Before the opportunity is gone, the Warwick School Committee should reconsider the unanimous recommendation of its own subcommittee for the consolidation of secondary schools.
That opportunity extends beyond the savings the department would incur by closing buildings requiring fire code upgrades and consolidating operations. It is an opportunity to enhance the Warwick system made affordable by Mayor Scott Avedisian’s pledge of last week.
With enrollment declining and the department showing modest surpluses in recent years, the attitude of the mayor and City Council has been to basically level-fund schools. That is likely to happen again this budget season, although the school administration called for a $1.1 million increase in expenditures to which the committee tacked on an additional $900,000 for a total of $2 million.
But based on the projections of the long-range study committee, the system could save $2.3 million annually if it shuttered its two oldest junior high schools – Gorton and Aldrich – and re-purposed Vets High as a middle school. In addition, the department would forego $2 million in mandatory fire code upgrades to Gorton and Aldrich, money that could be put into improvements at Vets.
What the mayor has pledged is that if the School Committee moves ahead with the plan, he would endorse that the $2.3 million in savings stay with the department. That’s not $2.3 million one year, but every year going forward. While this is not a guarantee, as the City Council could cut the school budget, the mayor has veto power. More significantly, he is staking his political reputation on delivering what he has promised and giving the committee the resources to give more than lip service to bringing fundamental improvements to the system – all-day kindergarten, and middle schools in place of junior highs. Middle schools would incorporate sixth-graders (junior highs are comprised of 7th and 8th grades), thereby freeing classrooms in elementary schools to allow all-day K. It’s worthy to note that state legislators are pushing for all-day K and it will come, and that Warwick is one of the few systems that has not converted to the middle school model.
In the face of parental and student concern over the closing of schools, it is understandable that the call for a second outside opinion resonated with the committee. Will outside “experts” find anything new? We can’t see how they might. Enrollment projections compiled by an outside firm have been consistently on target. There’s no reason to question the declining trend they show.
The call for a third opinion, which isn’t going to come cheap, has gone nowhere. Thus far, the committee hasn’t even agreed on the wording for a RFP, or request for proposals.
Time is running out.
But not acting now, there’s no time to put a plan in place by the start of the new academic year in September. Warwick schools will have been relegated to another year of uncertainty with committee members wishfully advocating for all-day K and middle schools.
The committee has the power to do it sooner than later – and now, with Mayor Avedisian’s commitment, it also has the resources.