Slow down; what’s the rush; iron out the bumps in the consolidation of secondary schools first.
Those have been the predominate cries at three public hearings to consolidate elementary schools. The proposed plan would close Holden and Wickes schools and re-purpose Drum Rock Early Childhood Center as an additional space for the career and technical center and John Brown Francis School as the early childhood center.
Predictably, parents are concerned by the closure of their neighborhood school. They have made convincing arguments to keep the schools open, but as we know Warwick school enrollment is half of the 19,000 students it was in the 1980s and is forecast to continue declining. School consolidation is painful, but leaving schools at 60 percent of capacity is a waste of resources that could be better used by the district.
While an independent consultant suggested four to six elementary schools could be closed, the School Committee and the administration have chosen this course as the best for Warwick. Picking what schools to close has been the challenge, and to do that the consolidation committee weighed a number of issues. It has looked at the structural integrity of the buildings and estimated the cost of having them meet today’s expectations, including the removal of asbestos, new heating systems, windows, roofs, electrical systems and physical floor space. The committee considered the proximity of schools and, in the case of Wickes, that school’s proximity to the airport. They also looked at enrollment at each of the elementary schools, added busing costs incurred by closures and neighborhood impacts.
Could there have been more detailed studies, as some parents have suggested? The answer is, yes.
But to suggest this process has been rushed, or that elementary school consolidation is a surprise, is absurd.
We also find the reasoning a decision should be postponed to allow the dust to settle on secondary school consolidation specious. Yes, secondary school consolidation hasn’t been an easy ride, but it is smoothing out.
There’s room for improvements, however, delaying a decision on elementary schools won’t change things.
If anything, and it’s an issue that hasn’t been raised, it could be argued the district should proceed with consolidation because additional elementary classrooms will become available with the transition of sixth-graders to middle schools at Veterans and Winman. Similarly, it could be argued elementary consolidation should be delayed until middle schools are up and running.
At the core is what schools should be closed, not whether we need to shutter some schools.
The consolidation committee will make its recommendation and it will be up to the five-member School Committee to proceed with the plan, amend it, or scuttle it.
There is time to change the current plan, yet adhere to a timetable to consolidate elementary schools this year. It would mean more public hearings should another school other than those already named for closure be identified.
There’s ample time to do this. The real question is whether there’s the will to consolidate.