PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Rhode Island College announced Thursday it will close the Henry Barnard School next year, citing losses due to the coronavirus pandemic. Parents, however, are skeptical the coronavirus is to blame.
RIC, which operates Henry Barnard on its campus, said closing the laboratory school is a necessary step of cost-cutting measures in response to a projected deficit of over $10 million from the coronavirus pandemic. The college said that in order to close the gap, it must reduce its overall operating expenses by 15%.
“The pandemic and its unprecedented impacts have triggered one of the biggest fiscal challenges in Rhode Island College’s 166-year history,” President Frank Sánchez said. “As president, my job is to make the difficult decisions that will enable the college to continue accomplishing our core mission.”
But parents contend the issues began before the pandemic, arguing the school has been mismanaged for years.
“Unfortunately, there are 150 RI elementary school children at the bottom of the RI College to-do list,” said Scott Bromberg, HBS’s Parents’ Association President and former Vice President of Benny’s Inc, in a statement. “Rhode Island College has essentially told my 7 and 9 year-old children and their 200 classmates, the 35 dedicated teachers, a 122-year old education institution and the countless alumni (and I say that quite literally as RIC has never kept a log of HBS alumni) that Henry Barnard, and we, have outlived our usefulness to the college.”
He added, “This announcement is terrible timing. During a pandemic that already has placed so much stress on young children across the state, they throw this curve ball. Every child in RI is coping with disrupted schedules, a lack of sports and outside activities, online learning, no contact with friends, and now they are learning of their school – a place they hold dear – closing.”
The college said Henry Barnard School, which was the first laboratory school in the state, will not reopen in the fall of 2021 because of the more than $1 million in operating losses for the past three fiscal years that RIC had to directly cover.
The college also said enrollment has fallen by more than 40% since 2017, and argued the education model that HBC was founded on in the 1800’s is no longer considered the best practice for teacher education.
“These are the hardest choices I’ve had to make during my time as president,” Sánchez said.
Providence State Rep. Daniel McKeirnan, who represents the district in which the school is located, called it an abrupt decision.
“I implore the college administration to work with the parents and numerous stakeholders, many of whom are my constituents, to help us understand the nature of this decision and to work toward a solution that will maintain the school’s viability as a successful part of the fabric of our state’s education system,” he said. “I stand ready to assist RIC’s administration to help find a solution.”
Senate President Dominick Ruggerio also said he was unhappy with the choice.
“I am extremely disappointed in the decision of RIC President Frank Sanchez to close Henry Barnard School,” he said. “This will certainly have a negative impact on students and their parents as they head into what’s sure to be an already difficult school year. I will be reaching out to Governor Gina Raimondo and Speaker Nicholas Mattiello to see what we can do to keep this 120 year old laboratory school operating into the future.”
On top of closing Henry Barnard School, other cutting measures include pay cuts, continued hiring freezes, staff reductions, and the delay of cost-of-living adjustments at the conclusion of the 2020 to 2021 school year, according to RIC.
From fiscal year 2018 through 2020, the college said it faced deficits totaling $13.7 million, which it addressed each year through reducing operating costs, lowering financial aid, restricting travel, freezing overtime, limiting hiring and raising tuition.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, RIC says it projected a $4.1 million budget deficit for the 2021 fiscal year. Now, because of the the pandemic, the college said it is expecting a 10% decrease in enrollment.
If this projection holds true and the college doesn’t receive additional state aid, the deficit will increase to the $10.4 million, according to RIC. Therefore, the college said a 15% reduction in operating expenses is required, including a 50% reduction in its adjunct faculty budget.
A round of layoffs is expected to be announced in September.