School Committee opposed to Mayoral Academies
The Warwick School Committee approved a resolution last Wednesday in opposition to an application to build two Mayoral Academy elementary schools in Providence, which would also have students attend from Warwick, Cranston and North Providence.
Two hearings have been scheduled in Providence: one on Wednesday, Dec. 7 at 6 p.m. at the Robert F. Kennedy Elementary School, 195 Nelson St., and one the following night at the same time at Dr. Jorge Alvarez High School, 375 Adelaide Ave.
The committee has requested that hearings also be held in Warwick, Cranston and North Providence.
Yesterday, Elliot Krieger, spokesman for the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE), said they will respond but didn’t know how soon.
The application was submitted by Providence Mayor Angel Tavares. If approved, the academies would be run by Achievement First, a private company based in Connecticut. The mayors of all four communities support the application.
Reasons for the committee’s objection ranged from charter schools not meeting average yearly progress (AYP) to the district losing funding; it would experience a reduction in financial aid and would have to pay tuition for students leaving Warwick to attend.
“State aid is redirected to the charter school for any student that goes,” said Anthony Ferrucci, the school department’s director of business affairs.
Ferrucci said the department currently pays $160,000 for students attending charter schools at a $9,300 per pupil, which is set by RIDE. With a $12,600 per pupil cost for students attending the academies, he said that number could rise to as much as $2 million.
“That’s cash out the door,” he said.
“We can’t address five students leaving one school and account for a cumulative $2 million loss,” Ferrucci said.
Rosemary Healey, director of human resources and legal counsel for the committee, said the application was submitted to RIDE on Oct. 15 but her committee only learned of it within the past two weeks.
Given the millions needed to address infrastructure and academic needs, Healey said she’s concerned the academies would put the district in “further dire financial straits.”
Healey said she also has concerns with the application itself.
“Current legislation requires that a building be identified in the application, but a quick review shows no building and no funding has been identified,” she said. “That should put the process on a slower track, if not completely derail it.”
Before the application in Providence, Healey said there was a proposal submitted for Cranston, which got shot down.
“There’s verbiage from both plans in the current proposal,” she said. “The original plan was for Cranston and bits from the original plan have been cut and pasted to the current plan.”
Healey said there are other potential costs associated with the academies that could worsen the financial future for Warwick.
“There could be an additional significant financial loss to Warwick due to the fact that one of their main recruitment efforts is to attract students eligible for free and reduced lunch, which is built into the state funding formula,” she said. “The scarce resources that we’re already fighting for, such as grants and state aid, could become even more scarce.”
Healey said the committee was being asked to address the financial impact of the academies, but said, “As you can glean, there are academic points of concern as well.”
“I’m very concerned about taking young Kindergarten and first grade students to another site, whether or not they receive the educational experiences they ought to under the Basic Education Plan [BEP],” said Superintendent Dr. Peter Horoschak. “I’m not confident it’ll be superior to what’s offered in our district.”
Horoschak said Warwick has strong and committed people at all levels that are competent and professional.
“There’s been information coming from Achievement First that students are having difficulty making average yearly progress,” he said. “Our students have met AYP standards. Why take a chance on another entity without the oversight of this school committee and professional staff? It’s something to be concerned about.”
Committee member Terri Medeiros said she looked at data from Achievement First academies in Connecticut with regard to the percentage of English Language Learner (ELL) students in the community against the percentage at the academy and found they don’t correlate.
“There are significantly less or no ELL students enrolled in the academies. They don’t have the same diversity in the charter schools as the public schools,” she said. As an example, Bridgeport has 13 percent of students that are ELL but only 6 percent at the Bridgeport Academy. “They claim to have the same setup as the surrounding community, but it’s not the case.”
Committee vice chairman Patrick Maloney said he was opposed to an application submitted in October without the committee having knowledge of it until mid to late November.
“I was asked questions about the mayoral academies at Thanksgiving dinner, like I’m supposed to be the expert, but I didn’t have enough data,” he said. “I heard through e-mail that the mayors have been discussing this for at least a year.”
Maloney said community members haven’t been given an opportunity to speak on the issue.
“No public person is at this meeting to defend what will happen to their children,” he said. “There were no meetings in Providence, Warwick or Cranston to talk about this as opposed to how the funding formula meetings were handled with meetings all over the state that involved all the stakeholders.”
Maloney said he invited Mayor Scott Avedisian to Wednesday’s meeting to support the academies and was surprised he wasn’t there.
In an e-mail to the Beacon, Avedisian said he exchanged e-mails with Maloney but said he wasn’t aware of an invitation.
Avedisian said, “And while I am disappointed that they voted against the mayoral academy, I will continue to provide information on why I believe they have a place in our public education system.”
Maloney said he was unable to find information regarding the administrative cost of the academies.
“We don’t know how much money will go to our students and how much will go to administrative costs,” he said. “If it’s costing us $12,600 to send a student there, I want them to get $12,600 worth of an education. In Warwick, our students get every dollar we can squeeze out.”
Maloney continued, saying, “I know Warwick’s mission is to put our students’ achievement first, but I’m not sure Achievement First puts our students’ achievement first.”
Committee member Eugene Nadeau, an outspoken opponent of charter schools, said the academies are just another step in “diluting the Warwick school system” and part of “a never-ending series of rules, regulations, [and] program changes affecting Warwick and stressing out our teachers, administrators, parents, students, etc.”
“Our students should not have to be bused out of Warwick to receive an education,” he said. “We don’t need all this stuff coming down that hinders us. If we can’t do the job, then we should be bused out of Warwick.”
Nadeau said Warwick can get the job done.
“We have what we need to do what we’re supposed to be doing,” he said. “If mistakes are made, then they need to be corrected and if we don’t know how, then we shouldn’t be sitting here.”
Nadeau said he would vote to approve the resolution because he agreed with most of it but did have one problem.
“All references for funding points to the city of Warwick, unfairly in my opinion. Where is any mention of the school committee’s responsibility in all of this?” he said about parts of the resolution blaming the city for improperly funding schools.
Nadeau said, over the past 25 years, the two union contracts in Warwick have proven detrimental to school operations.
“I know a lot of it is personnel, but there’s blame to be shared for what’s in the resolution,” he said. “The blame lies with what has and hasn’t been done with every contract that has been signed year after year; it’s not all the city’s fault.”
Several officials from Cranston were at Wednesday’s meeting to offer support and advice, having successfully fought the proposal in their district.
Peter Nero, superintendent of Cranston schools, said he was encouraged to have support in the fight.
“It’s been a living hell for me the past seven months. The Association of School Committees has largely been silent on this,” he said. “I’m not against charter schools, but it needs to serve a need our district currently isn’t receiving.”
Nero Cranton’s situation mirrors Warwick, in that in each community only one school didn’t meet AYP.
“They say the benchmarks set by No Child Left Behind are unattainable, but we all attained them. We had one school [that didn’t] and that could be due to one benchmark,” he said. “This is another beast of burden, adding to the dollars going out of the district.”
Andrea Iannazzi, chair of the Cranston School Committee, said what the Warwick committee was doing is brave and offered to answer questions and provide advice.
Iannazzi said Achievement First would stop at nothing, even going as far as to “bus in parents and students from New York City to flood upcoming meetings.”
She said the Cranston school department didn’t have the support of Mayor Allan Fung, who was in favor of the academies.
“It was a slap in the face when our mayor promotes himself as an education advocate but turned his back on the community,” she said.
Lizbeth Larkin, president of the Cranston Teachers’ Alliance, said, although the district was struggling, it was working hard to do more with less to educate students.
“We’ve all come together and worked collaboratively to make our schools the best we possibly can for our students,” she said. “If ELL and special education students don’t fit [the academy], they get sent back to the district, but they [Achievement First] keep the money for the year, so you’re educating the student twice.”
Darlene Netcoh, an English teacher at Toll Gate High School, said she doesn’t support charter schools because they don’t actually service special education and ELL students.
“I believe in educating everybody and that’s why I teach in the Warwick Public Schools,” she said. “If the educational entities in Cranston, Warwick and Providence are against it, why is it out there?”
Warwick School Committee Chair Bethany Furtado thanked the Cranston representatives for attending the meeting and providing feedback.
“We appreciate our friends and colleagues from Cranston and the explanations and information they provided us with,” she said. “We’re tasked with providing the best free education we can, and it’s what we do in Warwick, as evidenced by our test scores, meeting AYP, having Park School named a Blue Ribbon School, and having a science teacher at Pilgrim High School win the Milken Educator Award.”
RIDE’s Board of Regents is expected to vote on approval of the academies in January.