School Committee says 'no' to charters in Warwick

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The Warwick School Committee has taken a united stand against charter schools. The committee unanimously approved a resolution opposing any charter school from opening within the city.

The resolution was introduced at Wednesday night’s meeting at Warwick Vets Junior High School by committee member Karen Bachus, who argued that charter schools take away vital funding from the local public schools that are already strapped for cash year to year.

“Whereas, the Warwick School District currently expends $1.2 million for 100 children whose parents choose to educate them in specialized charter schools located outside of the City of Warwick,” Bachus read from the resolution. “Whereas, the funding apportioned for each student follows the child to his/her enrolled charter school but remains with that school should the child transfer out after the October deadline, which creates further funding issues for Warwick Schools.”

“…Be it further resolved, that the Warwick School Committee does not support the establishment of publicly funded, privately owned and governed Charter Schools or Mayoral Academies in the community of Warwick, Rhode Island.”

The resolution is especially timely, Bachus mentioned, as the city received a serious bid offer over the summer from The International Charter School (based out of Pawtucket) to purchase the former Aldrich Junior High School building and renovate it into their new home – what would eventually become a K-8 charter school in the heart of Warwick.

In that bid, the International Charter School offered to purchase the property for $1.9 million and make about $6.9 million in renovations. They would pay $70,000 a year in a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) program, which is equitable to a commercial property tax rate on a property assessed at $2,305,665, according to a study sanctioned by the city’s planning department, which was released in October.

However Bachus criticized that the property itself is worth more, and that the city should seek a commercial property owner who will pay more in taxes. The planning department cited an assessment made by Peter M. Scotti & Associates that, in September of 2017, valued the Aldrich property at $2,535,000.

“I don’t think [a charter school is] the best use of that property at Aldrich,” Bachus said.

The bid from the International Charter School initially gained some support among members of the Warwick City Council, specifically from Ward 2 councilman Jeremy Rix (who sponsored a resolution to accept their bid for Aldrich in October). However the issue was ultimately tabled indefinitely, and has not appeared on a council docket for months.

The primary cause of concern among the School Committee is the way that charter schools are funded in the state – through public taxpayer dollars – which they argued has a serious financial detriment on the Warwick public school system.

“I have some problems with charter schools, not the least of which is how they’re funded. At the same time, I think competition is good – but it comes at the public expense, and that’s the problem,” committee member David Testa said. “Until the state comes up with a better way to fund this, I fully support this [resolution].”

Union president Darlene Netcoh agreed with the merits of the resolution.

“Although the Warwick Teachers’ Union and the Warwick School Committee frequently disagree over certain issues, one issue in which we are in complete agreement is that Warwick does not need a charter school or a mayoral academy,” she said in a statement. “Although I could fill a tome with all of the reasons against charter schools, I will simply concur with the Warwick School Committee’s resolution, thank the members of the WSC for their resolution and offer them my assistance to prevent a charter school or mayoral academy from establishing itself in Warwick.”

In October, when the International Charter School bid had gained some momentum and support in the city, Julie Nora, director of nonprofit charter school – cognizant of the fear of losing public school dollars – said during an interview that she would be willing to enforce a capped limit of the number of Warwick students who could attend the charter school at 5 students per year.

With nine grade levels in K-8, this would mean a maximum of 45 students from Warwick could be drawn from the public school system each year.

School finance director Anthony Ferrucci calculated that this would cause the district to lose – at a minimum – $680,000 a year in state funding.

This figure is calculated by taking the various formulas that determine how much funding the Warwick public school district receives from the state – which when combined amount to $17,146 in aid, per student – and multiplying it by 45.

The resulting loss of $771,570 would be mitigated by “at best” $90,000 in cost savings by not having to accommodate those 45 students annually, according to Ferrucci. The final result is the aforementioned figure of around $680,000 per year the district would lose due to the presence of the charter school – assuming that 45 students from Warwick do indeed wish to attend the charter school.

Such a loss would be added to the approximately 100 students who already attend out-of-district charter schools, which as was mentioned resolution adds up to an approximately $1.2 million loss that the district must provide to those schools, as part of the state’s policy for funding charter schools.

Additionally, both Netcoh and Bachus were highly critical of a policy in the state that allows a charter school to accept a student from a public school district, earning them the funding for that pupil, only to release the student back to the public school district prior to October (for what can be various reasons) while keeping the funding they received for the year.

Although the International Charter School is a not-for-profit charter school, Bachus nonetheless expressed her disdain that some charter schools are for-profit entities.

“Some of these corporations are trying to take over education and, perhaps, teach by computers or things like that, when we know the best education comes from people actually teaching and working with our children,” she said. “For someone to make a profit or have a business that makes a profit off the backs of children and giving them less just makes me sick.”

Chairwoman Bethany Furtado echoed this sentiment, and thanked Bachus for spearheading the resolution while imploring the city’s State House representatives to advocate on behalf of the public schools instead of charters.

“For a for-profit entity to come in and take money from the classrooms that our educators need, want and deserve it’s frustrating to say the least,” she said. “And until and unless they change things on Smith Hill, we will continue to bang the table and bang the gavel and remind our representatives and senators up on the hill that they need to address the funding formula in the state.”

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