By ARDEN BASTIA The Warwick School Committee, fearing further delay of the high school renovation projects, voted Tuesday to approve plans for Pilgrim and Toll Gate High Schools. The school committee also approved a tentative agreement with the Warwick
The Warwick School Committee, fearing further delay of the high school renovation projects, voted Tuesday to approve plans for Pilgrim and Toll Gate High Schools.
The school committee also approved a tentative agreement with the Warwick Teachers Union in a 3 to 2 vote.
The committee unanimously selected option C for both schools.
Pilgrim High School Option C, called “Community Hug”, would take roughly 36 months to complete at a projected cost of $176,739,305. The plan features a new two-story addition across the front of Pilgrim, a new façade, better safety and security controls, new sports fields with synthetic turf, and increased parking.
Toll Gate High School Option C, called “The Heart of the School”, will also take about 36 months to complete at a cost of $125,424,605. It includes a new story addition, a redesigned entryway into the building, enlarged bridges, new commons and media center, demolition of Drum Rock, and new athletic fields with synthetic turf.
The loss of student enrollment has been an issue for Warwick Public Schools, which currently has a teacher to student ratio of 1 to 8.9, while the state ratio is 1 to 12.3.
According to Frank Locker, school department consultant, demographers from the New England School Development Council (NESDEC) say a one-year irregularity in enrollments is too small of a sampling from which to base predictable long-term enrollments. Locker also said that demographers from NESDEC are “relying only on 2019 data from before COVID, because of the irregularity and consistent drop in schools across the country.”
RIDE requires fresh enrollment projects as part of the second stage of the application process; however, Locker assured the committee that those projects would be taken “further down the road.” The October 2021 enrollments will form the basis of the RIDE stage two submission, regardless of what enrollments were used in the original planning studies.
Because of declining enrollment, one central Warwick high school was presented as a possible plan. However, Mayor Frank Picozzi doesn’t support a one-school plan because of challenges with finding a suitable location.
Locker remains confident that a two-school plan is the best for Warwick.
“These schools meet the goals defined by your stakeholders and because they represent fiscally responsible decision making,” he said during the meeting. “Building on these sites in these sizes, we’re able to keep a lot of the existing infrastructure. If we were to try to build on one of these sites with a single building to hold the entire population, it would trigger completely new construction, which will be more expensive.”
The first stage of the application process must be submitted to RIDE by September 2021, and the second stage must be submitted by February 2022.
“We’re already behind schedule with something like this,” said Steve Guglielmo during Tuesday’s meeting. Guglielmo is from Saccoccio & Associates Architects, a Cranston-based business assisting Warwick in the renovations. “There’s a lot of work to get done to meet that February deadline.”
Guglielmo also explained the RIDE reimbursement starts at 35 percent, but through meeting RIDE incentives, Warwick can increase the reimbursement rate by increments of 5 percent.
Lynn Dambruch spoke at the committee meeting for the first time since assuming the role of Superintendent. Dambruch said she was “in agreement” and is “looking forward to reenergizing our high schools.”
Also up for discussion was the tentative agreement between Warwick Public Schools and the Warwick Teachers Union (WTU). After discussion about possible amendments, the committee voted 3 to 2 to approve the contract as presented.
Committee member David Testa spoke out against the proposed agreement.
“When these discussions began a couple years ago, we were all asked for what issues were important to us. And for myself, I had healthcare co-shares, a certain number of sick days (the current contract provides for 90 sick days), professional development and secondary schedule,” said Testa. “But from what I can see, in this CBA none of those have been addressed.”
Former chairperson Karen Bachus proposed waiting to vote for approval until new superintendent Lynn Dambruch and new assistant superintendent William McCaffrey had a chance “to really go over [the contract] and think about it. They were involved in the early talks and they’re not aware of all the changes. It would be helpful, and I think we owe it to our new superintendent to do that.”
Ultimately, the tentative agreement was approved as presented with no changes. The contract will be presented to the union members for a vote before it’s made public.
The previous teacher contract expired in August 2020.
According to a fiscal impact review, the fiscal impact of the agreement is driven by the changes in two areas: increase to the salary schedule and changes to the health insurance premium co-share rates.
The three-year term of the tentative agreement spans FY21 to FY23. There is no salary increase for FY21, and a 2.5 percent increase in both FY 22 and FY23. The tentative agreement health insurance co-shares are equal to 17 percent of the FY22 health premiums and 18 percent of the projected health premiums of FY23.
Robert Baxter, finance director for Warwick Public Schools, projects an impact of $2,466,148 for FY22 and $5,614,745 for FY23.
According to the review, “the fiscal impact of this [tentative agreement] can be absorbed within the FY22 School Committee recommended budget with negligible adjustments,” and “it is possible for the [Warwick School Committee] to eliminate the district’s structural deficit within terms of this TA assuming WTU staff reductions are made as a result of declining enrollment.”