November 23, 2014
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With deadline, committee works to define school consultant’s role
Jen Rodrigues
GETTING DOWN TO BUSINESS: On Tuesday night, the second meeting of the subcommittee to create the request for proposal to hire a consultant to evaluate the Warwick School District was held, and the members worked well to start coming up with an early draft of the RFP and assigned some projects to be completed for the next meeting.

Faced with a June deadline, the subcommittee charged with drafting specifications for a consultant who will assess school building requirements and programs for the future has stepped up meetings.

When the subcommittee met for the first time on March 15, subcommittee Chairwoman and School Committee member Karen Bachus said she did not want to set a timeline and wanted to ensure the subcommittee did all the work they could to get the job done right.

That changed during the School Committee’s April meeting, when the committee voted to have the RFP ready by their June 10 meeting. The subcommittee is now scheduled to meet every Tuesday (with the exception of May 13 because of the School Committee meeting) through June 3 to get the job done.

Likely due to the short notice about the meeting, only seven members of the 12-member subcommittee were able to attend, along with about eight members of the community as an audience, but the committee was able to plan a number of items they would like to have by next Tuesday’s meeting, including a working draft of the RFP, a list of consultants used previously by the city and other school districts, a collection of studies completed by the School Department in recent years, and a copy of the city’s Comprehensive Plan as well as the Warwick Public School’s Strategic Plan.

During new business on Tuesday, subcommittee members Jennifer Mann and Neena Savage each presented portions of RFP drafts they had created. Mann, who formerly worked as Director of Planning for Care New England, explained it would likely be easier for the subcommittee to work on a document that was already created as opposed to writing one as a group.

“What I forwarded to Karen was kind of just a first draft of things that I thought should be considered for an RFP,” said Mann, who used the minutes from the March meeting to put together some ideas. “It seems a little overwhelming to create a document as a committee. But I think if you have a document, the committee can really work to tweak it and make it better.”

Mann said she used the city’s Comprehensive Plan and the Warwick School District’s Strategic Plan as a resource when drafting her document.

An attorney by trade, Savage drafted a mission, process, goals and deliverables within her document, sharing her mission statement with the group.

“The goal of the subcommittee is to develop a detailed RFP that provides that the bidding entity will provide an analysis of the optimal educational goals for City of Warwick students in grades K through 12 for the next five, 10, 15 and 20 years. The scope of the RFP and the work of the successful bidder will be outlined by the subcommittee in order to ensure that comprehensive plans and processes are provided by the successful bidder. The details of the comprehensive plan, the deliverables, will be vetted by the subcommittee,” said Savage.

She saw the goal of the subcommittee as guiding the RFP process.

After some discussion, it was decided it would be easier for Mann and Savage to get together this week and combine their two documents into one and send it to each subcommittee member for review and discussion at next week’s meeting.

Jennifer Ahearn, subcommittee and School Committee member, also said subcommittee member Dean Burdon, a CPA with a great deal of experience writing RFPs, had also provided a draft of his own. He, however, was unable to attend the meeting. Ahearn planned to send his draft to Mann and Savage to see if there was anything else worth adding to the draft document.

“I think with the amount of work done by these two women, it gives us a great springboard,” said Councilwoman Camille Vella-Wilkinson, a subcommittee member.

Within her document, Mann included a list of questions for the subcommittee, but one that sparked discussion was having a list of companies to send the RFP to, as well as a public announcement of it.

“It’s my experience that you also want to kind of research and directly contact those people you think would be good candidates to respond to the RFP,” said Mann.

The subcommittee decided to compile a list of consultant companies used by other school districts in the region, suggested by the Rhode Island Department of Education, and used by the city during their comprehensive planning. Those companies could then be researched and see if they would be a good fit for the job.

Ahearn also added that the school district has completed studies that would not need to be repeated by the hired consultant. Those should be listed and provided within the RFP.

“Some of these deliverables have already been completed by the long-term facilities planning committee. I don’t want us to go too overboard with these deliverables because this is going to cost us money,” said Ahearn.

Vella-Wilkinson added that the city rolled in existing information and plans into their comprehensive plan, and she felt that the same could be done in this case. Those items include a building efficiency survey completed in 2008 by an environmental company, the school department’s list of capital improvement needs for the buildings, the strategic plan including educational goals and a recent technology needs assessment by RIDE.

During the meeting, there was a lot of discussion of the school district’s strategic plan, so it was decided the hyperlink to that document would also be sent to each member of the subcommittee so they could be familiar with the vision for the school district. Vella-Wilkinson also offered to bring in her materials related to the city’s Comprehensive Plan, including their RFP, if that could be helpful.

There was clarification among the subcommittee during the meeting as well. The final decision on the consultant who is hired does fall to the school committee. Bachus also added that she expects the consultant to provide at least two proposed plans for the district, but no more than three.

Ahearn spoke to getting some involvement from school administrators in the process to ensure the educational goals of the Warwick School District can be reflected. Vella-Wilkinson would be able to speak to the city’s Comprehensive Plan, which was approved by the City Council, to ensure the future vision for the city is also represented, if necessary.

“I think it’s important for everyone to be involved,” added Bachus. “We want to do this right.”

There was also discussion of coming up with a list of evaluation questions for the consultants that respond to the RFP and of how involved or available the subcommittee would be after the RFP is sent out. Many concerns were pushed back until the working draft is completed, however, and other members agreed the committee should be available in some way to answer questions about the RFP because they are the ones who created it.

“I would hope the school committee would want the subcommittee available for the selection process,” said Bachus.

In addition, Mann said it would be helpful to have someone from the school administration or the business office available to make sure all requirements for an RFP from the school department are accounted for.

During a brief time for public comment, David Testa reminded the subcommittee to include Warwick’s Career and Technical Center into the vision because the program is great but too small. Warwick special education teacher Ken Genereux brought up a number of concerns, including the need for a clear vision of the future of education in Warwick such as all-day kindergarten or middle school and clearly defining those goals, whether that is defined by the consultant or during the RFP process. Additionally, Genereux addressed concerns related to the weighting of students based on their needs, something that had also come up briefly during the meeting while discussing facility needs.

“I know, from a contractual point of view, I deal with it as a special educator all of the time. The weighting system is very antiquated. It doesn’t service our students very well at all,” he said in his comments.

Earlier in the meeting, Ahearn had pointed out that the weighting system comes from a contact with the unions, and it would be good to hire a consultant with knowledge of contracts to ensure those areas are met properly during the evaluation.

Finally, Tom Flanders, coach of Pilgrim High School’s girls’ lacrosse, asked the subcommittee to ensure athletic fields and programs are also covered when asking a contractor to look at facilities. He said if the facilities are improved, there is a great deal of opportunity for use by various recreation leagues.

The next meeting of the subcommittee for the RFP will be held on Tuesday, May 6 at 7 p.m. in the School Committee Conference Room at the School Administration Building.


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