WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — Charging students to ride to the school bus, eliminating bus monitors, and stopping debt payments are just some of the many cuts the Warwick School Committee wants to make for the upcoming school year.

After receiving $6 million less than hoped for from the Warwick City Council, the committee announced massive cuts at a school board meeting last week.

In an audio recording of the meeting, committee members were heard crying at some points after listening to what would need to removed from the budget. Superintendent Phillip Thornton, who was unavailable for an interview Tuesday, said the cuts were awful.

The committee is required by state law to balance the budget but some of the cuts need to be approved by the Rhode Island Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (RIDE). In a letter obtained by Eyewitness News, the committee asked RIDE to charge parents $1 a day for their child to ride a bus. That change is expected to bring in $954,000 each year. (See the full text of the letter below.)

Warwick Mayor Joseph Solomon started the year as council president. He said he felt badly the council only provided $1 million of the $8 million the school committee requested but said, “it’s not how much money you have, but how wisely you spend it.”

Solomon disagreed with the committee’s request to charge parents for school bus rides.

“It’s kind of disheartening to me,” he said, “especially since it was a multi-million dollar school bus contract that didn’t go out to bid. Maybe if it went out to bid they could have saved a million or two.”

The letter to RIDE also requests charging parents for sports and eliminating school bus monitors. In total, the cuts would come to $6 million.

At the meeting, members called the cuts “Draconian” but unanimously passed the budget. No committee member returned calls from Eyewitness News on Tuesday.

RIDE now has 15 days to respond to the Warwick School Committee on their proposed cuts.

Below is the full text of the letter to RIDE:

July 17, 2018

Dr. Kenneth Wagner, Commissioner

Rhode Island Department of Elementary and Secondary Education

Shepard Building

255 Westminster St.

Providence, RI 02903

Re: Waiver Requests

Dear Dr. Wagner:

On April 18, 2018, by a vote of 4-1, the Warwick School Committee (“School Committee”) adopted a balanced FY 2018-2019 Budget of $171,419,358. Within this adopted budget, Warwick Schools has absorbed a <$1,626,513> reduction in state aid for education.

On June 2, 2018, by a vote of 8-0, the Warwick City Council approved a total school budget of $164,774,145. Within this budget the City’s maintenance of effort (MOE) appropriation is $123,982,464. This MOE appropriation is exactly $14,396 higher than Warwick School’s MOE appropriation from Fy2010.

The School Committee has been advised by the School department’s Chief Financial Officer that the School Department cannot adequately operate the School District within the approved City Council budget and be in compliance with existing law. As of the date of this letter, the projected fiscal deficit for the 2018-2019 fiscal year is $6,645,213.

The School Committee has balanced the budget with the City’s approved appropriation. Included in the reductions approved by the School Committee are items that would require your approval as waivers. Consequently, the School Committee is hereby requesting alternatives and/or waivers from you that would reduce the projected deficit. These requests are being made pursuant to R.I.G.L. 16-2-21.4.

The School Committee requests your consideration of the following alternatives and waivers:

Charging for Busing

School transportation accounts for a little over $10,000,000 annually. Costs continue to escalate with contractual and fuel increases. Following the models set forth in the neighboring state Massachusetts, the Warwick School District seeks the authority to charge $1.00 a day for transportation costs per each student. Putting this in place in the district would raise approximately $954,000 each year.

Charging for Sports

School sports at the middle and high school levels has a yearly cost of $850,000 for the Warwick School District. Following the models set forth in the neighboring state Massachusetts, the Warwick School District seeks the authority to charge for middle and high school sports. Based on preliminary reviews, Warwick Schools would be seeking to create a fee structure that provides a sliding scale based on ability to pay and a cap based on the number of students from one family and number of sports played by the student. The fees would be based on the cost of the sport. We would be attempting to fund 50% of the annual athletic budget thereby increasing revenue by $425,000 each year.

Elimination of School Bus Monitors

School bus monitors on all school buses is a unique circumstance to Rhode Island school districts. Other school districts around the nation do not staff monitors to the same level as Rhode Island, and yet, do not have any higher incidence of student safety issues. The elimination of school bus monitors on specified bus routes is projected to save $275,000 each school year in Warwick.

Elimination of Payment for Private School Books

Each year the Warwick School District pays $40,000 for textbooks for students not attending schools in the District. Warwick is asking relief from this requirement. The savings from this requirement would be $40,000 each year.

Elimination of Payments for Student Pathway Programs

Over the last several years RIDE has changed positions with regard to Career and Technical school regulations/student choice as they pertain to student placement in various programs or pathways. What was a prescribed system of catchment areas for districts and the respective students, has turned into a public school voucher system with no external accountability system.

Warwick Schools is budgeting 17 students attending neighboring North Kingstown and 13 students attending Foster Glocester for programs that are already run in Warwick Schools. The lure of a more desirable zip code or the promise of joining a particular sports team is often the attraction for these moves.

Districts have asked RIDE to create a metric by which all schools with a particular pathway can be measured, the argument being; should a sending school district have a comparable program in district, in scope and quality, they would not be obligated to pay an out of district tuition.

To date we have no accountability system to regulate student choice where districts have identical programs, thus, districts are forced to pay increasing tuition rates to outplaced students.

Pathway tuitions to other school districts is budgeted at $515,494 in FY 18-19. The district is budgeting transportation costs totaling $175,000. The district seeks the ability to retain students in district where the same program is offered. Doing so will provide Warwick Public Schools a total savings of $690,494 for the 2018-2019 school year.

Elimination of Payments for Charter Schools

Payments to charter schools from Warwick has risen from $170,000 in FY 2009-2010 to a budget of $1,287,900 in FY 2018-2019. In addition to the tuition cost to the district, Warwick Schools loses state aid to charter schools for these students. Warwick is seeking financial relief from this mandate, the combined relief would provide $1,698,530 for the 2018-2019 school year.

Elimination of Transportation Costs for DCYF Placed Students

Previously districts were compensated for DCYF students placed in district through payments made to group homes for each bed in the community the child would reside/attend school. This year, new practices have been implemented whereby Warwick Schools is now paying for DCYF students transportation to various schools throughout the state. Warwick is seeking financial relief from this mandate, which would save the district $120,000 for the 2018-2019 school year.

Elimination of District Payment for School Building Debt Service

Warwick is one of very few systems currently paying debt service. Starting in 2010, the Warwick School Department has been compelled by the City of Warwick to pay the principal and interest payments on city owned buildings. Current year cost is $1.6 million dollars and slated to rise to $1,750,000 in FY 18-19.

Total Fiscal Relief From Above Areas: $5,953,024

Thank you for your consideration of the above waivers. In your review of these requests, we ask that you notify us if you or your staff identify any other areas in which a waiver may be requested or if you have any suggestions as to additional cost-saving measures that we may implement immediately.

We look forward to your response. Thank you.

Philip Thornton, Ed.D.                                            Bethany Furtado

Superintendent, Warwick Schools                 Chair, Warwick School Committee