Now what for schools?
Adrift. That word best describes the condition of Warwick schools following Tuesday night’s vote to further prolong inaction in response to declining secondary school enrollment.
Understandably, the decision to bring in the “experts” after an exhaustive examination and unanimous recommendation of a study committee to close Aldrich and Gorton Junior High Schools and consolidate a high school as a junior high comes as a relief to those who sought to save the schools. We saw the same thing last year, when many of the same committee recommended closing Gorton. The School Committee shot down that plan in favor of delaying any action until completion of a long-range plan.
Evidently, some committee members bought the argument that there are wiser minds beyond Warwick, although we won’t be surprised when those expert findings are released and we’ll hear, “What do they know? They don’t live here.”
We appreciate that schools are not merely buildings and that long-range planning needs to incorporate components like universal all-day kindergarten and middle schools with grades 6 through 8 rather than the existing junior high model. Those changes were discussed by the long-term facilities planning committee and they were considered, if not thoroughly studied.
What’s disheartening after such earnest and exhaustive study is that the School Committee (five people, not the 15 individuals of the study committee) could not reach an agreement and, in essence, elected to start all over again.
We don’t believe consultants will return with any different conclusions. The trend in the decline of school enrollments or the capacities of school buildings will continue. That’s straightforward math and projection.
What they might offer are alternatives on the buildings that best fit the long-term needs of the system. Whether that is the case or not, the debate over closing schools will happen all over again. It will just be a different set of parents and students.
Meanwhile, the committee faces the decision of whether to sink funds into upgrading buildings that eventually close. While there were strong arguments that smaller classes make for better education, will the mayor and the City Council and the taxpayers provide the level of funding to sustain such operations?
Unless the committee and the department can reach consensus on a plan soon, those holding the purse strings would question the efficacy of additional or even level funding for schools. Instead of being adrift, the system could be in a downward spiral.