Now that a contract has been reached, this publication will be ecstatic to report on educational stories that don’t involve picketing, angry misunderstandings or personalized agendas. The negativity that festered from the imbalance created by the two sides being at continuous odds needed to end, and mercifully it has.
But now, what we’re left with is an educational situation in Warwick that, while far from unique in the state of Rhode Island, presents a complex and challenging problem for the entirety of the city to deal with – no matter what side of the contract issue you found yourself to be.
Teachers and school staff don’t need to hear it from us or from the state-sanctioned Jacobs report because they work in these schools every day – and they certainly know. The schools need serious work and they needed it years ago. The city estimates $85 million to fix up school buildings to a decent standard, the state estimates $190 million to completely fix everything up to good standards.
Tomorrow the City Council will hear a report on the school department’s pleas to obtain a new bond request. They are not seeking approval at this time, merely input. There are two options right now – a bond for $85 million which is the result of a year-long process of assessing expenses from the city’s school building committee, and a $117.7 million bond which slaps an additional $32 million in order to fulfill state space standards for the elementary level.
Now, any time there is discussion of bonding in a municipality, it’s impossible for people not to be swept up in a sea of disarray, confusion and, in some unfortunate cases, blatant misinformation. This is, after all, a confusing issue with many layers and timelines and estimations and approximations.
Some will be absolutely appalled by the thought of taxpayers being on the hook for either number – just look at how many zeros are after those numbers. However actually breaking things down – and assuming that RIDE reimburses their 40 percent of the costs – the average taxpayer is looking at a modest additional $80 per year in tax payments for the $85 million bond option. Considering the breadth of need in the district, it’s a price that could be much worse.
Perhaps the most divisive issue seen throughout the teachers’ contract mess was the notion of whether or not the teachers or administrators had the “best interest of the kids” in mind. You could sit on either side of the same issue, coming to the complete opposite conclusion as your neighbor about who was right and who was wrong and yet, in all cases, the person with the opposite viewpoint was the one “hurting the kids.”
That must end. The only thing truly hurting our kids’ education now is not having proper spaces for them to learn in, and our teachers not having adequate spaces to instruct in. We can address that problem one way and one way only – through careful, layered bonding over many years, chipping away at what we can do a little at a time. Big, widespread problems require calculated, long-term solutions.
What cannot be done is to allow this bonding issue to be turned political. RIDE has drawn a line in the sand regarding aspirational capacity despite knowing what districts are able to realistically afford. Knowing this, school districts must at least probe the possibility of addressing these standards, even if they know they are unrealistic to bond for. The City Council should be able to recognize this and advise accordingly, not take the opportunity to grandstand about not wasting taxpayer money.
The contract dispute is over, but the real problems have just begun. We have never needed an informed, level-headed and united front between the school committee, school administration and on-the-ground teachers more than we do at this moment. Team up for Warwick so we can provide the kind of education that people felt inclined to picket in defense of.