2014-03-21 / Around Town

Residents Caution Against Regionalization

By Jonathan Clancy

With the notion of a regionalized Newport County high school system already playing to mixed reviews, several skeptical Middletown residents gave the Town Council an earful about the idea at the panel’s regular meeting on Monday, March 17.

“I urge the exploratory committee to explore additional alternatives rather than just unification,” said John Bagwill. He asked that specific problems and challenges within the present educational systems be addressed at both high schools, and describe how the problems could be addressed through unification. He said he wants to see the committee examine the financial implications of these different approaches.

“I did not move to Middletown to have my kids go to school with kids from Newport,” said 17-year Middletown resident Lisa Cecchi, the mother of six. She said that after living in both Middletown and Newport she and her family decided to invest in Middletown. “The test scores and everything our children do in Middletown is not by mistake,” she said. “It’s because the parents in Middletown have decided to invest in their children’s education through studying, sports, and good parenting.”

For years, regionalization has been a touchy subject in Newport County, especially when it comes to education. Recently, Middletown Town Councilors Barbara VonVillas, and Richard Adams headed up the Newport County Unified High School Exploratory Committee hoping to generate support for the concept of a regionalized school system. So far, though, only representatives from Middletown and Newport have attended committee meetings. This raised concerns with some Middletown Town Councilors during the meeting.

Town residents, however, expressed even greater concerns about unification.

Carmella Geer questioned the meaning of the word “exploration” as it applies to unification. She said that when she reads the minutes for Exploratory Committee meetings she does not see “exploration” but rather “planning.”

“Drafting enabling legislation, setting up boards. I’m confused,” said Geer. “My expectations of this committee have been dashed so far. ”

Geer suggested focus groups to determine the readiness of residents from both communities on such a merger. She suggested similar groups made up of school faculty, staff, administrators, and parent leaders, as well as town officials and business owners to go over the pros and cons of unification. Geer said she would like to see a cost analysis of what it would take to make a merger happen. “What would we save? And equally as important, what would we lose?” she asked.

“There is a lot of talk but no specifics,” said Annie Tatirosian. “All I hear is a lot of high-level talk, clever catch phrases, and great sound bites.” She called the committee’s proposal vague and non-factual, and said she wondered why Newport, which just invested millions of dollars in a new elementary school and recently remodeled Thompson Middle School, would want to team up with Middletown. “The city of Newport is probably knee-deep in debt,” she said. “Is Newport’s need to join Middletown because somehow they can transfer some of their debt to help bail them out?”

Tatirosian continued, “Why does some of the council seem to put the education of our children third in the pecking order of municipal services?” She referred to the new police and fire station and asked, “Why don’t our kids deserve the same state-of-the-art facilities our other departments have? Middletown is the perfect place to raise a family. Please don’t force me and others to move. Don’t think it won’t happen. My children are more important to me than my house.”

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