Warwick School Closings

Originally, I had a longish, wonkish, link-heavy post detailing how Warwick got to the place where school closings were deemed necessary. I canned that once I read Warwick School Committee Chairman Christopher Friel’s explanation. Basically, there’s no doubt it was a difficult choice and that the time frame was compressed because of the budget crunch. But two facts remain: 1) Warwick school enrollment is declining and school closings were inevitable; 2) The City of Warwick and the School Committee made decisions that contributed to this fiscal crisis.
Enrollment has dropped from 12,206 in 2002 to 11,150 now and is projected to be 10,400 students by 2012. School closings were probably going to happen anyway, and Warwick has gone through this before. But it will always cause agida amongst those who are directly affected and this was exacerbated by the time constraints that the School Committee and other elected officials forced upon themselves. The entire problem was forged in a crucible of Warwick’s own creation. The consequences of apathy often hit when the iron is hot, indeed.
Too many people simply don’t pay attention unless they believe they will be directly affected. So the parents who are upset now need to recognize that they need to be involved in their children’s education–whether in the PTO, School Committee meetings or other programs–all of the time. There’s a chance that the budget shortfall could have been reduced, mitigated or avoided if more parents had attended School Committee meetings and advocated for their kids and schools by pointing out that every dollar spent on personnel costs (86% of the total Warwick Schools budget, according to a 2006 RIPEC report) was one less dollar available for students. Perhaps that would have given the district more time to study and prepare for the inevitable downsizing without the added pressure they were under during this process.
So now we have kids who are going to have to adjust to new schools. I understand the anger and anguish felt by students and their parents. Perhaps there was more justification for closing other schools, but, as hard as it is to do, it’s time to move on. Change happens whether we like it or not, whether we deserve it or not, whether its right or wrong. Time for the grown-ups to remember that the kids are watching us. Instead of framing it as a loss, try to turn it into a new adventure. It’s a life lesson, after all. Show them that its OK to roll with the changes and hopefully they’ll discover that change makes us stronger and, just maybe, even a little better.

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16 years ago

Your comments are very applicable to every city and town struggling under fiscal burdens i.e. the problems were forged in a crucible of their own creation. What’s shocking about Warwick is how this seemingly extreme measure of closing 3 schools still leaves them with millions in budgetary shortfalls to address. Millions! Wow! With gas at 3+ bucks a gallon and the national economy slowing to a crawl the stark struggles of Warwick are a preview of coming attractions for many a city and town in Rhode Island. Imo things must get (and will get) a whole lot worse around here before we decide to right the many wrongs on how we do business and finally make permanent and positive reforms. Have a sneaking suspicion Rhode Islander’s infamous apathy is about to disappear as the fiscal pressures dramatically expand over the coming months and years.

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