Ryan Belmore and Frank Prosnitz contributed to this story. This story was originally published at 10:42 pm on June 17th.
A day after the Middletown Town Council rejected even the suggestion that Middletown and Newport explore merging school systems, Newport Mayor Jamie Bova has vowed to find a way to “build a school our children need and deserve.”
Newport officials had approached the Middletown Council asking that it agree to participate in a feasibility to study to see if a merged system, either total or just high schools, was possible.
Not only were Newport officials seeking consolidation, but they were joined by the Rhode Island Department of Education and other state officials.
Dissapointed, Bova, who is a Middletown High School graduate, said she felt and still feels that a merged system not only would upgrade aging facilities, but would promote facilities designed to meet current educational needs.
The Middletown Town Council voted 5 to 2 against continuing the discussion with Newport to determine the feasibility of merging Middletown and Newport schools (k-12) and/or high schools.
Video of Middletown Town Council Meeting, conversation on school unification begins at about 1:30:00/at 8:30 pm
A vote to move forward by the Middletown Council would have only authorized a feasibility study, not approve regionalization. The plan, as suggested by Newport, and in large part required by the state, would have begun with the development of a Regional District Planning Board to study the feasibility of regionalization. A study that could take up to 18 months.
Bova, who said the city’s first priority is its children, confirmed that City Council approved its letter of intent at its June 12th City Council Meeting and filed it to the Rhode Island Department of Education, prior to the meeting with Middletown Town Council.
“We have to move forward,” she said. “We have to go forward with the letter of intent. All options are on the table.” She said the city will reach out to the business community, and explore all “alternative methods of funding.”
For Newport, critical is replacement of Rogers High School, characterized by a RIDE study as the high school in worse physical condition than any other in the state. Middletown High School was rated poor.
At the council meeting, Middletown councilors berated Newport officials for not maintaining their schools, and question the “Jacobs” report, the RIDE study that was the basis for passage last year of a $250 million bond to upgrade the state’s schools.
That report said it would more than $600 million to bring all schools up to a safe level, and $2.2 billion to bring schools to a satisfactory level. Five year needs top $3 billion.
A look at the Jacobs study also describes most Middletown schools in poor condition. Here’s how the report rates schools in Middletown: Aquidneck in poor condition (need for $5 million in immediate repairs); Forest Avenue in average condition (need for $1.7 million in immediate repairs); Gaudet School in poor condition (need for $15 million in immediate repairs); and the high school in poor condition (need for $13.5 million in immediate repairs). Total need to bring facilities to satisfactory levels, cost of $35.3 million.
For Newport, Pell School listed in good condition (need for $889,000 in immediate repairs); Rogers High School in need of replacement, but a repair price tag of $38 million; and Thompson Middle School listed in average condition (need for $3.6 million in immediate repairs). Total need to bring facilities to satisfactory levels, cost of $42.5 million.
For Rogers, Newport officials are focused on replacement, a cost that some said could exceed $100 million.
The repair needs listed by the Jacobs report refers not only to actual repairs, but upgrading facilities for the last educational needs.
“It’s more than just the physical building, it’s bringing the schools up to a higher educational standard.
“Aside from the physical safety and well-being of school children and the adults who work in school buildings, it has long been accepted that the condition and design of school buildings have a direct impact on academic performance. As the state strives to prepare its public school students for success in college, careers and life, facilities must be part of the equation,” the Jacobs report said.
Since last night’s meeting a petition on change.org has since been launched, Open discussions on a joint Newport-Middletown High School, by Samantha Richard Domizlaff requesting “that the Middletown Town Council listen and respond to the will of the community and not shut down the discussion around a joint Newport-Middletown High School”.
Two weeks ago, Newport City officials, armed with projections that the state would pay more than 80 percent to build a new high school and regionalize grades K-12, urged the Middletown Council to at least authorize a study that could take up to 18 months.
If Middletown and Newport were to regionalize just the high school and keep k-8 separate, the state would reimburse approximately 60% for the new high school.
Efforts to merge the high schools have failed in the past, but now a state Department of Education Study has rated Middletown’s High School in poor condition, and Rogers in need of replacement. Both schools are operating at about half their capacity.
The biggest change has been last year’s approval statewide of a $250 million bond to upgrade school facilities across the state. The bond approval came after a report identified that just to meet adequate standards, the state and school districts need to invest more than $2.2 billion in facility upgrades. To just bring schools statewide to safe standards, the report said the state and municipalities need invest nearly $700 million.
Two weeks ago, Newport councilors said the state has indicated it is prepared to reimburse the towns 80.5 percent of the cost of a new regional high school (and regionalization of k-12). If the towns went on their own, that figure, officials suggest, would drop to 35 percent. Put in real dollars, the model presented by Newport officials put a price tag for a new high school at about $100 million. The stay would pay $80.5 million and each of the towns would kick in $9.75 million, millions of dollars less than they would need to spend, even if they chose to repair the schools, rather than replace them.
The state’s figure includes a base rate of 35 percent, 26 percent as a regional bonus, and 19.5 percent if the project maximizes a series of incentives offered under the $250 million bond.
This story is developing, we’ll have more reaction and information soon.