There was a palpable change in the atmosphere at the Warwick School Committee meeting Tuesday night – a change that seemed to settle things down back towards a direction of normality.
There was still a huge crowd, sure. There was still noticeable animosity from some in the audience, of course. There were still the curious bursts of applause in the midst of committee members speaking as though the business meeting was the world’s least exciting game show.
But once the committee unanimously approved the tentative agreement which will – if there is a higher power who even slightly loves us – soon become a ratified collective bargaining agreement, the tension of the last few meetings, which could be described without hyperbole as venomously vitriolic, seemed to melt away.
There is nothing standing in the way of a deal now except for the Warwick Teachers’ Union. Regardless of whether or not you like unions, nobody can argue that they didn’t do their job throughout these last two years of fighting tooth and nail for absolutely every single possible provision they felt they were entitled to. Nobody can say that the final resulting contract isn’t the concoction of countless hours of compromise and debate.
While the damage this impasse has caused between the school administration and its teachers – especially those who have been in the district long enough to remember the last time things got this bad – may never possibly be repaired to a healthy point again, all that can be done now is move on and try to craft a better future of education for the children. In the end, that’s what all this craziness was supposed to be about in the first place.
Making hard choices for the benefit of children is exactly what school committees and school administrations must do across the country every day, and Warwick is faced with the difficult decision of grappling with unrealistic state regulations and declining enrollment, capped with a dilapidating cherry on top to the tune of about $190 million in projected renovations needed to get the schools back into good shape.
With such a situation, the argument “I really like my local school” simply isn’t good enough. That is really the only reason why parents and some city officials are fighting the school’s consolidation plan. They want to keep John Brown Francis Elementary as their school – for their children and their children’s children. Without a question, they have a right to that sentiment.
However when hard choices must be made, emotional pleas simply don’t cut it. Sixth graders do not belong in elementary schools, and they have already been delayed in getting into a proper model once. The consolidation plan was approved because it makes good financial and educational sense. It is also contingent on some schools being closed, and others being re-purposed.
The motion to table the motion to delay the consolidation was only narrowly passed, 3-2, because David Testa is an analytical thinker and a truly benevolent person. He may believe that, with more time, maybe a better solution will arise that can make everyone happy. Maybe it will be thought of in time for next month’s meeting.
More than likely, however, someone will have to swallow a bitter pill. As Vonnegut wrote repeatedly in Slaughterhouse-Five, “So it goes.”