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Raucous crowd out to save Gorton Jr. High
Matt Bower
FOR GORTON: Gorton teacher Jason Gervasini leads the audience in singing the Gorton Anthem, complete with posters containing the lyrics. He dedicated the song to Gorton students, past, present and future.

Parents, teachers, students, past graduates and community members filled the Warwick Vets auditorium Tuesday night to voice their opinions and concerns regarding the potential closure of Gorton Junior High School.

Tuesday marked the last of two scheduled public hearings on the matter before the School Committee votes Tuesday, May 14.

The majority of the crowd didn’t appear to be interested in what Superintendent Richard D’Agostino had to say in his attempt to address questions posed during the first hearing held last Thursday, as they interrupted his PowerPoint presentation with raucous laughter and shouts of “lies!” about halfway through when he talked about how bus routes and transportation times would be affected by consolidation. D’Agostino had to pause and wait for the noise to die down before finishing the presentation.

During his brief remarks, D’Agostino addressed questions regarding the number of students and school buildings other districts have; the average class size at each Warwick junior high and how it will be affected by consolidation; why current school data was used as a starting point instead of next year’s data; and classroom usage. Dennis Mullen, director of secondary education, also touched on the junior high model versus a middle school model.

D’Agostino said Warwick currently has 9,615 students enrolled in 23 schools, while Providence has 23,872 in 41 schools; Cranston has 10,664 in 18 schools; and Pawtucket has 9,300 in 16 schools.

D’Agostino said the new configuration class size average at the junior highs would be 17.02 with consolidation, as compared to the current average class size at each junior high: 15.94 at Aldrich; 14.67 at Winman; and 14.28 at Gorton.

“The current school data was used to offer the School Committee and the audience the opportunity to see the numbers that were used during the short-term meetings that provided a view of our district 10 years out to 2022,” D’Agostino continued.

With 59 teachers at Winman, it’s slightly more than the 55 at Aldrich and 53 at Gorton. D’Agostino said this is because “Winman has more intensive special education programs and students,” while Gorton has 100 fewer students than the other two junior highs.

Addressing the suggestion to move away from a junior high model in favor of a middle school by moving the 6th grade into the junior highs, D’Agostino said contractual restrictions and certifications pose a problem.

“As of May 6, 2013, we have 247 elementary teachers with only seven having middle school certification. Presently, of our 38 6th grade teachers, only two have middle school certification and we have 40 secondary, grade 7 to 8, teachers that have middle school certification,” he said. “The dilemma is 36 elementary teachers would be dismissed.”

D’Agostino said adopting the middle school model could also result in increased costs and “a school within a school” situation.

He continued by explaining classroom usage.

“Classroom usage was examined by the principals of each school as to the number of rooms in each building and the capacity of those rooms as classrooms and not what they were presently being used for,” he said. He used examples such as a math room and a team room, each of which could hold 14 students; a conference room that could hold 28 students; or a department head office that could hold 14 students.

The following slide is what sent the crowd into an uproar of laughter and shouting. The slide read: “Question: With students having to be transported to Aldrich and Winman instead of Gorton, how will this affect the time students are on the bus? Answer: Minor to not at all.”

Longest ride is 40 minutes

D’Agostino said the present longest bus ride in the city is from Potowomut to Winman, which takes 30 to 40 minutes. He said the present Gorton bus ride from Warwick Neck is 23 to 26 minutes. The proposed ride from Church Avenue to Gorton is projected to be 23 to 26 minutes. He said the present Gorton bus ride from Suburban Parkway in Oakland Beach is eight minutes and the proposed ride from Oakland Beach Avenue/West Shore Road to Winman is projected to at 9 to 10 minutes, adding that the routes were driven and timed.

“The numbers are there and the district is there. You can go on Mapquest and look it up,” D’Agostino said in response to shouts of “lies!” and laughter at the estimated travel times. “I drove it myself starting at 6:30 a.m.”

Addressing the junior high versus middle school model, Mullen said there is literature to support both sides of the argument.

“Researchers have raised concerns with the middle school model,” he said.

Citing a research study conducted by Bedard and Do, entitled “Are Middle Schools More Effective? The Impact of School Structure on Student Outcomes,” Mullen said some of the concerns raised include lack of personal attention and monitoring in middle schools; decline in 6th grade math and science scores; the elimination of middle schools in New York City in place of a K-8 model; lower on-time high school completion rates and graduation rates, and less able students.

The public comment portion began with the 17 people that had signed up to speak during the first hearing that were unable to do so as time ran out.
Gene Andreozzi was the first to speak.

“Warwick is a very good system. The reason not to close any school is safety. I don’t know where your heads are,” he said. “You’re thinking about the money when you should be thinking about the safety of the kids. You can’t see the numbers because you’re playing with them; the numbers don’t mean anything.”

Numbers don’t add up

City Councilman Ed Ladouceur said he hasn’t seen transparency in the process and won’t support closing any schools until accurate information and numbers that balance are presented.

“There’s been arrogance in the presentation. The numbers don’t add up; numbers don’t lie, they always tell the truth,” he said. “I take issue with the buck being passed on to the City Council. I suggest that you start cutting costs in administration.”

Jennifer Wrench, who said she’s a bus driver, disputed the estimated travel times.

“You don’t take into account bus stops and traffic and the fact that you need to drive slow,” she said. “It will cost more money because you will need more buses and the kids will be on the buses longer, creating more problems because they can only sit still for so long.”

Stephanie Van Patten, a member of the long-term facilities planning committee, said the decision to close Gorton is shortsighted.

“The Warwick Public Schools need a comprehensive plan to build the infrastructure we will need in 2025 and beyond. School closure, realignment and construction will all be necessary parts of the plan implementing that vision,” she said. “Any school closure, realignment or construction without that vision and plan is, at best, a waste of valuable taxpayer resources and, at worst, incompetent public management.”

Van Patten said a vision for the district has not been communicated to her.

“From my perspective, the only vision the administration has is to close schools, and its only plan to implement that vision is to close Gorton,” she said.

Van Patten said the administration took unilateral action to separate the original planning committee into “long-term,” comprised of members like herself that believe the district needs a vision, and “short-term,” comprised of people they believed would “rubber stamp” a junior high school closing. She added that her request to be a liaison between the two committees was denied and her “detailed written questions” regarding the interaction of the two committees were not met by a response from the administration.

Sarah Taylor Evans, an English teacher at Gorton, Warwick has made policy decisions based on bad budgeting and poor administrative choices and is not in step with the rest of the country when it comes to the middle school model.

“Aspects of the middle school are there; what’s missing is the sixth grade – bring them up, we’re ready!” she said. “Don’t believe that the sky is falling; Chicken Little doesn’t run Warwick, you do!”

Alanna Morrison, a seventh grader at Gorton, said the school makes her feel safe and welcome.

“I don’t want to get home after dark because I wouldn’t feel safe. I like to stay after school to finish my work, and if I get home late, I won’t have time for homework or after school sports,” she said. “I’m nervous to be taken away from friends and comfort to be moved to a new school for one year only to do it all over again for high school. It makes no sense.”

Mary Townsend, who’s been in special education for more than 30 years and has a medically fragile grandson in Warwick schools, was one of the few that said schools need to be consolidated. She also said she was appalled to hear people complain about the bus routes when there are special education or medically fragile students that travel between 30 and 45 minutes, without an issue, to places like Meeting Street School or Bradley Hospital to get the best education possible.

As president of the Warwick Independent School Employees union, Townsend said, “No matter how the vote goes, we’re committed to working with the teachers and administrators to move forward.”

Fun memories gone

Angelina Steinberg asked School Committee members to put themselves in the shoes of students, even those that have already experienced consolidation at the elementary level.

“Think about being tossed out of your elementary school and going to Gorton and now have to be tossed out again,” she said. “All I see is every fun memory we had as children being taken away from these children.”

Bud Andolfo, a teacher at Gorton, asked how Gorton will be used in September, or if it will be used.

D’Agostino said there are no plans for Gorton at this time.

“Only you have the power to decide what to do here,” Andolfo said, addressing the School Committee. “If you really, truly believe closing Gorton is the right decision, then you should vote to close, but if you have the slightest doubt, why can’t we put this to a vote next year when things are in order?”

Kevin Shepherd, a recent Gorton and Vets graduate currently enrolled at the University of Rhode Island, said he came with a prepared statement but felt like he wouldn’t be taken seriously.

“A 12-minute bus ride from Warwick Neck will not be a 12-minute bus ride unless we all get in helicopters and fly around,” he said. “The smallest class size I was in was 18, and I, nor my friends, nor teachers ever saw 14 in a class. You’re making this a place where I don’t want to foster a family and I’m heading for the hills.”

Michael Pierce, another Gorton teacher, said the committee shouldn’t feel forced to make a decision right away.

“You have time and all the choices in the world. Administrators will make you think you don’t, but you do,” he said. “The numbers aren’t clear, the savings aren’t clear, planning is not clear and questions have not been answered. Dr.

D’Agostino is my boss, but he’s not your boss. You are his boss, and I say that with all due respect to everyone sitting up there. Don’t make a hasty a decision.”

Gorton teacher Jason Gervasini said he was at the meeting not as a teacher or parent, but as an advocate for the students.

“I’d agree to close Gorton if the only reason was enrollment was down, but we can fix that by bringing the sixth grade up and adopting all-day K [Kindergarten],” he said. “Grades six to eight are what the common core [standards] is built on, how can we not do that? If you think education is expensive, what about ignorance?”

Following his comments, Gervasini approached the front of the auditorium with several students who held posters with the lyrics to the Gorton anthem on them, which Gervasini led the audience in singing despite exceeding his allotted speaking time limit of three minutes.

“While I appreciate the enthusiasm, there are people that want to talk that won’t get a chance to speak,” said School Committee chairwoman Bethany Furtado.

To illustrate how many people will be affected by Gorton’s closure, Gorton teacher Sheri James asked anyone in the audience who is a Gorton student or was at anytime to stand up and wave to the committee, to which the majority of those in attendance rose.

“These are the children you are affecting,” she said to the committee.

Tensions rose again before the hearing ended at 7:30 p.m., as two women approached the front of the auditorium and tried to explain that they added their names to speak last Thursday but were skipped over during Tuesday’s session. Shouts of “Let them speak!” rang throughout the auditorium as Furtado scanned through the list to see if the names had been skipped, but Rosemary Healey, director of human resources and legal counsel for the school department, said due to how the meeting was posted, which was scheduled to begin at 5:30 and end at 7:30 p.m., it could not be extended and the meeting was adjourned. Despite being told they couldn’t speak, one woman attempted to address the audience anyway but could not be heard since the microphones were turned off. With visible frustration and anger, the crowd slowly began to exit the auditorium.

The School Committee is scheduled to vote on closing a junior high school at a meeting on Tuesday, May 14 at 7 p.m. at Toll Gate High School. It is expected that Mayor Scott Avedisian will reveal his budget for the city that same day, and all indications are schools will not get the $3.8 million increase it has requested in city funding.


Comments
21 comments on this item

Why doesn't the city pay EG to send the students in Powotomut to EG schools if there busing kids through EG to get to Warwick proper. House values in Powotomut would sky rocket.

I am not in favor of closing Gorton and /or Aldrich Junior High. I was in favor of the middle school model.... but after much research, have found that moving students from elementary (Gr. 5 or 6) to middle school causes significant drop in academic achievement. Effects are large--for both Math and English and persist through grade 8. AND there is little evidence that placing elemenary students into middle school during adolescense is cost-effective. Many studies have actually stated that having a grade K thru 8 school model is the best way to go. So with Warwick Schools' other option, increasing enrollment/combing schools,causing overcrowding and larger class sizes, neither option would benefit our students. Our current situation is fine the way it is. Don't close any junior high --it's THE BEST option for our Warwick students!

warwick10, did you read the article? Warwick has a ridiculous number of schools for the number of students compared to other cities with similiar population. The city is shrinking not growing, and this pathetic attempt to save a school is going to hasten the death of the city. It would be great if we had an unlimited source of revenue, but we don't and the taxes and depressed housing values are driving people away. Kids will adjust, they are resilient. If your concerned about your child's education, get engaged and do your job. Stop waiting for the schools to educate your children by themselves. When a child fails to get a good education, its more indicative of poor parenting than poor teaching.

Warwick10,your position to keep things the way they are is just not sustainable.. Don't buy all the negatives about middle school and I'd suggest you do a bit more research. Just about every other city/town in the state has middle schools and just about every district that does better than us in NECAP scores - and there are many - are middle school models. Massachusetts, consistently among the top public school systems in the country as measured by the NAEP scores, is predominantly middle school. Middle schools can, and do, work. The data on K-8 is not conclusive because most current K-8 schools have small student populations (because most of them are private/parochial schools) so they don't make a good statistical sample. Plus, there's research that shows that when those 8th graders get to high school their performance drops in part because of the change to a larger high school. Warwick has been weighting special Ed students since 1978 and, originally, junior high special Ed kids counted as two so 25 years ago when we had 2 or 3 thousand more kids in the system those buildings were not overcrowded then. Overcrowding the buildings is just not a concern for me, and I have one in junior high and another one coming up. And class size is governed by the teacher contract so admin can't arbitrarily change that. The best use for the thee buildings is as middle schools because that model leaves you flexibility to deal with all day K and consolidation.

teachers' selfishness is beyond comprehension. me me me should be there motto.

The School Budget was cut 5% ($6.2 Million) in 2010 by the City of Warwick. The school budget has been level funded (underfunded) for 4 years since for an approximate total of $25+ Million since it was cut. Since 2008, the city budget has gone up and now it is up $30 MILLION annually. With the cut in 2010 now having a total reduction of $25 Million, where will Warwick Schools find the money to actually fund education?

I toured the schools when I was on the committee. There were empty and unused classrooms during the day (at the Junior and Senior HS) and from what I saw, some of the classes had only a dozen students. I agree there should be a long term plan but in the short term, there is no money. The total effect of the 2010 cut is now in excess of $25 Million. I am glad the cuts were made, it forced departments to make cuts, more will need to be made. I would like to see the city make cuts to their budget too rather than continuously increase the taxes by the maximum each year and send it to the city side of the budget. I believe there have been 24 years of tax increases in Warwick, enough is enough.

The fight to keep a school open should have been fought in 2010 when the school budget was cut 5%. If the fight in 2010 was won, there would no Jr or Sr high closed right now. The public did not come out to support the schools in the fight to stop the cut. The mayor and city council spun the facts and used the stimulus money and influence at the general assembly to cut the school funding while increasing the city taxes the maximum amount and keeping it for their own needs ignoring the needs of the schools. They called the CUT level funding. When I see $6.2 Million not being sent to the schools, that is a cut NOT level funding. The $6.2 Million cut is missing from the school budget each year and it ends up being a lot of money quickly. In another 4 years, it will be $50 MILLION missing from the school budget.

If a Jr High school doesn't close and a high school doesn't close the schools will be bankrupt, teachers and staff will not be able to be paid. Right now, there are shortages in the classroom and I see it, you see it, but what is to be done to fix it? There is no hidden fund sitting at the administration building, there is no secret money hidden in a closet.

Does there need to be a long term plan? Yes. What should be done in the short term? If something is not done soon, the schools will be in the same situation as Central Falls and Woonsocket.

When Greene was going to close, Helen Taylor stood up in front of the crowd and proclaimed she had a solution, the city council would help. They did nothing. Donna Travis says the city council wants to help, but not until the schools make cuts. What the heck does she think the schools have done each year since the budget was cut in 2010? (or since my arrival on the committee in 2008.) There were cuts after cuts after cuts and the student education is suffering. Please remember the city budget HAS gone up $30 MILLION dollars annually during the same time period the school have been "level" funded (again, cut $6.2 million annually).

Now, newly elected City Councilman Ed Ladouceur said he hasn’t "seen transparency in the process and won’t support closing any schools until accurate information and numbers that balance are presented." Well Ed, if you paid attention for the last 4 years you would know the schools have been underfunded and the elementary schools have already been closed. The schools have been talking about a bubble of students moving through and the potential for a Jr or Sr High to close for years. So, Mr Ladouceur, if you won't support closing the schools, what is your solution? Keep them open and go bankrupt? The fact is, percentage wise, administration has been consolidated as much as teachers and staff for the last 4 years.

And Mr Ladouceur, if you “take issue with the buck being passed on to the City Council.", I take issue that the city council has raised the taxes each year and the city side has taken 100% of the increase. The city budget is up $30 MILLION annually and the schools have not had an increase in 4 years. So rather than suggesting the schools, "start cutting costs in administration” why don't you do your job and find some cuts in the city budget and send a reasonable amount to the schools.

The city council will pretend to want to help but they will not. The school committee will be blamed but in the end it is the students who will suffer, not because they need to be on a bus longer or because they may be separated from their friends but because they are not getting what they need to succeed when they graduate and move on to the workforce or college.

Does the classroom of the building a student sits in matter more than the education they receive by the teacher standing in front of them?

On a related side note,

The sewer authority was $7 Million over budget in 2009-2010, is this being paid back to the city? The fire Department is over budget $1 Million annually with overtime, how is this being handled? By building a new fire station. Get costs under control in all areas, NO MORE TAX INCREASES!

Thank you Pat. Even though I support the Middle School Model of teaching as well as a regional vocational technical school (Tri-County in Franklin, MA is a great example) it is apparent that many people are frustrated with the process and with good cause, but it doesn't negate the fact the school department needs money in order to adopt the Middle School Model (it won't be free) should they wish to, pay for technology, books, security, fire code requirements, professional development, infrastructural improvements, all day K and more..how do we pay for it? City Council can go on and on about how this is an outrage but the reality is they are not going to give the School Dept. any more money. We have to cut somewhere folks and one building being closed will not cover all the expenses the department faces but it will cover someone's salary and a few Chrome books, computers and some other things.

The long-term solution to our problems must be addressed alongside the short-term solutions. If the WPS had a plan in place to build new schools while phasing out the old ones people would react differently. All people are being told is 'we must close a school' and that is not the only solution or the only choice. We have many sites in the City that can be converted..we also can add on or change two of the high schools to be junior-senior campuses. There are so many choices and it's about time the WPS and the City of Warwick try to draw people into the City who are seeking a good public education for their children and not drive them away with an outdated, outmoded public school system. I do not know how other Cities and Towns manage these changes ...I suppose with Bond money? It is worth looking into..

After reading about the travel time from Oakland Beach to Winman I had to laugh. Anyone who travels this route between 6:45 and 7:30 am already knows what a nightmare it is just getting by Vets high. Traffic is backed up to Oakland Beach during this time. Same goes in the other direction in the afternoon. Maybe Dr. Dagostino needs to do a true drive thru. I can't imaging getting twelve thru fourteen year olds on a bus for six thirty AM nor do I think it's fair to them. I can only imagine how tired they will be during their school day. Also, I haven't noticed any comments about the proposed airport expansion and it's impact on traffic. With this expansion practically cutting this city in half with Aldrich and Winman on one half and Gorton on the other, shouldn't this be considered. Just a thought...

I don't think we should keep a school open because of a longer bus ride. It stinks to have to hustle the kids so early in the morning...I have two who will be going at the same time, but that happens in communities across the country everyday. My own experience when I was in junior high school and high school was to be at the bus stop for 6:45 and a ride that was close to an hour because we stopped in Plainville, Wrentham, King Philip High School to drop off the older kids and onto Norfolk to the junior high school. We got out at 2:10 in junior high and made all the same stops along the way..I got home around 3 p.m....there were late buses too, for detention, after school activities and sports as well as extra-help for the students. It is doable. Two late buses in fact..one at 3:00 p.m. and one at 4:30 p.m...otherwise Mom and Dad came to collect us.

I wanted to put information out about how the schools have gotten to this point. People forget quickly the cuts were made to funding schools. I also wanted to make sure people knew how much had been taken so far. I am not going to say that if they had the money they would have done the right thing with it, I would have made sure it went into education and not into someone's pocket.

Mr. Maloney, Thanks for your service. You were a good school board member, and your loss is being felt. But, even if the money hadn't been cut the shrinking number of students calls for consolidation. The Warwick public schools ONLY responsibility is to our children. It is not a job's program, no matter what the unions believe.

That is very true Patientman!

Thank you Jackiemama1017 and Patientman for your kind comments.

Patientman, I agree. In addition to the shrinking number of students, State and federal mandates require additional staff (jobs program). Many of these mandates are unfunded so the local school district must pay for the salary. I will use bus monitors as an example. Now, I know bus monitors provide a valuable service and keep kids safe but it is required by law that they be on certain busses but no funding comes from the state to pay for this mandate. I would not be in favor of cutting bus monitors but there are definitely places to make cuts in personnel in staff and in administration. The fact is, the drop in the number of students should have prompted a cut to the number of schools (and employees) throughout the 1980s, 90s and 2000s. No changes were made during that time, because the economy was robust, and they are trying to make the cuts now. If this had been done over a period of time (15-20 years), people would have a better understanding that changes happen, a savings would have occurred over time too. Education is suffering and you are correct, it is not a job program.

The school department had a surprise surplus of $2.8 million. How was it spent? On the kids? No. Salary increases for all employees and a payout to the former Superintendent.

The payout to the former Superintendent did not cost one dime more than his contract, so it was already budgeted. No outside lawyer fees were spent on it either. You are misrepresenting the facts. As a matter of fact, there was a small stipend given to Dr D'Agostino for taking on the added responsibilities of Acting Superintendent last year. this year he is doing both jobs for only his salary and there is a savings because he is still doing both jobs for one salary plus the small stipend. I believe that is a net savings of 80K+. So, by getting rid of the previous superintendent and not replacing him, the schools have had a savings and no additional funding/ surplus went to that.

The surplus amount when I was still on the committee was estimated to be $1.1 Million and I know I voted to put the money towards books that were supposed to be purchased earlier but were delayed due to a lack of funds. If they put the money towards the books then the surplus did go to to the students.

I am wondering how the current committee is paying for the salary increase for the WISE union myself. They voted to give the raise only 18 days after the new members were inaugurated and prior to the budget meetings getting no concessions from the union to pay for the increases. They did say they got union peace, but does that have to be negotiated?

You're right Pat. They also purchased new reading texts books for the elementary schools to replace outdated ones.Also, they passed up the purchase of new math texts until this year, I think, because they waited for a text that was aligned with common core to become available and I remember someone blogging here who complained that his child was using an old textbook and you explained all this to him. Perhaps if that parent attended a school committee or two they'd know that. Plus, the schools invested in and is implementing RTI, which is an excellent, data-driven program to ID student problem areas early and address them immediately. You sat on the board when they privatized bus services, saving 7 figures. I agree that the the 'labor peace' premise did not hold much water for me. So the dept. does often make good investments and they also make dumb decisions so its a mixed bag. We make a mistake in assuming that people who are good/great educators will presumably make good/great managers. For what it's worth, I think that they're projecting a surplus for this year of, I think, $600k and it could approach $1mm. I believe was said at the March or April meeting.

Thanks for confirming Dave.

Hey, patientman and Dave, thank you for your input, but I based my opinion on my research of both public and private schools in the United States. I did my research --and although I somewhat agree with you, I think the school committee and/ or city of Warwick should not have let it come to this. The budget is being mismanaged --at our students' expense. Not all kids adjust, especially with so many school closings. So yes, I am doing my job, enrolling my children at a private school.

Warwick10, I just wish the town would give vouchers or tax breaks to parents sending kids outside the public schools.

The State would have to give those vouchers.

Tonight, The School Committee Voted to table the decision to close a Junior High School.

I talked with members of the school committee tonight after the meeting. With no decision to close a school and no funding increase from the city, cuts to programs will need to be made including ALAP, Sports, Music and after-school programs. The Chair of the SC made it very clear during her speech that a vote to table the decision would result in "catastrophic" cuts across the board in all areas affecting every student. The schools will be heading towards only the necessities, the BEP, Basic Education Plan. It is IMPERATIVE that the group that asked for Gorton not be closed and for a long term plan before making a decision be EXTREMELY vocal with the City Council about supporting schools. I heard SEVERAL members of the City Council were at the SC meeting tonight asking the schools to rethink the decision to close Gorton. The decision has been made to postpone a closing for now. The big question is WILL the city council that encouraged the schools not to make the decision support the schools with funding? If past recent history is correct, they will not. Everybody needs to go to the city council meetings and (dare I say) BEG for money for the schools so a long term plan can be realized and executed? Which programs should be cut first? If several hundred people do not go to the city council to demand financial support for the schools, the inevitable will occur and not only will a school be closed, student programs will be cut as well.

When sports were going to be cut several years ago, people came out to let the council know it was wrong. Several hundred people voiced their concerns. The council earmarked funding specifically for sports so the programs could continue. I would be happy with the city earmarking funding specifically to keep a junior high school open until a long term plan is formulated and executed.

If funding is not in place, the vote to delay a decision will result in not only a closure of a school and cuts to the student programs.

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