Toll Gate filled as dozens vent to school committee

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Judging by the long line of cars parked all along the side of the main access road leading to a nearly full parking lot at Toll Gate High School on Tuesday night, the signs were evident that it wouldn’t be a traditional type of meeting for the Warwick School Committee.

The auditorium, like the parking lot, nearly filled up with close to 500 teachers, parents and Warwick Teacher’s Union members as the committee returned from its regular executive session, and loud cheers and boos of disapproval were the crowd’s standard operating procedure throughout the nearly four-hour meeting that, at points, resembled a daytime tabloid talk show more than it did a municipal meeting.

The main event of the night was without doubt the public comment session. The session, only normally allotted a half hour (give or take a few minutes), went for nearly an hour and a half continuously, as more than 25 people took to the podium to voice short, passionate bursts of grievances.

The comments included anger over class sizes, jabs about still not having a contract, tearful ploys to the committee to reconsider their stance on eliminating elementary guidance positions, disbelief at dysfunctional technology that plagued the first week of school and outrage at perceived wasteful spending, from unnecessary instructional training to multiple monogrammed uniforms for janitorial staff.

Throughout all the public comments, which were far too numerous to post in their entirety in this format, a big picture message from Warwick Teacher’s Union member Mike Pierce perhaps resonated the most with the audience.

“The discord in this room should be telling you something,” he said. “In short, you’ve wanted to simply reduce this to a display of power...Be careful what you wish for. If you reduce this to raw power, you aren’t going to like it. You don’t have the power – we do, whenever we decide to flex it. You cannot run this district without us. You can’t replace us all. We can shut down the district any day we want.”

Pierce’s comments obviously relate to the fully bloomed jungle of discontent that exists between the school’s administration and many of the teachers in the district, who are now into a third consecutive school year without a contract.

In response to the anger over a lack of a contract, Superintendent Philip Thornton reiterated Wednesday the school committee’s willingness to reach an agreement and said that Mayor Scott Avedisian, who had been participating in negotiations between the two sides as a neutral mediator, had asked the sides to come together last week to discuss contract language regarding class sizes and special education assigning – two topics the union has continually pointed to as a breaking point.

“The union rejected that offer,” Thornton said.

Darlene Netcoh, president of the Warwick Teacher’s Union, said that the school committee was only willing to meet to discuss those two issues, nothing more, which didn’t fly with the union’s other concerns.

“While they are two of our most significant issues, they are not the only ones,” she said. “The fact they want us to drop all our grievances has to be discussed, and there are other issues as well.”

The results of interest arbitration should be released soon, and then it will have to be seen whether or not the union abides by the contractual language that will become binding via that decision. However, there may yet be another monkey wrench thrown into the increasingly confusing situation should the one-day Legislative Session of the Rhode Island Assembly held on Sept. 19 result in an override of Governor Gina Raimondo’s veto of the evergreen contract bill, which would reinstate the language of the previous contract.

In terms of actual business, the committee accepted the resignation of Sara Monaco, Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment, and approved her replacement, Wendy Amelotte, who was a principal in the North Kingstown school district.

“You had the perfect opportunity to eliminate an expensive and unnecessary position in the administration,” said Netcoh during her public comment in response to this move. “You could have put any number of people into it, combined positions or consolidated it. You have no problems eliminating elementary guidance but for some reason you have big problems eliminating bloated administration.”

The committee approved more than $72,456.80 in contract bid awards, including software licensing for early education support (an application called Squiggle Park), a new exterior door at Warwick Veterans Junior High, 1,500 new door stops for use in the whole district and electrical increases to support new technology across the district.

“I just wanted to say I would gladly give up my doorstop and Squiggle Park for a guidance counselor at the elementary level,” said one teacher from Warwick Neck Elementary School during public comment.

A new social media policy that would “establish the standards, procedures, and guidelines for social media use by employees” was eventually tabled due to some concerns over some specific elements of the policy’s language, however all committee members agreed that the document would eventually be a necessary and well thought out piece of legislation for the modern educational era.

“This is what happens when you sit around a table and talk to each other like adults,” said committee member David Testa. “You can get something done.”

In regards to elementary guidance counselors, committee members Testa and Karen Bachus successfully cropped $155,000 from the budget last month to save 1.5 elementary guidance counselors. Testa once more went to the books, trimming another $45,000 from modest, low-percentage cuts to various line items to possible save another .5 positions for elementary guidance – which would allow for two full positions.

However his motion, supported by Bachus, was ultimately voted down 3-2 with ‘no’ votes from Gene Nadeau, Bethany Furtado and Terri Medeiros. Only Nadeau gave a reason for his vote, saying that he didn’t have a firm grasp on the impacts that Testa’s cuts might have on the school’s operations.

In response to the committee’s voting down of the motion, one parent spoke during public comment and said that her son suffers from constant anxiety, and refuses to go to school most mornings. “You know what helped him? An elementary guidance counselor,” she said. “Please help my little boy go to school each day without crying.”

In response to the criticisms over class sizes, which were reported at the meeting to be at 19 kids per classroom across the whole district, 20.2 at Toll Gate, 19.4 at Pilgrim, 22.7 at Winman Junior High and 21.5 at Vets, Thornton said that a full report of class sizes will be included in a future School Committee agenda docket, and said that adjustments were being made to the few classes that had inordinately high numbers of students.

In response to heavy criticism regarding the new printer/copiers that replaced existing technology across the district, Director of Technology Douglas Alexander said: “All major systems transitions have their rough patches, and this project was no exception. The problems we encountered were unforeseen, but within two days our team found a fix that has since been working beautifully. As of this writing the district has pumped out over 700,000 pages using the new system in just the first days of school – we think that's a marker of success.”

Still, the public comment portion did bring out several people who stated that they had never felt the need to speak at a school committee meeting before despite being in the district, in some cases, for decades.

“In 20 years of teaching, I have never felt the need to speak in public comment at a school committee meeting,” said Elizabeth Noren, head of the English department at Toll Gate. “I’m speaking here tonight because the launch of this school year has been the worst I’ve ever experienced.”

Comments

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richardcorrente

Congratulations to the Warwick Teachers Union, the School Committee, and Mayor Avedisian.

Reading the above, it's clear to me that in spite of the harsh comments (by several people) you are making good progress. It feels like a new teachers contract is in the making. The conclusion of those meetings will be the greatest improvement to the quality of life here in Warwick, perhaps, ever.

Keep communicating. It's working.

Dave Testa said it best when he said "This is what happens when you sit around the table and talk to each other like adults. You can get something done."

Happy Autumn everyone.

Rick Corrente

The Taxpayers Mayor

Thursday, September 14
CrickeeRaven

The above comment is a complete flip-flop by the fake "mayor," who has repeatedly blamed the school committee for the contract impasse.

He states: "in spite of the harsh comments (by several people) you are making good progress," without including his own statements attacking the school committee over the last several months.

Readers who value honesty and accuracy should consider this example: "I DO blame the School Committee for the Teachers Union rejecting their most recent contract offer. I blame them for trying to sway public opinion by exposing only that portion of the contract that makes the School Committee look good. I think it's a cheap shot. The public doesn't have the whole picture. The School Committee obviously didn't expose the part that DIDN'T make them look good. They are trying to gain public support without showing the whole picture. Trying to win in the court of public opinion is acting in horribly-bad-faith. The Teachers Union didn't do that. They took the moral high ground. They were acting ethically and privately, and the public noticed. The School Committee should be ashamed of themselves. I am ashamed of them and I know many others are too."

He posted this political screed in a comment on an honor roll list: http://warwickonline.com/stories/4th-quarter-honors-posted-at-vets,126273?

The fake "mayor" continues his unblemished record of humiliating himself with his behavior on this site, and will no doubt continue in his future comments.

Thursday, September 14
CrickeeRaven

Also, despite his continued attempts to misrepresent the calendar, fall [or autumn] officially begins Sept. 22.

Thursday, September 14
ThatGuyInRI

I was not at the meeting, but reading of Mr. Pierce's comments to the School Committee it is obvious that he could not be more mistaken.

The WTU does not have the power in this conflict, they are the employees and the School Committee the employer. If it comes to a power play, WTU will lose.

The WTU has historically pushed the school committee around but this is a new one which understands they are the boss, how is this not clear yet?

The WTU has no power as the so-called teacher's unions in this state are not really unions, they're associations. The power of a union is in the ability to strike and this is forbidden by law in RI so teacher's unions are paper tigers. Sure, they could go on strike for a day at most, the school committee would have a court order within hours ordering them back to work and if they refuse then WPD will have the unenviable job of arresting them and everyone loses.

It's time for both sides (but mostly the WTU) to realize this is not a zero sum game and get realistic about contract demands. If not, get ready for another school year without a contract. The WTU needs quit hiding behind "contract language" and not stating what that means; sources say it'snot allowing admin into PD meetings, seriously? And the SC needs to drop their demand for dropping all grievances, who would agree to that?

Friday, September 15
Thecaptain

Mayor Dumbness,

You have no plan, you never did, and anyone who would believe that you have a plan is a fool. The only thing that you do have is a trail of unpaid bills and litigation where ever you go. That is indisputable fact. Still waiting for you to come clean on where you car "BANKRS" was registered during the 3 year period when you were squatting at 177 Grand View Dr while you were under tax sale and forcible eviction. Care to come clean? Probably not.

Friday, September 15
richardcorrente

Dear Crispy Raisin,

My comment is not at all a "flip flop". I am giving credit today for the effort of TODAY. I stand by my harsh criticism of the past because there was little or no effort on the part of the Mayor or the School Committee in the past. The only organization the was showing effort IN THE PAST was the Warwick Teachers Union. However, TODAY (as in the story above), it seems that there is an improved effort, or, at least, increased communications, on the part of the Mayor and the School Committee with the Teachers Union and that deserves to be encouraged. That's why I congratulated it.

I hope that clears things up for you Crispy. As far as "misrepresenting the calendar" because I say "Happy Autumn" prior to Sept. 24th, I have great news. I checked with the Beacon and they confirmed that you are under no obligation to even read that salutation until after the 24th. You really do need a life!

Happy Autumn everyone. Even you CrickeeRaven.

Rick Corrente

The Taxpayers Mayor

Friday, September 15
KaptainMorgan

Dicky,

You addressed the calendar issue with Raven, but have been glaringly silent on Rob's questions. Would you like to take the time to comment??????????????

Friday, September 15
CrickeeRaven

The fake "mayor" just will not stop ignoring factual information. The school committee and union have met several times since 2015; the school committee passed a contract offer that the union rejected; and a legally-mandated arbitration process has been conducted.

Yet the fake "mayor" claims the school committee is only now putting in any effort, again proving his complete dismissal of fact for what remains a pathetic attempt to continue his stealth campaign on this website.

He will certainly continue to prove his complete unfitness for office in his future comments.

Saturday, September 16
CrickeeRaven

Hello KaptainMorgan:

The fake "mayor" has likewise failed to answer why he used campaign funds to pay office rent to the same individual who purchased his residence at tax sale in 2012.

He has also persisted in ignoring the actual results of the 2016 election and calling himself "mayor."

And as you see from his prior comment, he hypocritically suggests that others should not read this site while continuing to use it for his own pathetic purposes.

His loss in the 2018 election can not happen quickly enough.

Saturday, September 16
DanElliott

I would bet the Warwick Democrats have another candidate lined up by now. We can expect a very entertaining mayoral primary campaign next year between "the mayor" and the endorsed Democratic candidate.

Saturday, September 16
Thecaptain

Dear Mayor Dumbness,

You still refuse to answer where your car was registered during the three year period of your tax delinquency. You know, that I know, that it was unregistered so you could beat the taxes. So why don't you just admit it?

Also, I am still waiting for the answer to " from what line item in the budget will you cut the check t fund your " buy a house, get a check" program".

The failure to answer that question alone indicates that you have absolutely no working knowledge of the budget process. But we all knew that didn't we?

Saturday, September 16
VoWarwick2017

If you don't like someone or disagree with someone then take issue with the substance of a position. Calling people names undermines your own position and quite frankly makes you look foolish, petty and not worth the time to read.

This is true for the folks that reply on this page and also both political parties. I actually believe that this very subject is core to the reason why "she lost". When you spend 8+ years calling everyone that disagrees with you horrible names don't expect for them to vote for you.

Monday, September 18
Kammy

The WTU, by their own admission, states that the most significant issues were addressed, so why hold up the process for the lesser issues? At least admit that the SC is working with you. The WTU are the ones holding it up now, or should I say again. Isn't it enough that concessions were made? Don't you agree that we can work on the smaller issues moving forward? We are wasting time and funds we could be putting towards other things. It is like the movie Groundhog Day in the city of Warwick starring the WTC and SC. Supporting cast of characters - The TAXPAYERS

Monday, September 18
VoWarwick2017

There is a correlation between the decline in the quality of education in Warwick and the failed experiment of including IEP students into regular classes to prevent "sad feelings". Because the teachers have to tip toe around the IEPs the potentially high performing students are dragged down.

Why are we the tax payers wasting our money on these failed programs. IEPs need special education and separate classes are the best way to allow teachers to focus on the needs of those with learning real disabilities. Then again Warwick has a history of throwing the IEP label at normal kids for the sake of extra federal dollars so who knows how many of those special needs really exist.

Tuesday, September 19
JohnStark

"You don’t have the power – we do, whenever we decide to flex it...We can shut down the district any day we want.”

-Warwick Teacher’s Union member Mike Pierce

And there you have it, ladies and gentlemen. The living embodiment of public sector union mentality. If the school committee or superintendent had an ounce of testicular fortitude they would cease to recognize this bunch of thugs and put all negotiations on hold until June, at which point they would begin hiring new teachers. While Mr. Pierce's comments are both appalling and revealing, they clearly typify why public sector unions have long outlived their usefulness. Taxpayers take note: Some of the highest paid public servants in the region, those who portend to have your childrens' best interest at heart, are fully prepared to "...shut down the district any day they want." How very...........professional.

Tuesday, September 19
CrickeeRaven

The teachers' union will no longer be able to count on the General Assembly this session -- the House declined to take up the "evergreen contract" veto override, according to the Providence Journal.

Quoting from the article posted on Sept .18, 2017: "A spokesman for House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello made it official late Monday afternoon: 'The House has no plans to override the veto.'"

Link: http://www.providencejournal.com/news/20170918/disability-pensions-highway-surveillance-on-agenda-as-ri-lawmakers-prepare-to-reconvene

As predicted, the fake "mayor" was wrong to support a bill that would have removed bargaining power from municipalities. In fact, he stated: "[T]he 'local control' that [Avedisian] is talking about needs to be 'taken away.'" Read his comment here: http://warwickonline.com/stories/controversial-contract-bill-now-on-governors-desk,125718?

Once again, the losing failure fake "mayor" has made an embarrassing spectacle of himself by pandering to the teachers' union and showing a total inability to think beyond his own pathetic attempts to continue a stealth campaign on this website.

Add this to the many examples of the fake "mayor" proving himself to be completely unfit for any office.

Tuesday, September 19
Thecaptain

And yet, Mayor Dumbness still does not answer the question as to where his car (BANKRS) was registered during the 3 year period when he squatted at 177 Grand View Dr. during the tax sale of his home and his subsequent forcible eviction.

Wednesday, September 20
CrickeeRaven

Hello Thecaptain:

Thank you for continuing to point out one of the many factors that disqualify the fake "mayor" for any office. His property tax delinquency and failure to pay vehicle taxes stand as perhaps the two biggest examples of why honest, taxpaying voters in Warwick will again reject his candidacy next November.

Wednesday, September 20