The vision of the committee studying the consolidation of secondary schools just got bigger.
After two hours of reviewing projected school enrollments and hearing that either a junior or senior high school could be closed, a panel headed by Superintendent Peter Horoschak agreed to postpone action until a long-range analysis of the system from kindergarten to 12th grade is completed.
This means that it is highly improbable that the committee will have a recommendation to the School Committee in time to close a school by the start of the academic year this fall. It also postpones any cost savings realized by consolidation until the next fiscal year.
Horoschak had sought to narrow down eight options the committee had identified and for a while it appeared the panel would reject a proposal to house the junior high schools within their respective senior high schools. To do it would require building added classrooms to Vets and Pilgrim and converting Toll Gate’s third floor into classes for 7th and 8th graders. A version of that plan would have converted Winman into a 4-year career and technical school.
It is estimated the Winman proposal, which has the interest of the committee, would draw off 250 students from Vets and Pilgrim enabling the closing of a high school. One concept for the school is to expand course offerings to include music and the performing arts, making it “an academy” in Horoschak’s words.
The committee appeared prepared to give the Winman plan future study. By the same token it looked to be ready to deep six another option to expand the junior high enrollment by making them 6th through 8th grade schools. That option would have opened space in elementary schools enabling them to provide full day kindergartens should that be mandated by the state. Such a configuration of middle school classes was attempted in Woonsocket only to be reversed, reported interim assistant superintendent William Sangster.
“If there are lessons to be learned, it could be from our neighbors,” he said.
The longer the committee talked, the less clear the choices became. Horoschak suggested retaining outside assistance in assessing the options.
Finally, observing that limiting the study to secondary schools would be a “piecemeal” approach, Norwood Elementary School Principal Nancy Plumb urged for a broader K-12 study to “look at the whole future of the educational system in Warwick.” It was a plan the committee could agree on.
Committee member Stephanie Van Patten was flummoxed by Sangster’s assessment that one of the junior highs or one of the senior highs could be absorbed without a problem, when at the last meeting he said there were issues. She wanted to know what changed when basically enrollment projections hadn’t. Sangster said he went though the schools room by room and, using an 80 percent of capacity assumption, found they would work.
Citing the North Kingstown High School as an example, Van Patten also questioned why the committee isn’t thinking of new space and a system that “would make Warwick proud.”
While new construction didn’t look to be a direction the committee was prepared to pursue, Sangster said “this is a take control situation” where the group can address both the space the system needs and, as importantly, a vision for the future. “We want to make certain of the vision for the future,” he said.
There’s the bottom line to consider, too.
“We’re driven by expenditures and revenues,” reminded Horoschak. “The focus was how can we save a significant amount of funding.”
Horoschak pointed out yesterday that not taking action can have “real cost implications.” Considering the cost of fire code improvements alone, the committee is slated to spend $441,400 on Winman this year; $828,772 on Aldrich in 2013 and $1,039,773 at Gorton in 2015. Funding for the 2013 and 2015 round of fire code improvements hasn’t been secured and Horoschak said he doesn’t know where it will come from.
Talk of consolidation at the secondary level has already had an impact, according to committee member Anne Galipeau. She said parents in the Toll Gate district are looking to move their children to private schools or to moving to East Greenwich.
“Rumors cause a lot of people to be upset. Hopefully they’re not deciding on rumors,” said Horoschak.
Van Patten said the word she is picking up is that a decision has already been made and the work of the committee is a charade.
“We haven’t done the deal yet. We’re going to be making recommendations [to the School Committee], not decisions,” retorted Sangster.
Looking around the room, which was noticeably absent of students or their parents, teacher Tom Flanders suggested the department use its phone system to inform people of committee meetings. His point was that the work of the committee should be transparent.
Horoschak couldn’t say yesterday when another committee meeting will be held.
Referring to the strategy analysis to be done, Horoschak said, “I hate to call it a study because it sounds like we’re dragging it out forever.”
He said he would hope to have a decision “as quick as possible whether to consolidate at the junior high level.”
After Tuesday’s action, however, that appears to be problematic.