Charbonneau, administration trade shots on combined high school committee

Charbonneau, administration trade shots on combined high school committee

PAWTUCKET – The second meeting of the Pawtucket School Committee’s ad hoc subcommittee to study a potential combined high school academic complex was canceled last Thursday after its chairman, Jay Charbonneau, said members didn’t get the information they’d requested from Mayor Donald Grebien’s administration.

And Charbonneau is questioning why no members of Grebien’s team or members of the City Council showed up for a first meeting of the committee a week earlier, saying he found it particularly odd that the mayor didn’t present to the committee since he was the one who initiated this process of again looking at a combined high school.

At an Aug. 19 School Committee meeting where the subcommittee was created, Charbonneau had questioned whether such a committee is needed, saying he needed more information before voting.

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Supt. Cheryl McWilliams said at that meeting that she’d like a three-month timeline for the group to consider the proposal for a combined high school and come back with a recommendation, saying the Rhode Island Department of Education is expecting a formalized approach to the process of deciding whether to move forward with renovations to the two existing high schools or move toward a combined one.

Responding to Charbonneau this week, Deputy Director of Administration Wilder Arboleda said the administration and council are committed to working with the schools after the Rhode Island Department of Education “rejected their submitted plans under then-Chair Charbonneau’s leadership for the construction of Shea High School.”

Creating a state-of-the-art high school complex, including career and technical pathways, is where the city needs to focus in the best interest of the district, said Arboleda.

“We are aware that it is Mr. Charbonneau’s right as the subcommittee chair(man) to postpone the meetings, though are confused as to his motive for last week’s meeting,” he said. The administration received clear direction to be prepared to discuss the topics for the meeting and had the city’s bond counsel prepare the information.”

As recently as the morning before, he said, “we received confirmation on this being the case. Later in the afternoon, this somehow changed, and we were then informed, for the first time, that there was a deadline of 48 hours before the meeting for all materials to be submitted. The subcommittee members were then notified that the meeting was canceled by Chair Jay Charbonneau.”

The Breeze didn’t learn that the meeting had been canceled until showing up at the school administration building on Main Street last Thursday at 4 p.m. A notice on the secretary of state’s website says it was canceled at 2:30 p.m. the previous day, but does not list the reason for the cancellation in the space reserved for posting the reason.

Arboleda said the administration has every intention of being at every meeting.

“The confusion on the meeting schedule has since been cleared up for meetings moving forward,” he said. “The administration, in the best interest of the district and the children we represent, is not interested in a back and forth with Mr. Charbonneau as we continue to work with the subcommittee on a plan for a new combined complex,” he added. “While we understand that Mr. Charbonneau has voiced his opposition to this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our youth at a recent meeting, we will continue our efforts on the subcommittee to properly explore a plan.”

Charbonneau told The Breeze he’s not opposed to a combined high school, but “I think we need to answer basic fundamental questions before we even talk about the process,” he said. A combining of the city’s two main high schools has been talked about for 20 years, he said, and repeatedly rejected, so this is nothing new.

Charbonneau said the committee had requested prior to last week’s meeting both a copy of the city-commissioned geo-study on the McCoy Stadium site where a potential high school would go, and a letter from bond counsel saying that the city has the borrowing capacity for such a project. He said the committee received only one of the two items requested, the study, and it came in only shortly before the meeting was called off.