Let's address our neglected schools
What began as a fresh start filled with possibilities is rapidly souring into a display of intolerance for a situation that has been created by years of neglect and, unfortunately, can only be corrected by a huge outlay of capital from the taxpayers.
Indeed, optimism abounded when the School Committee picked Philip Thornton as superintendent. He was stepping into a difficult situation where the community had lost confidence in the school administration over the handling of inappropriate actions of a teacher who was barely reprimanded when he should have been suspended.
Thornton’s energy and accessibility were refreshing.
But there was more to the job than building a new administrative team. Thornton was handed the unpopular directive of consolidating secondary schools and the task of reaching a contract with the Warwick Teachers Union. The contract remains elusive. We have a truce, but not a settlement. The parties portend to seek the best for our children when, in fact, this has become a match of who is going to blink first and what an agreement will cost.
Cost, not just of an agreement but also of repairing our long neglected schools, has already emerged as an issue. There’s no argument that schools are in need of renovations. Instead, as witnessed when the Council Finance Committee reviewed the School Committee’s proposed $85 million bond, debate focused on whether the numbers were correct and why the council had not been involved in reviewing the options, including building new schools for a considerably greater amount. The council’s failure to act virtually makes it impossible for a bond to come before the voters in a special election this fall. That delays renovations by at least another year while potentially jeopardizing the city’s chances to gain 40 percent of costs in state matching funds.
However, the battle is not over.
Next month, the School Committee will ask the council for the release of $4 million in bond funding approved by voters 11 years ago. Of that amount, schools would use $1.8 million to augment the $4.2 million it has set aside to replace the Vets heat and air system. Again, there is no argument that the steam system has outlived its life, yet angry over consolidation and what some council members believe a mismanagement of funds to make improvements at Vets and Pilgrim, it appears council approval won’t come easily, if at all.
This is not a pretty situation.
The debate, as happened with the $85 million bond, has the potential of becoming personal and losing sight of addressing what needs to be done.
We urge the council to not let the frustration of prior inaction and mistakes overshadow sound reasoning. It’s time to team up and fix our schools.