Warwick Dips into Reserves, Cuts School Budget
The Warwick City Council approved a $267 million budget and avoided raising car taxes (as proposed by Mayor Avedisian) by dipping into reserves to the tune of $2.7 million to offset city-side cuts. They also basically agreed with Mayor Avedisian’s budget proposal and funded schools at 95% of last year ($117.7 million), which was $9 million less than the school department requested ($126 million). In the past, municipalities could not fund schools at a level less than the previous year, but the 95% level of funding for schools is allowable thanks to a new state law passed this year by the General Assembly.
The City Council also followed Mayor Avedisian’s lead over the objections of the School Commitee and Administration and decided to sequester an earmarked $850,000 for funding school sports and activities. Based on information provided by the city, the Rhode Island Interscholastic League had no problem with the city funding the sports instead of the school department. I expect there will still be some contention regarding this money.
The end result is that the Warwick School Committee has little choice but to renegotiate the contract with the Warwick Teacher’s Union and to come to a contract agreement with the Warwick Independent School Employees Union, who’s contract expired in 2006. Based on looking at the numbers, the only way to achieve savings will be to increase the healthcare co-pay and to remove raises for the next fiscal year. The School Committee meets on Thursday at the School Administration Building to formally begin dealing with their downsized budget.
Overall, as research by the Warwick Tea Party shows, the city managed to foist off most of the reduction in state funding back onto the schools. Thus has been written yet another chapter in the ongoing contentious saga between the city and school department. Because there appear to be few options, as explained above, I suspect that at the conclusion of negotiations, the school employees–both unionized and non–will be paying more into their health care than their city-employed counterparts and that they will not be receiving raises (outside of the regular step increases, of course!) this year, unlike their city employed counterparts.
These are the common sense savings that Warwick taxpayers demanded, but they expected the city to do its part, too. For while it’s true that the city did renegotiate contracts over the last year or two (as did the school department), those savings consisted of short-term reductions that would be made up in future years or reductions of previously promised increases. Additionally, it is plainly obvious that those renegotiated contracts still fall short given the current economic climate: things have gotten worse and what looked like “serious concessions” back then to some don’t really even pass muster when compared to the private sector realities (if the ever really did). There is still plenty of room to cut. The City Council recognized that to be the case on the school side of things. It’s too bad they didn’t look in the mirror.