West Warwick has a Plan to Fix School Finance

Often one of the signs of a marriage in big trouble is when one of the parties starts spending money they don’t have. It signals a major breach in the trust that is the foundation for the relationship — that one person is knowingly doing something that may bring financial harm to the couple or group.

It could be argued that we have suffered a similar kind of breakdown here in Cranston with our schools and our city not being able to maintain a strong enough relationship to keep away financial harm. We are not alone. Other cities in the state, including West Warwick, have suffered a similar fate.

But now, in West Warwick, there are signs of hope:

[...] In recent years, the chasm between the town and schools widened, as council members resented the schools’ increased spending, and the School Committee replied that it had no choice because of costly mandates and shrinking state aid. The two groups barely spoke, except around budget season.

In exchange for paying the schools’ outstanding bills, the town was able to build in a communication structure. The deal, brokered days before the suit was set to go to trial in Superior Court last month, requires the Town Council and School Committee to send liaisons — the town manager and superintendent, respectively — to a meeting once a quarter with the other body. The groups also agreed to meet together “as many times as necessary� to talk about financial and other matters.

With better communication, “this could have been settled back six months ago,� said outgoing School Committee Chairman Daniel T. Burns Jr. “It wasn’t. And now we’ve paid a lot of lawyers on both sides.�

Town Solicitor Timothy A. Williamson said Thursday that he plans to provide the exact cost to the town next week, including the costs of experts, transcripts and an $85,000 program audit. He did say the defense cost the town “less than Cranston,� which spent more than $207,000 to defend against a Caruolo lawsuit earlier this year.

Apparently we’re the big spenders on Caruolo actions here in Cranston. Other municipalities make themselves feel better by comparing their Caruolo spending to ours.

[...] THE AGREEMENT also calls for the School Department to seek to renegotiate its current contract with the West Warwick Teachers Alliance. Unofficial conversations between members of the School Committee and union officials have already begun, said Burns. As for official talks, the teachers’ union hasn’t gotten a formal request, said its president, Donald E. Vanasse. But he said, “I stand by the proposition that it never hurts to talk, or at least meet.�

The agreement also calls for the town and schools to develop a joint plan to consolidate departments — such as finance, human resources and building maintenance — by the end of the month. The schools are also required to meet with a labor lawyer who will inspect their current labor contracts and advise them.

The talk about consolidating departments goes back 20 years in Cranston, and probably just as long in other cities and towns. Hopefully this money-saving consolidation will become reality now.

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3 thoughts on “West Warwick has a Plan to Fix School Finance

  1. My recollection may be somewhat selective, but I think this issue has created more dialogue on this site than any other.

    Now that the election is behind us, it’s very important that the new school committee does it job to change its prior course of running up a budget and hoping to sue its way to paying for it.

    It’s also critical that Mr. Fung and the all-Democrat City Council send a strong signal to the school department that there is room for conversation — not just conflict. And as much as I admired Aram Garabedian’s Project REDIRECT plan, this is no time to create another committee. It’s time for the school board to emerge from their bunker, go to Council meetings, and really work to find solutions — and, most importantly, to leave their egos at the door.

    The school board does NOT care about the children of this city “more” than the City Council. The school department can NOT continue running up huge deficits in the name of the kids — when, in fact, it’s their reluctance to negotiate more affordable contracts that caused the problem.

    Finally, the teachers union can NOT afford to be seen as standing in the way of real reform of our school funding system in this city.

    And specific to West Warwick: the last time the school committee tried to re-open negotiations with the union, teachers went work-to-rule, essentially shutting down extracurricular activities.

    As long as union chiefs like Mr. Vanasse insist on following the often-arcane procedures they dream up (the need for a “formal request,” for example), while dangling the threat of noncooperation by teachers for things like homework clubs and after-school sports if the school board fails to comply, true education reform will be that much more of a dream.

    This may also be another lesson that our local “players” could learn.

  2. I have been reading the comments about the UAW and their demands for the Big 3 to get bailout money. If the big 3 close, then everyone loses their jobs.

    It is time for the unions to take active roles in cutting the costs. Pay cuts are better than no pay. Another option is to pay them in a similar manner to food service- you get a base pay below minimum wage, and if you do a good job, you get a tip. Give the teachers a base pay, then bonus them on the scores of the NECAP testing and performance of the students, if the students are not learning, or doing below grade level- bonus is impacted. If they do good, bonus is better. School administration should be included in that plan also.

    Decisions need to be thought and well planned- keep 6th grades in elementary- saves money. But don’t think about the books and other material that also has to go to the elementary schools- what a disaster- any added expenses to recover from that should have come right from Scherza’s paycheck.

  3. Dadto3,
    Is your wife’s name Nancy? Do you think that ketchup is a vegetable? Is the USSR the “evil empire”? Are the air traffic controllers in your crosshairs? Do you really believe that the UAW is the crux of Detroit’s problems?
    The Big 3 has lost the trust of the American consumer because for decades they have continued to produce an inferior product to the latest offerings from Asia and Europe. They have dragged their collective feet in developing alternatives to petroleum powered vehicles, have failed to build vehicles that sip instead of guzzle gasoline and have continued to operate with a 1960′s business philospophy that is outdated and broken. They have become dinosaurs and the federal government should use this opportunity to “persuade” Detroit to change it’s ways and to steer them into this century. Please do not try to link Detroit’s problems to the contracts of Cranston’s teachers. The idea for paying teachers sub-minimum wage is ridiculous. One need look no further than your actual post, and I quote
    ” If they do good, bonus is better”. Our teachers educate our children and our children are our future.
    When we elect to underfund our schools, we elect to underfund that future. Detroit’s problems stem from their inability to adapt to a changing world and a global economy, not the wage and benefit package negotiated with the UAW… Our School Department’s financial problems rest at the feet of a top-heavy (salary wise) school administration, too many administrators, level or near level funding for the past few years, a back-loaded/short-sighted contract, and “external” financial problems that go far beyond Cranston. Your outrage is justified, it’s your aim and choice of targets that needs adjusting.

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