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Testa Offers Knowledge of District, Focus on Trust in School Committee Bid

[CREDIT: David Testa for School Committee] David Testa speaks with Vicki Matera during an Aug. 22 fundraiser at Dave's Bar & Grill.
[CREDIT: David Testa for School Committee] David Testa speaks with Vicki Matera during an Aug. 22 fundraiser at Dave’s Bar & Grill.
WARWICK, RI — David Testa, 53, of Narragansett Parkway, a Warwick citizen since 1992 and category manager for Gordon Food Service, has kids in Warwick Schools, IEP experience, and 15 years of careful study of the district behind his bid for one of two contested seats on the Warwick School Committee Nov. 8.

Testa, whose campaign website is available at davidtesta.com, won the second-highest number of votes in the Sept. 14 primary, at 2,486, a close second to the 3,587 won by School Committee incumbent Karen Bachus, one of three competing with Testa for one of the two seats.

Warwick Post has presented each School Committee candidate with the same series of questions for voters’ benefit in the days leading up to the election. Here are Testa’s answers:

Why are you running for School Committee – What do you feel you can bring to the board that’s lacking there now?

I truly believe in public education and the role it plays in the community. Good schools and good communities go hand-in-hand. In my professional life I manage a $125 million category and lead a team of 28, so I understand budgets and I understand what leadership means. I know how to work with people. I think people can trust me to be fair and honest and those three things – leadership, trust, and honesty – are among the qualities I bring to the School Committee. I‘m the only candidate who has their kids in our schools, and the only one who has experienced both the elementary and secondary levels of education.

I’m the only one who has had IEP & 504 experience from the pre-k level to the secondary level. I’m the only candidate who had dedicated and committed themselves to be involved in our schools for 15 years, longer than any other candidate, so I have a very good historical knowledge of the district and an understanding of its issues. That said, I do not have a steep learning curve to overcome, especially compared to some of the other candidates. Lastly, I think that I’m the only truly non-partisan, non-political candidate in this race.

What are your thoughts on the contract dispute between the teacher’s union and the district?

We need to get this contract done, obviously, because it’s hard to move forward otherwise. Frankly, I think that some of the issues recently made public are really not that difficult to resolve, and could be resolved if we work together on each issue separately.

Warwick Teachers Picket Against Lagging Contract, Troubled School Consolidation

At their core, these issues show a lack of trust among all parties — and this lack of trust has plagued our district for 25 years. Now is the time for this impasse to end, and I believe that I am the candidate best suited to help accomplish this for our students, educators, administrators and fellow citizens.

What is your opinion on the long wait voters endured to view the Ragosta Report? Would you change anything about the School Committee’s practices regarding the body’s apparent tendency to err away from transparency?

In my opinion, the wait for the Ragosta Report went on too long, but, in personnel matters like this, there are both privacy and legal issues that need to be protected.

During the controversy, some people wanted the investigation to play out in public, which I didn’t agree with. I publicly called for a release of the report once all the necessary redactions had been made to protect the privacy of the victims. All elected bodies need to be transparent – as the saying goes, ‘sunlight is the best disinfectant’.

After reading the Ragosta Report, What lessons do you see the School District should have learned about the power entrusted to its administrators and the ability of concerned parents and staffers to safely speak out?

Administration failed miserably here. Protecting students is as important as educating them. What the report showed was a callous disregard for the victims and an ‘attack the messenger’ mentality. Throughout the entire process, the actions of Mr. Taylor, the Gorton Jr. High principal, were exemplary. He should have received support from administrators, but he didn’t. The finger-pointing and ‘buck-passing’ were staggering.

Ragosta Report: School Administrators Ignored, Dismissed Allegations Against Atoyan

The actions and conduct of the HR Director/Legal Counsel were jaw-dropping. When a student, parent, or principal brings up issues like that, administration must understand the depth of the accusation and act immediately to investigate. Everyone in our school system – student, parent, teacher, aide and administrator – must be able to safely speak out and know that they will be supported. Again, it goes back to the ‘trust’ issue I mentioned earlier. Lastly, the School Committee immediately ‘circled the wagons’ around the senior administrators before all the facts were in and that was wrong.

What other conclusions have you made from your reading of the Ragosta Report?

Hopefully it was a wake-up call to the School Committee and School Administration that allegations like this are dead serious and need to be treated as such and acted upon swiftly.

What is your opinion of how school consolidation has been handled thus far? What would you do to improve the process?

It certainly has been challenging. Some has gone well and some has not. ‘Blocking and tackling’ issues like Pilgrim traffic, lockers, lunches, classes with no desks were rectified in the first week or two and those should have been expected to some degree. Middle-school sports have been a demonstrable success. Other issues like the class size disparities across the district are deeply concerning to me and need to be re-examined. Additionally, there are some Special Ed issues that concern me as well – IEP/504’s not being followed, class size and class placements that are not in the best interest of the students to name a few . The way to improve the process is by including all stakeholders and work to try to reach a consensus. It’s that trust issue again – see a pattern here?

Please share your thoughts on any other pressing issues you’d like to address as part of your campaign

Infrastructure: We’ve made deferred maintenance an art form. The Schools are going to put forward a bond issue for 2017 for $90 million dollars. It is critical that we pass this. We’ve made investments this past summer in athletic fields, auditoriums, etc. – all sorely needed, but these are but a drop in the bucket relative to infrastructure repairs. We need to invest in classrooms, teacher and student technology, roofs, HVAC systems, electrical upgrades, and on and on. Our newest building is 45 years old. Vets heating system is original to the school (1956), I believe Pilgrim’s is too (1963). Vets elevator is original to the school as well. Our buildings are not ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant. ADA was passed in 1990! We should be ashamed of ourselves. Essentially, we have done nothing to these buildings (except for mandated Fire Code work) for decades, and that blame must be laid at the feet of previous school administrations and school committees. We can’t possibly ‘cut’ our way to find the funding for this – it has to be bonded.

The $25 million bond from ’06 is just about used up. The first draw from it came in ’09 for the Pilgrim roof. The vast majority of the funds were used for fire code work at the schools. There’s a few million left and that will go towards the new heating system at Vets.
This $90 million is not related to that bond number. SMMA projected $270 million would be needed for capital improvements but that original number included buildings that have since been closed and will be closed so it’s really somewhere around $210-$220, i think.  Remember that RIDE will reimburse about 40 percent, too.

Frankly, in my opinion, if you don’t support the bond issue, then you don’t support our schools.

More courses: Consolidation affords us the opportunity to offer a variety of more courses to our students – AP courses, Honors courses, etc. We also need to incorporate ‘real-world’ courses like personal finance into our everyday curriculum so that our students know what credit and debt is, how to balance a checkbook, what investing is, etc.

Career & Tech Center (CTC): This school is a hidden gem in our school system. Many of today’s & tomorrow’s jobs will not require a college degree, and the CTC prepares students to immediately enter the workforce in so many capacities. We need to expand what our CTC offers as well as make it available to our 9th grade students (currently you must be in 10th grade to participate.) Additionally, parents need to be made aware of everything our CTC offers, so that they can be part of the process and be able to discuss this option with their kids.

Energy: Every school roof in Warwick is a solar array waiting to happen. Cranston has already done this. We should be aggressively pursuing grants in this area, so that as we replace our sorely needed roofs (via passage of the upcoming bond referendum) we can install solar grids on them as well. Further, we should look at the feasibility of wind power at the Tollgate complex and use both it and the solar grids as a learning experience and tie-in to our Electrical and Construction Technology programs. This will reduce our energy costs and possibly generate some revenue that can reinvested into our infrastructure and, more importantly, provide those CTC students with real-world experience in tomorrow’s jobs. And much of this can be done with little cost to the district.

Results: We consistently rank in the lower third of districts in the state in testing. Those days have to be over now. We need to rebuild trust between and among all parties so that we can truly work collaboratively for the betterment of our students. It won’t be quick, or easy, but it can be done because it has to be done. We adults are the ones who have to lead because at the end of the day, someone’s school system has to be the best – why not ours?

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 editor@warwickpost.com with tips, press releases, advertising inquiries, and concerns.

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