Warwick’s kindergarten, preschool classroom cut

  • Warwick Community School’s kindergarten and preschool classroom was cut for next year. The one Warwick student who enrolled will go to Northfield Elementary School instead. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

Staff Writer
Published: 4/15/2019 6:28:55 PM

BERNARDSTON — Warwick Community School’s kindergarten and preschool classroom has been cut for next year, after only one student in Warwick had registered for kindergarten and none for preschool.

The Warwick kindergartner will attend Northfield Elementary School instead.

For Pioneer Valley Regional School Committee members, both the problem of insufficient enrollment and the solution of shutting down the program caused concern for the future of Warwick’s school.

“The numbers seem self-evident as being unsustainable,” said committee member Sue O’Reilly-McRae, who lives in Warwick. “It’s devastating to see the crack already.”

The vote was 10-2 at the School Committee’s meeting on Thursday night. The dissenters were David Young and Jessica Marshall, both Warwick residents.

Although Warwick Community School has a reputation for drawing out-of-town students, School Committee members were wary of trying to support the preschool and kindergarten programs through school choice, which only pays $5,000 per student.

In fact, a few kindergarten and preschool students from out of town had applied to Warwick for next year, but the income would not have been enough to offset the cost of staffing the classroom, which would be at least $85,000, Pioneer Superintendent Jon Scagel said.

Young, voting against the closure, argued that removing the kindergarten program would only lead to even lower enrollment in the school.

“This is not a good cue to give,” he said. “It’s going to set up the conditions for failure.”

The future of Warwick Community School has been in question for almost a year now. Last spring, the discovery of a financial deficit and the recognition that Pioneer’s business model had become unsustainable led to talk of economizing by closing one or both of the district’s two smaller elementary schools, the other being Leyden’s Pearl Rhodes Elementary School.

Two weeks ago, the School Committee decided to close Pearl Rhodes but not Warwick. But Superintendent Scagel and several School Committee members mentioned that the Warwick question could well come up again next year, especially if plans for generating new revenue don’t pan out.

Budget modifications

The closure of Pearl Rhodes Elementary School freed up $188,544 in Pioneer’s budget for the 2019-2020 school year. At Thursday’s meeting, the School Committee decided to use part of the money to restore previously cut positions, and to use the rest to reduce the towns’ costs.

The restored positions were teaching aids at Northfield’s and Bernardston’s elementary schools, and the dean of students at the middle-high school.

That left $47,244 of the savings, which the committee agreed should be used to reduce the towns’ costs, rather than be put toward school expenses.

New committee chairperson

The School Committee elected Kristen Gonzalez or Northfield to be its new chair on Thursday. Sue O’Reilly-McRae of Warwick had been chair since November, then stepped down on March 28, just after the committee voted to close Pearl Rhodes Elementary School and not to close Warwick Community School. In the two-week interim, the chair position was filled by Vice Chair Pat Shearer, who has previously chaired the committee.

Gonzalez has been on the School Committee since the election in November.

“All I can say is, good luck,” Shearer said.

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

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