Aerial view of Rogers High School. Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License

With the prospect of the state reimbursing Middletown and Newport for more than 80 percent of the cost to build a regional high school (and regionalize grades K-12), Middletown’s Town Council is now determining whether to enter what Newport Mayor Jamie Bova suggests is a more “robust conversation” about the unification of the communities’ high schools.

Middletown’s Town Council has said it expects to decide whether to enter the conversation at its June 17 meeting.

“I’m going to be back there on the 17th,” said Bova, after Newport officials made their case for another effort at high school “unification.” Efforts to merge the high schools have failed in the past.

“It’s a very different scenario,” said Bova, a Middletown High School graduate. Bova has been outspoken in her belief that a merged high school will allow both communities to replace aging facilities, provide educational opportunities that wouldn’t otherwise exist, and save both Newport and Middletown millions of dollars.

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.

Rogers High School in Newport was deemed the high school in the worst condition in the state, and Middletown High School was rated in poor condition.

Armed with considerable data, the Newport delegation told Middletown Councilors, that if the towns regionalized the high schools, the Rhode Island Department of Education was prepared to reimburse the towns 80.5 percent of the cost of a new school. If the towns went on their own, that figure, officials suggest, would drop to 35 percent.

Here’s what Colleen Burns Jermain, Superintendent of Newport Public Schools, presented to Middletown Town Council;

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.

A vote by Middletown would not be a vote to regionalize, but rather to start the discussion. The plan, as suggested by Newport, and in large part required by the state, would begin with the development of a Regional District Planning Board to study the feasibility of regionalization.

That study would be expected to take up to 18 months, and require analysis of 16 different areas, including financial savings, whether regionalization would result in a more comprehensive program, transportation costs, and impact on local labor agreements.

If the study concluded that regionalization was feasible, a proposed agreement would be submitted to RIDE and the Middletown and Newport Councils for approval, with a referendum vote in each city in the summer or fall of 2021.

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