May 1, 2009

Warwick Schools: City Council to the Rescue?

Marc Comtois

It was open-mic night at Gorton Jr. High in Warwick last night. The School Committee gave the public a chance to voice their opinion regarding the proposed closing of John Greene school. Several of the issues generated by a meeting earlier in the week were brought up last night. Of particular interest was the appearance of Warwick City Council Woman Helen Taylor, who stated she had gone through the School Department's proposed budget and, after 30 hours of study, had found approximately $3 million in savings. Addressing the crowd, she told them to "hang in there" and that the Council was working for them so that all of the schools could stay open. She also mentioned something about pending legislation in the General Assembly giving town and city councils oversight of school committees (I couldn't find any). Was this political grandstanding or is real action imminent? We shall see.

Regardless, the Warwick Beacon's recent editorial is spot on:

A RIPEC report from several years ago predicted 5 percent declines in student population for years into the future, which Warwick has experienced.

The student population decline requires fewer buildings be used to accomplish the department’s goal: educating students.

School districts have to use the resources they have to the best of their ability to educate students. With that in mind, School Committee member Paul Cannistra is right on target in saying that he’d much rather close a school building than eliminate educational programs. Why would the School Committee continue spending in excess of $800,000 in energy and maintenance costs per year to keep students in an underused building?

To say that no schools should close in light of declining enrollment is illogical. A school isn’t a building, but a group of students, educators and programs.

That being said, it would have been preferable for the school department to undergo a citywide redistricting. The process of pitting one community against another has been counterproductive at best and why it’s being done piecemeal is beyond understanding.

Where is the long-term plan?

Demographics and fiscal responsibility require a leaner and more efficient school department, even via this piecemeal approach. The major problem with putting together a comprehensive plan is the uncertainty surrounding the prospect of airport expansion, which will affect (probably close) one school. The feeling I get is that, once expansion is set, the school department will proceed with the inevitable city-wide redistricting.

This all points to the inter-related problems we have here in Rhode Island. This is linked to that, which is linked to another thing. And everyone is frozen until someone makes a decision somewhere else. Perhaps the best thing would be to just take the bold step of closing the one school--Wickes--that will probably be closed anyway and proceed with a city-wide restructuring. But it's apparently too late for that now.

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Two years ago Councilwoman Helen Taylor was one of the swing votes that allowed the City council to pass up million of dollars in savings by keeping BCBS as health administrator.

A few weeks ago see voted yes to three year contract extensions for police, fire and municipal employees. These contracts kept the "status quo", no pension reform, lifetime healthcare after 10 years, fixed health co-pays for the next three years, deferred holiday pay.

And she is complaining. Please... she is part of the problem

Posted by: angry Warwick taxpayer at May 1, 2009 4:38 PM

Helen Taylor can't even handle her own finances, why anyone in this city would put her in a position to spend our tax dollars is beyond comprehension..

Posted by: jd at May 1, 2009 6:30 PM

I agree with "jd". Why anybody thinks Helen Taylor can handle city spending when she can't handle her own finances is confusing. Councilwoman Taylor's house was foreclosed on about a year ago, that's why she had to move into a condo. In response to 'angry taxpayer" comments, personally I'm more concerned with the fact that the media still refuses to make an issue of the fact that members of the Warwick City Council are the only part-time employees in Warwick that receive family medical benefits and a pension and lifetime family health benefits after only 6 years. It amazes me that no other taxpayer is appauled by this abuse of taxpayer dollars. The city council criticizes spending and employee benefits while accepting a $10,000 per year salary and family health benefits at a cost of $15,000 per year per council member. They need to lead by example. Rhode Island politics at its worst.

Posted by: BC at May 3, 2009 8:44 PM

" members of the Warwick City Council are the only part-time employees in Warwick that receive family medical benefits and a pension and lifetime family health benefits after only 6 years."

Is that true? That could lead people to run for the office for reasons other than public service. (And to ingratiate oneself with special interests so as to ensure election and reelection to the office for the same inappropriate reason.)

Posted by: Monique at May 3, 2009 10:55 PM

Monique, that is true.

As the former Ward 1, Warwick Councilman I proposed legislation to eliminate lifetime healthcare for any elected official in Warwick.

It passed earlier this year. But the council amended the effective date so the new Ward 1 councilman would not be effected by this legislation and if he gets reelected two more terms he will be vested for lifetime healthcare.

In addition, while on the council I did not accept the city health care plan to lead by example.

My platform on the council focused on pension and healthcare reform. As a result Mayor Avedisian and the employee unions targeted my seat so they could get the current rubber stamp person in and get all their contracts, enhanced pensions and perferred health care plan approved for three more years.

Bob Cushman

Posted by: Bob Cushman at May 4, 2009 10:57 AM
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