Warwick Schools: City Council to the Rescue?
It was open-mic night at Gorton Jr. High in Warwick last night. The School Committee gave the public a chance to voice their opinion regarding the proposed closing of John Greene school. Several of the issues generated by a meeting earlier in the week were brought up last night. Of particular interest was the appearance of Warwick City Council Woman Helen Taylor, who stated she had gone through the School Department’s proposed budget and, after 30 hours of study, had found approximately $3 million in savings. Addressing the crowd, she told them to “hang in there” and that the Council was working for them so that all of the schools could stay open. She also mentioned something about pending legislation in the General Assembly giving town and city councils oversight of school committees (I couldn’t find any). Was this political grandstanding or is real action imminent? We shall see.
Regardless, the Warwick Beacon’s recent editorial is spot on:
A RIPEC report from several years ago predicted 5 percent declines in student population for years into the future, which Warwick has experienced.
The student population decline requires fewer buildings be used to accomplish the department’s goal: educating students.
School districts have to use the resources they have to the best of their ability to educate students. With that in mind, School Committee member Paul Cannistra is right on target in saying that he’d much rather close a school building than eliminate educational programs. Why would the School Committee continue spending in excess of $800,000 in energy and maintenance costs per year to keep students in an underused building?
To say that no schools should close in light of declining enrollment is illogical. A school isn’t a building, but a group of students, educators and programs.
That being said, it would have been preferable for the school department to undergo a citywide redistricting. The process of pitting one community against another has been counterproductive at best and why it’s being done piecemeal is beyond understanding.
Where is the long-term plan?
Demographics and fiscal responsibility require a leaner and more efficient school department, even via this piecemeal approach. The major problem with putting together a comprehensive plan is the uncertainty surrounding the prospect of airport expansion, which will affect (probably close) one school. The feeling I get is that, once expansion is set, the school department will proceed with the inevitable city-wide redistricting.
This all points to the inter-related problems we have here in Rhode Island. This is linked to that, which is linked to another thing. And everyone is frozen until someone makes a decision somewhere else. Perhaps the best thing would be to just take the bold step of closing the one school–Wickes–that will probably be closed anyway and proceed with a city-wide restructuring. But it’s apparently too late for that now.