Leaders Of The New School?

Once again, the Bristol Warren school committee is employing disaster politics to try and steer their agendas past the electorate. They are claiming a decision must be made immediately to alleviate yet another pre-fabricated problem looming on the horizon, but quick decisions are exactly what have led us to this latest “dire” situation in which we find ourselves.

In 2002, the committee believed we were going to have a population explosion so we needed to build additions to our schools. It turned out this prediction, coincidentally made by the same company (The Mount Vernon Group) who was also hired to do the renovation work, was completely inaccurate. Last year, the school board then realized that in fact the population was declining so we needed to close two more schools to go along with the previously abandoned Walley School.  Now this year they again claim a huge population boom is coming so we need to build a school and move more students into Warren. Only a dog chasing its own tail has as much dizzying logic!

There must be a hidden agenda within our school committee and possibly town council or else this is utter incompetence. Convincing townspeople to build new schools and ship our kids off to Warren evidently proved too daunting for officials to take head on. So they have resorted to scare tactics which, by their narrow measure of success (i.e. pushing their agendas through at any cost), have been effective. In closing down a total of three schools they have guaranteed overcrowding, leaving me to wonder: Was a huge addition added to Hugh Cole because the intention all along was to close the Town Common schools and bus our elementary students to Warren?

Unfortunately, what the members of the school committee fail to recognize is that these bull-headed ways are catching up to them. We are lucky to live in a town whose citizens are so engaged, involved and willing to help. The majority supports our public education system but when their voices are continually silenced and such subversive strategies are implemented, the goodwill quickly turns to angst. It is only a matter of time before more Bristol residents will reach the same conclusion as I have – that the end does not always justify the means. An open, transparent government is far more important than any set of policies, no matter how well intentioned those policies might seem.

While the notion of improving the educational resources for our students is noble, the hasty and questionable approaches taken by the committee have already had a negative impact. Superintendent Ed Mara and several concerned parents pleaded with the committee and town council to leave Reynolds and Byfield open, and to not be so impulsive in their decision making. But they refused, were quick to make a decision and it has proven to be a bad one. As a result, the successful Arts Magnet program was thrown away and the students were shuffled around. In addition, while some members of the school committee claim to embrace the idea of neighborhood schools, they are willing to send Bristol students into Warren, ignoring the potential ramifications such an upheaval will have on young children and on a town whose goal it is to remain lively and vibrant. Still others on the committee, instead of paying a significant amount of money to update the Town Common schools — many features in Byfield and Reynolds are original to the buildings and understandably deteriorating — would rather pay significantly more money and ruin what little open space we still have left in Bristol to build something new.

We do not need to bus Bristol students to Warren and we do not need a new school. And we especially do not need anymore disaster politics. What we need is renewed leadership, proper planning and most importantly a transparent government. We must reopen Reynolds and Byfield and possibly even Walley, and actually take care of them. These are historic buildings that should be used for their intended purpose. If Colt school with its marble façade and intricate stained glass window could be beautifully renovated then it is completely possible and necessary to treat our other educational treasures with the same care.

Citizens of Bristol, I implore you to speak out against bussing our students to Warren and building a new school (listed in the town council meeting minutes for May 13 as item K2).  Demand that our schools be reopened and properly maintained.

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