Tuesday’s School Committee meeting was filled with emotion, as exiting committee members Christopher Friel and Patrick Maloney thanked their colleagues and said goodbye, but that wasn’t all.
A proposal to rename the Toll Gate Educational Complex as the Robert J. Shapiro Educational Complex “in honor of a very special man” brought forward additional emotions. Shapiro died on Sept. 6 after a 50 year career with Warwick schools.
Acting Superintendent Dr. Richard D’Agostino, who also serves as the director of special education, explained the reason for the proposal.
“Robert Shapiro was a special educator that instilled in his students to do your best at all times and he encouraged them to always strive for excellence,” D’Agostino said. “For the past 10 weeks, people have been calling me and emailing me asking what we’re doing for Bob and one of the suggestions was to change the name of Toll Gate High School.”
D’Agostino said Shapiro started his career as a teacher, becoming a principal – Toll Gate’s first – and eventually serving as superintendent of schools.
“He was around for quite a while and even we forget some of his accomplishments,” he said. “He was the first and only to be appointed principal to a building that didn’t exist. He was appointed before Toll Gate was built and when it was a school to be named later.”
D’Agostino said Shapiro experienced many firsts in Warwick.
“He was also the first to select and handpick all of his staff with his only criteria being they had to be excellent teachers,” he continued. “He picked the school colors and the Titan mascot, which represented power and intelligence; these were the things he envisioned for his school.”
D’Agostino compared Shapiro’s vision of Toll Gate to a painting created by an artist.
“He was given a blank canvas and became an artist with what he did envisioning Toll Gate,” he said. “I can visualize Bob amid his mosaic, as part of the Toll Gate community; he was the artist that painted that – his dream on the hill – his ‘Mona Lisa.’”
D’Agostino said Shapiro was a big history buff and conducted a lot of research before deciding to name the school Toll Gate, which in Colonial times translated as “passing from one level to another level, moving from one colony to another.”
“Bob envisioned having teachers instead of merchants and exchanging knowledge instead of goods in order to provide a fruitful education for students so they might be successful when leaving Toll Gate,” he said.
Taking everything into account, in terms of what Shapiro did with Toll Gate and what he meant to it, D’Agostino said the decision was made not to change the name of the high school and not alter Shapiro’s vision for it. However, an alternative was quickly reached – rename the Toll Gate Educational Complex, consisting of Toll Gate High School, Winman Junior High School, Drum Rock Early Childhood Center and the Warwick Area Career and Technical Center, to the Robert J. Shapiro Educational Complex.
D’Agostino said all were in favor of such a proposal, adding it also had the support of Shapiro’s wife, Audrey, and their children.
Shapiro’s widow, Audrey, did not attend the meeting. She said she is honored by the recognition of her husband’s legacy.
“It’s been my privilege to serve with Bob during my time on the School Committee and he remained a friend of mine even after he left, as we often met for lunch,” Friel said. “It’s an honor for me to support renaming the Toll Gate Educational Complex after him during my last meeting as a School Committee member.”
School Committee Chairwoman Beth Furtado echoed Friel’s comments, saying she was also honored and privileged to call Shapiro not only her principal and superintendent, but also her friend.
Rosemary Healey, legal counsel and director of human resources for the school department, said a celebratory event is being planned for a later date to commemorate the name change.
Furtado also had words of praise for Friel and Maloney, since Tuesday was their last regularly scheduled meeting as members of the committee.
“I want to recognize and thank my friends Chris Friel and Patrick Maloney for their help, their loyalty and their friendship,” she said. “I wish you the best.”
Both Friel and Maloney took some time to talk about what serving on the committee meant to them as well as to thank their colleagues.
“It’s been a pleasure to serve on this committee for the last eight years,” Friel said. “I’m glad I could play a small part in the Warwick education system and I will continue to be involved in the school community in a different role, as I’ll have three children attending John Brown Francis next year. Thank you to all on the committee.”
Maloney also shared his thoughts.
“Thanks to all on the committee, and to [former members] Lucille Mota-Costa and Paul Cannistra, who served with me when I first joined four years ago, and good luck to the new members,” he said. “I learned so much from the people on this committee. I also learned you can’t do anything on a committee without the help of others.”
Maloney said the most important thing a school committee member can do is not to just agree with one another, but to ask questions and become informed. He said he hopes the new members will ask questions and stay on top of the budget.
“We had a $3.2 million deficit when I joined the committee and I never want to see that happen again,” he said. “The allocation from the city has been cut by $6.2 million each year and we’ve never gone into the red, producing a surplus each year. There are many people to thank for that. And at the same time, the city’s budget has grown by $30 million.”
Finishing up his remarks, Maloney thanked several members of the audience by name for their support along the way, as well as his wife and kids, who he said he misses and is looking forward to spending more time with them.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, Tom Daniels thanked Friel and Maloney for giving up time with their families to serve on the committee.
“I appreciate everything you’ve done,” he said.
In other action, the committee approved the addition of a behavioral specialist position subject to grant funding and the elimination of the maintenance mechanic/electrician/communication position as a result of a declining work load due to the requirement by state law that certain projects must be awarded to outside contractors, as opposed to staff in-house, even though the school staff is properly licensed to perform the work. Healey said the savings would be applied toward hiring other outside contractors for similar work.
The committee also approved a revised FY 2013 budget. The newly approved $159,141,725 budget takes into account a total revenue increase of $2,144,984, which is made up by an additional $1.7 million in carryover surplus from the FY 12 budget, $282,718 in state restricted set aside funds that weren’t spent and $119,544 in Medicaid reimbursement funds. When applying the total expense increase of $2,100,646, two major factors being $878,961 in under-budgeted medical costs for retirees and a total cost increase of $84,043 for Workers Compensation insurance, Chief Budget Officer Anthony Ferrucci projects a $44,338 surplus for the FY 13 budget.