Former Board Member Colosimo Says “Fascination with Four High Schools” Reason for “Financial Crisis”

May 8, 2024

RUSSELL, Pa. – Former two-term school board member Joe Colosimo spoke “as a taxpayer” during Monday’s board meeting and aimed at what he described as the “misinformation, intellectually dishonest information, and pure gaslighting” that has framed the district’s recent budget debates.

Colosimo, who was defeated in last year’s Region II primary, started his public comments by saying that some of the things being said about the Warren County School District’s budget issues are “pretty astonishing” and that “it annoyed me as a board member, and it annoys me even more that I don’t have any control over how my taxes are being spent.”

The primary reason the district is facing budget issues, Colosimo said, is because it is $83 million in debt. The district has spent heavily on bond and interest payments over the last two decades for building renovations.

“Anybody want to know how much we spent over the last 19 years on bond interest and bond payments? $126 million that’s how much,” Colosimo said. “Ninety-nine percent of it went to buildings because we got to have a building. We’ve got this fascination with bricks and mortars in this district and that’s been going on since the 1960s. Little to none of that went to education. Little to none of that went to teacher pay, and little to none of that went to teacher aides. Almost all of it was buildings. And again, nobody wants to stand up here—SOS, 4 schools, 2 schools 1 fight—raise their hand and say ‘Yes, we are the reason that the district is in debt as deeply as it is.’”

District officials confirmed with Your Daily Local last week that Colosimo’s figures were accurate. The district will be those payments until 2040. The payments will gradually reduce over time, but will still be over $3 million per year until 2040.

The board recently ranked choices for potential cuts to the budget. Based on the rankings, the board is considering eliminating 14 items from the budget that will save nearly $1.5 million. Those 14 items are Moving Crew ($100,000), Dean of Students ($100,000), Psychologist ($100,000), Technology Budget ($340,000), Textbook/Online Resources Budget ($100,000), CSN Budget ($50,000), Purchasing STEM Supplies from Title ($50,000), Elimination Late Bus Run ($12,750), Electronics Program WCCC ($100,000), Librarian ($100,000), School Social Worker ($100,000), Middle Level Instructor ($100,000), Middle Level Instructor ($100,000), and Reading Specialist ($100,000).

Options to move all 9-12 students to some combination of Warren and Youngsville or Warren and Eisenhower, or to move all 10-12 students to Warren, which would save between $876,000 and $1.2 million per year, were ranked as “Can’t live with cutting it,” by a majority of board members.

“I would ask ‘Is what we’re doing and where we’re heading quality?’,” Colosimo said. “You know, kids right now they can date across the county. They can work across the county. They can fundraise across the county. They can all county musical across the county. They can youth football, soccer, and other sports across the county, and our shining star on the hill, the Warren County Career Center is probably the best program this school district has and happens to be a countywide program. But apparently, to some, they can’t educate together across the county.”

He went on to say that communities have had “50 years, five decades, half a century . . . to address their population situation and the lack of students situation. This isn’t a surprise.”

“Warren County is aging, declining. We’ve got a high poverty and a high fixed-income situation. We ignore that because we want mascots,” Colosimo said. “If you want the solution, attract families with K-12 students. I’m sure the district and the board would rather sit here and talk about what we’re going to do with the abundance of students that we have by your attendance area, attracting those families into the district and filling the schools. That’s not what’s happening.”

Colosimo also looked to dispel some of the “myths out there” about the district.

“‘Warren wants to be the only school,’ and that’s simply not the case,” Colosimo said. “We know that if you go back to the 1960s . . . the vote to consolidate failed. The state came in and forced it. And I would venture to guess that if the school district was allowed to do a vote today, the central attendance area would not want to be consolidated at this stage either. So this myth about Warren wanting everything and getting everything is just ridiculous.”

One of the other things Colosimo said he hears often is that Central Office accounts for a disproportionate amount of spending in the budget.

“I sat here for eight years listening to how Central Office is the reason that we’re in budgetary trouble,” Colosimo said. “I’ve got the audit, which is public. All I had to do was print it. That’s all anybody else has to do. Well, if you really want to know Central Office makes up 3.24% of the total budget. That’s an all-in number. That’s benefits, wages, everything 3.24% of the total budget. That’s $3.07 million a year.”

Even cutting that number in half, Colosimo said, would not be enough to “stem the flow of dollars going out of this district.”

“Let’s not tag this on the teachers. Let’s not tag this on to Central Office, and there’s efficiencies to be gained there, I always said that,” Colosimo said. “Let’s tag it where it belongs. And that’s with this fascination with having four mascots and four high schools. That’s where the debt is. That’s where the financial crisis is. And that’s been the financial crisis for half a century and nobody listens.”

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