All that's left - picking junior high to close
With principals as their guides, the committee charged with the fate of Aldrich and Gorton Junior Highs toured the two schools Thursday afternoon.
The panel is expected to propose closing one of the schools, which would mean that Winman Junior High and the remaining school would each see an increase in enrollment of about 250 students. Even then, the two schools would be operating at about 75 percent of capacity.
If there was a preference to close one of the schools, it wasn’t voiced, said Dennis Mullen, chair of the committee and director of secondary schools. Mullen said the group compared the schools, taking notes on the capacities of auditoriums, gyms and cafeterias. No formal meeting followed the tour and no meeting had been scheduled as of yesterday.
But it doesn’t appear it will be too much longer before the committee forwards its recommendation to the School Committee.
Mullen could think of nothing else the committee might need to reach a decision. It has been provided with the projected savings of closing each of the schools, about $1.1 million, as well as information on scheduling and the “avoided costs” of meeting fire code and capital improvements on one building. The projected $1.1 million savings is reached after adding an estimated $500,000 for additional busing.
The largest chunk in savings results from the reduction of 12 certified and eight non-certified staff members.
According to a report prepared by director of school business affairs Anthony Ferrucci, those staff reductions would save $1,385,000 annually, regardless of which school was closed.
Warwick Teachers Union members contend the closing of either school fails to consider the loss of rooms now used for computer labs and other functions at the surviving schools that would have to be made into classrooms, hindering the school’s potential. Additionally, school administrators see a day when the city will have to offer all-day kindergarten. When this happens, the department would need to double the number of kindergarten classrooms in schools. This could be achieved by transforming junior high schools into middle schools with grades 6 to 8.
Even with the closure of one school, school administrators say there would be sufficient room at the two remaining schools for the increase in student population. According to information provided the committee, capacities at the three schools range from 1,273 at Gorton to 1,311 at Winman. All three schools have 517 or fewer students now and are operating at less than 50 percent capacity. Enrollment projections show a slight “bump” in junior high students in the near future followed by continued declines thereafter.
Factors other than the education function of the two buildings have also become part of the discussion. Of the two buildings, because of its location across from a shopping center and being located on Post Road, Aldrich is considered to be the most attractive to be sold and redeveloped. Also, as it is on a busy main artery and next to a fire station, the school’s location offers more student safety challenges than Gorton, which is in a residential community.
Mayor Scott Avedisian pointed out yesterday that the Aldrich property is contiguous to Christopher Rhodes School, which was closed several years ago as part of a consolidation of elementary schools. Depending on what the School Committee does, looking at the two properties together offers interesting possibilities, he said.
A committee studying possible uses of Rhodes proposed that the school could be redeveloped for elderly housing and solicited bids for that use. No proposals were submitted.
Avedisian said former City Council President Bruce Place, who chaired that study committee, has been named to continue in the position as a “citizen” chairman.
Mark Carruolo, the mayor’s chief of staff who serves on the short-term committee, found the two schools similar in many respects but with their “own style of teaching.” He said Aldrich is like two schools within one as seventh and eighth graders occupy different wings of the school. Gorton seventh and eighth graders, on the other hand, are not as segregated.
He said both buildings “seem to be in reasonable shape” and that the auditoriums of both schools can accommodate more students than enrolled. He said the Gorton cafeteria is larger than Aldrich’s.
“I think we’ve gone through everything,” Mullen said when asked what additional information the committee would need to make a recommendation. He said “the facts speak for themselves,” adding nonetheless, “we don’t want to rush to judgment.”
Mullen also expects the short-range committee will discuss its recommendation with the full school facilities committee. The committee was divided into short- and long-term subcommittees. The long-term committee has not met since it was created earlier this year.
Superintendent Richard D’Agostino offered no timetable for the committee to complete its work.
“It’s up to the committee and their deliberations,” he said yesterday. Once there is a recommendation, he expects it would come before the School Committee shortly thereafter.
As for another meeting of the short-term committee, he thought a date would be set shortly.