Dozens of Oldham parents stated their case for keeping the Riverside elementary school open Wednesday night at a hearing hosted by the East Providence School Committee in Riverside Middle School.
The school has been recommended for closure by Interim Superintendent John DeGoes with most of the students and the entire staff to be moved to nearby Waddington School.
The parents – often emotional and definitely perturbed by the possible loss of their neighborhood school – questioned the rationale, the argument and the motive for closing the school. During the hearing, which ran for almost four hours, they left very little unsaid.
In no particular order, they asked why one of the highest performing schools in the city is being shuttered.
They raised concerns about the educational impact on their children of the move to Waddington.
They questioned the repairs needed to bring the school up to fire and building codes.
They alleged that the recent recommendation by DeGoes actually has been in the planning stages for several years as the enrollment was shrunk deliberately and repairs were put off.
They said promises have been broken about the spending of money in a $15 construction bond for the schools, and they alleged that they were misled in supporting that ballot referendum.
They questioned the wisdom of moving students that will mean the loss of federal Title I money used for technology and other educational benefits that a non-Title I school, such as Waddington, does not get.
They accused school officials and the East Providence Budget Commission of putting financial concerns ahead of what is good for their children.
They slammed the alleged lack of interest in supporting education in general.
They questioned the costs calculated for repairs, which include the installatin of new fire alarms.
They claimed that the school has been at the bottom of the to-do list for years and this move simply continues that treatment.
School Committee Chairman Joel Monteiro opened the hearing by saying that the school board “will make a decision that is for the benefit of children.”
“We’re all here for the same purpose,” he said.
DeGoes said: “I was not hired to come in and close a school. I was not told we needed to close a school.”
But, he said, the "2014 budget does not provide enough funding to maintain the same configuration of schools.”
DeGoes also repeated what he told the School Committee on Jan. 10. The RI Department of Education is not in support of spending more than $2 million on Oldham School, which needs the most rehabilitation of all the elementary schools.
His eventual rationale for settling on Oldham for closure, he said, is because it is one of the oldest schools in the city, it has the smallest student population, it makes the least change to transportation, and it is the least disruptive of all the alternatives he considered.
“We have to close a school,” DeGoes said. “There really is no choice.”
The parents at the hearing, which drew about 100 people to the auditorium, definitely disagreed – even though the handful that stuck around until the end of the hearing seemed a bit mollified by comments made by Waddington Principal Patricia Barlow about the quality of the school, its staff and the commitment that will be made to welcome the students from Oldham.
A decision on approving or disapproving the superintendent’s recommendation to the School Committee and the budget commission is expected to be made early next week, said Monteiro. A special public meeting of the school board will be held before the budget commission meets again to hear the recommendation to close Oldham on Jan. 31.
The school department must make a final decision on closing a school no later than March 1 -- the deadline for letting the state education department know that a school will be closed for next year. RIDE requires 6 months notice.