Warren’s school debt to increase with larger share looming in 2014

BWRSD admin bldg

BWRSD admin bldg
Already $416,129 in default on their fair share of the 2012-2013 Bristol Warren Regional School District budget, the Town of Warren should brace for another financial hardship when it faces a 10 percent increase in its share for the 2013-2014 school year. That was the message delivered to the Joint Finance Committee on Wednesday by Bristol Warren School Committee chairman, Paul Silva.

The school district’s calculations while in the “infant stages” of budgeting found that the Town of Warren will face a $1,161,016 increase in its share of educating students under the assumptions that the school budget does not change, state aid is not reduced and other “intangibles” do not affect operating costs to the district.

The figures are based on enrollment numbers as of Oct. 1, 2013, when the district had a total of 3,424 students enrolled in its schools. Of those, 1,304 were Warren residents, 112 more than last year on the same date. Bristol residents accounted for 2,120 students, 129 fewer students than last year. That town should expect a $1.2 million savings due to fewer school-age students attending public school.

When the school district discovered the swing in residency enrollment, it requested the Nov. 13 meeting to inform the JFC of its findings, and of the potential financial impact it will have on the two towns.

“It’s a major issue to know,” Mr. Silva told the JFC members. “It’s a perfect storm, so to speak.”

Upon learning of the enrollment numbers and the financial impact it will bring, members representing Warren on the JFC looked for flaws in the numbers compiled by school district treasurer and director of administration, Pauline Silva.

Cathie Tattrie questioned the disparity in the October numbers she downloaded from the Rhode Island Department of Education website and those presented by the school district.

“Actual enrollment fluctuates daily and is reported to the Department of Education daily,” Ms. Silva explained.
However, as established in the enabling legislation for the regionalized district, it is the enrollment number as of Oct. 1 that is used for the funding formula.

Town administrator Thomas Gordon requested additional information with regard to the number of students who reside in either Bristol or Warren and identify which schools they attend.

With two Title 1 schools in the district, each providing educational services for students with special learning needs, that breakdown would not effectively lower Warren’s higher enrollment.

“You can either curse the darkness or light a candle,” said JFC chairman, Nathan Calouro after the meeting. “There are a lot of things that don’t work.”

As the JFC members mulled over the potential effect of the enrollment numbers, their conversation turned to improving the “clunky” enabling legislation.

Bristol Town Council Vice Chairman, Halsey Herreshoff, suggested getting the assistance from the General Assembly to adopt a “smoothing factor,” based on enrollment over a period of years rather that each year as of Oct. 1.

“If such a policy is a possibility I think we need to do a little mathematical analysis. We need to smooth it out,” Mr. Herreshoff said.

Bristol Town Council chairwoman, Mary Parella, agreed.

“Maybe it doesn’t get changed in one fell swoop, but over time,” she said.
Ms. Tattrie expressed her concern that even if the fluctuations were “smoothed,” Warren currently lacks the taxing structure and ability to pay their share.

“I don’t know what solves Warren’s issue but a lot of things need to get addressed,” Ms. Parella said.

School committee member Marjorie McBride reminded those present of Education Commissioner, Deborah Gist’s, observation that the communities of Bristol and Warren are the next to lowest in the state regarding the percentage of taxes that goes toward education. And because of that, the towns could expect no relief from the state.

With the information provided, the Joint Finance Committee decided to reconvene on Wednesday, Dec. 11 to continue their discussion on changing the enabling legislation.

“This is a horrible trend,” Mr. Calouro said of the fluctuations between the towns. “It’s a bad one, but it is what it is.”

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4 Comments

  1. Greg Parisi said:

    I’m confused. Warren wants to change the funding structure the one year when their share rises? The system was fine for the past 15 years apparently? I live in Warren and will have a child in the system soon so I am trying to learn about how the region works. Seems like my Town Council is looking to weasel out of it’s responsibility because it doesn’t like the numbers it got.

    • Cathy Goulart said:

      I tried to reply to this before but for some reason it’s here. Actually Mr. Parisi, it hasn’t been fine for the last 15 yrs. There have been problems since the get go. When the school system regionalized in 1994, they structured the school committee by population. Since Bristol has more residents then Warren, they have more school committee members. The way the school committee is structured is unfair. There should be the same number of school committee members with an alternates from different towns. The way it is now is totally unfair because Bristol will always have the upper hand. It always comes down to raising taxes for residents of both towns and they can’t afford that. In Warren, about 57% of households fall into the low to moderate income level. In Bristol, it’s about 31%. Neither town can afford higher taxes but it is especially difficult for Warren residents. I’m NOT saying that Bristol should pay and Warren not. That would be incredible unfair. I’m saying let both towns have an equal say in what happens in their towns. Warren didn’t want to increase the school budget and Bristol did so Bristol won out. However, Warren has had enough of the same BS for 15yrs so they are fighting back. I don’t know how Warren could possible come up with the money when there is none to begin with. The state needs to step up to the plate and give both towns some money like they do other cities and towns in RI. As usual, the East Bay gets the raw end of the deal. Why am I not surprised?

    • DownTown said:

      The State changed the funding formula and the bonus money the Bristol Warren school district has been receiving is being phased out.

      Additionally the new formula takes into account median income, property values and the number of children receiving free lunches.

      Based on the new formula Bristol Warren will end up losing $8 million every year. That is being phased in over a 10 year period. Most of that is being lost because the one time expenses toward becoming a regional system have been paid for. It’s not the State’s fault that BW spent that money as if it was permanent funding. I believe BW is only three years into that process so it’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better. Blame the admin at the Schools and even the towns for going along with them cluelessly all these years.

      Additionally based on the new formula Warren should receive more money per student.

      Finally State law backs Warren in that they are allowed to flat fund the school budget.

      I find it laughable that no one knows what is going on since the writing has been on the wall for several years now.

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