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Panel accepts plan to close Gorton Jr. High
John Howell and Jennifer Rodrigues
WAS IT HASTY? Jackie Harris-Connor questioned whether it would be advisable to have further study before closing Gorton.

School administrators defended the recommendation to close Gorton Junior High School as a cost-saving measure that will help address the needs of all students yesterday at a joint meeting of the short- and long-term committees studying school facilities.

The two groups voted to accept and forward the recommendation, which was reached last week by the short-term panel, to the School Committee. The vote was 8-7, with two abstentions.

Superintendent Richard D’Agostino explained that it is now for the School Committee to schedule a hearing before taking action on the recommendation.

About 70 people attended the meeting held in the Robert J. Shapiro Cultural Arts Center at Toll Gate High School. A contingent of parents, students and teachers to save Gorton sat in the rear of the auditorium, respectfully holding signs and applauding occasionally when they agreed with points made during the discussion.

Long-term committee member Jackie Harris-Connor questioned whether the recommendation was a hasty decision.

“I don’t think it was fully researched as to the impact on curriculum,” she said. She asked why it is necessary to close the school now and asked couldn’t it wait for further study.

D’Agostino assured, “it’s not a hasty decision.” He said the facilities committee has been looking at the numbers for two years. He spoke of the need to downsize as school enrollment declines and of demands on school revenues.

“We have other things we need to do in the district,” he said. Not addressing the drop in enrollment, he said, would be a disservice to the students and the taxpayers.

Closing the school, he said, would help provide the district with the tolls so students can be successful.

“We should have done this two years ago,” he said.

Throughout the 45-minute discussion, committee members sought answers as to why Gorton was chosen over Aldrich as the school to close and whether closing either school at this time might preclude the conversion to a middle school model – grades 6-8 – in the future.

D’Agostino said Gorton was selected because the school has an enrollment of 411 students as compared to Aldrich’s 517, meaning fewer students would be displaced.

School administrators also refuted speculation that the department would be required to move to an all-day kindergarten requiring the inclusion of 6th graders in junior highs so as to gain the classroom space in elementary schools.

While D’Agostino acknowledged there is legislation for all-day kindergarten, there isn’t the funding and from his contacts, there is not likely to be the state funds to implement the program.

“All-day K is not in the near future,” he said. He thought that wouldn’t happen for another four or five years.

Robert Bushell, director of elementary education, observed that the system already has five all-day K classes and that the department would move to more in situations where a school’s kindergarten population is 23 or less. He put the cost of hiring additional teachers and teacher aides to staff an all-day K system at more than $3 million.

Still, there were questions whether the system would be making a decision that it would later regret.

Committee member David Testa said with closure of Gorton, Aldrich and Winman would have a combined “weighted” capacity of 2,217 students. Students with an individual education plan or IEP are considered weighted and can count as much as two students when determining classroom size.

“This puts the middle school model off for years,” he said. He questioned whether students would be shortchanged as a result.

Director of Secondary Education Dennis Mullen disagreed. He said projections show a steady decline in enrollment following a “slight bump” in junior high enrollment next year.

He said he is not opposed to the middle school model, but to conclude that students are being shortchanged because Warwick doesn’t have the system would be a fallacy.

He said the schools are meeting the common core state standards and “we’re doing it right now without a middle school.”

Asked about the financial gains of closing a school – the projection is an operating savings of about $1.2 million – school business director Anthony Ferrucci said it is fortunate that the system had a $2.8 million surplus last year as it has enabled schools to carry forward. He said $1 million of those savings came from the operation of the school’s old special education buses when First Student took over the contract. Those savings won’t be there next year, nor does he expect another surplus.

“If it’s a question of chairs and walls versus student programming, I have to advocate we don’t want to hurt the students,” he said.

Following the dismissal of the short-term committee members, the long-term committee began their meeting regarding what factors should be addressed when forming a long-term plan for the district. However, there was a great deal of confusion from the remaining committee members as to the future of the recommendation to close Gorton.

Bushell attempted to explain to the group that the long-term committee would now shift its focus to plans for other, older buildings within the district and the configuration of grades within the schools, but the recommendation to close Gorton quickly returned to the forefront.

“My feeling is that we just made a massive decision regarding Gorton,” said Catherine Benang. “Is this committee part of that decision or is that it? It’s decided.”

D’Agostino addressed the question by explaining that the approved report would move onto the School Committee for review. Should the School Committee approve the report, they would call for a public hearing so parents, teachers and other taxpayers could hear the information and voice their opinions.

The question was also raised as to the future of the short-term committee.

Mullen explained that the full committee would now serve as an advisory for the School Committee.

“I think we still play a vital role in terms of providing information,” he said.


Comments
15 comments on this item

8-7 vote...with two absent

maybe a re-vote with all parties is in order!!!

17 members of the committee... 8 recommend a closing... Last time I checked my math that would be a minority of the members recommended closing a Jr. High. How does the minority rule on such a BIG decision. 8 out of 17 is not exactly a ringing endorsement. I BEG the school committee not to be a rubber stamp.

Between all the "facts", data, and rumors, there is one thing that holds true; this decision is being made too quickly. More data gathering and open honest discussions should take place. The whole thing feels like typical backroom politics.

I have never written a letter to a newspaper, but then again, I have never been this angry about an issue before. My daughter attended John Greene, and she was devastated when her school closed. Now whe is at Gorton, and after 2 months of deliberating, this Short Term Facilities committee has decided to close her school. My child is now going to be shipped across the city to another junior high, and the school administration has prepared so little that they can't even tell me what school she will go to. Beyond that, they can't even tell me what high school she will attend the following year. In fact, they are hinting that the next step will be to close Vets.

I still probably wouldn't have written this letter if I had not attended the facilities committee meeting on Tuesday. I watched Superintendent D' Agostino bully the committee into submission. I watched him berate people on the committee who disagreed with him. I saw him lecture female members of the committee as if they were children who needed to be educated. It was embarrassing, and disgusting. I was so glad that I didn't bring my daughter, as it was such a poor lesson in how adults act and accomplish things.

I'm a dad, and dads are supposed to protect their daughters. I felt helpless to protect her. I feel like Mr. Mullen and the superintendent are playing with my child's education and future. I feel like they care about nothing other than their own agenda.

Really, though, it is Mr. Dennis Mullen that made me angry enough to write this letter. Why? He as used his position and power to protect his own child, but he won't protect everyone else's. His child is important, but our children are simply numbers on a piece of paper. Uproot children from their schools, cram as many as physically possible into two buildings, cut 12 teachers, and claim that the quality of education will be equal. He has smirked and self-congratulated himself through every meeting of the facilities committee. He and the superintendent act as if the schools and the students in them are their personal playthings.

How did he protect his own son? Nepotism, at a criminial level. When I was on the Warwick school department website, I ran across the name Ryan Mullen, who is listed as the Supervisor of Math and Science. I asked some friends of mine, who told me that this is indeed Mr. Mullen's, (Director of Secondary Education), son. I then was told the whole story. When Ryan Mullen was faced with a layoff as a young math teacher in Warwick, the position of Supervisor of Math and Science became open. He did not have the credentials, so the requirements of the position were changed. His father, as a member of the school administration, helped pick the members of the committee. Ryan went through the interview process, and and with only 5 years of teaching experience was picked over other far more accomplished and degreed candidates. Ryan Mullen may be fantastic in his job, but how he got the position is obvious to anyone that looks at the situation.

What's the point? Dennis Mullen protected his child. He obviously used his influence to make sure his son continued having a job. I get that. I probably wouldn't care, except that he so obviously does not care to protect my child, or any of the other children in the Warwick system. He protected his own, but his job is to protect all of our children in Warwick.

so if my child gets shipped from aldrich to gorton, it's ok but it's the end of the world when your kid has to transfer? kids aren't devestated when an elementary or middle school closes, only when a high school closes. what a drama queen.

my kid lost out a little when rhodes closed, no whining from me or her.

after the merger, the schools will still be running at only 80% capacity and dropping because lots of people are renting u-hauls for one way trips out of this state.

To bljotter and many others.

I dont recall seeing any of the faces at the school closing meetings at your city council meetings. Maybe if you had taken the responsibility of being involved in your local government things may be different in Warwick, but they are not going to get better and you only have to look in the mirror to find out why. Just because you cast a vote in an election doesnt mean that your responsibility to your community is over. There is an awful lot of dirty stuff taking place in Warwick that people let roll right off their backs. Everyone is too afraid to say anything. I have concluded that Warwick is comprised mainly by cowards that wont react unitl it is too late.

This is only the beginning, Vets will also close, and Pilgrim should be closed as well. You will not see another school be built in your lifetime or in your childrens or your grand childrens as Warwick debt is increasing so rapidly it isnt even funny. But you would have known that if you were paying attention. There is no money for capital improvement projects, the schools will continue to suffer urban decay and you will still sit quietly while the theives rob us blind at council meetings. What should be further embarrassing to you is that when you see this crap happenng in the Warwick Schools, and you know that the quality of education is suffering, you keep your kids in these dumps. Suck it up and figure a way to get them to a private school. Oh, I forgot, that costs money and you dont have any extra because your taxes are going up! Get the point yet??

You havent seen anything yet, your taxes are going to soar. Monday night at 7pm at the city council chambers will enlighten you on how much debt this city has, how much your taxes are going to soar, and what the future has in store for us. Maybe all of you folks should just drop your kids off at the city council meeting on Monday at 7pm and let them report back to you because they are the ones that are going to get this bill. I can assure you that if you did, they would come home and start packing their bags.

Failure to attend the most important city council meeting in the history of Warwick, for any reason, is just an indication indication as to the population of sheep and ostriches that have settled into Warwick. You think that your frustrated now, wait until Monday night at the end of the meeting. Things wont change until you get off yor asses and stop thinking that the problems will fix themselves. Its your civic duty to be part of your local government.

Hepdog,

Actually, the point of my comments was the affect on all of our students. Of course your child is just as important as mine All of the junior highs are affected no matter which junior high was closed. Yes my daughter is the one on the longer bus trip to a different school, but the two remaining junior highs are going to be getting a large increase in students, and a cut in the number of teachers/administrators/staff. So all Warwick junior high students will be affected by overcrowding, lack of resources, and larger class sizes. All of these directly impact the quality of education. Beyond this, obviously if they close a junior high, the high school that it feeds into is going to be the next on the chopping block.

When they closed Rhodes and John Greene, our children were absorbed into the neighboring elementary schools. The cutting down from 3 to 2 junior highs is a significantly larger move, and is much more complicated process. Junior high and high school teachers are specialized in their fields, unlike most elementary teachers. The teachers have to be cut by teams, not individuals- your not going to have 5 math teachers and two science teachers. The testing stakes are also much higher. Graduation by proficiency is on the horizon once you move into junior high and high school. Our children's diplomas starting next year will depend on them being able to pass the new high-stakes standardized tests. A really bad, and unfair, time to blow up the system without any planning.

The capacity numbers presented by the committee were pure baloney. I have a friend that taught at Aldrich for decades, and that school has never had a student population the size that they claim can fit in that building. Even before the requirements for special ed rooms, computer labs, etc..., these buildings never held 1100 + people. Aldrich has the classroom space to fit 1100 students, in the same way my 6 room ranch has 7 bedrooms (counting the kitchen, living room, bathroom, and hall closet as bedrooms, of course).

Here's to both of our children, and all the others in Warwick being given a fair shake in this process.

Gorton..., Aldrich... Winman.... My biggest concern here is for the allowance of minority rule. Only 8 of the 17 members of the panel voted to forward a recommendation of a school to the school committee. The would be 47%. Shouldn't there be a requirement that a majority must exist before such a recommendation be brought to the school committee. I can not believe that our school government runs under a minority rules conditions.

The school department has had a SURPLUS in its budget in the past several years. The last time they claimed to be at a budget deficit, they magically "found" money. A junior high does not need to close to save money. They are closing a junior high because the administration building on Warwick Lake Avenue is falling down and the administration wants to move its offices to a better building, like Gorton. Why not? Then, they can shut down Aldrich, move all the junior high grades to Pilgrim and shuffle the Pilgrim kids around. City council gets prime real estate to sell off in the Aldrich land to the highest bidder at the expense of the kids. But don't worry, as Mr. Mullen stated at the meeting, the teachers will have no trouble delivering the rigorous common core standards to classrooms at capacity and your little angles will most certainly not have been at a disadvantage to pass the standardized test for graduation. Yeah, right.

Ben0077, There was no magic money found. The surplus was created by the hard work of myself and others on the school committee over the last 6 years through closing of 3 elementary schools, Laying off or retirements of 62 employees from the WISE union, Laying off or retirements of nearly 100 teachers over the course of 5-6 years, stimulus federal funding, grant money used to fix the Pilgrim roof. Also, renegotiating the Teacher contract to include no salary increase for a year and teachers paying 20% co-pay when they used to pay $12 a pay period. Also the Wise Union paying a 20% copay when they used to pay nothing and administration also paying a 20% co-pay. Believe me when I tell you, This is not magic money. Please do not make light of the work that was done over the course of the last 4-6 years. During the last 4 years the school budget has stayed the same while the city budget has grown $30 million annually during the same time period. The school committee should be thanked for the work done for creating a surplus. This was not EXTRA money, hard work went into making the budget work. The city also had a surplus during the last few years by raising Warwick Taxes to the maximum allowed each year by law. (The only year they didn't raise taxes the maximum was the year they lowered the car tax exemption and raised more revenue than the law allowed. They just raised a different kind of tax.) Attend the school committee meetings, the city council meetings and contact the Mayor.

th0062, that's the new math they're teaching which if you have noticed our NECAP scores in math, does not compute.

Pmaloneyjr, I am not at all making light of the hard work you put in on the school committee in the past. And for the record, I do attend the meetings, so please do not preach to me about your wonderful tenure on the school committee, which you are not on currently. I am talking about today. Please understand that your postings about the past do not help the future of my children in Warwick. Today, the school department has a surplus. Today. So why is it so critical to save money, close a junior high, ship kids across the city to crowded classrooms? It is not. Perhaps if this pushes through, you will get elected back on the school committee. Can we please stick to the facts of the present? The facts of today show that the school administrators can't get their numbers straight, they bullied through a joke of a "majority" vote, and have produced no plan for the long term future of a school department in which my raised taxes help to fund. Let's hope that the school committee members of today see this for what it really is and make the right decision. And pmaloneyjr, you are either with us, or against us. Arguing with a parent, voter and taxpayer about the greatness of yesterday won't garner you much support here when the big concern is the future.

This vote means nothing, I wouldn't worry about it. First of all, the voting was done with two members missing from the panel, these two members must be present to have an accurate fair vote. That was not done in this case. Before committee can even consider a vote all members must be present for a vote. The plan for the city is to balance the budget by closing schools every few years. A few years ago it was John Greene now the Gorton Jr. High. This is not how manage a budget by closing schools every few years and putting young children in High Schools with young adults. I have contacted 12 news to look into this voting process that took place. Our Mayor needs to step up and think about the children that will be affected by such a drastic measure. Gorton Jr. High is not just another school, many generations of our city have attend the school. It has been around for over 70 Years and was a High School at first before it was a Jr. High it is one of the oldest schools in warwick and is iconic. We can't close Schools every time there is a slight decline in population, are we that fragile?

This vote means nothing, I wouldn't worry about it. First of all, the voting was done with two members missing from the panel, these two members must be present to have an accurate fair vote. That was not done in this case. Before committee can even consider a vote all members must be present for a vote. The plan for the city is to balance the budget by closing schools every few years. A few years ago it was John Greene now the Gorton Jr. High. This is not how manage a budget by closing schools every few years and putting young children in High Schools with young adults. I have contacted 12 news to look into this voting process that took place. Our Mayor needs to step up and think about the children that will be affected by such a drastic measure. Gorton Jr. High is not just another school, many generations of our city have attend the school. It has been around for over 70 Years and was a High School at first before it was a Jr. High it is one of the oldest schools in warwick and is iconic. We can't close Schools every time there is a slight decline in population, are we that fragile?

Just a thought, I wonder how much money we would save if the taxpayers of Warwick were not paying for two superintendents? The other issue that was never addressed was how else could we save money? At what capacity is the administration building on Warwick Ave running at? Why do they need to use three buildings? They have offices at the Warwick Vets Annex, the John Greene Annex and the Administration building on Warwick Ave. Has either of these savings been configured? Why have they not consolidated or moved into the buildings that are "under capacity?" Would it be difficult to do their jobs if they had to face students every day?

I have observed he Warwick School System taking away supplies, programs and buildings for the last 30 years. Why do we allow them to always start with what effects children the most? What is the long time plan or vision of Warwick and Warwick Public Schools? The School Committee is the agency that keeps the Warwick Administrators in check, I hope they are aware of the many concerns all the taxpayers have. As a tax payer I am concerned with the future market value of my house. Less neighborhood schools means I have less of a chance to sell my home in the future. Fewer people moving in to a city just decreases the overall number of people sharing the tax burden. It is time we all look at the bigger picture.

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