To the Editor:
I have been following very closely the proposals being discussed to close one of the three Warwick high schools to accommodate our junior high school students in an effort to reduce spending to meet budget constraints. This, as I am sure many of you know, comes on the heels of the closing of several elementary schools to meet the same budget constraints and reduced student population.
This whole idea deeply concerns me and it should concern all Warwick residents and taxpayers as well. I have attended school committee meetings and read many letters to the editor where valid concerns similar to my own have been expressed. However, I have not heard anyone speak about the real issue at hand with the exception of Councilwoman Donna Travis at a recent school committee meeting. During the public comment session two minutes was allowed per person to address this and other very important matters.
The problem that I see is twofold and Councilwoman Travis made reference to one concern that is the fact that a group of unqualified committee members have been chosen and given the task of studying and developing a plan based upon a very shortsighted directive. That is to focus on closing two junior high schools and reassigning those students to what will be a “super junior high school” facility. The members of the Long Term Facilities Planning Committee do not, individually or collectively, have the expertise to make this decision nor have they done their due diligence in researching and analyzing the ramifications. This is a decision that will ultimately affect all our students. This lack of knowledge and expertise is very evident in comments made by committee members when they speak about how they have studied and visited the facilities and are looking out to a long-term two-year plan. This brings me to my second and most important concern. Two years is at best a short-term plan; we are talking about decisions that should be considering a 30- to 40-year plan with a five-year implementation strategy along with short- and moderate-term goals.
The reality of the situation is that we are all being very shortsighted in not taking this opportunity to truly look at and develop a realistic long-term strategic facilities plan with the aid of outside professional experts.
Our educational facilities in the city of Warwick are very old and outdated; simply taking a Band-Aid approach to this issue is not enough. Toll Gate is our newest school and it is 40 years old. This problem is not unique to Warwick; the entire country is facing the fact that school facilities are old and run down, our elderly population will continue to outnumber our younger population, which ultimately will lead to a decline in student population. The only difference is that other cities and states are working from a long-term plan that was developed with a great deal of foresight.
We as a city should be looking at this trend and relying on hired professionals to study not only our school facilities, but the demographics and all outside parameters associated with change of this magnitude. We should be looking at what other cities and states are doing to meet these very same issues.
I can tell you from firsthand experience as a 60-year resident of Warwick, with four children having gone through the system and one still in the system, as a 14-year employee of the city of Warwick, and a six-year employee of the Warwick School Department, along with my business association with CHPS (Collaborative for High Performance Schools), that other cities in other states in New England have taken the approach of hiring outside professionals to develop a long-term strategic plan. This plan is then implemented to downsize or right-size the district’s school and municipal facilities to not only save money but to build new or retrofit facilities to reflect high performance school facility standards. These are facilities that use greatly reduced energy consumption and provide a learning environment that is statistically proven to increase student test scores, increase student, teacher attendance and performance. These are facilities that are utilized as learning tools for students and teachers and they pay for themselves with a relatively short return on investment. How can we ask our teachers and students to achieve higher standards when we are providing them with a substandard learning and teaching environment?
I have seen poor decisions in the past made by city of Warwick and Warwick School Department officials that simply looked at the lowest first cost approach (the Band-Aid fix). These poor decisions have, in the long term, cost us more money in repairs, operating cost, inefficiencies and poor performance than had they the foresight to seek outside help and do it right the first time.
This is another one of those rushed bad decisions for the city of Warwick!
I would ask that the Warwick School Committee and Facilities Planning Committee stop fooling themselves into thinking that they have the answers and can solve these issues on their own. I would also ask that all Warwick residents and taxpayers speak to this issue loudly and clearly. It is time for a sea change when it comes to our city’s schools. Approximately $160 million, or 60 percent of the city tax revenue, goes to our public school department. Let us take this opportunity to put our heads together, use these funds to reallocate existing assets and work toward a common goal that will put our schools back on top. This is a very big and very important decision. It is an issue that will require expert analysis, a bond referendum and a vote by the residents and taxpayers of the city of Warwick, not the recommendation of an ill-equipped committee.
We should not settle for anything less when it comes to our children’s education.