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Parents Demand Delay On Coventry Schools Restructure

[CREDIT: Rob Borkoski] Kenneth Spiro addresses the Coventry School Committee Feb. 5, 2024 at Coventry High, telling them Superintendent Don Cowart is "The Titanic" and his Coventry Schools Restructure Plan is an iceberg.

[CREDIT: Rob Borkowski] Several parents rallied outside the Coventry High Auditorium Monday night ahead of the Coventy School Committee meeting reviewing a Coventry Schools Restructure plan.
[CREDIT: Rob Borkowski] Several parents rallied outside the Coventry High Auditorium Monday night ahead of the Coventy School Committee meeting reviewing a Coventry Schools Restructure plan.
COVENTRY, RI — Parents made it clear at the Feb. 8 School Committee meeting they are still not sold on Superintendent Don Cowart’s Coventry Schools restructure plan, dissatisfied with his answers to their questions, and opposed to implementing it this fall after weeks discussing it.

“If this was something that was going to be a two- five year proposal,” said Dorinne Albright, “That wouldn’t have been such a problem.” But the plan seems hastily put together and rushed to a vote, even with the delay till Feb. 8. Cowart’s answers to questions raised by several parents during the Jan. 11 meeting were not actually answers either, said Albright, part of a group of parents and students gathered outside Coventry High Monday night to rally against the plan.

“I feel like he took some superficial questions and then didn’t really answer them,” Albright said.

“All of the answers have been gray and subjective to the Superintendent’s opinions,” said Kayla Amaral, another member of the group, before the meeting began. She said his Coventry Schools Restructure plan still has not facts or studies to support it.

During the meeting, Cowart reviewed his plan a second time, explaining his efforts to research the plan in October, intending to deliver the idea in time to begin the cost-saving plan in the fall, solving a $1.8 million deficit and immediately reorganizing the the district to make those savings without the need to cut the early childhood learning plan.

The Coventry Schools Restructure Plan converts Blackrock School to an early learning center, creating two sister-school pairs: Washington Oak (K-3) / Western Coventry (4-5) and Tiogue (K-12) /Hopkins Hill (3-5). The middle school and high school remain as-is. This approach would eliminate 10-15 elementary teaching positions, saving the district $2.1 million with pending retirements, “allowing the district to maintain intervention and support services for students,”  according to Cowart’s Jan. 19 message to the community.

In that message, Cowart says the ‘status quo’ plan would rely on enrollment data for staffing cuts, eliminating four elementary teaching positions and two interventionist positions, saving the district $1.04 million with pending retirements. This plan would require cutting positions, programs and extracurricular activities at the middle school and high school, according to Cowart’s assessment.
Cowart’s review of the plan Feb. 5 added a third restructuring option in his comparison, but did not address the relative cost savings or teacher positions cut in any of the options.
“In hindsight, scheduling the vote right after my (Jan. 11) presentation definitely felt rushed,” Cowart said Monday night.
Cowart also noted that the district has been operating beyond its means due to federal stimulus money combined with recent level funded budget that have not kept up with the fiscal needs of the school system. He said his approach is a more long-term, strategic approach to  limited funding that would make the district more flexible with future challenges.
“In the past, we’ve just cut. But they (cuts) weren’t strategic. They weren’t the cuts that were sustainable,” Cowart said.
School Committee member David Florio, who said he moved to Coventry in the 1980s to be near Washington Oak, which was eventually closed, said he didn’t want to see the town lose another elementary school.
“Needless to say, I’m probably going to be the ‘nay’ vote,” Florio said.
School Committee member Ana Isabel dos Reis-Couto said the transitions students would endure as a result of the restructure plan would be  overcome because children are resilient.
School Committee Chairman James Pierson thanked Cowart and said he believed the Committee now had all the information it needed to vote on the matter Feb. 8. The statement was met with audible scoffing and laughter.
‘Ultimately what this comes down to is a lack of credibility on Mr. Cowart’s part. He has lost it with the parents of this town. He has become the Titanic. The presentation is the iceberg that has torn the hull of his credibility.’

But Cowart didn’t answer the public’s specific questions about the studies backing the benefits of the plan, the reasons for starting it so quickly or the costs of converting the districts schools according to the plan,  something  speakers echoed repeatedly during the Feb. 5 Coventry School Committee meeting, summed up by Kenneth Spiro.

“The problem is that you have failed to actually make your case,” Spiro said. “All of the language in this presentation is, we looked at this,” he said, “The entire thing just says, oh, we looked at it, it’s not feasible, trust me. Well I’m here to say,  ‘We can’t’. And it’s very telling that of the five members of the School Committee on the panel today, one and only one has had the courage to make their position clearly and publicly known. Ultimately what this comes down to is a lack of credibility on Mr. Cowart’s part. He has lost it with the parents of this town. He has become the Titanic. The presentation is the iceberg that has torn the hull of his credibility. And the members of this School Committee have a choice. You can either go down with him, or step up and command the life rafts for the rest of this town.

[CREDIT: Rob Borkowski] About 200 people attended the Feb. 8 Coventry School Committee meeting reviewing Supt. Don Cowart's Coventry Schools restructure plan. Several speakers urged the committee to delay the plan for further study and research into its pros and cons.
[CREDIT: Rob Borkowski] About 200 people attended the Feb. 8 Coventry School Committee meeting reviewing Supt. Don Cowart’s Coventry Schools restructure plan. Several speakers urged the committee to delay the plan for further study and research into its pros and cons.
Rob Borkowski
Author: Rob Borkowski

Rob has worked as reporter and editor for several publications, including The Kent County Daily Times and Coventry Courier, before working for Gatehouse in MA then moving home with Patch Media. Now he's publisher and editor of WarwickPost.com. Contact him at [email protected] with tips, press releases, advertising inquiries, and concerns.

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