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Letter: Level-funding May Spur Lawsuit

School Committee members express support for the school district's efforts to receive greater investment from Warren.

Fellow Warren residents and taxpayers,

We, the Warren representatives of the Bristol-Warren Regional School Committee, wanted to take this time to address the school-related issues that have been discussed in our local newspapers, social media sites and coffee houses. While we recognize that the town of Warren is in a tough financial state, it is important to provide some facts to counteract the misconceptions that are out there so that we can all make informed decisions at the Warren Town Financial Meeting at on May 21. 

Regarding the Regionalization Bonus, the BW Regional School District did receive additional funds from the state when the two towns regionalized. This was meant to be a short-term funding source to help with the transition. This extra income was not a “bonus” to the school district that allowed us to spend frivolously. It allowed the two towns to contribute less of their municipal budgets than other communities in the state.  

  • According to the RI Department of Municipal Finance website, in 2010, the town of Warren’s contribution to its schools was 47 percent of the municipal budget. 
  • In the state of RI, the average school budget is over 60 percent of the municipal budget, with communities similar to Bristol/Warren contributing around 70-80 percent. 
  • Warren ranks 35th out of 39 school districts in the percent of school budget versus municipal budget. This places Bristol/Warren with the likes of such troubled educational communities as Providence, Pawtucket, Woonsocket and Central Falls. For a statistical comparison of Warren to other communities, please visit www.ride.ri.gov/Finance/funding/uniform%20chart%20of%20Accounts.
  • The percent of the budget the town contributes to the schools is going down while the municipal budget continues to increase. 
  • The school district's per-pupil cost is below the state average.
  • We have eliminated 17 certified staff positions since 2010, our administrators haven’t received a raise in two years and we have negotiated a concessionary contract with the teachers union that will save the district more than $1.7 million dollars with no pay increases for the next three years. 

We are getting an excellent return on our investment. The revenue income from our local communities is FAR below the state average as is our per pupil costs. Yet, our schools continue to be high performing. By investing in a quality education, you will strengthen property values, provide solid tax base revenue, expand business and job opportunities and provide long-term economic sustainability. 

There is a policy in place for appealing the JFC decision, but the Town of Warren chose not to follow this appeal process. If the town of Warren stands on its decision to level-fund the school district, we will have no choice but to support the school district in its need to take the town of Warren to court. We believe the BWRSD will prevail and will seek to be reimbursed for the costs associated with going to court.

Our goal is to provide you with complete information and let you decide what is best for you and your family.

John Bento
Susan Rancourt
John Saviano
Warren Representatives
BW Regional School Committee

Bob Venice May 15, 2012 at 09:13 PM
Except for political reasons which seem to make it look like our Warren Town Council is tring to make itself look good, but really know that the people of Warren, if facts be known, have to vote in favor of the increase. Then the Council could say we tried to lower the budget, but you people who complain all the time about increase in taxes won't let us. We do have to vote for the increase. We can not afford to be brought to court and lose. We will lose. Now we will also have to pay for the case and also have a tax increase. Just what is the Council thinking. The people of Warren are not stupid.
Al May 15, 2012 at 10:30 PM
Can someone post a link with per pupil cost for school systems in RI? I thought Bristol-Warren was above average?
Gina May 15, 2012 at 10:40 PM
@ Al .. this is one I found from 2010 for 2009... http://infoworks.ride.ri.gov/state/ri/tax-and-spending/property-value-vs-tax-rate/2009/1
DownTown May 16, 2012 at 03:11 AM
According to GoLocalProv Bristol/Warren spending per pupil is $17,202 which means the per pupil spending is near the top in the State. The link that Gina posted says the same thing and that chart can easily show that our schools are the 5th biggest spenders in the State. http://www.golocalprov.com/news/chart-ris-high-schools-2012-from-1-to-51/
Darcy DaCosta May 16, 2012 at 03:44 PM
Thank for your very informative letter. I plan to attend the Financial Town Meeting but am curious how the Committee sees the meeting as having an impact on the budget. According to the Town Charter,"Any proposal for the expenditure of money, other than for items contained in the budget presented by the Town Council, may be acted upon at the Financial Town Meeting only if such proposals shall have been presented by a petition signed by at least fifty (50) electors qualified to vote in Financial Town Meeting and filed with the Town Clerk no later than the fourth (4th) Monday in April. All such petitions shall be enacted or rejected by paper ballot vote at the Financial Town Meeting. No proposition, the effect of which is to increase or decrease legally incurred contracted obligations or debt services shall be considered at such meeting." Is it the belief of the Committee that since funding of schools is 'in the budget' the electors can move to increase the line item? Otherwise, unless there was a petition filed in a timely manner, the electors hands may be tied unless they are willing to reject the budget in its entirety.
Mark Smiley May 16, 2012 at 05:14 PM
Darcy, I do hear you but I feel that's a bunch of legal arguments that are best left to lawyers. To me the question is whether you believe the assertion that we are getting a good return on our investment and whether we can afford to continue to increase the school budget over and over again. Please take a moment and look at the figures given by GoLocalProv recently. http://www.golocalprov.com/news/chart-ris-high-schools-2012-from-1-to-51/ In this article it says we spend the 3rd highest amount per student in the State. We are then ranked the 14th school district. If we are already spending more than most and we are not in the top of the list of high schools than I strongly question the return on investment argument. If the school department is starving for more money, than it needs to look at its neighbors to figure out how they do it better with less. Continuing to hit the taxpayers for more money isn't the answer. In this economic environment, it certainly isn't the answer. Can we lose the fight? Yes, we can lose the fight. However, in the recent past, specifically in East Providence, the Town won its arguments. We have to take a stand. Do we wait and take it next year? Doubtful we will be able to fight better next year. "Go along to get along" isn't an answer here.
Darcy DaCosta May 16, 2012 at 06:33 PM
I hear you Mark. Just not sure what anyone expects will be accomplished at the meeting. It used to be that the School District appropriation was off the table for discussion at the meeting and now folks are being urged to attend to "voice their support" for both sides. I forsee a room full of people thinking they came to try and change something that can't be changed in this forum.
Gina May 16, 2012 at 06:54 PM
@Darcy...this letter has a little more info concerning how many people are needed, etc...I know it doesn't answer your specific question...but I found it informative. http://www.eastbayri.com/news/2012/may/16/no-excuse-not-go/
Susan Rancourt May 16, 2012 at 07:29 PM
Thank you all for your comments but I would like to clarify the data you are referencing. Because Bristol/Warren is a regional school district, it carries its own debt service which is factored into its pupil cost. In nearly all the other school districts in the previous link, the respective towns absorb this cost in its municipal budgets and it is not reflected in their pupil cost. For a more accurate comparison of B/W vs the state average, please reference this report by clicking on the 2010 EQUALIZED PER PUPIL BY DISTRICT AND STATEWIDE: http://www.ride.ri.gov/Finance/funding/Uniform%20Chart%20of%20Accounts/2010/state.htm This puts BW at $14,817, below the state mean of $15,024.
Gina May 16, 2012 at 07:47 PM
Thank you Susan...I forgot about that site & the chart you are referencing...
John Tattrie May 17, 2012 at 12:53 AM
I think that we have three people that really should be ashamed of themselves for not supporting the Town over the School Districts antiquated agreement. This same agreement will eventually be the demise of Warren if not corrected in the near future. When will people learn to stop throwing money at things as a fix for a much greater problem. What everyone forgets is the general public "never" gets to see a breakdown of the School Budget like you would a municiple budget.......until that actually happens there is little or no trust left to the taxpayer to actually know where the money goes. We are left to read letters like the one submitted by the school committee members to make a judgment on. Not very comforting.
marina peterson May 17, 2012 at 04:48 PM
Did the committee ever provide the line-by-line school budget that was requested by Tom Gordon?
Susan Rancourt May 17, 2012 at 04:53 PM
Whether one agrees or disagrees with the Enabling legislation, the Warren town financial meeting is not the forum for debating it. It is law and we have to adhere to it this year. Having said that, there is already a process underway to review this “antiquated agreement,” as you term it. The forum for that is actually this evening at the Warren Town Hall and you are welcome to attend. The Budget sub-committee meets twice a month and it is always open to the public for any questions or concerns they may have. The BWRSD is presented at each meeting. We have supplied our 900 page budget to the Town but as you can imagine, it is quite cumbersome. Therefore we hold our Uniform Chart of Accounts meeting where we explain, line by line, how the money is spent and how we compare our expenditures to other school districts. We invited our Town Officials to attend this meeting to address all their concerns. Several Bristol Town Leaders did attend but not one representative from Warren’s Town Council. Finally, we held 2 JFC meetings where the budget is again presented in which any member of the public can ask questions. The Budget couldn’t be more transparent. If anyone wants the budget explained in any more detail, our doors at the Admin building are always open.
Susan Rancourt May 17, 2012 at 04:53 PM
Finally, if the Town of Warren disagreed with the JFC decision and felt they didn’t have an opinion – there is an appeals process in the Enabling Legislation. Again, our elected officials did not follow the legal protocols. It is our obligation to represent the town of Warren’s students and taxpayers. We are held to the JFC decision for this year, and it will cost us more to be apathetic.
marina peterson May 17, 2012 at 05:03 PM
It's pretty simple, when it comes right down to it. "You can't get blood from a stone". If there is no money, there is no money. This is not a unique situation; it is happening in many towns across the state, and the country. It is hard to understand why level-funding is not acceptable. It is even harder to understand why the three of you would support the school district in its decision to take Warren to court. This will have negative rippling effects for years to come and will be a horrible thing for the students to endure... pitting them against each other!
karen lynch May 18, 2012 at 01:51 AM
What a joke Marina, I have a child at KMS and one at Mt. Hope, the kids don't see each other as Bristol kids and Warren kids, that is only through the eyes of the adults around them. They see each other as the School Committee is obligated to see every child in the our schools, not a Bristol student, not a Warren student, a Bristol/Warren student.
marina peterson May 18, 2012 at 04:32 AM
I know it is that way now. That is not the issue. My thoughts were that it is probably inevitable that if there were a lawsuit there would be hard feelings with the adults and it would be absorbed by the children. Hopefully you are correct and all of the parents/students would take it in stride and have no hard feelings. I hope so.
Jack Baillargeron May 18, 2012 at 03:35 PM
To my knowledge we also still have the 5th highest paid teachers in the country, and have moved up from 41st in education to 36th in the country and last place in New England, last time I looked. That is hardly equitable bang for the buck. Not anything to be proud of either in my opinion. We all have to be very confused on another story where we are 35%, on the math courses. One of the most important subjects needed for any future job, or advancement in society. http://bristol-warren.patch.com/articles/mount-hope-ranks-14th-in-latest-poll#comments It is Just so disappointing as a taxpayer to constantly see property taxes raised, because of the education cost and usually only because of wage benefit negotiations, and yet we continue to have these low rankings. To me this obviously proves the system is broken here and across the State, same as it is nation wide. In a small State like this, it would be nice if we could fix all these problems which are not going to be fixed with funding, and show the country a system that is fiscally responsible, cost efficient and learning curves not above average, but surpassing every other State under the old system. What a dream that is lol.
Bob Venice May 18, 2012 at 06:38 PM
Will someone please make sense out of the statement that if we vote against the increase in taxes and win when it goes to court, we will then see a decrease of 14 cents in our taxes. The Town of Warren is broke as the council states, so we can not afford a ball field at Jamiels park, we can not clean the sand from the streets, we can not fix the current ball fields, we can not take the snow off the sidewalks , were continually loosing business and the list of what the town can not do is coninuing. Without an increase, how will we ever get out of the hole were in. I am not for an increase but it seems to me it's pay some now or pay a lot more next year. Please, someone explain. And also, how our we ever going to win the tax increase for the school department, when there is a signed document that says we have to that gtoes back to the 1990,s.i

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