Charter school plan challenged
The proposal for Kent County Prep, a Mayoral Academy that would service students from Warwick, West Warwick and Coventry, has sparked controversy.
The Department of Education will conduct a hearing on the proposal June 16 and June 18 at Coventry Town Hall at 6 p.m. both days.
If approved by the board, Kent County Prep aims to open a school in the fall of 2015 with 144 students in the 6th and 7th grade increasing to the full 504 students in grades 6-12 by 2020. But already opposition is lining up to the new charter school.
Jim Ginolfi, president of the Warwick Teachers Union, said yesterday, “I am adamantly opposed to the new mayoral academy for many reasons. One being that the city council doesn’t get a say and they appropriate the funds for the school department. Two, The school committee doesn’t get a say. How can you establish an entity like a mayoral academy when two major governing bodies have no input?”
Warwick Superintendent Richard D’Agostino is in agreement. When fully operational, D’Agostino said 25 percent of the school’s enrollment would be from Warwick, resulting in a loss in state revenues to Warwick of about $1.4 million.
A loss in local funding appears to be the focus for criticism.
“Where do they think that money is going to come from?” Ginolfi said. “It’s going to come from extracurricular programs, from classrooms. If this school opened, it would benefit such a small percentage of the Warwick students, but hurt 99.9 percent of them.”
Katelyn Silva, chief communications officer at Rhode Island Mayoral Academies, said that the school will not only benefit their own student body, but all of Warwick.
“We see a trend that school districts improve, but no other public school has decreased in performance with the presence of a mayoral academy,” Silva said. “We work hard and we really want to be partners with districts. We fully support collaborations; they have rich lessons to teach us and vice versa so we can grow together.”
Councilman Steve Merolla (D-Ward 9) has no problem with charter schools but agrees with Ginolfi the school system would suffer financially.
“If the state wants to open Kent County Prep, that’s fine, but they need to fund it. They can’t expect to basically open an unfunded district because they want to try something new and put it on the backs of the Warwick taxpayers,” Merolla said.
Merolla said other municipalities are receiving more state funding for schools than Warwick, that Warwick isn’t getting its “fair share” of funding to begin with. He believes this is already affecting the school system, citing that the programs like ALAP [accelerated learning activities program] were discontinued and the schools are desperate for new technology.
“If we were given the money we are entitled to, we could have a first class system,” Merolla said.
Warwick receives $35 million in state funding as compared to $212 million for Providence, Merolla said.
The School Committee on Monday passed a resolution in opposition against the proposed school, “until such time as the state legislature addresses the gross inequities within the current methods of funding charter schools.”
The resolution listed numerous repairs, supplies and curricula support needed throughout the public school system that need to be addressed before funds can be thought to go to a new charter school. The resolution claimed that Kent County Prep would require an estimated $1.4 million each year from the school’s budget.
School Committee Chairwoman Bethany Furtado said charter schools are “detrimental to public education.”
Furtado estimated the operational cost to the school department per student attending a charter school to be between $10,000 and $12,000. She said if 10 students were to leave Warwick and go to charter schools that equates to the cost of a teacher, but she can’t get rid of a teacher if just 10 students leave the district.
“I welcome and acknowledge that people have differing opinions, but my job is to better education and support it,” she said. “Fix the problem with public education, don’t create a new one with new entities.”
Despite opposition to Kent County Prep, Mayor Scott Avedisian believes there are benefits to opening the school. He said the level of funding is dependent upon recruitment and enrollment of Warwick students, and without approval it is hard to formulate the exact cost.
“As mayor, it is my responsibility to represent everyone in the city of Warwick,” Avedisian said. “A number of people have said they would want the option of a charter school. It is my obligation to speak for them as well. This will give Warwick students and families the opportunity to choose from a range of public school choices.”
As mayor, Avedisian would serve on the board for the mayoral academy.
One of the benefits Avedisian mentioned was the “blended learning” that would be offered by Kent County Prep. This format allows students to have a more individualized educational path through mentors, internship opportunities, joint in-class and independent online learning as well as an option for an early graduation program.
Councilman Joseph Solomon (D-Ward 4) saw the benefit of programs like this, but believes that the money that would go to the new school could be better suited to help implement some of the ideals in the public school.
“I find it unsettling,” Solomon said, “that we would be taking subsidized public school resources to help fund a mayoral academy in Coventry. Why don’t we utilize the funds to help create accelerated programs in our own city, our own public school system? That way the opportunity isn’t to a small number of Warwick students that opt for the mayoral academy, but benefits all of Warwick’s public school students.”
Avedisian said that the negativity surrounding the public hearing and the possibility of the new school is unfortunate.
“Whether or not through Kent County Prep, we need to have a constructive discussion about the future of our city’s public education. I hope that we can rise above the negativity for the good of Warwick’s students,” he said.
The public hearing will be on Monday the 16th and Wednesday the 18th at 6 p.m. in Coventry Town Hall. To speak at the hearing, a sign up sheet will be provided at the beginning of the meetings and comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org or mailed to the Office of Charter Schools at Rhode Island Department of Education, Attn: Charter School Comments, 255 Westminster St., Providence, RI 02903.