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Don’t rush into closing Gorton

An Open Letter to the Warwick School Committee:

I am writing to publicly express my concerns regarding the proposal to close Gorton Junior High School. I believe there are many factors which have not yet been adequately studied and which should be taken into consideration before any decision to shutter the school is made.

Among these unanswered questions is what happens to the middle school model, which is the preferred method of education for students in grades 6 though 8. The middle school model leads to better instruction in the areas of math, science, English and social studies.

Additionally, as communities across the state shift into full-day kindergarten programs, Warwick school officials need to consider the impact such a move would have on our schools if Gorton is closed. Many studies have shown the benefits of full-day kindergarten, and the state has enacted legislation to provide incentives for school districts to move in that direction. Further, it is prudent, before taking action, to carefully consider how the remaining middle schools will feed into the city’s three high schools, and how this impacts the overall school system.

Schools in our city have been shuttered in the past in the promise of savings, which were never fully realized. There are many concerns that need to be addressed before moving forward. Let us make sure that we don’t rush in too hastily before conducting the responsible and proper diligence on this matter.

Senator William A. Walaska

Warwick


Comments
8 comments on this item

The School Budget was cut 5% ($6.2 Million) in 2010 by the City of Warwick. The school budget has been level funded (underfunded) for 4 years since for an approximate total of $25+ Million since it was cut. Since 2008, the city budget has gone up and now it is up $30 MILLION annually. With the cut in 2010 now having a total reduction of $25 Million, where will Warwick Schools find the money to actually fund education?

I toured the schools when I was on the committee. There were empty and unused classrooms during the day (at the Junior and Senior HS) and from what I saw, some of the classes had only a dozen students. I agree there should be a long term plan but in the short term, there is no money. The total effect of the 2010 cut is now in excess of $25 Million. I am glad the cuts were made, it forced departments to make cuts, more will need to be made. I would like to see the city make cuts to their budget too rather than continuously increase the taxes by the maximum each year and send it to the city side of the budget. I believe there have been 24 years of tax increases in Warwick, enough is enough.

The fight to keep a school open should have been fought in 2010 when the school budget was cut 5%. If the fight in 2010 was won, there would no Jr or Sr high closed right now. The public did not come out to support the schools in the fight to stop the cut. The mayor and city council spun the facts and used the stimulus money and influence at the general assembly to cut the school funding while increasing the city taxes the maximum amount and keeping it for their own needs ignoring the needs of the schools. They called the CUT level funding. When I see $6.2 Million not being sent to the schools, that is a cut NOT level funding. The $6.2 Million cut is missing from the school budget each year and it ends up being a lot of money quickly. In another 4 years, it will be $50 MILLION missing from the school budget.

If a Jr High school doesn't close and a high school doesn't close the schools will be bankrupt, teachers and staff will not be able to be paid. Right now, there are shortages in the classroom and I see it, you see it, but what is to be done to fix it? There is no hidden fund sitting at the administration building, there is no secret money hidden in a closet.

Does there need to be a long term plan? Yes. What should be done in the short term? If something is not done soon, the schools will be in the same situation as Central Falls and Woonsocket.

When Greene was going to close, Helen Taylor stood up in front of the crowd and proclaimed she had a solution, the city council would help. They did nothing. Donna Travis says the city council wants to help, but not until the schools make cuts. What the heck does she think the schools have done each year since the budget was cut in 2010? (or since my arrival on the committee in 2008.) There were cuts after cuts after cuts and the student education is suffering. Please remember the city budget HAS gone up $30 MILLION dollars annually during the same time period the school have been "level" funded (again, cut $6.2 million annually).

Now, newly elected City Councilman Ed Ladouceur said he hasn’t "seen transparency in the process and won’t support closing any schools until accurate information and numbers that balance are presented." Well Ed, if you paid attention for the last 4 years you would know the schools have been underfunded and the elementary schools have already been closed. The schools have been talking about a bubble of students moving through and the potential for a Jr or Sr High to close for years. So, Mr Ladouceur, if you won't support closing the schools, what is your solution? Keep them open and go bankrupt? The fact is, percentage wise, administration has been consolidated as much as teachers and staff for the last 4 years.

And Mr Ladouceur, if you “take issue with the buck being passed on to the City Council.", I take issue that the city council has raised the taxes each year and the city side has taken 100% of the increase. The city budget is up $30 MILLION annually and the schools have not had an increase in 4 years.

The city council will pretend to want to help but they will not. The school committee will be blamed but in the end it is the students who will suffer, not because they need to be on a bus longer or because they may be separated from their friends but because they are not getting what they need to succeed when they graduate and move on to the workforce or college.

Does the classroom of the building a student sits in matter more than the education they receive by the teacher standing in front of them?

On a related side note,

The sewer authority was $7 Million over budget in 2009-2010, is this being paid back to the city? The fire Department is over budget $1 Million annually with overtime, how is this being handled? By building a new fire station. Get costs under control in all areas, NO MORE TAX INCREASES!

Senator Walaska, will the general assembly be funding all day kindergarten or will it be another unfunded mandate handed down to the schools? You know as well as I do that it will be an unfunded mandate that will add millions more debt to our already struggling school systems in RI. You were one of the people who voted to allow the cities and towns to reduce the funding to schools by 5% when the federal stimulus money came from the federal government. That money was earmarked to go to the schools and you and the cowards at the state house took it. This means you voted to allow the cities to directly cut funding from the schools and this lowered funding level became the new level funding for the Warwick Schools. Your vote directly resulted in a $6.2 Million cut to Warwick Schools requiring drastic cuts to include closing schools. It has been 4 years and now $25+ Million has been taken from the schools and you want the schools to wait before making a decision? You want to stand up and say more studies must be done... Oh, I forgot, you are in the RI Senate and when a person doesn't have the guts to make a decision it goes to committee for further study. The time for action for you Senator was in 2009 and 2010 when you and your comrades at the statehouse should NOT have voted to allow for cuts to education. Here are the results of your vote. You should have studied the problem then and we might not be having this problem now.

Shouldn't the state house be focusing on more important things like De-criminalizing Marijuana? (Check-done) Same-sex Marriage? (Check-done), 38 Studios (Check-Done), Economic Development? Superman Building? Unemployment? Exodus of 24,000 people from RI? Giving licenses to illegal aliens? (Next?!)

Well, we have a lot to celebrate since everything at the statehouse has been accomplished.

Pat...explain to me WHY you are no longer on the School Committee? You are spot on as usual and the politicians who are involving themselves in the Gorton Junior High School dilemma are pandering and not being honest regarding their own complicity as to the reason the WPS has no money in the bank. In the beginning, there were sincere arguments regarding the closure of Gorton...somehow it has become a circus. Not one person is willing to say (aside from yourself) what will happen if we DON'T close a school..or really a few schools. I've tried to speak of this through these forums but it falls on deaf ears...a longer bus ride is no reason to keep a school open folks! The sentimentality for a building is no reason to keep a school open either, nor is the argument that classes will be crowded since the Union determines that issue. Do we need to adopt the Middle School Model and get in line with the rest of the Country? Yes! Can it be done while closing a school or two? Yes! Should we build new schools? You bet we should! Are people going to lose jobs? Probably..but that will happen even if we DON'T close a school! Good Grief! Be realistic.

Jackie, the reason no one is talking about it is because of the 5 members of the school committee, 2 have only been on for 2 years and don't know the history and 2 are brand new and are really still learning (hopefully) how to do the job. Only Beth furtado has the background information. She does not put information out to the public via the media because the Beacon tends to change the information into what they want it to be. It is a very difficult situation. I expect the city will jump on the schools no matter what decision they make and will push the public to believe that the school committee should be appointed and that appointees would solve the problem. I would remind people that the school committee is non-partisan for a reason, to keep politics out of education.

No matter what happens this Tuesday, it is only the beginning of a tough journey for those on the School Committee because ultimately they will have to make some difficult choices and face questions they may not be ready to answer. I do not envy any of the people who are directly involved in making these decisions. We can go on and on all day long but in the end it is up to them to decide and it will be they who will deal with the repercussions of their decision. The students will be okay in the long run..I hope.

I talked with members of the school committee tonight. With no decision to close a school and no funding increase from the city, cuts to programs will need to be made including ALAP, Sports, Music and after-school programs. The Chair of the SC made it very clear during her speech that a vote to table the decision would result in "catastrophic" cuts across the board in all areas affecting every student. The schools will be heading towards only the necessities, the BEP, Basic Education Plan. It is IMPERATIVE that the group that asked for Gorton not be closed and for a long term plan before making a decision be EXTREMELY vocal with the City Council about supporting schools. I heard SEVERAL members of the City Council were at the SC meeting tonight asking the schools to rethink the decision to close Gorton. The decision has been made to postpone a closing for now. The big question is WILL the city council that encouraged the schools not to make the decision support the schools with funding? If past recent history is correct, they will not. Everybody needs to go to the city council meetings and (dare I say) BEG for money for the schools so a long term plan can be realized and executed? Which programs should be cut first? If several hundred people do not go to the city council to demand financial support for the schools, the inevitable will occur and not only will a school be closed, student programs will be cut as well.

When sports were going to be cut several years ago, people came out to let the council know it was wrong. Several hundred people voiced their concerns. The council earmark funding specifically for sports so the programs could continue. I would be happy with the city earmarking funding specifically to keep Gorton open until a long term plan is formulated and executed.

If funding is not in place, the vote to delay a decision will result in not only a closure of a school and cuts to the student programs.

I understand about short term and long term committees and what they are trying to accomplish but nothing is more short term than the Mayors budget just sent to the city council. There is a raise in taxes again with no increase to schools. The budget proposed for approval within the next month will require extremely short term planning. If passed in its current form will require the school committee to cut $3.8 Million from the budget. This will mean draconian cuts to which this city has not seen.

Where will schools find $3.8 Million in cuts. Which of your child's programs do you want cut? Any of them? All of them? Contact your city council person and attend the city council budget hearings. Let them hear your voice.

Does Warwick need a tax increase to provide a small increase in funding to the schools? No, the city has raised taxes every year for 24 years and has additional revenue amounting to a yearly increase of $30 Million annually over the last 4 years. They have enough money, it just isn't going into education. It is paying for benefits and pensions of city employees. After 24 years of tax increases, when does it stop, when will they have enough of your money? The roads are in poor condition, property values are still down and the schools, our greatest asset for attracting families will have nothing to offer after these cuts. Warwick Schools will provide nothing more than the Basic Education Plan (BEP) set by the RIDE (RI Dept of Ed). This basic plan will be just that, nothing but the basics. At a time when we should be reaching higher and trying to attract families to broaden the tax base and stabilize we will be telling people, actually screaming at them to STAY AWAY! This is not what Warwick needs and there is a way to stop the insanity.

Here is a link to the city council emails and phone numbers. Contact your council person today.

http://www.warwickri.gov/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=797&Itemid=237

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