Discussions and dealings between the school department and the city administration have often been contentious.
In an effort to bridge that gap, resolve differences, and strengthen communication between the two sides, Mayor Scott Avedisian and School Committee Chairwoman Bethany Furtado worked together to create the Municipal/School Commission, which was established in July through executive order.
“Ensuring that Warwick students have a quality education continues to be a top priority for my administration,” Avedisian said in a release. “In order to further our efforts and build a strong partnership between the city and the school department, Chairwoman Furtado and I established the Municipal/School Commission.”
Avesisian and Furtado recently announced their appointments to the nine-member commission.
“I am very proud to appoint four individuals who have the vision, professional experience and knowledge to enable us to keep the lines of communication open between the city and the school department, enhance our school system and provide students with the best education possible,” Avedisian said in the release. “I would like to thank those who are giving their time to ensure the success of this important commission.”
Avedisian’s appointments include: Ward 1 Councilman Steven Colantuono; Toll Gate English teacher Darlene Netcoh; City Finance Director Ernest Zmyslinski; and Furtado.
“My desire with the appointees was to have stakeholders, the ones who are involved and know what the problems are, because they will know the best direction we need to take to work together and come up with solutions,” Furtado said during a phone interview Tuesday.
Furtado made the following appointments: School Committee member Karen Bachus; Lynn Dambruch, elementary education director of Warwick Public Schools; Mary Townsend, president of the Warwick Independent School Employees (WISE) union; E.T. Wyman Elementary Principal Ron Celio; and Ward 3 Councilwoman Camille Vella-Wilkinson.
The mayor and school superintendent will serve as ex-officio members of the commission. They may attend meetings and offer comments and suggestions but will have no voting privileges.
“Our goal is to cultivate an excellent relationship between the city and the school department,” Furtado said in the release. “My hope is that we can and will move forward together and make Warwick and its school district second to none.”
With the announcement coming only weeks before Avedisian faces off against Stacia Petri in a Republican mayoral primary on Sept. 9, School Committee member Eugene Nadeau said the commission feels like a political move.
“I think it’s something to help the mayor’s election,” he said, adding that all the appointees are “good people.”
Nadeau said the notion of the city administration and the school department cooperating and working together to help each other out has come up repeatedly over the past three years.
“We’ve been working together the last few years with the city to find opportunities to unite and get something done to benefit one another, but not much has come of it,” he said. “I don’t see anything positive that has come out of that; there’s no concrete evidence, but with the commission maybe that will be different.”
Nadeau said it would be nice for the schools to get some help from the city with its athletic fields, which are in need of improvements. Nadeau has also long advocated for the city to take ownership of the principal and interest payments on bond funds designated for school building repairs and upgrades, a cost the school department has been responsible for, unlike other school districts throughout the state.
“The commission could look there first to help out the schools,” Nadeau suggested. “That issue needs to be addressed.”
Furtado said one of the areas the commission can look at is opportunities to combine services and eliminate redundancies.
“We can definitely look at separate entities and unions with similar services and make the most of what we have and combine areas where we can both benefit,” she said.
Furtado said she expects the first meeting to take place shortly after the primary on Sept. 9. When that time comes, she said she hopes to have “frank, meaningful, progressive discussions.”
“Our desire is to figure out ways the city and school department can work together cohesively and cooperatively to move the city and the district along, to make strides to repair our relationship and to work together to make Warwick a top performing district, as it has been in the past,” she said.