School candidates spar at forum

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Candidates running for three open seats on the Warwick School Committee gathered inside Studio 107 at Pilgrim High School Tuesday evening for a question-answer forum that covered everything from the role of a school committee in public education to implementation of new technology within the schools.

The forum was made possible by student volunteers, including six students from Pilgrim and Toll Gate High Schools who helped formulate and asked questions to the candidates. Many more students assisted in helping set up camera and audio equipment, lights, setting the stage for the candidates and working with faculty to oversee the entire operation. Students in production classes will be working through the hour and a half of video to produce a finished video that will be broadcast on public access.

All candidates were given the opportunity to answer a wide range of questions, however one candidate – Corey Smith, running for District 3 against Nathan Cornell – was unable to attend the forum due to a commitment teaching a night class at Johnson & Wales University. Smith said he would be answering questions from the forum through a video on his campaign Facebook page in the coming days.

The air dates are scheduled as following, although they may be adjusted depending on time necessary for post-production. PEG RI-TV will be broadcasting the forum, which Cox customers can view on Channel 17 and Verizon customers can view on Channel 37.

Air dates at this time include: Friday, 11/02 at 7 p.m.; Saturday, 11/03 at 4 p.m.; and Sunday, 11/04 at 1 p.m.

The role of a school committee in public education

After giving opening statements, candidates were asked what they believed the role of the school committee should be in regards to helping run the district’s schools. The major theme among candidates here was listening and collaboration.

“A [school committee member is a] nonpartisan member of the community balancing themselves between the taxpayer, the school community, the students – there’s lots of jobs that a school committee member has to do,” said Terri Medieros, running for re-election in District 2. “You have to be aware of all the policies that go into what makes a district work and be able to communicate with whoever is elected in office on the city side.”

Others focused on how school committee members need to be well versed in communication.

“They need to really be on track with what’s going on in the schools, what the parents want, what the teachers need to provide for their students and what’s going on in the administration. So, when it comes down to it, there’s open communication,” said Kyle Adams, running for District 1. “That way we are understanding what every stakeholder needs in order to make a change in Warwick and provide what is best for our students.”

“You can’t make decisions on education unless you know what’s happening in schools,” said Nathan Cornell, running for District 3. “You need to go there, you need to talk to principals, you need to talk to teachers and you need to talk to students. You need to have all the facts before you make decisions.”

The role of the school committee also necessarily intertwines with the legislative branch of the city government, the city council, as the council is responsible for appropriating money from the city budget to the schools. Being able to work with the city council, which has openly displayed mistrust of the school department in recent months in regards to issues around policy and financial matters within the schools, was another important topic of the evening.

“The majority of the problem I think is the fact that there is no trust of the school committee,” said Judy Cobden, running in District 2. “They feel as though a lot of the money was wasted, and they don’t want to give any more out right now to this current school committee. That’s my opinion of what I’ve heard.”

“I say we need to step up as a group and get after the city council. Make them understand it’s very important,” said Richard Cascella, running for District 1. “We should all be together. We all want the same thing, it’s just how do we get there. I think it’s important we try to impress on the city that this is an investment into the future of Warwick and we need to get together on that.”

However, the fact that communication is occurring now – representatives from the city council and school administration and school committee have had multiple meetings with Mayor Joseph Solomon while they attempt to negotiate a challenging budget crisis – was a positive sign for some on the panel.

“I see small bridges being built now…When I first got on, prior to the superintendent that we have now, the communication between the city and the school committee was almost nonexistent,” said Medeiros, adding that it would take time and collaboration for both sides to understand the other’s fiscal situation. “Is there still some strain between some [members of the council]? There is, but I want to keep moving forward for the schools.”

On school safety

Not surprisingly, all candidates placed school safety as a priority. Some, like Medeiros, focused on the positive strides made in the district, such as how the district only had 38 security cameras prior to 2016 whereas, now, there are over 300. “There’s always more we can do,” she measured.

Others were concerned about what they perceived to be crucial issues of safety, such as the public announcement system that has been broken for years at Pilgrim High School. It should be noted that work on that PA system was approved this summer to be conducted through a bid and is due to begin being repaired, along with work to be done on the imperfect PA system at Toll Gate.

Cobden was critical of what she felt was misplaced priorities.

“There are plenty of things that I can see that are wrong. But instead of fixing safety right now…we’ve wasted money on the admin building before the safety of our children,” she said, later saying the district spent $1 million on renovating the Gorton Middle School building into its administrative headquarters. According to school committee meeting records and finance director Anthony Ferrucci, the district actually spent closer to $444,000 between January and October of 2017 on the Gorton building.

Cascella brought up how the teachers have access to a unique security failsafe app on their phones that connects with a municipal emergency response system called Mutual Link. The app, when turned on, provides updates from first responders and can alert police of the presence of people in need of help within the area of an emergency. While he praised the system as a great thing to have access to, he lamented that a small percentage of teachers had actually installed the app within the district.

“In an emergency, with everything else in lockdown or everything else off the grid, it’s nice to know that you can push a button and get real time information about what’s going on as far as school safety goes,” he said.

Cornell said he supported adding more resource officers to schools, and that he was dismayed to hear from students how some of them are actively scared of school violence happening at their school.

“Sometimes they’ve told me they’re scared to even go to school, which should never happen,” Cornell said. “School should be the safest place one can go to.”

On custodial cuts

As part of an effort to cut $6.6 million from the budget to balance the books, 15 custodial positions – some clerical and some cleaning staff – were removed from the budget over the summer to do so. This has resulted in obvious challenges and negative consequences within the schools. While all involved in the district have voiced a need to get the custodians back, there were no clear, immediate options offered Tuesday night on where that money can come from, aside from additional funding from the city.

“I think from a ‘what do you cut standpoint,’ I think most of the cutting that can be done, it’s been established that it has been done as best as it could be,” Cascella said. “Custodians are unfortunately a luxury, or nonessential, as far as what the law requires us to provide for certain programs. Custodians fall outside of that, as well as the mentors. So they end up being, unfortunately, the odd men out.”

Cobden suggested looking into the busing schedule in Warwick, as each bus contract runs close to $100,000 and, “We’re busing kids around and some of the buses have five children in them,” Cobden said. “That’s a lot of money that we’re spending on buses, and I think that needs to be looked at.”

Medeiros would later bring up that an independent study of buses was commissioned by the school committee earlier this summer, and that she agreed it should be looked into. She also talked about having looked into putting middle school sports on hold for a year or two until the budgetary problems were corrected. She said she was still hopeful the city council could work with them towards restoration of custodians.

Adams offered that there was perhaps a way to absorb cuts elsewhere in the budget without completely gutting one area in particular.

“I think the big problem with what happened with the custodians was that it happened all at once, in such a decimating amount to just the custodians,” he said. “I think if we were able to look at the budget, rather than just choose one department and focus there, we shop around. As much as we don’t want to hear it, we take a little bit of something from everything, rather than a lot of everything from something.”

Cornell was the first to bring up another often talked about issue in regards to funding in Warwick – the state funding formula.

“The custodians definitely need to be re-implemented,” he said. “One thing I found and looked into was the state funding formula for the state. I think there are some things that definitely need to be looked at, because there’s a huge difference between how much we got than Cranston, for example.”

Both Cascella and Medeiros agreed that the state funding formula was not kind to Warwick, and could be reconfigured. Cobden advocated for more lobbying to occur at the State House to make the financial issues of the district more known to state representatives, who could possibly advocate for changes to the formula. On technology

Changes to technology have often caused strife in the district, with a philosophical change coming from the administration in regards to recycling dated technology for new, streamlined technology such as Chromebooks and Promethean Boards. The reasoning, besides being the newest and most capable technology, is primarily the ability to better ensure the security of the devices, update them effectively and maintain them through a cohesive network.

However, the resentment that resulted from this shift in strategy – which some found to be too brash, including some in the Warwick Teachers’ Union and even members of the city council, who called for a special meeting to get to the bottom of allegations that district administrators had arbitrarily been trashing personal property of teachers without alerting them – reared up once again during the forum.

“Just because something is a little outdated, doesn’t mean it’s not useful anymore, and you don’t throw them out, because it might have a use. There’s no communication between the teachers,” said Cobden. “We need to talk to our teachers…It’s important to find out if this is really necessary. Do they really want it? Do they think it’s going to be helpful in the school? They’re the ones teaching our children. We don’t need to buy things that they don’t want and we can’t take away tools that they are using. It’s not up to the school committee or the administration to decide what a teacher is going to use to teach our kids.”

 “We’re in a different world and we need to adapt to this, but we need to do it in the right way and we need to transition,” agreed Cornell. “You need new technology but you can’t get rid of all the other technology.”

“If you’re going for technology, it needs to be done right,” added Adams. “You don’t go for the most expensive thing…you need to go for what works the best, and that’s what it comes down to.”

Cascella said that Chromebooks and Promethean Boards and technology like that has brought the district forward, saying that “an investment in technology is an investment in our schools.”

On working together towards a better district

Perhaps the most common thread between candidates was the concept of better communication and collaboration among school committee members, members of the public – primarily teachers and students – and the city government, as well as those working in the school administration.

“I don’t think there’s anyone who doesn’t work hard in this situation, I think it’s more about working right. And that’s where trust and transparency comes in. We’re not getting anywhere with no one trusting anyone and no one knowing what the other party is doing,” said Adams. “Life is a conversation. You’re not going to get anywhere without communicating.”

For Cobden, respect was a key point.

“I think we need to work as a team,” she said. “I think as far as the school committee and the administration, along with the teachers, there needs to be respect among all of you. I don’t see that, and I haven’t seen that in the three years I’ve been very involved.”

This opened up another avenue involving public comments at school committee meetings. Cobden, Cornell, Adams and Cascella all spoke about the obvious value of having the public be able to provide comments at the beginning of meetings – rather than at the end once everything has already been voted upon. Cornell took the thought a step further, proposing the idea of forming a subcommittee of the school committee that would be comprised of teachers, students and parents.

“I think that committee could accomplish a lot of things,” Cornell said.

Cascella took a different approach to that issue, proposing possibly expanding the school committee to seven members, two of which would be appointed, and possibly having two meetings a month – one where the public would be able to ask specific questions of a subcommittee, and the other the business meeting, similar to how the city council splits its meetings into essentially two parts.

“I think that’s where you’re going to get that exchange that will help bring ideas forward and make everyone feel more engaged in the process and make everyone feel like their opinion matters,” Cascella said.

Medeiros urged everyone in the school district to exercise patience with one another, even when emotions run high, and that compromise and understanding is essential to a healthy school district.

“I think the most important thing is to be a listener. If there is some anger coming towards you, don’t give it back,” she said. “I just don’t think that anger and judging and name calling helps anybody, and everyone who works in our school district is serving the families and I think that if everyone kind of remembers that and backs up, compromise happens. And I’ve seen it happen.”

The Beacon would like to once again thank everyone for their role in setting up the forum, particularly Andrea Place, Christopher Pratt and Rich Denningham of Pilgrim High School, as well as Superintendent Philip Thornton and the six students who volunteered to formulate and ask questions: Rebecca Carcieri, Ryan Corrigan, Zachary Lafontaine, Tara Monastesse, Andrew Powers and Danielle Stone.

Comments

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richardcorrente

I was there. I noticed two things worth commenting on.

1. Nathan Cornell gave the clearest, most concise answers. His opponent didn't even show up. That, to me, gave an overwhelming victory to Nathan.

2. The other thing that caught my attention was the passion that Judy Cobden had for the students and their rights. Twice her answers were so "spot-on" they created a loud applause from the audience that was told "not to applaud". They couldn't help it. She won the night.

I believe these two candidates had a clear win that night and I sincerely believe they will both be excellent choices in November.

As was the case in the Democratic Primary and the recent Mayoral debate, Ethan Hartley and John Howell of The Warwick Beacon are to be commended for all the hard work they put into this event...again. You don't see that in other towns and cities. Warwick is fortunate to have them.

Happy Autumn everyone.

Rick Corrente

The Taxpayers Mayor

Thursday, October 25
WwkVoter

corrente go away please. nearly everyone here has asked you in one way or another. take the hint. you've been caught in so many blatant lies that anything you say simply does not count with anyone here. so why bother (us)?

Thursday, October 25
notausefulidiot

They applauded Cobden twice because she is a shill for the union just like Bachus! Heaven help Warwick if Cobden, Cornell or Adams get elected. The union will have full control of the committee. When the union took control of the committee in East Providence a decade ago the city went into receivership within two years! If you think your taxes are high now watch what happens if they get elected!

Friday, October 26
CrickeeRaven

WwkVoter, it continues to be pathetic how desperate the two-time election reject is to see his comments on this website -- and how he continues to lie.

"You don't see that in other towns and cities."

This is a lie. Here's one example, from Pawtucket: http://www.valleybreeze.com/2018-08-28/pawtucket/tobon-vallecilla-debate-issues-their-third-house-58-matchup

Here's another example, from Providence: https://www.wpri.com/news/dan-mcgowan/providence-mayoral-candidates-target-elorza-in-debate/1418681076

And here's another example, from two nights ago, in North Kingstown: http://www.providencejournal.com/news/20181024/candidate-for-ag-uses-n-word-storms-off-debate-stage

As we know, WwkVoter, the two-time election reject thinks that things don't exist if he doesn't see them -- we know that's a result of his laziness and general lack of knowledge about virtually everything he says in his comments.

In the end, you are correct that nothing he says will affect anything in the city [thank goodness for that], and we can also expect that the candidates running for office will follow the example of honest, taxpaying voters and stay as far away from him as possible.

Friday, October 26
richardcorrente

Dear CrickeeRaven, AKA Mark Carruolo,

You must REALLY like me. I mean REALLY. You hang on my every word. You put me in such esteem that you feel I have an effect on East Providence, North Kingstown, Providence, and even Pawtucket! You comment on literally EVERYTHING I say. I'm not sure who is a bigger fan, you or Scal1024. Gotta admit, it's close. I'm flattered that you read my stuff so religiously. As far as my personal opinion, I'm sure you know that I'm entitled to it, even though you throw a temper tantrum every time I make a comment. But shouldn't you get back to work? After all, you only managed to add 8 new businesses in the last two years to the West Warwick list of new businesses. And CrickeeRaven, if you ever get the courage, my phone number is 338-9900. It's OK.You don't have to talk behind my back. Don't be afraid. I won't hurt your feelings.

You anonymous coward of a critic!

Happy Autumn everyone.

Rick Corrente

The Taxpayers Mayor

Friday, October 26
CrickeeRaven

Now that the two-time election loser has added his two cents -- or, more accurately, his "no sense" -- it can be repeated, again, that he has never justified his conspiracy theory about who uses this screen name, while exhibiting an unhealthy obsession with the former chief of staff who left the city's employment in 2014 and further proving the level of delusional behavior that he will engage in to see his comments on this website.

"[Y]ou feel I have an effect on East Providence, North Kingstown, Providence, and even Pawtucket..."

This is a lie. The two-time election reject claimed that other cities and towns don't hold candidate debates; information was provided that showed his claim to be false. There was no suggestion of any "effect" that the two-time election reject has on anything -- which, as has been proven with two humiliating election losses, is zero.

Honest, taxpaying voters are having a happy autumn knowing that this disgrace of a candidate will never be elected, and will continue to achieve nothing except further humiliating himself through his comments.

Friday, October 26
WwkVoter

I can be lazy too. Case in point, remember when he said that the 2008 crash reduced the number of mortgage brokers from 5500 to 60 (or thereabouts), and he was one of the 60 remaining? I didnt bother to check that, as suspicious as it sounds. THAT is the effect corrente does have. No one believes the poor delusional old man. He really needs an intervention by people who care. Or better yet, he could find the value in truth for the first time in his 70 years.

As to the story, I generally feel the school committee should be education advocates first. Education is key for the upcoming generation to succeed, there is no alternative, it is that important.

Friday, October 26
Bob_Cushman

Something to think about.

According to campaign finance reports Kyle Adams lives at the 44 Bly Street. According to my sources, his mom Diane Chaplin is a teacher at Pilgrim High school and is the Warwick Teacher Union (WTU) Exec Board Secretary. The city assessors web site indicates that she owns and lives at the same address as Kyle.

When I was on the school committee we constantly received confidential information related to employee personnel matters, contract negotiation material and many other documents and communications that if relayed to WTU leadership would cause significant harm to the ability of the administration to do their job.

So is it out of the question to be concerned that if Kyle is elected, living at the same address of his mom, who works for the union's executive board, that confidential information will be shared with union leadership?

Friday, October 26
WwkVoter

Excellent point Bob as always. Although, relationships that share such information especially in local affairs, dont need a roof over them to happen...

Friday, October 26
notausefulidiot

And Bob, wouldn't that mean he would not be allowed to vote on union matters?

Friday, October 26
notausefulidiot

Bob,.who owns Judith Cobden's place of residence?

Friday, October 26
Bob_Cushman

According to my Board of election campaign finance filing, JUDITH COBDEN lives at 35 VAN ZANDT Avenue.

According to the City of Warwick Assessor web site, Current School Committee Member Karen Backus (who is a starch pro Warwick Teachers Union) owes the home at 35 Van Zandt Avenue. The Home is listed on the web site as a single family home with 3 bed rooms.

So this raises all sorts of questions:

1) At what point in time did Judy Cobden move in with Karen Backus?

2) Did she move in with Backus to run for School Committee and stack it with pro WTU members?

3) Is she paying any monetary rent to stay in the home?

4) Is it possible that if she is elected to the School Committee along with Ms. Backus who is not up for reelection, that pressure could be applied by Ms. Backus to Ms. Cobden to vote for initiative supported by Ms. Backus or for Ms. Backus as School Committee Chairperson? Could that be in the form of monetary discounts on rent or other support?

Warwick voters better wake up and figure out what is going on and what will happen to the Warwick School Systems if these conflicted individuals get elected.

It would be the Fox in the chicken coup with the Warwick Teachers Union running the show, resulting in the exodus of the Superintendent and key administration officials trying to reform the system.

notausefulidiot, Adams would be allowed to vote on union matters since his mother is part of the larger WTU group. On matters directly impacted his mom, he would have to recuse himself.

Friday, October 26
Scal1024

Great work Bob.

Friday, October 26
Snozbery26

Thank you Bob for taking the time to do that research! Very interesting, and makes you wonder just why some are so boisterous in their campaigning...

I have to say the hyper-politicized nature of how this campaign year is going, on a school committee that is nonpartisan, it has made me really wonder why...

Let the politicians be shady, let our school committee be unified for our schools and children, not so angsty and against one another!

Saturday, October 27
Thecaptain

Nathan Cornell and Rick Corrente have 2 things in common:

1. They both have no working knowledge of the fiscal issues facing the city.

2. Neither one of them are tax payers.

Saturday, October 27
corkel27

That is an extremely unfair thing to throw out there, Mr. Corrente. Ethan Hartley made it clear at the beginning of the event that Mr. Smith was not there for a VERY GOOD reason. He is a professor at JWU and has a responsibility to his students. The original date for this forum was Monday, Oct. 22 and Corey told Ethan he would be there. When it was changed to the next night, Corey told Ethan he could not make that night and Ethan said unfortunately it could not be changed. Corey was very upset to miss this event. To say he "didn't even show up" suggests he had no interest in being there and that is simply untrue.

For anyone interested in hearing Corey's CLEAR AND CONCISE answers, visit: https://www.facebook.com/231677017585383/videos/688311688212520/

Monday, October 29
CrickeeRaven

Thank you, corkel27, for adding your voice to the many commenters who provide factual information that disproves the two-time election reject's disgraceful statements.

He had no right [or, as you point out, proof] to say such a thing about a candidate who had a legitimate reason why he could not attend.

Unfortunately, the two-time election reject has shown no ability or willingness to do the barest of research or fact-finding to support anything he says. Mr. Smith should not spend any further time worrying about the two-time election reject's statements, as our honest, taxpaying neighbors have given the two-time reject the clearest indication that his words will have no effect on anything in Warwick.

It's a defect in his behavior, not anyone else's, that he doesn't accept what they told him.

Monday, October 29
JohnStark

The city spends more-per-student, in some cases much more than any surrounding community. In exchange, academic competency levels are deplorable. Deplorable! However, it would appear (predictably) that none of that is a topic for debate, discussion, or even mention amongst candidates for school committee. While candidates sing Kumbaya ("Life is a conversation." Good grief!) we spend more and more money in exchange for less and less competency. Until some semblance of genuine accountability is introduced to this collection of navel-gazers, these "small bridges" of which Ms. Medeiros speaks will continue to be built on broad sand hills of illiteracy.

Tollgate Math proficiency: 21.9%

Pilgrim Math proficiency: 12.7%

And the response from those seeking leadership: "Life is a conversation." Kumbaya.

Tuesday, October 30
Cat2222

RC has a problem with credibility, accuracy and transparency. He also tends to assume and we are all aware of what that makes him.

Thursday, November 1
NewBloodinWarwick

I am relatively new to Warwick, but I have noticed a few things about this Beacon site.

The same people (Crickee Ravan, The Captian, justianidiot, scalsomething) talk amongst themselves and pat each other on the back. They should just hang out in person and do it.

Rick Corrente needs to go away and stop commenting. The voters have spoken.

If Bob Cushman is going to do research, he should do it on everybody. He should research the other Ward 1 school committee candidate, Rick Cascella. He has been cited for operating an unregistered boat and operating a boat without the required equipment. He also has also been caught speeding and driving with an expired registration. My point is that if he can't be trusted to pay attention to detail in his own life, how can he be trusted to pay attention to detail with the schools? He is only running because Dave Testa told him to. Rick is also a bigwig in the Republican party in Warwick. I thought the school committee is nonpartisan. Also, Casella is sucking up to the WISE union. Where is the outrage about his connection to that union? Check his record.

Friday, November 2