Warren balks at $54 million school funding plan

Warren Joint Finance Committee members (from left) Scott Lial, Chris Stanley and David Frerichs, ponder the school budget at last Thursday night's meeting. Warren Joint Finance Committee members (from left) Scott Lial, Chris Stanley and David Frerichs, ponder the school budget at last Thursday night's meeting.

Warren Joint Finance Committee members (from left) Scott Lial, Chris Stanley and David Frerichs, ponder the school budget at last Thursday night's meeting.

Warren Joint Finance Committee members (from left) Scott Lial, Chris Stanley and David Frerichs, ponder the school budget at last Thursday night’s meeting.

The Joint Finance Committee narrowly approved a $54.28 million budget for the coming school year, a move that was less than the Bristol Warren Regional School District asked for, and much more than Warren officials say the town can afford.

In the 5-4 vote, Bristol JFC representative Mary Parella joined the Warren contingency in its unanimous vote against the 2.65 percent budget increase. Warren, struggling to find enough money to cover municipal expenses, intends to level fund the schools just as it did last year; a move that is still being contested in court.

For nearly an hour before the first motion on the budget was made, members of the JFC debated the validity of Warren’s claim that the money from the state’s funding formula to the regionalized school district has been incorrectly calculated since the Department of Education revised the state aid formula in 2011.

As a result, Warren contests that aid should be awarded to the individual towns based on the number of students from each, as opposed to the money going into the district budget and divided out proportionately along with other funds.

For Warren, the method used would result in a $2 million gain or loss in the town’s budget for the coming year.

“We’re talking about our right to exist as a community,” said Warren JFC member and Town Council President Christopher Stanley.

“We don’t want to secede from the district, we want you to follow the law.”

Ms. Parella, who sat alongside Warren’s JFC members at the March 27 meeting at Mt. Hope High School, said she recognized Warren’s financial struggles, but said they aren’t the result of the town having to share in funding the regionalized school department.

“Your town government’s issue has to be addressed at another level,” she said. “The burden shouldn’t be on Bristol to help solve the problem.”

After listening to the back-and-forth between JFC members, Brian Chidester, a teacher at Mt. Hope High School and Bristol resident, stood at the podium for public comment. Understanding that the issue of funding the budget wasn’t going to be resolved at that meeting, he attempted to share the issue from a different perspective.

“This is a crisis that the state put us in,” Mr. Chidester said.

While he considers Warren’s funding points a “weak argument,” he said continued school budget cuts have led to equipment and staffing problems at the high school.

“These are the effects of the cuts already,” he said.

Bristol resident Linda Rimoshytus recently moved from Warren and has heard the cost-sharing arguments before.
“We chose to go down this road,” she said of the decision to regionalize the two school districts. “There’s no need to nit-pick. As long as we’re married as a district, we need to act as one.”

Nina Murphy, also of Bristol, agreed that when it comes to the school district, the two towns cannot be divided.
“I’ve worked in the district for eight years and never looked at a child as being from Bristol or Warren. We’re all one community,” she said.
Ms. Murphy criticized Warren’s members for waiting to present their interpretation of the funding formula until budget discussions were underway.

“To throw this at us at this point in time, that’s irresponsible,” she said.

After pitching the “reasonable budget” to the JFC based on the districts success in having a 92 percent graduation rate and scoring second in the state in NECAP scores, school committee chairman Paul Silva asked the members of the JFC to support the “reasonable budget” to “at least show some interest in what’s being done in the community.”

“This district has been a model in the state,” Mr. Silva said.

However, the budget as proposed did not reach a vote. Also failing to pass were Halsey Herreshoff’s proposal of a 3.5 percent increase; Ms. Parella’s proposed 2.25 percent increase; Edward Stuart’s proposed 2.75 percent increase; and Timothy Sweeney’s proposed 2.5 percent increase.

Upon hearing those failed motions, Mr. Herreshoff made a motion for a 2.65 percent increase in the school district budget. The total authorization on his proposal was calculated to be $54,279,653. With that, Bristol will bear 61.92 percent of the cost based on enrollment, or $21,431,858. Warren’s 38.08 percent share equals $13,182,615.

The motion passed 5-4 with the support of Mr. Sweeney, Tony Teixeira, Mr. Herreshoff, Mr. Stuart and JFC chairman Nathan Calouro. Ms. Parella, as well as Warren representatives Scott Lial, Mr. Stanley and David Frerich, opposed.

Another lawsuit
Upon passage of the budget, Mr. Stanley said he expects that Warren will again level fund the budget as they did last year. Otherwise, he said, the town would exceed the 4 percent tax levy cap.
As for the argument whether the funding formula is being applied correctly, he said the town plans to go back to court for a decision on that.

“We’ll file in tomorrow morning,” he said.
Also disappointed in the budget was superintendent of schools Melinda Thies. The difference of $455,000 will need to be absorbed by the school district, she said.

After struggling to keep programs in place ever since the state took away a significant amount of funding in 2011, Ms. Thies said that students now may be directly affected due to the cuts, with afterschool transportation, extended day programs, middle school athletics and intervention support programs all areas of potential cuts.

“We’ve already cut (the equivalent of) 8.2 positions,” Ms. Thies said. “There’s no wiggle room in the budget. This is my tipping point.”

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13 Comments

  1. DownTown said:

    Bristol is going to lose this in Court because Warren is being used to subsidize Bristol’s share of the regional system’s funding according to the new State funding formula which by the way takes away about $800,000 a year in State funding EVERY year till BW has lot about $8,000,000 million a YEAR cumulatively. This process has about 7 years left.

    The basis for the funding formula is the number of students that qualify for meal subsidy and the property values in the town. Warren qualifies for more subsidies than Bristol does.

    The BW school system used the regional school bonus money as a permanent arrangement and it looked that way because the State locked into the school funding the way it was – because they couldn’t agree on a formula. They finally did and Christmas, folks, is over here.

    Meanwhile that SAME formula shows Central Falls as capable of paying nearly $12 million a year towards their own schools. They have not paid a penny since 1991. They only raised property taxes by 3.2% over 20 years while the rest of the State on average raised property taxes by 133.6%. This year they have a $1.7 million surplus and guess what they won’t pay a penny for the schools there. When the receiver was in charge they raised property taxes one time by 22% BUT they dramatically lowered the property values so still they didn’t raise taxes in reality. So when your taxes go up they are going up in some part due to Central Falls not paying anywhere near their fair share.

    Ever see an evaluation here LOWER your property value?

    I’ve been posting all of that here and on Patch for several years now.

    I have also posted that the America’s Cup Hall of Fame is a tax scam that drains about $70,000 a year from the town because the commercial rental property that is in the ACHoF name is considered tax free. Over $7 million in tax free property that could be bringing in some badly needed cash for the town.

    Ever see a line outside that building? How does Bristol benefit from losing $70k a year? When the America’s Cup has a Hall of Fame induction that is held at the NY Yacht Club. When the Cup makes its round it is shown in Newport not Bristol. There are dozens and dozens of homes in town that are forced to spend more money on upkeep through the HDC but since they aren’t ‘museum’s’ they pay taxes. Maybe you need to be on the Town Council to become tax free.

    Roger Williams U does not pay a single Penny to the town. In fact it appears the ratepayers paid for an upgraded pipe on Ferry road from several years ago and ratepayers are on the hook for any maintenance for that water tower till the end of time.

    RWU throws an empty chair into a classroom lets a Bristol kid sit in it and somehow the town not getting a penny for Police and Fire is satisfied?

  2. terrific6 said:

    it’s time to look at how the school system works, from supplies to tenured teachers to pensions. the business model that is used nationally is a failed model. why is it that my property taxes keep going up to fund a failed system when i don’t use this system? why do i have to educate your children, feed them, transport them, and then fund their sporting activities? you decided to have children, you provide for them and keep your hands out of my pockets.

    yes i know that there will many of you looking at the above and saying to yourselves, “what an idiot, of course we need to educate our children”, yes but the children are your children not mine. take your hands out of my pockets.

  3. Metacomment said:

    The JFC is trying to make us think it is Warren vs. Bristol, when in reality is the B-W Taxpayers vs. the B-W School Department and Bristol Town Council.

    The Bristol Town Council needs to be aggressive as the Warren Town Council.

    How about we cut salaries? Why should the kids lose programs? In order to save the auto industry in this country, auto workers had to take pay cuts, when will teachers do the same?

    Bristol really needs to go after RWU. It is situated on one of the nicest real estate plots in the country, and yet pays no taxes?! They host one band concert for us a year and they think $3 million is forgiven?

  4. John Tats said:

    I take a serious issue with Mary Parella making the comment, and I quote; “She recognized Warren’s financial struggles, but said that they weren’t the result of the town having to share in funding the regionalized school dept.” Really Mary, when was the last time you sat in on a Warren Town budget? This has got to be the biggest bogus statement I have ever heard. Last time I checked the school contribution was over 2/3 of the entire budget of Warren.
    So if its not the issue , I would like you to tell me in your infinite wisdom what the actual problem would be.
    Nothing insults good people and taxpayers than when a so called intelligent person makes a foolish statement such as yours.

    While I would never try to pin Town against Town, it is rather obvious on many levels that both Towns are different, both financially and in geography….lending to the reason that the system that has been in place is starting to fail, lets think out of the box people. Is it better to force Warren into financial instability and then be delt the hand of bankruptcy? Or just fess up to the fact that continually throwing money at a administration that can’t balance a check book is a better option. Time to start considering that the people in charge at BWRS might actually be wrong for a change!

    • DownTown said:

      John its not that the system is failing. The way schools are funded has been changed by the State. The ‘free lunch’ so to speak in Bristol Warren has ended.

      The State school funding formula had been frozen since the early 90’s when the State offered communities extra funding to regionalize. This money was intended for the one time costs to regionaize not as extra money forever. They finally came up with a new formula 4 years ago. It’s no surprise BW’s budget is being gutted.

      The school system here spent that money as if it was coming forever.

  5. cooterbfd said:

    What I find hysterical is that Mr Lial would have the nerve to compare Warren to Central Falls and Pawtucket, and use per capita income as a metric. PLEASE!!!
    Per capita income:

    Central Falls: $15,235
    Pawtucket: $21,753
    Warren: $30,994
    Bristol??? $31,460

    Put the Hoover flags away!!!! I’m not buying it

  6. StillBroke said:

    Per capita income wasn’t the best metric to use. How about the difference in median household income between Bristol ($64,405) and Warren ($53,284) which is a $11,121 difference.

    Better yet, lets compare median family income since families are the ones most likely to use the schools. You will see that Bristol ($85,316) still has a major advantage over Warren ($71,559). To the tune of $13,757.

    I applaud Mr. Lial for standing up for the taxpayers of Warren.

  7. realspeak said:

    I am troubled by the fact that the town of Bristol decided years ago the help the town of Warren by combining the school system. Now that Warren has a claim that they pay too much, jo they want to stick Bristol with the tab. I say end the relationship of the schools…the town of warren has sold and shutdown old school buildings jo the are screwed…set them free from Bristol now. Then lets see them try to build new schools that ther would need. See how Mr.Stanley feels about that…beside ever since warrenites infested Bristol the lice count has been pretty high.

  8. John Tats said:

    @ Realspeak, I’m confused as to your source of information. At the time the merger was agreed upon each community had a issues bringing them both together, why you would make the statement that Bristol bailed Warren out is not entirely correct. As for the Schools being closed, none of that was done by the Town! Those decisions were made by the district and by them alone, when the decided not to utilize them any longer those buildings were returned to the community. I’m not sure I understand what point your trying to make. If the system fails or an avenue isn’t discovered to rectify the problem at hand, Bristol will suffer just as much as Warren will. This is not Town against Town.
    The parameters are all based upon the student & the community demographics. I lay all the blame on the School administrators entirely.

    Neither Town needs anymore school buildings, what they need is an up to date formula that can’t be played with to the point where no outside person can follow the money trail.

    This agreement is over twenty years old, most people don’t keep a great many things that they use in their lifetime over twenty years with the exception of their home, with that being said most people change their mortgages in that amount of time. Why would anyone think that this school agreement would continue to work without any changes to bring it up to date with today’s issues. Everyone must remember, if Warren fails financially, Bristol will will suffer just as much. Your comments referring to people from Warren as lice lends to your lack of education in itself. There are families from both communities that have lived in each town, I can’t fathom the fact you decided that your statement had any value to it other than to be another person that is unwilling to work to solve the problem. Nice way to reference other peoples children, I hope you yourself don’t have any kids because you are far from a model parent with your statement.

  9. DownTown said:

    Here is a link to the actual RI State funding formula. This is a PDF document not a webpage.

    http://goo.gl/k7JhV4

    Funding is based on the number of students receiving free or subsidized lunch and a calculation of revenue potential from median income and property values. Stillbroke has it right – median incomes.

    Warren and Bristol share a high school that’s it. Warren is not Bristol and the reverse is also true. The incomes, property values and poverty levels are different.

    Regionalizing the schools was to SAVE money not spend more than previously.

    The real reason this is becoming an issue is that the schools here spent money that was not a permanent revenue stream. It looked like it because the formula was frozen in the 90’s till just 3 years ago. There is a boatload of over spending by the schools here.

    Note that B/W was slated to lose over $9 million a year phased in over 10 years but the politicians here were able to get some back from the regional busing so it’s more like $8 million phased in over 10 years.

    -$800,000 year 1
    -$1.6 million year 2
    -$2.4 million year 3 and so forth till the yearly loss is $8 million. No one paid ANY attention to this when it was happening and now its on your doorstep.

    http://www.golocalprov.com/news/winners-and-losers-how-schools-will-make-out-under-new-law/

    Wait till the Police and muni employees want a raise and the schools want to suck up their regular raises plus every year make up for the lost revenue.

  10. DownTown said:

    Add an extra million to the school budget over the next three years for teacher salary increases.

    GoLocal killed the story graphic but I had saved it for those interested.

    http://i795.photobucket.com/albums/yy234/ConnectedTraveler/FFF.jpg

    cooterbfd you should be interested in knowing that Central Falls still doesn’t pay a penny towards their school budget. You can see the reference to the Central Falls ‘Stabilization Fund’ in the link I posted for the school funding formula. Pawtucket and Woonsocket are part of a lawsuit that says the State doesn’t pay enough towards their school costs even after the new school funding formula increased their funding considerably.

    Remember that Warren does not benefit from the new school funding formula at all which is one of its legitimate gripes.

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