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Councilman Claims Providence Schools Misspending $4 Million

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

 

Providence City Councilman and Finance Chair John Igliozzi

Providence City Councilman John Igliozzi is calling out the Providence school department for requesting millions in new positions and benefits, after getting nearly $4 million in additional funding from the state midway through the year, due to an increase in student population.

Igliozzi, the Chair of the City Council Finance Committee, questioned at the last meeting why the school district would increase personnel costs in light of current financial constraints --  Mayor Jorge Elorza is looking to invest up to $400 million in school building infrastructure over the next 10 years -- and is demanding a revamped plan before the next Finance Committee meeting. 

"We expect the $4 million will have several prongs," said Igliozzi, after the school department requested over $3 million of the additional funding go towards new jobs, salaries, and benefits, as part of what will now be a $381 million budget for Fiscal Year 2018. 

"Elements to address safety protocols and cameras in schools. And if there are new jobs, or items like [were presented], how do they support the mission statement of the school department -- and moving the disheartening proficiency numbers in the school district," said Igliozzi. "Per the Rhode Island Department of Education's report card on school systems over all the state, the proficiency in math and reading [in Providence] went down from 2016 to 2017.  That gives us all concern and pause."

"And three, utilization of the money to pay down debt and or one time expenses to avoid adding $4 million worth of repeating expenses to the operating budget," said Igliozzi. "Which would cause financial constraints for next year's school budget considering its going to be level funded, and they're in the middle of contract negotiations, which they'll be most likely expected a raise of some sort, which could cost upwards of $4 million. And then there's the natural occurrence of the 3 to 5% rate of inflation."

Latest Spending Debate

Last Thursday, Providence Schools Superintendent Chris Maher and Business Manager Michael D'Antuono presented the amended budget before the Finance Committee. 

"The timeline of the state's adjustment to our enrollment...is why we had to come back to you after we submitted the [original] budget," said Maher. "This is reflective of the fact the population of the Providence public school district is growing and we have to figure out how to educate the students."

D'Antuono the delineated the breakdown of the additional funds proposed. 

AUDIO: Listen to the Meeting HERE

"This schedule is broken down, which includes new positions, and their benefits, and position changes and funding shifts, from grant funding to local funding. Then an addition of $850K for city pension, services, our charter school rate which saw savings...a statewide transportation increase," said D'Antuono.  "We put $400K for school cameras, multi-tiered systems of support -- services not positions, adjustments to utilities, furniture for classrooms, baseball at Central needed to be done. $50,000 for elementary [playground] equipment.  This is a summary of where the $4 million went."

City Council President Sabina Matos raised concerns about the numbers. 

"Almost a half a million is going to new positions?  Where are we going to get the money for the following year?" asked Matos. 

"We always present a balanced budget..we don't anticipate coming for additional funding, we're already in the budget process for the coming year," said Maher. "We will make sure these positions, or others, are in it."

Igliozzi fired back with his own questions about the spending. 

"You're not getting more money from the federal government. You're in the middle of contract negotiations, and the city just gave a [fire] contract with 2.5%  in pay raises, police got 3 percent?  What's a 1% increase for teachers..$1.75 million? I'm sure they're negotiating hard, saying they're getting that," said Igliozzi.  "With all these pending expenses....is it the best idea to move forward increasing the expenses on the sheet?  How are you going to solve that problem?"

Clashing Vantage Points

"Our job is to provide the best budget we can with the resources we can. We'll figure it out moving forward - we're looking at multiple levels of inefficiencies. that might exist in the district," said Maher in response. "We're keenly aware of the process and challenges."

"Just this morning, I told a large group of individuals it was not great news. I just told people areas we need savings," said Maher. "Six years we only had 12% English Language Learners, now we're at 27%. That's an incredible need. Unfortunately, we don't have the luxury of a stable student population.  In the last month since [the hurricane in Puerto Rico],  we've had 50 students enroll. We know the city's financial limitations, but we believe this is the best plan."

Igliozzi, however, pressed on the contract negotiation issue. 

"How do you go in to negotiate with the union -- to say we need to cut back, and then do this? It sends a mixed message," said Igliozzi. "So the message will be you're saying you don't have money, but now you're doing this. Teachers don't care, they'll say where's my one, two, three, four percent. My concern is that we're complicit -- we're forced to help fund the morning."

Igliozzi said that he expects the school district to come back with a revamped plan shortly; the Finance Committee that was scheduled for Tuesday was postponed. 

"I want to acknowledge that the city had the wherewithal to see that the school district has to come back with a new package for the $4 million," said Igliozzi. 

 

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