WESTERLY —As it begins its work on the 2019-20 budget, the School Committee is studying the cost of programs offered at the Tower Street School Community Center and whether they align with the district's mission.

During a meeting on Thursday, committee members and administrators said that Tower Street's early childhood and before- and after-school programs benefit children and their families, but they also noted that the school district is spending about $700,000 per year on salaries, benefits and other costs that are not covered by fees, grants and rent payments made by private organizations that also use the building.

Parts of the building are rented by the Literacy Volunteers of Washington County and the Bradley School. The municipal Recreation Department also uses the building for office space and evening programs. The Education Exchange, a regional nonprofit agency, offers adult education courses at Tower Street. It's also a base for local operations for employees who provide a parenting program run by the state Department of Health.

Most of the local expenses are related to staff members who work in the before- and after-school programs. Annual building maintenance and operational costs are covered by rents and fees. Long-range maintenance costs also come from the town's general fund.

Committee Chairwoman Diane Chiaradio Bowdy praised the quality of the programs offered at the center but said school officials have been concerned about the costs for some time. "We can't eliminate them but we can't as Westerly Public Schools continue to fund them," she said.

"In 2016 we started to talk about how do we get the town to develop a social  services agency. We have people relying on these programs, kids are reaping the benefits. We need to have a conversation with the Town Council and the town manager," Bowdy said.

Superintendent of Schools Mark Garceau offered a similar perspective. "There's a recognized need for these types of services and support to families in this town, but why is it falling on the Westerly public schools  all the time?" he said.

Assistant Superintendent Alicia Storey said studies have shown that after-school programs help students stay away from risky behaviors and improve their social and emotional development. In addition, the community garden at the center is intended to promote overall wellness and help students learn about healthy eating, she said. "In my opinion that’s part of our supportive environment for our students, which is part of our mission," Storey said.

Committee member Mary Adams said some town residents believed that the center would not require the support of tax money once the building was taken off line as a school in 2009.

Committee members also said that the building is being eyed for use as a school on a temporary basis if the proposed elementary school redesign project is approved. Students would be moved there during construction. If the redesign is approved, committee member Christine Cooke said, the Tower Street building will be needed starting in September 2020. At that time, she said, "We're going to need the building. It's as simple as that. There will not be a place for those programs," Cooke said.

Joan Serra, director of community relations and building operations at Tower Street, said the programs offered at the center have been housed at other places over the years and could be relocated if necessary. She said she was aware that some in the community expected the building to be fully self-supporting, but those discussions predated the programs being moved into the building.

The child-focused programs are geared toward "children and families that are at risk for challenges that are going to make their children not successful when they come in to school," Serra said.

The committee asked Serra to provide a comparison of fees charged by other before- and after-school programs in the area.

The School Committee is required, under the Town Charter, to submit its proposed budget to town officials by the first Monday in February.

dfaulkner@thewesterlysun.com

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(1)comment

King

One could write volumes about this situation, most of which would be an anathema to the leftists. But I'll just take a few specific maddening examples as highlights. "Committee member Mary Adams said some town residents believed that the center would not require the support of tax money once the building was taken off line as a school in 2009." - true some did say that but of course that's because they has something to gain by it, it's always pie in the sky with these projects which of course never come as advertised. they alluded to "local" tax money not federal 'grants' that were going to pay for everything. Where do federal grants come from, not the grant money tree of leftist mythology, but from federal tax dollars! It's a core tenant of Socialism, of shifting control from the local to the federal, lose lose. How on earth could any logical person think that a school had to be abandoned for all the overwhelming reasons that were stated at the time become self sufficient? Also remember why the word 'school' had to remain in the building's title..so it could qualify for Obama's grants for these para-schools. It's all part of the socialist agenda (don't believe me, believe Saul Alinsky mentor of Obama and Hillary, or Charlotte Iserbyt author of the Deliberate Dumbing Down of America.)

Then there's Mark Garceau (huge step up from the previous Superintendent but still he's an administrator so....) stating that there is a recognized need for these services...but why is it falling on the Westerly public schools all the time?" Well Mark, that would be because society over the years shifted from one that preached an rewarded personal responsibility to that of "It takes a village' otherwise known as socialism. Can't afford to have a family? have them anyway, someone else will pay for it and raise them! Harsh but true. Rather than ask (I'm not talking about a few exceptions) folks what their reasoning was when they decided to have children they can't afford, social workers focus on telling them their rights. Fine just don't delude yourself as to the obvious result.

Joan Serra says "...some in the community expected the building to be fully self-supporting" Right and their assertion was supported by what? Their opinion not concrete facts. There were more who knew it would never be self-supporting (show one example of such a self-supporting project anywhere!) but there voices were never published in the headlines, wonder why?

And now we the people are left with a yearly $700,00 price tag while students still go with out basic supplies, standardized test scores are woefully low, more and more children are feed multiple meals at school (socialism) with more students than ever coming from dysfunctional families.

I do feel sorry for the kids as it's not their fault, however don't play 'ostrich' and pretend not to know how this situation came about and why it's about to become immeasurably worse.

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