Published: 3/12/2020 7:06:13 PM
Modified: 3/12/2020 7:05:59 PM
WARWICK — No decision was made on the potential closure of Warwick Community School during a meeting between Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley and Warwick Selectboard and Education Advisory Committee members Monday night.
“We were told they had work to review and would be responding in a few weeks,” Town Coordinator David Young said. “For our part, we were tasked with developing our independent school elementary budget pro forma work, which commenced on (Tuesday) night.”
According to Young, Riley will review information provided to him at the long-anticipated meeting, held in his Boston office. Warwick officials told him the elementary school is funded in next year’s budget as voted by the Pioneer Valley Regional School District School Committee, so there is no reason to close the school at this time.
The School Committee voted on Jan. 16 to recommend Riley close Warwick’s elementary school at the end of the current school year. However, the committee also voted to approve the fiscal year 2021 budget, which accounts for Warwick’s school as it could not legally budget for the closure in advance of a decision from Riley.
“I think we’ll get a fair shake,” Young said. “Though their understanding of our situation and context was less than I expected, we left them with much to consult.”
In a press release about the meeting, Warwick officials said arguments for keeping elementary education in town included that “projected savings from closing the elementary school are exaggerated and the harms from closing are not well understood.” Additionally, they raised concerns about “the safety of small children being transported on unsafe roads,” the projected new bus route along a less populated road with little cellphone service and the extended time the children would spend riding the bus.
Adam Holloway, Warwick Education Advisory Committee chair, told Riley that families have been enduring “severe stress,” as the fate of the school has been deliberated for roughly two years. Finance Committee Chair Diana Noble, who is also a transportation specialist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, emphasized the town’s concerns with bussing students to Northfield Elementary School.
All these factors were “deemed unacceptable” by Warwick officials. They urged Riley to give them more time to transition to a blended learning model as an independent school as an alternative to regionalization, bussing and consolidation.
Just a week before the meeting with Riley, 90 residents attended a Special Town Meeting and gave their support to leave the Pioneer school district for kindergarten through sixth-grade education, and to appropriate $40,000 in supplemental support for Warwick Community School’s facility costs for the next school year. In the press release, Warwick officials said the town “has no non-educational contingency plan for the building’s use.” They state the building was opened just over 20 years ago and is the “most modern building in the district,” noting the town has invested in improvements to the roof, thermal boundaries and fire suppression.
The town’s next steps will be to develop a budget model for an independent school, and talk with Pioneer member towns about how they regard Warwick’s proposed partial exit. Young noted that the four member towns delayed the quarterly four-town meeting by two weeks so that Warwick officials could attend without it conflicting with Monday’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education meeting. However, the Selectboards for Northfield, Bernardston and Leyden all recently sent letters to Riley, supporting the Pioneer School Committee’s recommendation to the close Warwick Community School.
Zack DeLuca can be reached at [email protected] or 413-930-4579.
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