Panel calls for consolidation of schools
The day after school starts, the Long Term Facilities Planning Committee expects to see a number of possible scenarios from the administration as to how to consolidate secondary school buildings in the coming years.
The committee was tasked with coming up with a five-year plan for the junior and senior high school buildings in the city, and at Tuesday’s meeting a motion was made by committee member Mark Carruolo that consolidation at the secondary level is “feasible and necessary” and requested that the administration provide a number of possible configurations for discussion at future meetings. The motion passed unanimously.
“There was at that time, and there is currently, plenty of room for consolidation and within that consolidation, looking at all kinds of configurations,” said Carruolo, speaking of last spring when the proposal to close Gorton Junior High was brought before the School Committee.
The committee is required to present a plan by January 2014 and the motion was made to help move the process along.
“We’re looking at September, October, November, December,” said Patti Nazareth. “These months fly by.”
While it appears the future proposal will include consolidation of schools, there was no timeline for closures or suggested buildings to close during Tuesday’s meeting. Carruolo suggested the committee move in increments without pinpointing specific details, decide consolidation is the path and continue discussions as to timelines and buildings at future meetings.
“We can recommend what we think is doable,” said Robert Bushell, director of elementary education, who has experience with a consolidation process at the elementary level.
Bushell, along with Superintendent Dr. Richard D’Agostino and Secondary Education Director Dennis Mullen, said there are a number of ways consolidation could be implemented and it could take a number of years to phase out one or more schools.
Although the official plan as of Tuesday was to consolidate in general, it appeared during the meeting that the committee was leaning towards moving the district to a two-high school, two-junior high school model.
“Say it came to the point where you closed a high school, you close the two junior high schools and move the kids into that [high school] facility, you would have future expansion if you did decide to move sixth graders out of the elementary schools and make a true middle school,” said D’Agostino. “You still have the room to do that.”
“I personally like that idea because it doesn’t stop if there is a long-term vision,” said Committee member Amie Galipeau.
Much of the discussion stemmed off of a review of the data on student population from secondary schools, presented by Mullen. Using data from the 2012-2013 school year gathered on Oct. 1, 2012 and the current enrollment for the 2013-2014 school year as of Aug. 2, Mullen showed a population decline is happening.
Using the weighted enrollment, which consists of the number of students plus 1.5 for special education students who are resource students and 2.0 for special education students who are of an intensive education type, enrollment last year at the junior highs was 605 at Aldrich, 463 at Gorton and 607 at Winman. The weighted enrollments at junior highs for 2013-2014 are currently 508 at Aldrich, 463 at Gorton and 507 at Winman.
At the high school level, last year’s weighted enrollments were 1,203 at Pilgrim High School, 1,101 at Toll Gate High School and 1,087 at Warwick Veterans Memorial High School. The weighted enrollment for 2013-2014 is 1,021 at Pilgrim, 977 at Toll Gate and 925 at Vets.
“You’ll notice the decline exists throughout,” said Mullen
Mullen also pointed out that this decline is in agreement with a projection created by NESDEC a number of years ago. During the meeting, Mullen presented that population projection.
“For our purposes, you can see down the line, 14-15, 15-16, etc., there’s really no year, at least NESDEC is projecting, that it goes up. It’s a steady decline,” said Mullen.
Bushell also pointed out that NESDEC has been within one percent of their anticipated population projection for the past 10 years. This year, the secondary population of 4,400 is only 14 students different from NESDEC’s projection of 4,386.
Nazareth attempted to get a general picture of the population during the discussion.
“You’re looking at probably 3,000 in 9th to 12th grade. If you went to two schools, it’s 1,500. There is still less than 400 per class,” she said.
The administrations said in the general sense that would be correct.
“Based on the projections, and those can go either way, but if you look at the projections, I don’t see any of our high schools, with the exception of Pilgrim for quite a few more years, being over 1,000. The other two will not be over 1,000,” said Mullen.
The discussion also briefly turned towards the reasons for a declining student population in the city. Bushell cited the airport expansion, population changes and the cost to live in the Northeast with a lack of jobs as just a few contributing factors. Committee member Ed Racca also said the live birth rate in Warwick has been on the decline since 2000. Bushell agreed.
“We used to have 11-change. Now we’re down in the high nines,” said Bushell on the live birth rate, which was also included in the reviewed data.
The discussion also turned to an increase in students attending public schools.
“Well here’s some reasons for that,” said D’Agostino. “What happens is if you put them in private schools for high school, they’re not subjected to senior project, they’re not subjected to the NECAP assessment portfolio.”
There was also mention of the effect of charter schools, which are championed by Education Commissioner Deborah Gist, on public schools.
“What you have now is not only Providence, but you also have those Providence schools accepting from North Providence, Cranston and Warwick,” said Mullen.
Chief Budget Officer Anthony Ferrucci was present at the meeting and took a few minutes to explain the financial circumstances associated with charter schools. When Ferrucci came into his position two and a half years ago, he estimates there were 30 students in charter schools; now he says there are over 105.
“It costs us per pupil, sending a check, $9,000,” said Ferrucci. “We also lose $3,000 in state aid. So that’s $12,000 per pupil times 100 pupils, that’s about $1 million that’s going out the door.”
D’Agostino pointed out again that Gorton and Aldrich are the two buildings in the district rated a three and in need of close to $18 million in repairs and renovations each to reach a rating of one according to the Department of Education’s building assessment.
“Even if we say ‘OK, we don’t need to bring them up to a one, we bring them up to a two,’ that could still cost $10 million apiece,” said the superintendent. “I’d rather take $10 million, $20 million and put it into instruction, technology, do those types of things.”
D’Agostino said the “drain” on finances needs to be removed so programs such as all-day kindergarten or advances in the Career Center can jumpstart a population return.
The next Long Term Facilities Planning Committee meeting will be on Thursday, Aug. 29 at 4 p.m. at the Administration Building.