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LETTERS
Consolidation of high schools would be a mistake

To the Editor:

I have lived in Warwick, R.I. for the past 21 years, have had the pleasure of raising my family in Warwick and  I am a parent of a Warwick High School student. I would like to see this community thrive and improve for future generations. The closing and consolidation of schools is an issue that affects not just parents with children in the school district, but taxpayers whose property values will be affected by a weakened school system. Strong schools equal higher property values. 

The top five public high schools in Rhode Island consistently have enrollment below or at just 1,000 students (see GolocalProv.com “The Top High Schools in Rhode Island 2013”). Of these schools ranked one through five in GolocalProv.com, Narragansett has 462 students, East Greenwich has 766 students, Exeter-West Greenwich has 562 students, South Kingstown has 1,095 students and Barrington has 1,037 students. Our current enrollment in each of the three Warwick High Schools is 958, 991 and 910 (for Pilgrim, Tollgate, and Vets, respectively). Our current high school enrollment levels are within the same range as the best performing high schools in the state.

Why would we want to pack another 300 to 600 students into an existing high school when studies have shown that high schools with such large populations do not perform as well as smaller schools? Therefore, the debate should not be limited to which high school to close, but rather whether a high school should be closed at all. If anything, having 958 children in one high school may actually be too many. It does not matter that the schools were originally built to hold many more students than they have now; maybe they never should have had this many students at any one time and we are now in a position to correct that error.

The current process being followed by the Warwick School Committee has its focus on meeting monetary goals by closing facilities (schools). That is why the Long Term Facilities Planning Committee has been meeting and is the driving force behind the future of the school district. Why are we closing/consolidating schools first and then looking at how we are going to fit the students’ needs into the existing schools?

Should we not be looking at the current class sizes, course offerings, impact on the students’ academic needs and then decide what facilities fit those needs? I have read the posted minutes of the Long Term Facilities Planning Committee and while they have looked at total numbers, there is no focus on actual courses, what students’ needs are, and why we are putting more students into schools that are in dire need of infrastructure rehabilitation and restoration. They are throwing students together without regard for their needs. They are merely using bus schedules and total numbers of students to determine where they will go to school next year and for years after that. 

Our students deserve a better analysis and our community deserves to make the decision that will result in a better school district for all students. I am not sure we can say that the current process and decision will lead to this result.  

I wrote to the School Committee last year that the children of Warwick deserve a long-term strategic plan that shows them the path that we as a community have paved for them to achieve their career goals. They deserve a community that has demonstrated that they have researched all funding options, reviewed outcomes, the causes of those outcomes, and a vision of their educational future before making a choice that has not even taken into account all of the unintended processes and consequences that will flow from this decision in less than one year.  

We need to look at funding options that will facilitate a reasonable approach to solving these issues. Additionally, I will be urging the mayor and City Council to relieve the financial pressure that has created this draconian approach to solving systemic school planning issues. This is not just a School Department issue; it is a community issue – with an impact on tax revenue for years to come. 

We realize that these choices and decisions may not be easy – but closing and consolidating schools without a long-term strategic plan that demonstrates that the end result will be a stronger educational system, with adequate resources for all of the children in Warwick – is not only unreasonable but harms the best interest of the students in Warwick as well as the community as a whole.

I would like to assist in any way that I can and urge you to think about not the money you are saving in the next one to five years, but the type of school system that you want to develop for the next 30 years and beyond.  

Neena Sinha Savage

Warwick


Comments
25 comments on this item

Sounds like another gov't worker who thinks money springs eternally from fountains located at every street corner!

So because the gov 't / city of Warwick cannot manage funds, the kids must suffer the consequences? !

Well said, Neena!

It's not about managing funds incorrectly. It is about the times have changed. What can't you understand. There aren't enough children to attend these schools ! That will not change. Having children is way too expensive ! May be 1 or 2 but the large families are no more. As a tax payer I do not want to pay to keep these schools open to operate 40% capacity. It makes no sense. I'm pro-union by the way and realize this may cost jobs. But, to keep all these schools open does not make economic sense.

Only in Rhode Island would someone attempt to make the desperate claim that, 'Since a high school 25 miles away has X students, we should also have X students.' The more I read these bizarre arguments against school consolidation, the more I'm convinced that many posters have never lived outside RI, and probably never outside Warwick. The fact is this: No one can make an economic claim to retain three public high schools in Warwick, which should have become two high schools five years ago. Warwick is a microcosm of the economic condition of the state. If you have a problem with that (and you should) kindly contact your state legislator. If you disagree, name another public high school in New England that has closed in the last twenty years due to declining enrollment.

bravo, neena! i wholeheartedly agree that more needs to be looked at than just dollar signs. I believe, like everyone else, that something needs to be done, but I completely disagree with the Long Term Planning Committee and how this committee was formed. I believe that the committee needs to be comprised of, at least in part, professional urban planners, who will see beyond saving some money now, and will see how to save & protect our school system, its infrastructure and our students in the future.

I do not think that personal attacks serve any purpose in this very important discussion, but feel compelled to respond to Hepdog, Michael2012, and John Stark, in order of comments as follows:

Hepdog: For the record, I do believe we need to look at changing the paradigm of our school services but in a way that maximizes educational benefits to the children. I disagree that consolidating high schools is the best solution for students, the community and the future of both.

Michael2012: I think there are reasonable solutions to these issues that do not require keeping all of the schools open—I think this specific plan is flawed. My concern is for the quality of education for students at a critical point in their life—and I do not think this plan will result in improving (or even maintaining the current level of educational services) The transitions, changes, and goals of this proposed consolidation will, I believe, negatively affect the community and schools. This is just one study that supports that conclusion: http://www.edb.utexas.edu/hsns/HSNSbrief1.pdf. Mega schools do not work, do not produce good outcomes, and they lead to community decline.

JohnStark: I have lived in India, New York, Texas, Washington DC, and New Jersey, I did not arrive in Rhode Island until my education was complete. I am the product of public education and know first-hand how important it is. And, I believe that strong public education is the foundation of a strong community. This is a real opportunity for the entire community to come together to build something that benefits all of us. But, please, let’s do it right.

Neenah, there is still, and probably always will be, considerable debate as to what the proper high school size is and in '09 the US Dept of Ed, on this very topic, stated that ".. research to date has been largely non-expiremental and, hence, must be interpreted with some caution..". The cities you site have school sizes that reflect that their very small school districts to begin with. Bt that i mean if South Kingston or Barrington saw forthcoming high school poplulations approaching, say 1400, I'm not so sure they'd rush out to build a second high school. Coventry, among the higher performing districts in the state has 1600 students in its lone high school. Cranston, a higher performing district than Warwick by most measures, has two highs schools for its 3100 students. Personally, I don't think a high school with 1200-1500 students (300 to 375 kids per class) is a mega school - words like that are bandied about too cavalierly, in my opinion.. And remember, that the class sizes will keep declining for the next ten years. The simple fact of the matter is that even with two high schools we'd have populations in them that approximate what they had a handful of years ago. Back then no one was protesting that the schools were overcrowded or that somehow their child's education was being compromised. I completely reject any notions that the resulting size of the two high schools will in any way dilute or degrade the level of educational services. I just don;t see it. One could argue that were were a better performing district back when we had higher populated high schools

Mr. Testa: Study after study has shown that there is a direct correlation between school size and performance; here are a few:

1. New York, small school perform better: http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/education/size-matters-nyc-high-schools-smaller-gain-big-article-1.1494953;

2. Private schools keep schools smaller to improve education: http://privateschool.about.com/od/choosingaschool/qt/sizematters.htm

3. Standford University Study: http://www.brookings.edu/gs/brown/bpepconference/harris_presentation.pdf

4. University of Texas Study:

https://www.google.com/#q=high+school+size+matters.

I do not know where you are getting your data about Cranston. For 2013, GolocalProv has Tollgate, Pilgrim, Vets ranked at 19, 21, and 25 (respectively) and Cranston West at 30 and 35 (out of a total of 49; lower number is better).

Neenah,

If you look closely at the individual components of the GoLocal article, Cranston West scores higher than both Pilgrim and Vets on Math NECAP, Writing NECAP, writing and math SAT scores, and it scores higher than all three of our high schools in 4 year graduation rate. Cranston performs much more closely to Toll Gate and Cranston East scores higher than Vets on all NECAP measurements - the only common measuring stick that the state has. My point is simply this, a large high school of 1500 kids scores, as a practical matter, just as well our best high school. I'm sure another organization could come up with a ranking system that weights variables differently than GoLocal has and show a fairly different result. And my main point is that Cranston is a higher performing district (to be clear a slightly higher performing one) overall than we are - just look at RIDE data on all NECAP scoresfrom 2008-2012 by City. Without the charters we rank anywhere from 21st to 27th out of 37 system depending on the year. Add in the Charters and we're anywhere from 25th to 34th out of 50. I'd add that on the Golocal listing, North Kingstown High with 1400 kids out performs all of our highschools. Coventry High w/ 1600 kids outperforms all of our high schools on 2 of the 3 NECAP measurements yet is ranked one above Warwick Vets. i concede that there is still open debate over what a 'right size' school is but if one holds that a 1200-1500 high school is too big and detrimental to learning, then one has to concede that for the last decade or so we've been doing our students a disservice.

Neena....the guy in the Warwick School Dept who is in charge of facilities stated at a public hearing FIVE YEARS AGO that due to declining enrollment, Warwick should have been closing schools FIVE YEARS AGO....that means TEN YEARS ago we should have been closing schools. Schools are the #1 reason we pay taxes, taking up 6 out of every 10 tax dollars. If you don't control school costs, you don't control taxes. High taxes are the #1 killer of any community for middle class people. Wages are stagnant (unless you work for the schools), water is going up, sewer fees go up every year, food costs go up.....We can't afford schools built for 15,000 students when we have less than 10,000 and fewer every year.

I honestly don't give a crap what they do to the schools .....just give me and answer as to where my kids are going in the fall because they are using up too much energy worrying about that than working on their school work. THIS IS WHY more and more parents are finding ways to pay for private schools and are making sacrifices and homeschooling their children. THAT IS WHY you are seeing a decline! People are fed up!

Neenah- "For the record, I do believe we need to look at changing the paradigm of our school services but in a way that maximizes educational benefits to the children."

Huh?

Sounds like you're running for office.

The closing and redistricting of schools is a very big decision for a city to make. The decision affects students and education, but also property values and taxes. Enrollment is declining and will likely continue to do so. It is very likely that schools will need to be closed. The problem is that the city has never looked for a professional opinion on the best way to consolidate schools for the best of the students and the taxpayers. A very well meaning group of volunteers and administrators spent a lot of time looking at data, but, they must agree, none of them are qualified to make such a major decision for the city of Warwick without professional assistance. Also, the data looked at was focused on only two-thirds of the city. The city should have hired a professional consultant ten years ago, and they should still do so now.

Neena: A couple of points. First, if smaller is better, why not advocate opening three new high schools in addition to retaining the existing three, resulting in six high schools of 500 students each? Second, as RI's economic opportunities continue to decline, so do many of it's schools, except those in a small number of affluent areas. The point is that government-run schools are a function of the communities in which they reside, not the other way around. If I'm wrong, name an affluent town in New England that is not known for quality schools. Then name a city known for "strong public education". And finally, name a public high school in New England that has closed due to declining enrollment in the last twenty years.

This will take some web savvy "footwork", but get the school population numbers from RIDE - http://www.eride.ri.gov/reports/reports.asp (use October enrollment for 2012-13) and then compare to the RI Dep Ed. Infoworks site for total HS performance http://infoworks.ride.ri.gov/reports/accountability/absolute-proficiency-high-schools/2012

You'll see high scoring, large schools, more urban (higher and bigger than Warwick) and low scoring small suburban schools. Correlation doesn't equal causation by any means. I have read several of the studies cited and while there are stronger indications re: smaller=better for elementary schools, they are more mixed for high school. And none really seem to overtly address controlling for demographics (urban, rural, poverty, etc). Demographics have much more to do with it than simple school size (so does teacher quality and parental involvement, btw). There are many, many other factors that can't be broken out into simplistic class-size or school-size metrics. Here is a very roughly formatted copy and paste comparison of the aforementioned sources. Note the ratings of Warwick's HS, too.

School---Total Population---InfoWorks Rating Score---InfoWorks School Classification

Block Island---111---30---Suburban

Classical High School---1113---27---Urban Core

Exeter-West Greenwich Regional High School---562---27---Regional

North Smithfield High School---550---27---Suburban

Scituate High School---491---27---Suburban

Smithfield Senior High School---772---25.5---Suburban

Barrington High School---1037---23---Suburban

Portsmouth High School---974---21---Suburban

Wm. M. Davies Jr. Career-Technical High School---833---21---State

Ponaganset High School---722---21---Regional

North Kingstown Senior High Schoo---1454---20---Suburban

South Kingstown High School---1095---20---Suburban

Mt. Hope High School---1031---20---Regional

Middletown High School---737---20---Suburban

East Greenwich High School---766---19.5--- Suburban

Rogers High School ---587---19.5---Urban Core

Walsh Performing Arts (Pawtucket)---167---19.5---Urban Ring

Chariho Regional High School---1136---19---Regional

Cumberland High School---1403---17---Suburban

West Warwick Senior High School---982---17---Urban Ring

Times2 Academy---652---17---Urban Core

Narragansett High School---462---16.8---Suburban

Burrillville High School---700---16.5---Suburban

Coventry High School---1694---16---Suburban

Cranston High School West---1629---16---Urban Ring

Lincoln Senior High School---1067---16---Suburban

North Providence High School ---998---16---Urban Ring

Toll Gate High School---982---16---Urban Ring

Westerly High School---941---16---Suburban

East Providence High School---1564---15---Urban Ring

ACE Academy (Providence)---207---15---Urban Ring

Cranston High School East---1587---14---Urban Ring

Pilgrim High School---1078---14---Urban Ring

Johnston Senior High School---903---14---Urban Ring

Tiverton High School---570---14---Suburban

Metropolitan Regional Career and Technical Center---868---13---State

Woonsocket High School---1736---12---Urban Core

William E Tolman Senior High School---1050---12---Urban Ring

Warwick Veterans Memorial HS---992---12---Urban Ring

E-Cubed Academy---360---12---Urban Ring

NEL/CPS Construction Career Academy ---175---12---Urban Ring

Charles E. Shea High School---905---10---Urban Core

Central Falls Senior High School---838---10---Urban Core

Mount Pleasant High School---884---9---Urban Core

Providence Career and Technical Academy---568---8.4---Urban Core

Central High School---1101---8---Urban Core

William B. Cooley, Sr. High---717---6---Urban Core

Dr. Jorge Alvarez High School---563---6---Urban Core

Mr. Testa is correct when he states, "the guy in the Warwick School Dept who is in charge of facilities stated at a public hearing FIVE YEARS AGO that due to declining enrollment, Warwick should have been closing schools FIVE YEARS AGO....that means TEN YEARS ago we should have been closing schools".

The school committee recognized that consolidation was necessary ten years ago. However there was little that could be done back then due to the fact that from 2003 - 2006 not having a school teacher contract for almost 4 years made it impossible to even consider the issue.

Back in December of 2006, 3 months after the contract has finally been ratified, I stated in my last meeting as Chairman of the school committee, "With some type of expansion of T.F. Green Airport likely, leading to the loss of homes and reduced student population around the airport and referencing the May 15, 2006 New England School Development Council report to the school department documenting the projected decrease in Warwick student enrollment of 1,028 students or 8.9% from 2005 through 2010", school consolidation needed to occur.

And that is exactly what occurred in the subsequent years with the closing of 4 elementary schools. Now with those reduced elementary students finally reaching the secondary levels, consolidation in Warwick's junior and senior high schools in also necessary.

The problem I see in this city is that many of the people sticking their heads out of the proverbial hole in the sand now complaining about consolidation, do not have a clue as to the budgetary issues that have been facing the school department over the last decade.

I hate to repeat myself on these blogs but for the sake of the ill informed, please review the local property tax allocation between the city and school budget over the last 6 years.

Local tax dollars to support city budget:

2008 - $67,056,675

2009 - $76,149,571

2010 - $78,525,638

2011 - $79,566,667

2012 - $93,836,460 ($14.3 million increase from previous year)

2013 - $96,383,368 (projected)

2014 - $99,568,368 (Mayor proposed budget)

Local tax dollars to support school budget:

2008 - $118,064,827

2009 - $118,064,827

2010 - $123,968,468 (federal stimulus dollars)

2011 - $125,010,374 (federal stimulus dollars)

2012 - $118,171,303

2013 - $118,644,632 (projected)

2014 - $118,644,632 (Mayor proposed budget)

In the 2012 fiscal year alone, $14.3 million more in local revenue was all allocated to the city budget while $6.8 million or 5% of the school budget was cut. The Mayor and the council took the $6.8 million and allocated it to the city budget.

In 2007 63.9% of local tax dollars supported schools and 36.1% the city. Today the ratio is 54.4% schools and 45.6% city. With city spending reaching new all-time highs each year, that ratio will continue to move towards a 50/50 split. According to education experts I have spoken to anywhere from a 65/35 or 60/40 split is more the norm.

My point is that the issue of school consolidation comes down to not only properly utilizing school building, but also how as a city do we intend to fund the educational needs of our children in Warwick into the future? Clearly our Mayor and most of the City Councilors have turned their backs on our students.

Right now consolidation is the only means that school leaders can use to invest in current infra-structure by taking the savings from closed schools and allocating it towards current needs. But that simply will not be enough to meet long term educational needs..

The bottom line as many have alluded to is that a sustainable long term plan to meet the educational needs of our children is needed. That will require millions of dollars of new property tax dollars investments by city leaders in existing or newly constructed schools.

However to do that, will require a long term plan on the city side of the budget to control its spiraling pension and lifetime healthcare costs. Unfortunately I do not give much hope that the current Mayor and city council as it stands will ever think long term and develop this plan because to do so will require major reforms by them to control spending associated with retired employee benefits. When over 50 cents of every new tax dollar allocated to the city budget over the last ten years, pays for pension and free lifetime healthcare for retired employees and less than 6 cents of every new dollar is allocated to non-personnel related city expenses, something needs to change.

Mr. Savage and those who are opposed to consolidation, please take a look at this document I prepared that compares the city and school budgets over the last ten years. Then let me know how we can ever properly support the Warwick School system without consolidation while this current model of spending continues.

Right now the school deparment is on its own and with Warwick voters continuing to elect the same people into the Mayor's office and on the city council that is unlikely to change in the near future.

Copy and paste into your browser:

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6P1sIPd4PTdTkI5WF9NM1pjVXM/edit?usp=sharing

As usual Mr. Cushman brings FACTS to the discussion. When the state voters passed a referendum on Rocky Point to turn it into a state property with no tax value it costs us dearly. The lost future revenue of the property taxes coupled with the loss of revenue from property taxes due to airport expansion means fewer taxpayers. With half the student population (and fewer residents than in 1970) of our peak consolidating the schools is the only common sense answer. When we stop contracting and begin grow it will be time to invest in schools. Right now we need to cut to grow.

Things are going to get much worse in Warwick before they get better. Pension and other post retirement benefits are going to continue to squeeze the city workers, schools and most importantly the families of Warwick. The mayor and city council will continue to ignore it. They seem to think Apple is going to open up a 10,000 employee campus here.

barbras32...that is what i was trying to say in my comment. i agree that consolidation needs to be done, but it needs to be looked at by professionals, not by a group of volunteers who don't have the expertise to make the decisions. while your purpose wasn't to clarify my statements, thank you for doing so.

The School Committee will make the final decision on consolidation. Do you think the 5 members of the committee are qualified to make that decision?

The administration has the expertise and local knowledge regarding producing the data necessary for the school committee to make a decision far better then any outsider professions can. The LTPC made a good educated recommendation based on this data.

The school committee now must determine if they agree with the recommendation or go another route.

Hiring a so called group of professionals is a waste of money and time. With the Mayor and City Council current spending priorities focused on increasing revenue toward the city side of the budget, in Warwick's case, thankfully state laws exist that mandate that the city must at least level fund the school budget year over year. If that wasn't the case the situation would be far worse.

But don't expect city leaders to allocated millions more to the schools as I described in my previous post. It's not going to happen and right now the only way schools will be able to provide the funds necessary to make sure the remaining schools have the resources necessary to make capital improvements and investments in educational programs throughout the district for all of the students, is through the saving garnered through consolidation.

You can't it both ways, half empty schools meeting all fire safety standards, with new roofs, boilers, books, technology etc. without consolidation.

A status quo decision by the school committee will result in the continued disintegration of current school buildings that will eventually lead to unpleasant consequences regarding the education received by Warwick's students.

the should close vets if these people and parents want to fight it

then let them take money from there own pockets

i have to pay for there kids going to school with my taxes

and theses same people complain about school buses

they should just take there kids to school

you see it everyday the parents will stand there with there kids

for somtimes a half hour waiting for

a bus they could have drove them to school in that amount of time

The real problem is not that Vets is closing it wouldn't' t be if Pilgrim or Toll Gate were closing> The solution once they close is the problem. My father was in the first graduating class at vets in 56. He had gone to Aldrich before that. He was on football basketball and baseball team. He had mentioned at first it was difficult but soon after it was awesome.. The sport teams were outstanding along with the arts and diversity of the school. The school band was huge. There was real pride. What needs to be done is for Warwick to build a super high school like North Kingstown. Property values would rise and business at least small business would grow around it. We could have the number one high school in the state. The problem with Mr. D'Agastino and company is they do not think outside the box. They want to save money and there plan would but there is no long term plan. Warwick at one time had the biggest Pal Babe Ruth league in the country. A state of the art baseball facility in Mickey Stevens complex. along with great rink and pool which now are all in dire need of repair. We had the largest dinner all in the World along with an amazing amusement park. I graduated from vets in 83 and I am sad it is going but what is worse is band aid patch work minor league leadership from the administration. Sincerely, Stephen McMnaus

Coventry, Cranston, etc...well performing schools?! Check again. R.I. schools are horrible, forcing myself and other parents to look into private education!

And yes, it is about mismanaged funds, wasting taxpayers dollars. Like you said something should have been done 5-10 years ago... this is not the way to go!

Yes the school board is in charge of making the decision on whether Vets should remain open. However, I question the "expertise" of the 5 members to make this decision. Do any of them have any educational background? Do they understand the modalities of learning, or the push for "personalization"? I don't think they do. Education is not what it was back in the 60's, 70's, 80's, even the 90's. Common core is asking for much more from our children. It is extremely difficult to become accustomed to the new requirements and expectations. Add on to that more students than what SHOULD be in a classroom. If anyone is interested there was an interesting video on CNN regarding the educational system in the U.S. Imagine the fact that as a whole, we rank 26th in math, 17th in reading, and 21st in science. Shanghai China was #1. Why the disparity? Perhaps it is the lack of care, attention put on our schools. If the budget is tight, the answer is not to close a school. It should be to begin with cuts in administration. How many secretaries, assistants, etc. are necessary at the school department.

The school board needs to remember that our children will be the future doctors, lawyers, health care providers when the are elderly. Do they truly believe it is best to hinder their education? Perhaps keep them from ever graduating as an unfortunate parent said happened to him in the 70's when there were double sessions? Try giving bids to outside companies, not those that are on the school departments "list".

I speak as a mother of a sophomore at Vets and as a 21 year veteran in education in the Providence school department. I would gladly have the school board come to visit Providence schools, and see what they may be leading our children towards. Overcrowded rooms, insufficient materials, and students that "check out" because they are not getting the attention they need.

After reviewing most of the available financial data, I had been in favor of school consolidation until I read Mr. McMnaus' post, which points out that, at one time, "We had the largest dinner all in the World along with an amazing amusement park." I've changed my mind. How can we possibly close an already half-empty school when 30 years ago Warwick had a large "dinner all". Not surprisingly, Mr. McMnaus is a Vets alum.

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