Decision about PVRS school closings expected Thursday

  • PVRS

Staff Writer
Published: 1/8/2019 8:48:56 PM

WARWICK — Decisions on closing Warwick Community School or Leyden’s Pearl Rhodes Elementary School or both are expected from the Pioneer Valley Regional School Committee at its meeting on Thursday at 7 p.m. at Pioneer Valley Regional School.

A school closure would go into effect after the end of this school year. Leyden’s elementary students would be merged into Bernardston Elementary School, and Warwick’s would be merged into Northfield Elementary School.

A forum on the particulars of the Warwick plan — covering class sizes, transportation, staff retention, et cetera — will be held tonight (Wednesday, Jan. 9) at Warwick Community School at 6:30 p.m. A similar forum for Leyden was held last week.

Decisions to close either of the schools have to be made this month if they are going to be made at all. Per the terms of the buildings’ leases, the towns must be notified by Feb.1 if they have to take ownership of the buildings, in order to accommodate their financial planning.

Why this is happening

Plans for closing one or both of the district’s smaller elementary schools have been in discussion by the School Committee and its advisory HEART Committee (Honest Education and Retaining Trust) since last spring, when the district found it had a financial deficit now confirmed to be worth about $450,000. School administrators and committee members now consider the deficit to be symptomatic of an unsustainable business model, rather than a single case of mismanagement. School closures are being weighed as part of a larger plan to make the school system financially sustainable.

After the deficit was discovered last year, state lawmakers intervened. Special legislation was passed allowing the school district to borrow the money it needs, but also requiring that all major financial decisions be approved by a state overseer for as long as it takes to pay back the loan.

Also part of the deal, the state reserves the right to take total control of the district if steps are not taken to transition to a financially sustainable model. To help with that, the legislation allows the School Committee to close schools without amending the four member towns’ district agreement. The amendment process requires Town Meeting votes, meaning it would likely take at least a year, including the time to prepare the amendment.

Among residents, there has been some vocal opposition to the prospect of losing their elementary schools, especially in Warwick. As conversations heated up at the beginning of the summer, a residents’ group called the Warwick Education Task Force came together to advocate for preserving the town’s school, and to explore alternative options for doing so in case the School Committee were to seriously pursue a closure.

During the fall the HEART Committee conducted a study of the elementary schools to determine how much could be saved by closing either of the smaller schools, and to verify that the proposed mergers would be possible. When the HEART Committee presented its data at a public forum, some residents attacked the results, claiming that actual savings would be lower, and arguing that the costs of maintaining the buildings would simply be transferred to the towns.

Yet district administrators now say they are confident in the relevant numbers, and at the forum in Leyden last week, Superintendent Jon Scagel said administrators are in talks with town officials to help with the costs of maintaining the buildings.

Contact Max Marcus at mmarcus@recorder.com or 413-772-0261 ex 261.




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