The Gorton community is breathing a sigh of relief following the School Committee’s vote Tuesday to postpone the close of the school until a long-term plan for the district is developed. This is more than a reprieve. It is a decision to look at the bigger picture of the trends affecting Warwick schools – declining enrollments, state mandates and budgetary restraints – and developing a plan for the years ahead.
This does not promise to be easy.
The bigger, long-range picture most likely will include consideration of closing multiple elementary schools, a junior high school and a senior high school. As the recommended closing of Gorton provoked outcries, we can only imagine the debate and the passion involved in closing a high school.
Before that debate begins, the School Committee faces the more immediate challenge of balancing its budget for the upcoming fiscal year. The committee has approved a budget calling for an additional $1.2 million.
By itself that is a stretch, however, unless the committee finds other revenue or makes cuts, the red ink totals $3.8 million.
The shortfall is indicative of the committee’s practice of adjusting its budget during the year. As the committee learned of surpluses last year, they used them to increase spending in the current year. Now, with no prospect of additional surpluses, they are turning to the city to increase its school funding from $118 million to nearly $122 million.
The predicament comes as no surprise. For months Mayor Scott Avedisian has said he intended to “level fund” schools, and, according to him, members of the committee and school administration assured him the system could sustain level funding.
Why, then, did they approve a budget calling for $3.8 million more from the city?
If that’s it, the committee must now trim programs to get everything to fit.
We’ve been here before. Traditionally, sports is one of the programs the committee picks to cut. They know it’s a hot button issue and crowds will turn out to fight for the school budget.
Last time this happened, the mayor and council met the committee part way. They left the sports funding out of the school budget, but put it in the city budget to ensure the program would be funded.
We don’t know what will be on the chopping block this time, but if you think the possible closing of Gorton provoked an outcry, consider how parents and students will react if the committee targets the arts, advanced learning programs, foreign languages or, God forbid, football.
We might not be going down this road if, instead of short-term resolutions, the committee concentrated on long-term solutions.