WARWICK, RI — Nathan Cornell, recent Toll Gate High School graduate, regular at School Committee meetings and proponent of City Council and School Committee cooperation who’s worked to settle tensions between the bodies since 2015, is running for the education board’s Dist. 3 seat.
Warwick Post asked Cornell a number of questions about recent school-related news and his thoughts on school issues. Here are the questions and Cornell’s answers:
1) Your stated mission is to conduct School business with greater transparency. How do you plan to do that?
Cornell: I would make sure to read and respond to all my constituents’ emails, I would respond to phone calls, and I would meet with anybody who has concerns about the schools.
2) Other than that, why are you interested in serving on the School Committee? What do you hope to accomplish there? What would you like to change?
Cornell: I have been involved with the schools for a number of years now. I started attending and speaking at School Committee meetings as a student and I have continued to attend School Committee meetings even after I graduated from Toll Gate High School. I believe I can bring a unique perspective to the School Committee being a recent student in the Warwick Public School system. If elected, I would be a School Committee member my constituents could depend on and know I will listen to them. One of the things I would like to change is to have a subcommittee consisting of parents, students, teachers, and community members to give recommendations and advice about certain items on the agenda, so the School Committee can have all the information before they make a final decision.
3) The School Department cut $750,000 from its budget to help make up for about $6 million it didn’t receive from the City Council this year – what do you think of this cost saving measure? Was there another non-contractual expense you could have cut instead?
Cornell: This cost saving measure will still not be sufficient to balance the budget in this fiscal year. If elected, I will look into trying to get more funding from the state, since I feel we were given a disservice this year due to the state’s funding formula.
4) City Councilors attend School Committee meetings. Why has that not resulted in better communication between the two bodies? Why didn’t the boards meet about the budget ahead of time this year?
Cornell: There is actually a committee which I helped create to help mend the miscommunication between the School department and the City Council called the Community Outreach Educational Committee. Unfortunately, the school department hasn’t been willing to participate on this committee in over a year. If elected, I will make sure that the school department takes part in this committee once again so that there will always be communication between the School Committee and City Council. This committee would also meet ahead of the budget hearings, so the City Council can understand the School Committee’s position.
5) The School Committee asked the City Council for $8 million, which would’ve required raising taxes beyond the legal maximum. Then the school department purchased a full-page ad in the Warwick Beacon threatening to sue the city if the Council didn’t agree to it. How would you explain these actions?
Cornell: I think it is a mistake for the School Committee to sue the City Council because the City Council will just be less willing to give more money to the school department in the future. Also, to sue the city means that there will be legal fees, paid for out of taxpayers’ dollars, so the school district will have even less money. Also, historically, suing the city hasn’t worked well for the Warwick School Department. For example, in 1981, the Warwick School Committee sued the City of Warwick over not getting the money they requested for their budget. The case made its way all the way up to the Rhode Island Supreme Court, which ruled in the City’s favor.
6) Has the district been getting a good value out of its hiring of Martin & Associates to handle public relations and its web presence? https://warwickpost.com/warwick-schools-pr-firm-redesigning-websites-handling-releases-social-media/
Cornell: I was completely opposed to the Public Relations consultant from the very beginning and spoke out against it at the School Committee meeting where it was voted on. Fortunately, the Public Relations consultant was cut from the budget last year, however, this was only done because the school district could no longer afford it.
7) The School Committee begins meetings by immediately entering executive session, leaving the public to wait for the regular meeting. Is this the best use of the public’s time and interest in the work of the Committee?
I believe this waiting is unfair to the public because there is no set time when the public session starts. Now, people attending the meetings have to assume that the public session will start an hour after the beginning of the meeting, however, no one can be sure when the meeting will officially start.
8) Parents were dissatisfied with the School Department and School Committee’s failure to inform them of broken fire alarms in elementary schools and serious allegations of discrimination against a student at Cedar Hill Elementary School. What have you done and/or suggested to improve this?
Cornell: The fire alarm situation at Norwood and Holliman schools were completely unacceptable and put the students in those schools at risk. The fact that many parents were not notified about the fire alarm being broken for a month echoes the serious issues with communication this school district has. Also, the Superintendent should have been held accountable for this incident. In regard to the situation at Cedar Hill School and any similar situations the School Committee might encounter, the school district needs to listen to all allegations and respond appropriately according to the law.