Warwick holds second education forum Unfunded mandates costing local taxpayers millions

By on March 7, 2012

By: MICHAEL C. UPTON Record Express Correspondent, Staff Writer

Approximately 15 residents joined school board members and district administration Tuesday for Warwick’s second public education forum. Superintendent Dr. April Hershey said she hoped the half-hour session focusing on district funding would have attracted a bigger audience.

The meeting started with a look at the proposed governor’s budget, which allots $9.05 billion for public education with some programs reduced, eliminated or held at previous funding levels. One mandated program held at current levels for the fourth year in a row is special education. District Business Manager David Zerbe provided an example of the decline in state funding for special education.

"Back in (the) 1993-94 school year … we had pretty much a matched revenue line item for our expenditure line item. So, I can tell you that our revenue stream for special education was around $1.1, $1.2 million. Our expenditures for special education were similarly priced, right around $1.2 million," said Zerbe. "If you jump to today and look at where the revenue stream is today … our preliminary budget is showing expenditures right around $7.7 million, up from $1.2 to $2.2 million since 1993. The funding from the state (currently) sits at $2.1 million, so the gap of $5.5 million is bore locally by the taxpayers. Those are mandated costs. So, the way we structure our special education programs — individualized education plans, one-to-one assistance, class sizes-are all dictated by special education standards — we don’t have any say over that. Now, we are doing our best to try to run programs ourselves in order to do as most of a cost efficient parameter as we can, but nonetheless we are still mandated to provide those."

Due to cuts and freezes made by the district in 2011-12, Warwick will receive less money from the state this year. There is no increase for basic education funding or transportation. After discussing the effects of the state budget on the district, Zerbe explained how the Warwick budget has progressed since approving a preliminary budget in January. At that time, the budget weighed in at $62.9 million calling for a five percent tax increase.

"What I like to say is that when we start our very preliminary budget it is our gross budget. And when I say that I mean we put everything in and say, ‘here’s our starting point.’ As we approach the May-June time frame we work that number down to a level that’s acceptable to us administratively and also by the school board," said Zerbe.

Zerbe went on to explain the preliminary budget is a work in progress all depending on final numbers received from the state.

"We are looking at all the line items as to where we may be able to effectively reduce costs without hurting programs then we’ll go to the second and third tier of cuts," said Zerbe.

Hershey took over and explained recent reductions made to the budget. An early retirement program will save the district $462,000. Non-repetitive maintenance cuts and fixed cost reductions saved the district $253,000. Currently the 2012-13 budget sits at $62.2 million, which if not further reduced would result in a tax increase of $3.8 percent.

"It is our intention to stay within that 2.1 Act 1 index [increase], if possible. But again, we do need to be looking to the future and taking a look at our programs and what’s necessary. So, this is a very good start for us since January," Hershey said.

Hershey explained the district will continue to look at places in the budget to reduce costs. Warwick will soon announce alternative funding measures such as activity fees and advertising banners at sports venues. The district hopes to add between $100,000 and $300,000 in revenue with the banners and $40,000 through activity fees.

The few citizens in attendance did not have any questions for the district. Any reader wishing to field questions or express opinions are invited to visit warwicksd.org to fill out an online questionnaire. More FORUM, page A3

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