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Concerns over student loss to private schools
Kelcy Dolan

It is no surprise enrollment throughout Warwick’s public schools is in decline. Classes are getting smaller; in the last few years the School Committee closed four schools and considered closing Aldrich and Gorton and re-purpose Vets as a middle school.

The declining numbers are only worsened as parents seek “better” educations for their children at private or charter schools.

Joanne Pelletier, principal at Winman Junior High, emailed several parents who plan to send their children onto private high schools. She asked about their reasons for leaving public schools. Pelletier wanted feedback from the parents on how Toll Gate could improve because she didn’t want Toll Gate to miss out on “bright and talented students.”

Rob Cote, one of the parents sending his daughter to a private high school, Prout, responded with numerous reasons he prefers to send his two daughters to a private school despite the $28,000 cost.

Cote’s email said, “I pay attention to what is taking place in the city and I understand how the fiscal decisions in the city will affect my family in the future. As you are aware, the schools have been level funded for several years. That will not change in the near future, we all know that.”

Cote said that with the continual lack of school funding “there will never be any more money for Warwick Schools to enhance the education experience.”

He acknowledged that his issues with the school system are not with the teachers nor administrators and he even commended Pelletier on her outstanding character. Cote noted that with outdated textbooks and equipment, as well as the deteriorating buildings, there is only so much teachers can do with what they are given.

“Frankly, the teachers and the students deserve better,” he said. “We loved Mrs. Pelletier and her staff. They deserve a whole new building, all new technology, and all new text books, but with the city’s irresponsible spending, we will never get that for our teachers.”

Cote works in Massachusetts helping to build “state-of-the-art buildings” for the local school systems. He said every community is investing in the new educational buildings and Cote questions why Warwick and all of Rhode Island aren’t doing the same.

He mentioned how many of the schools are not up to fire code and the crumbling Winman steps require caution tape around them.

“How embarrassing is it when that is the image we show for prospective residents? We see right away education is not the top priority for Warwick, but we can spend $800,000 on bonuses, but our kids go to school in dangerous decrepit buildings,” Cote said.

He wrote in his email to Pelletier, “Currently, of all new tax dollars collected in Warwick since 2004, 51.3 percent goes to retirees, 45.8 percent to active employee benefits, and only 2.9 percent to every other program and expense. These are facts taken from city budget documents.”

Cote said that kids get one opportunity to go through high school and he wants his children to have the best opportunities and best education throughout that experience and unfortunately he cannot see it happening in the Warwick Public Schools.

Cote says he has spoken with many other parents who feel the same way about the public school system.

Superintendent Richard D’Agostino, doesn’t deny that the schools have been level funded, but he still regrets students leaving for private schools.

He said, “As the chief cheerleader for Warwick schools, it saddens me that parents think they can find a better education elsewhere at a private school.”

D’Agostino mentioned that there are many causes for decline in enrollment, such as economic hardship that has had many leave the state for better financial circumstances, but the school system still serves over 9,000 students.

“I challenge any private school to show the performance we do with so many students. Go to one of the three high schools for graduation or an honors night. So many students are being inducted to the State or National Honor Society, receiving awards and scholarships for their academic achievements.”

Even with the level funding, D’Agostino assures that the students receive a quality education in Warwick schools.

“Yes, it would be nice to teach 21st century learning with 21st century technology and we would love to have a one-to-one student to electronic devices, but we have means through which to make sure our students become more efficient,” he said.

D’Agostino said with blended learning efforts and an online access for parents, the school is doing the best they can with the funds they receive.

He also said parents may not enroll their kids in private schools because some additional Warwick schools will offer full-day kindergarten, due to the small class numbers. Private schools will no longer be the only option for parents seeking the extra care for their young child first entering school.

“It may entice parents to return to the public system. If they start here, they are more likely to stay here,” D’Agostino said.

Although there was no definite number to how many students will be leaving for private schools in the fall, it is obvious that for the Warwick Public School system, enrollment is continuing to decline because of the lack of funding received from the city.


Comments
15 comments on this item

Indeed, with government-run education, medical care, social services, etc. it always, always comes back to "...we're underfunded." In my decades of observing the Warwick public schools, I have yet to hear a superintendent or principal say: "Thank you, taxpayers. We have enough money." Nope, it's never, ever enough. And the notion that more spending will result in more parents seeking to educate their children in the Warwick public schools is laughable. The city presently spends about $18,000 per pupil for very mediocre results. Perhaps Mr. D'Agostino should consult the geniuses in Cambridge, MA where $27,000 per pupil is spent for even more deplorable measurable outcomes. Or Central Falls at $22k. Better yet, let's look at Acton-Boxborough Regional (MA), which spends $13,600 per student and is recognized as one of the best public high schools in New England year after year. The fact is that expenditures and outcomes are virtually unrelated. Warwick's enrollment continues to decline, not "...because of the lack of funding", but rather because of a dearth of economic opportunities in the state for educated parents. The state retains the honor of having the second lowest level of median adult education in New England. Tens of thousands of educated families have already left, leaving a shrinking economic pie. And highly educated parents that do remain are desperately seeking alternatives to a school system that still can't seem to find a 'consultant' to tell them what to do after a seven month search. Hell, they still haven't figured out what questions to ask the consultant. Perhaps most telling is the fact that private and parochial schools are being inundated with admissions requests from parents who are also public school teachers. Hmmm.

97% of new taxes created since 2004 have gone to employees and pensions? wtf? gov't is for the gov't in this state. what a joke.

The school department wonders why people are choosing private schools? Maybe it has something to do with the school committee's utter disregard for our gifted elementary school students when they cut the ALAP program, the deplorable condition of most of our school buildings, the lack of a long term plan for the schools and school consolidation, and yes, the lack of funding from the city.

My kids have been in private school since day one, and I will leave this city before I would even *consider* using our public schools here. They are in URBAN DECAY. It's sad; it's deplorable' it's disgusting. Has anyone been to Pilgrim... no money for janitorial staff... the place is filthy and broken down. It looks worse than our prisons. Who could want to learn in such a depressing environment? To whoever says, "Dont blame the teachers." I say. " It is the city workers who take home the money, while the students go without improvements, without technology, and woefully behind the times."

I could rant and rant. I won't.

Mayor, bring in the Mayoral academy, get some charters in place... the school board has raped the citizens- and the student body- for far too long.

Correct me if wrong but I believe that the extra bonuses the mayor decided to pay out this (election) year were $800,000 not 8000. Another interesting thing is the pay difference between the public schools who are losing students and the teacher pay at the private schools, which is at least 30% LESS (google it), and NO DEFINED BENEFIT PENSION (which costs 1.1 MILLION PER PUBLIC TEACHER - google that too). Warwick could build a lot of new schools and books and technology with the surplus pay that teachers get for no gain. If private schools can put qualified teachers in front of classrooms for $45k, and no pension, then why are we taxpayers paying $80k and a 1.1 million pension upon retirement? Our taxes are outrageously high, yet our roads and schools are crumbling. Perhaps it is time to look at compensation and compare public to private. It is a fair question. If we adjusted public schools pay rates to what private schools pay, and eliminated that unaffordable ancient defined-benefit pension scheme, we'd have the following - smaller classes, newer books and technology, and nicer buildings! (Just like the private schools! ) See!

Ivan, On one hand I concur but on the other I would challenge a couple of conclusions. First, a first rate building and facilities does not a great school make. Lawrence (MA) High School is a 4 year old, $110M state of the art high school with such dismal outcomes (e.g. achievement test results, dropout rate, pregnancy rate) that the state has taken over the school. On the other hand, any number of Catholic schools in the country have waiting lists for admission despite horrendous physical conditions. Power Memorial in NYC was, quite literally, crumbling to the ground as students clamored for admission. Conclusion: It's not the money. Rather, as Dr. James Coleman has concluded, "school culture". At the same time, you wonder why a system with a budget approaching $200M can not seem to get it's physical house in order.

And I'm guessing that adding, say, 10% to the school budget would not have deterred one of tomorrow's leaders from claiming your property as his own.

Shut up people! Pay the ever growing tax burden and shut up. Politicians paid for their jobs with union giveaways and now its time to pay the piper. The city council and mayors going back to the 60's should be individually shamed on the steps of city hall for the shape this city is in. We deserve what we get when 25% of the population shows up to vote. What percentage of union workers show up. I bet its well higher than 80%. Sorry some clowns bought votes starting 30 years ago and now its time to pay up. It will be a sad day if Avedisian wins again.

The school department and city leadership should follow Joanne Pelletier's initiative and be asking all those who leave the school system or the city (and should be tracking the demographics of out and in migration) their reasons and a citywide plan to address the issues should be implemented. This was mentioned by a resident/parent at a city budget hearing and both the schools and city council responded that exit interviews are not done by either party in Warwick and the only one to date that has acted is Joanne Pelletier. The city wide school building conditions are the result of decades of minimal maintenance and upgrades and will take strong and collaborative city and school leadership and decades to improve citywide. However, its not only the buildings that parents are disappointed in, there are a countless number of administrative and budget issues in both the city and state and a culture that needs change. All that being said, most teachers are very hardworking and good educators. Many Warwick and other public school system retirees are teaching at the very schools that parents choose over the public system (and the physical condition and class size at some of these schools is not much better and in some cases worse). If you were to adjust for demographic variables that directly correlate to academic success and compare public school systems to each other and to catholic schools, my guess would be not much difference in long-term achievement. I have tracked college acceptances for many years from RI schools and although may vary year to year, catholic and public schools (including Warwick and with the exception of Classical), are not very different and if adjusted for demographics, a much more accurate depiction of the schools would be available. I also agree with Dr.D' Agostino that there are many examples of high achieving students in Warwick, students that win awards and scholarships over every other student in the state. Warwick needs to do a better job in celebrating these achievements (and the Beacon could help tremendously with that!) A good student will still do well in the public system and there are many, many examples of this in Warwick and elsewhere. However, every child is different and each family needs to decide long term education plan/goals for their child and balance their resources, their child's needs, and options for kindergarten through college/graduate school. It's a long, expensive journey and as most families who have been through it can tell you, there's no perfect answer, we all just try to do the best we can for our kids.

only the defanging of the unions in this state can save RI. Everything else else is pennies on the dollar.

to mrsrile72 .I grew up with at least 6 kids that graduated from private high schools that went nowhere in life. The school does not make a good student. that's the parents job. So please get over yourself. Most warwick teachers do a great job teaching.

Why has no one addressed the real issue behind the flight from public schools - state and federal interference in local education? We have numerous unfunded state mandates, state testing, state graduation requirements and now a federal set of standards created by non-educators. Unfortunately, parents are sending their kids elsewhere instead of getting involved and taking back our schools.

When the School Committee voted to end the ALAP program in Warwick I knew people would chose to leave Warwick Public Schools. This program served nearly 5% of the Elementary population and did it with the salary of only 2.5 teachers. The schools stated this would save $350,000. The fact is the teachers were moved to the regular classroom and their salaries were not a savings. Three of the newest Warwick Teachers were laid off for a savings of approximately $165,000. For each student who attends Warwick Public schools, the schools get funding from the State. This funding is approximately $8000 per student. This means that if only 21 elementary students formerly enrolled in ALAP decided to go to a private school the savings would be wiped out. I stated this several times during the school committee meetings. The decision was made to cut the program. I have been contacted by many alap families and I know the schools have lost at least 21 former alap students. The proposed savings has not occurred and the schools have lost more than just funding, we have lost our brightest students to private schools. In addition to this loss in state funding, you will see our NECAP scores drop as a result of this shortsighted decision. When NECAP scores drop their will an outcry by the for results. You will not be able to bring the students back because you have lost their trust that you care about the education for all the students. ALAP students always scored in the 90th percentile on NECAP. There was a promise to do differentiated learning in the classroom. My daughter is still in the classroom and she says when she finishes her assignment many times she is told to read quietly and do any extra exercises (additional questions) on the assignment and help other students who need help. The fact is she always finished first and read quietly, she always did the extra questions and she would also help someone who needed it... SO, my question is, WHAT IS SHE OR ANY STUDENTS GETTING FOR DIFFERENTIATED LEARNING? They cut a program, they didn't see a savings and the bar has been lowered for education in Warwick. This is a reason why parents are pulling their students out of Warwick Public schools. The schools should have made a decision to close a school this year. I know 2 members wanted to make the decision and three did not want to close the school. We have empty classrooms and we are cancelling great programs to keep empty classrooms. This is not the right thing to do. It is a great school system that attracts families to cities. Make the schools great again and people will move here. Continue to let them deteriorate and we will not recover. Why are we putting more money into sewers than we are into schools unless we want to flush our entire city down the drain? Fix the problems by studying the issues, have the guts to make the right decision and we can grow our city.

Somebody is making up stats. I just received my tax bill. Over 50% goes to the schools, not to retirees benefits. Speak the truth. Across the country, local taxes go to schools anywhere from 50-70% of all taxes. Overwhelmingly. I sent my kids to private schools because of the immorallity at the public schools. Did you know that about six years ago a health teacher (sex-ed) was explaining to a class how she performed oral sex on her boyfriend? Graphic detail. I don't remember seeing that lesson plan in the book.

davebarry. 50% of new taxes created since 2004, not all taxes. back then it was $13 or so per thousand. now it's over $19 per thousand. that $6 goes to retirees and employees., That's why the city roads and schools look like they do. I think we're 2x what we should be paying based on what we're receiving in return, except if you're a gov't worker of course.

They recently added something from RI to the 'nearly extinct' list and that's a road paving truck/crew. When was the last time you've seen one of those big paver trucks anywhere in RI. I really can't remember myself.

Remember, D'Agostino says his words with no substance or ability to act behind them. He has no leadership qualities to follow up on anything he says. Just watch where all this goes as he tries to pass the buck to others and sits back. Yes, he's a cheerleader but cannot play in the game except as a figurehead, temporary superintendent.

This is an excellent letter, and in the hands of a better leader the concept could work and be an asset to students and families. But, let's just watch and see how he follows through. But if nothing happens he will blame others.

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