November 27, 2014
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A lot at stake with plan to close Gorton

Even if nothing is done, the next 10 days could reshape Warwick schools for decades to come, as well as set the stage for a budgetary showdown between the School Committee and the mayor and City Council, and possibly test recently named School Superintendent Richard D’Agostino.

On Thursday, the committee will conduct the first of two public hearings on the recommendation to close Gorton Junior High School. Another hearing on Tuesday, May 7 will follow. Both hearings will be held at Veterans Memorial High School starting at 5:30 p.m. And then on Thursday, May 9, the School Committee will vote on whether to close the school.

In response to declining enrollment, the School Committee has closed four elementary schools in recent years. One of those schools, Drum Rock, reopened as the department’s early childhood center, but basically the structure of Warwick schools – neighborhood elementary schools feeding three junior high schools that, in turn, feed three senior highs – has gone unchanged since the high water mark of nearly 20,000 students in the 1960s. Today, the system has less than half that enrollment and projections show the downward trend continuing.

Closing a junior high school alters the feeder system and, according to the projections of some people, reduces the options for the overall future of the system. With Gorton closed, Aldrich and Winman graduates could go to three possible senior high schools.

“Closing Gorton makes good sense if you’re going to stay with the current model,” said David Testa, a member of the short-term facilities committee that recommended closing the school.

Warwick Teachers Union President James Ginolfi feels similarly.

“You should do the long-term first. How [can you] do short-term without knowing the vision?” he asked yesterday.

Ginolfi plans to address the School Committee to reiterate points he raised during short-term committee hearings. He found the process flawed and lacking transparency, and questions the accuracy of data provided the committee. He contends the department has overestimated the capacity of Winman and Aldrich.

Looking at the enrollment of the three junior highs and their capacity, Testa favored closing one of the schools. But he changed his opinion after looking at the middle school model [6th through 8th grades], which is the preferred model in the state. Closing a junior high would opt out the middle school option, unless the remaining two schools were reconfigured for some time, Testa said.

But more than that, Testa argues the district needs to develop a long-range plan before making short-term decisions that could dramatically restrict what it could do in the future.

Thus far, D’Agostino has argued that action should be taken on the basis that resources are being used to maintain buildings that could be better spent on educational programs. Closing Gorton would save an estimated $1.1 million in operating costs. The biggest chunk of that, after computing the offsetting expense of busing costs, would come from a reduction of 10 teachers.

Closing the school would therefore reduce the committee’s $160.6 million budget request that calls for an additional $3.8 million in city revenues. This has put Mayor Scott Avedisian at odds with the committee, since Avedisian says he was lead to believe schools were going to come in with a level funded budget. It is unlikely that the City Council would feel any differently toward an increase in city funding of schools, especially because enrollment continues to decline and the reasoning is that level funding is actually equivalent to an increase.

Perhaps an indicator of how the committee will vote is the argument School Committee member Eugene Nadeau raised at a recent Ward 3 meeting hosted by Councilwoman Camille Vella-Wilkinson. Nadeau raised the issue of the middle school model, linking it to the possibility that the district could be required to provide all-day kindergarten. This is an argument being made by members of the teachers union and Gorton parents looking to keep the school open. Going to the middle school would open up classrooms in the elementary schools needed for all day-K should that be mandated by the state. Nadeau said he has received 138 calls about Gorton, all favoring keeping the school open.

He said yesterday one of the issues he feels the committee needs to discuss is whether to postpone any action until next year.

Committee member Terri Medeiros said yesterday that she is approaching the hearings with an “open mind.” She said calls over the closing of Gorton have been fairly evenly split with a slight majority of them being in favor of it closing.

“I don’t have all the information, yet,” she said adding, “I think of the students and the taxpayer. If everyone is a little mad at me, I guess I’ve done my job.”

Testa, in letters emailed to committee members last week, argues for the middle school model.

“This would allow us to better deliver the new Common Core curriculum in Math and Science – our two weakest areas – to our 6th graders. My understanding is that the Common Core curriculum was written in the context of a middle school model, meaning that there is a ‘specialist’ teaching each of the core subjects – Math, Science, English, and Social Studies. Currently we have to adapt the curriculum to fit into our K-6 model.”

Testa reasons that Warwick schools are “swimming upstream” by failing to institute the middle school model.

The projected savings of closing Gorton is a major consideration, especially in a year where signals from City Hall are that schools won’t see an increase in city funding.

Ginolfi will argue that the projected savings aren’t there. But he says the biggest issue is educational.

He points to plans to close school libraries at Winman and Aldrich once a day to accommodate classes, large classes and how 10 teachers will be required to travel between the two schools.

“I don’t think they [the school administration] have thought this out,” he said.

Committee member Jennifer Ahearn said she has gathered information from a number of sources, including the Rhode Island Department of Education, teachers and the public.

“I’m looking to do what’s right by the children,” she said.


Comments
10 comments on this item

No Comments yet, really?

How about voluntary pay cuts for the teachers? When approached a couple of years ago, the other unions (reluctantly) did so. Not a chance with teachers though. I still want to know why the previous superintendent was let go before finishing his contract with a $ 270,000 parting gift. Cote for Mayor!!!!!!!

Why does it always have to be about the money? Does anybody really think teachers are rich? I don't think any teacher actually thought about the money while working toward their college degree in education. I know we all hate teachers for all the time off and short work days. After all, teachers have it so easy, right? Why didn't you become a teacher? Have any of the people who believe that teachers are a waste of valuable oxygen ever actually spent a day in a classroom and observed a teacher at work. Try it sometime. You might be surprised. Picking out flaws is easy, finding the solution is the hard part. Stop blaming, start helping.

declining enrollment but the school budget still rises? Explain that one greedy union

Please note that the Warwick schools department had being adding administrators and bringing back retired administrators at an alarming rate. If Gorton is used for administrated purposed, Warwick would have more administration buildings with out students than Junior Highs. Oh, and for all you anti-union people, none of these administrators are in unions and they are all VERY highly compensated. In fact the Superintendent and Personnel director make more money than the Mayor or Governor.

Who for Mayor?

Why are we not redistricting? Down to less than 10,000 students but the budget goes up every year? Stop the insanity. Think of the taxpayer for once. Close more schools.

That is the point- closing Gorton does not save money. The bussing costs moving the children across the city is more than double the operating costs of the school. The entire savings comes from cutting teachers, which obviously increases class size and . The school administration talked a good game about saving money. They said it was critical to cut the teachers save the 1.2 million in order to balance our school budget. Then the school administration asked to add over 1 million dollars in administrator postions. Laying off 12 teachers and using that money to hire more school administrators is absolutely ridiculous, and a horrible use of our tax dollars.

I just reread the article, and something sticks out to me. Mr. Nadeau states that he has received 138 phone calls, all in favor of keeping Gorton open. I talked to another school committee member that told me the same thing, that virtually all of the messages they had received were for keeping Gorton open. At the meeting last night, not a single person spoke out in favor of closing Gorton.

Ms. Medeiros, though, states in the article that her phone calls are running 50/50, with a lean towards closing Gorton.

How is that possible? Why would one member draw all of the people in favor of closing the school, especially when Ms. Medeiros represents the Gorton area? Wouldn't you expect the person representing the Gorton area to be the person receiving the most favorable calls?

I'm sorry, I'm calling this BS. It sounds like Ms. Medeiros is trying to create cover for herself so that she can pretend that her vote to close Gorton was based on the will of the voters. Maybe I am wrong- but as she is an elected official that represents us, she should be expected to explain her comments. Her number is listed as 401-965-6612, we should all call and ask her to clarify.

I also think that we should all be calling and emailing all of our school committee members-after all, they work for us, and they need to be reminded that the school administration works for them.

A school needs to close because there's not enough students to keep it open. What's the big deal which one it is? It's a middle school , who cares.

What really gives here?

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