There is no disputing that the Warren Prescott School in Charlestown is one of the worst school facilities in the City – despite the exemplary educational programs that are happening inside the old building.
Boston Public Schools has admitted so over the last few years, but parents are growing increasingly frustrated as immediate issues like the bathroom conditions persist and the long-term issues like overcrowding seem to have no roadmap for improvement.
To that end, BPS facilities officials met with parents, staff and elected officials last Thursday evening, Jan. 14, at the school to hear concerns and to discuss the larger 10-year facilities upgrade plan outlined last summer by Mayor Martin Walsh.
“They told us about the 10-year plan they will be working from,” said parent Suzi Briggs. “However, nothing is being said about the more immediate issues like drinking water and the bathrooms. We want to know how they answer that. It sounded at the meeting like they couldn’t answer that. You would think there is an ongoing emergency budget for repairs like these…For parents who trusts BPS, we were told in 2010 we were one of the five worst school facilities…What has been happening in the last five years? We were told it was an emergency in 2010 and we were promised action and nothing has happened.”
BPS officials Carlton Jones and Ramon Soto were on hand to listen.
What they heard was rather disturbing.
One parent told about a kindergartner getting locked in a bathroom stall because the door jammed and the student had no way to get out.
Sixth grader Devon Herlihy said he loves coming to the Warren Prescott, but usually avoids going to the bathroom during the day because they are in such bad condition. He usually waits until he gets home, he said.
Ari Magnusson, a parent at the school, has voluntarily become the “chief of water” at the school.
Drinking water at the school is scarce, and more than 500 students have to ration water from one Poland Springs water dispenser. Due to confusion about who is allowed to change the 5-gallon water bottle, no one on staff can change the bottle when it runs out.
Magnusson said it’s up to him or other parents to take time out of their day to come change the water, or else the kids have no water. That, he said, is no way to equip kids to learn.
Parent Kelly Tucker said the bathrooms have been in disrepair for many years, and said it has become more of a health and safety issue rather than a construction problem.
City Councilor Sal LaMattina said he believes that the BPS can be pushed to work out some of the smaller issues like the bathrooms immediately.
“What was very frustrating for me and something we’re going to address is the conditions in the bathrooms,” he said. “Those are some areas where I think there are some immediate things that can be done – the broken tiles and the water leaks. It doesn’t make sense and these can be fixed. The principal has been trying to get that done for two years. They promised us they would and will do that. I plan to follow up with them on that.”
However, the larger issue of overcrowding is a little bit more involved.
The Warren Prescott is a K1-8 school with more than 500 kids right now, and even though it has expanded, it was once only a K2-5 grade school with less than 300 students. Already, Principal Michele Davis has testified that some breakout classes are held in the stairwells and that the gym is being used as a cafeteria. There is also the threat of losing the science and art rooms next year due to expansion of the K1 program.
State Rep. Dan Ryan said it is a problem of not prioritizing public education for decades, and of asking for tax cuts – such as was granted this month statewide – while in the same breath asking for better public resources.
“One speaker proposed taking money from our public parks and put toward our schools while, in the same breath, claiming that our property values and taxes are at an all-time high so there should be plenty of money if the Mayor just made better decisions,” he said. “This is an example of the national disconnect with government. Yes, property values are high which also means the costs of almost everything else goes up and in this state we cap property tax increases. Mayor Walsh, Superintendent Chang and the City Council, to their credit, actually expanded the education budget. But that expansion can’t keep up with rising costs, system expansion and unfunded federal mandates. Meanwhile, we all just received a reduction in personal income tax from an initiative petition that was passed by the voters fifteen years ago.
“I hate to be the stick in the mud here but I have to be honest not just on education, but transportation, housing, you name it,” he continued. “You get what you are willing to pay for and right now we, as a society, are not paying for the things that we ask the government to provide. Only so much of these deficits can be blamed on waste, fraud and abuse. Even a completely streamlined efficient system would still not have enough money to adequately pay for the things we demand.”
Meanwhile, LaMattina said such bad conditions exist in schools throughout his district – whether in Charlestown or East Boston. Then, at the same time, schools on the other side of the City have ample space and empty seats.
He called for a master plan before approving any facilities upgrade agenda.
“Since I’ve been on the Council I’ve called for a facilities master plan so we know where to make investments,” he said. “Some schools are overcrowded and some school have empty seats. All schools have to have cafeterias and gyms. I have schools in my district where kids are having lunch at their desks and eating those frozen meals they heat up. Those are fresh or healthy meals. We need a master plan that works for everybody.”