WARWICK — The Warwick School Committee adopted a new staff absence policy before discussing Toll Gate High’s flooded week-long shutdown and a new $10 million sports field bond ballot question Tuesday.
The district’s new absence policy reads, in part, “The Warwick School Committee recognizes that on occasion, Warwick Public Schools employees will want to attend the graduation of an immediate family member. The purpose of this policy is to delineate the circumstances under which a Warwick Public School employee is eligible to request approval to attend a graduation with no loss of pay, personal time, or vacation time.”
School Committee Chair Karen Bachus said the policy wasn’t perfect, but that it could be “tweaked.”
“We’re trying to make things more fair,” Bachus said. “It’s a good step.”
The Committee also delayed a 2020-2021 school calendar vote until March.
Council Proposes $10M School Sports Fields Bond
The school board also discussed an as-yet undrafted resolution to put a $10 million sports field bond on the November ballot. The bond would be in addition to an existing $56 million school improvement bond already approved for the ballot.
The $56 million bond will finish renovations on the city’s elementary schools. But during its Feb. 3 meeting, the City Council pushed for funding for new athletic fields for Toll Gate and Pilgrim High School.
During the City Council meeting, Buildings and Grounds Director Steven Gothberg estimated the improvements at the fields, including lighting and new tracks, which are nearing the end of their useful lives, would be between $4 million and $5 million each.
School Finance Director Anthony Ferrucci said the new bond would be submitted to the RI Department of Education (RIDE) in September, then likely submit plans by February 2021, then have an answer from RIDE in May 2021.
“We won’t be able to get the level of detail for a May (2020) decision by this year’s Feb. 17 deadline, Ferrucci said.
On Wednesday, City Councilman Jeremy Rix said council members hope the second ballot can also get approved in time for the 2020 ballot.
“We’re hoping that it can all get squared away and get it on the ballot of 2020. But that’s not certain,” Rix said.
The $56 million bond question was approved by the full Council Feb. 3. The Council unanimously co-sponsored a separate resolution to put a $10 million bond question for the fields on the ballot.
“We were held captive for this discussion,” Bachus said during Tuesday’s meeting, noting the council was “very concerned about us losing kids to school choice and Pathways. It was the view of the councilors that this is happening because we don’t have the turf fields that most other high schools have. They are tired of seeing money walk out the door. They voted on the $56 million (bond) separate from the $10 million for the fields.”
Other Committee members felt the athletic fields should be discussed at a later date.
“I just think trying to do a separate bond initiative or something now is like trying to put the cart before the horse,” said member David Testa. “I would love to have updated facilities. It’s just a question of the timing.”
Vice Chair Judith Cobden appreciated the city council’s desire for better athletic facilities but said the district’s educational programs and services were just as important.
“I hope they are this thoughtful when we have a budget for our educational needs, our social and emotional needs for our children and our education system,” Cobden said.
The Committee did not vote or take action on the issue.
Toll Gate High Flooding Response Draws Praise
In other news, teachers and administrators praised the school administration for its handling of Saturdays’ flooding at Toll Gate High School, closed for the remainder of the week as the building is dried out and repaired.
Toll Gate Principal Candace Caluori thanked the school’s maintenance staff “for the unbelievable job they have done for our school and our students.”
Darlene Netcoh, President of the Warwick Teachers Union and a teacher at Toll Gate, also expressed gratitude to the central administration office and the custodians for allowing teachers to have access to the building on Monday in order to obtain learning materials.
“I just hope the estimate (from the school department) is correct and we can get back (into the building) as soon as possible,” Netcoh said.
Thornton said on Saturday that he will meet with the Rhode Island Department of Education to work out whether students will have to make up the lost days at the end of the school year. Warwick was already scheduled to be on Presidents Day break for three days next week.
Netcoh said she hopes the state Department of Education will approve the Superintendent’s request for a waiver to avoid making up the missing days.
Netcoh said she held a “virtual discussion” on a novel with her classes Tuesday.
“It was not our fault and we should not have to be (holding classes) into June, especially if we can demonstrate that we are keeping instruction going,” Netcoh added.
Superintendent Philip Thornton and Ferrucci did not attend Tuesday’s meeting, each attending to family emergencies.