Some go to state over school closing

  • Warwick Community School on Winchester Road in Warwick, May 30, 2018.

Staff Writer
Published: 2/10/2019 10:58:15 PM

WARWICK — Still hoping to guarantee the future of their town’s elementary school, some Warwick residents are asking the state Department of Education to block the Pioneer Valley Regional School Committee from a final decision to close Warwick Community School.

Last week the Warwick Education Task Force, a residents’ group advocating for the elementary school, sent a letter to Massachusetts Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Jeffrey Riley, arguing that the Pioneer administrators and School Committee are pursuing a school closure as a quick solution to the district’s financial problem, and that they have not fully explored alternative revenue-generating strategies.

Now the group is calling other residents to write their own letters to Warwick’s state Rep. Susannah Whipps, hoping that she will influence the education commissioner’s decision, Task Force organizer Adam Holloway said.

Warwick’s letter-writing campaign came from a recent conversation Task Force members had with the Department of Education’s Deputy Commissioner Jeff Wulfson, Holloway said. Wulfson told them that if they presented reasonable alternatives to a school closure, the commissioner might overrule the School Committee’s decision on the matter, Holloway said.

“That’s ultimately what we’re hoping for,” Holloway said.

The Pioneer Valley Regional School District is now under special legislation that will allow the School Committee to close elementary schools as part of a larger project to make the district financially sustainable. That special authority goes into effect once the district borrows money to cover its roughly $450,000 deficit, which Pioneer Finance Director Tanya Gaylord expects to be finalized at some point in March.

But under the special legislation, the School Committee’s decisions on school closures ultimately have to be approved by the commissioner of the Department of Education, Holloway said.

The Task Force’s letter to the education commissioner lists several revenue-generating possibilities and potential efficiencies that, the Task Force says, have not been sufficiently considered by the School Committee and school adminsitrators as alternatives to school closures. These include renegotiating the district’s healthcare costs, consolidation of administrative roles, moving the district’s sixth-graders to the middle-high school in Northfield and after-hours uses of the school buildings.

The letter also claims that adminsitrators have underestimated the amount of revenue that Warwick Community School brings to the district — primarily through school choice enrollment and an energy efficiency grant that would bring a total of $250,000 to the district — which would likely be lost if the school were closed.

The letters to Susannah Whipps will likely be similar in subject matter, Holloway said, but “combined with some matters of the heart.” Some of the letters so far are from elementary students, he said.

The Selectboard is also drafting its own letter to Education Commissioner Riley.

Contact Max Marcus at mmarcus@recorder.com or 413-772-0261 ex 261.


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