Warwick Community School still isn’t closing

  • Warwick Community School is still open. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

Staff Writer
Published: 5/17/2019 6:22:37 AM
Modified: 5/17/2019 6:22:25 AM

LEYDEN — Warwick Community School is not closing this year, the Pioneer Valley Regional School Committee decided, again, this week. This time it came down to a tie vote.

The meeting on Thursday night was the second time the question of closing the Warwick school has come up for the School Committee since March, when it voted 8-3 against the closure. The rationale was that Warwick’s relatively new building was an asset for the district, and that it might be possible to capitalize on the school’s ability to draw out-of-district students.

At the same March meeting, the School Committee agreed to close Leyden’s Pearl Rhodes Elementary School.

The prospect of revisiting the question about Warwick was controversial in the first place. Technically, the discussion Thursday was about a motion for the School Committee to reconsider its original March 28 decision. It came down to whether or not there was any new information to justify a re-vote.

When it came to the vote Thursday night, the motion to reconsider failed 5-5. Of the 12 committee members, one was not at the meeting, and one abstained.

Committee member Mike Townsley said that there were two points of new information: that Warwick Community School’s ability to draw out-of-district students to Pioneer had been overestimated in March; and that enrollment of in-district students is declining faster than the committee understood in March.

Warwick Community School has a reputation for attracting out-of-district students, especially from neighboring Orange. The Warwick school has around 60 students, nearly half of whom do not live in the Pioneer towns.

But Townsley said,most of those out-of-district students do not stay in Pioneer after graduating from Warwick. At Pioneer Valley Regional School, there are now only two students who live outside the district and came through Warwick Community School, Townsley said.

Financially, that is a net loss for Pioneer, said district Finance Director Tanya Gaylord.

“Why does it matter if these kids don’t go to Pioneer? It matters because we staff to serve those students,” Gaylord said. “We have an expenditure because we expect those students to come, and we’re not receiving school choice revenue once they get to high school because they go back to (Ralph C. Mahar Regional High School). … We have small class sizes, but we can’t make efficiencies until the next year.”

The second point, about declining in-district enrollment, came to the committee’s attention after the March decision. In April, it voted to shut down Warwick’s pre-school and kindergarten classroom, due to insufficient enrollment.

Only three students in Warwick had registered for kindergarten for the 2019-2020 year. At the April meeting, Pioneer Superintendent Jon Scagel mentioned that a few out-of-district students had also applied for Warwick’s kindergarten. But at $5,000 per out-of-district student, it would not have been enough to cover the cost to staff the classroom, Scagel said at the time.

When the Warwick question came up again this Thursday, committee member David Young, who lives in Warwick and is the town administrator there, pressed Superintendent Scagel for a recommendation on closing the Warwick school. Scagel first declined to give an opinion. But when he was pressed further, he pointed out that Warwick now has only 29 in-district students, making it comparable to Leyden’s Pearl Rhodes Elementary School, which the School Committee voted to close at the March meeting.

“You’re asking for a recommendation? I would say lean towards closing the school,” Scagel said. “The other big elephant in the room is, everybody’s talking about a merger with Gill-Montague. If we don’t consolidate in the district first and do everything we can possibly do, why are we discussing that merger? Let’s take care of the students in our district first, before we talk about giving our district to Turners Falls. That’s my recommendation.”

Talk of school closures has been simmering since last spring, when the discovery of a financial deficit led Pioneer district administrators and School Committee members to see that the district’s business model had become unsustainable — that Pioneer had routinely been spending more than it was bringing in.

School closures were seen as a potentially necessary part of economizing. The candidates were Warwick Community School and Leyden’s Pearl Rhodes Elementary School, the two smaller schools of the district’s four elementary schools.

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


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