Vote on school consolidation delayed

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The future of John Brown Francis Elementary School remains up in the air for the time being, as the Warwick School Committee voted to table a motion to halt the repurposing of that school and the closing of two others until September of 2020 for more discussion at the Dec. 12 meeting.

“I want to be clear that this motion only relates to the closing of the elementary schools, and all other elements of the elementary consolidation should move forward as planned,” said Nadeau in his motion to freeze consolidation plans that would close John Wickes and Randall Holden Elementary Schools for June 2018 and re-purpose John Brown Francis Elementary into space for an early children learning center.

The attempts to stop the consolidation plan, which was approved by the committee in 2016, have heated up recently through a grassroots initiative known as Operation Falcon – a group comprised primarily of parents of students at John Brown Francis (JBF) and joined by Ward 1 City Councilman Richard Corley – who argue that community schools like JBF are essential cogs in the machinery of their neighborhoods.

“This is going to hurt our city and hurt a neighborhood where we have a potential to see a lot of home building,” said school committee member Karen Bachus. “Why would you take a great, high scoring elementary school offline that’s important to everyone in the community, including the businesses, neighbors whose children went there 30, 40 years ago – it’s vital.”

Superintendent Philip Thornton spoke up after the motion to say that delaying the closing and re-purposing of the elementary schools would render the other key element of the consolidation plan – moving 6th graders out of an elementary model and into a middle school model with 7th and 8th graders – impossible.

“We can’t have Grade 6 move up and leave the schools open,” Thornton said. Budget director Anthony Ferrucci would later explain that the costs saved from closing and not renovating Randall Holden and John Wickes Schools would amount to $2,244,900. Renovations to those two buildings are projected to cost $15,371,730 if left open.

Moving the 6th grade up would accrue approximately $1,770,000 in staffing costs, as educators and administrative staff such as principals and vice principals would need to be added at the middle school level to account for the new 6th graders in both Veterans Jr. High School and Winman Jr. High – which will both become grade 6-8 middle schools next school year.

Moving 6th grade up to the middle school level is an element to the consolidation plan that nobody seemed to disagree with.

“In Rhode Island there are 32 school districts,” said committee chairwoman Beth Furtado. “Of those 32 school districts, there are two that do not have a middle school model.”

Those two districts? Block Island and Warwick.

“I can’t support anything that stops us from moving 6th graders up, because it’s too important to those kids,” said committee member David Testa. “It’s the best model statewide, it’s the best model nationally and I’d argue it’s the best model emotionally and socially for these kids. If we have to somehow not do that for two more years, that’s 1,200 kids that will not get to experience 6th grade middle school, and that just doesn’t sit with me. I just can’t support that.”

Bachus suggested that Nadeau amend his motion to find a different school, other than JBF, to be re-purposed into an early child learning center. One, she said, that is more centrally located in the city.

“I think every school is vital to the community,” retorted Testa, saying he could look into the audience and recognize parents from a number of elementary schools who are all being affected by consolidation.

Comments

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Kammy

I am exhausted by the ridiculous politics that are part and parcel of the Warwick School System.

Tell me, what makes JBF so much more special than the other two schools? Are those schools less important to their communities? Is there some type of quantitative equation that shows that JBF is cranking out better students that is easily seen by the time they graduate from High School??? And please, tell me why JBF school is important to people that graduated 20-40 years ago other than the nostalgia factor. One solid reason why this school needs to stay open for someone who USED to go there?

The more we delay, the bigger the problem will become in a few years time. The same people who are fighting for this school to stay open will be the same ones complaining it is falling down on the heads of their children because we couldn't afford to maintain it.

Thursday, November 16
Bg9385

Nadeau brought up JFB because he has grandchildren that are enrolled there. At a committee meeting last spring he was up in arms that he wanted his neighborhood back and that the school was an economic drain on the city (I'm paraphrasing).

Thursday, November 16
LifeLongWarwick

Kammy, with all due respect, you need to take JBF out of the discussion. While some advocate for that school because it’s vital to them, most opposed to consolidation at this time are questioning the plan itself in whole. One key part that the taxpayers are missing is regardless of whether consolidation moves forward or not, the city needs, and will be seeking, $85M - $120M in bond money for repairs etc. That’s a lot of money for a city almost $1B in debt. This amount has yet to even be presented to City Council to see if it will make it on the ballot next November. That point alone should raise two questions for a taxpayer 1) If the City Council denies the bond in part or in full, then what? What’s the backup plan? And 2) if City Council does approve some amount but the taxpayers come out and deny its approval (given the debt of the city) what’s the backup plan? And this all will happen after a plan is set motion.

This is part of what the oposition side is question. There are a lot of other questions but this is a really important point, sort of like deciding to move out of your house, pack up your stuff, hire a van, empty your life into a truck, move out and then realize you can’t afford the house you thought you were moving to. What do you do? Cart before the horse can be a game we play with our children.

Again there are a lot of questions around this plan (giving money to the administration without a properly vetted plan) but this one is pretty cut and dry. The solution is not easy but taxpayers need to educate themselves because they are the ones who will be forced to pay regardless of how the plan is implemented.

Thursday, November 16
Kammy

LifeLongWarwick, the article highlights Operation Falcon and their fight to save JBF so that is why I asked those questions. The question is why now, why with Operation Falcon, has this caused everyone to give pause and request a delay? I have been in this state for 25 years and I still shake my head at the incredible inefficiencies that constantly plague this place. Sure other states have conflict and opposing views but someone how they manage to get out of their own way and make changes.

If its not some delusional man calling himself the taxpayers mayor, it is the WTU holding the students and parents hostage in negotiations! A real Mayor that apparently no one likes or agrees with but somehow keeps getting elected and don't get me started on car taxes, police/fire overtime or another clam shack that is going to be built across from Iggy's!!!

While you are reviewing the death out of the consolidation issue, the tab will just keep getting bigger and bigger and more of a burden on the taxpayers. This is all inevitable. I am sure we have a lot of people we could blame, but the end result stays the same. We are in debt. We have more schools than students. Are we going to wait another 5 or 10 years to see if a better idea presents itself?

Friday, November 17