later this spring, which amounts to an increase of 5.63 percent, for a total of about $129 million in contributions from the city. The school department has actually received about one percent less in contribution from the city in FY18 than it did in FY10, according to Thornton.
The school committee insists it has done due diligence to reduce costs, as Thornton pointed to the closing of schools and consolidation of others, in addition to salaries decreasing from 2010 to this year – although that could be argued was to be expected due to the cutting of teaching positions that has occurred.
“The district has closed doors to help reduce its costs,” said School Committee member David Testa, who urged more people to show up to budget hearings and become more engaged in the public process. “Being level funded is like putting a frog in a pot of water and turning on the heat…We closed them but your costs still go up, and you’re not cutting pay in salaries or benefits.”
Of the more than $170 million proposed budget, over 90 percent of that would go to salaries and benefits (approximately 80 percent) and costs associated with out of district students (approximately 10.5 percent).