WARWICK, R.I. — The state Department of Education rejected on Friday requests from a district’s school committee to eliminate bus monitors and to charge students to ride school buses and participate in school sports.
The school committee for Warwick Public Schools asked the Warwick City Council for an additional $8 million for the fiscal year 2019 as it tries to close a gap in its budget. The city approved $1.5 million, WJAR reports. The committee looked at several options to save about $6 million, according to the news source.
In a letter to the Rhode Island Department of Education, obtained and published by WPRI on July 24, the district’s school committee presented a list of possible charges and cuts that it would need to receive waivers from the state department to make.
One of those was charging $1 per day to ride the school bus, following in the footsteps of models in neighboring Massachusetts. The letter stated that school transportation costs “a little over $10,000,000 annually” and that costs keep rising with contractual and fuel increases.
The Rhode Island Department of Education said that it isn’t able to consider the request because state laws require students to receive free busing to school, according to WJAR. The Department of Education also couldn’t review the district’s request to charge a fee for middle school and high school sports, stating that only in a few special cases has the General Assembly allowed school committees to charge fees for school services.
The letter had also requested a waiver to eliminate school bus monitors because “Other school districts around the nation do not staff monitors to the same level as Rhode Island, and yet, do not have any higher incidence of student safety issues” and stated that cutting the monitors is projected to save $275,000 each school year.
Ken Wagner, the Rhode Island education commissioner, told WPRI that the cuts and other things the committee was asking permission for “were pretty much all not allowable by law."
Philip Thornton, the superintendent for Warwick Public Schools, told WPRI that the district’s schools are “facing a very difficult budgetary situation this year,” since it had to cut $6.6 million from the budget to balance with the fiscal year 2019 city appropriation. He added that the district will not move forward with next steps for those proposals.
On Monday, Acting Mayor Joseph Solomon met with Thornton, and told WPRI that both sides will work together to find a solution and will try to avoid making cuts to important programs.