Newport schools are expected to follow the state’s lead and end mandatory masking for kids in school, according to School Superintendent Colleen Burns Jermain.

The state’s mandate ends on March 4, and when the Newport School Committee meets next week, Jermain said she anticipates it too will vote to end mandatory masking but give the superintendent the ability to take emergency measures if there is a spike in COVID cases.

Jermain, appearing on a WUN videocast Thursday, said she expects a slight increase in COVID cases when students return to school next week. 

While she said it’s likely the city will end the mask mandate, students will still be required to wear masks on school buses.

Jermain also talked about the school building project, an addition to Pell Elementary School and building a new high school. Both projects, she said, are on schedule, with the Pell addition ready for this fall when students return to school and plans on schedule for a June groundbreaking for the high school and opening in 2024.

Costs remain a major concern as the schools try to cope with increasing construction costs, the result of the pandemic, inflation, and potentially from the war in the Ukraine. Voters in November 2020 approved a $106.3 million bond. Since then, Jermain said, construction costs for the elementary school have increased by nearly 25 percent, and two consultants’ reports last week said construction costs for the high school were projected to increase by about $6.6 million, or about 8.5 percent. 

The schools have been seeking alternative funding to bridge the gap, and Jermain has said they’ve been able to do that with the elementary school. They are looking at alternatives for the high school. One option, suggested by the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE), was to make funds available from the bond premium sale, endorsed by the city council last week, a process that’s begun.

Meanwhile, the schools have been looking at ways to trim construction costs, and among them was the elimination facilities for programs for cosmetology entrepreneurship and automotive technology. Jermain said the school department is searching for alternative funding for the programs.

While the approved bond was $106.3 million, the schools look to qualify for 52.5 percent funding from RIDE. Jermain said they are on schedule to complete all paperwork to be eligible for the full funding.

Watch our full conversation below.

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Frank Prosnitz

Frank Prosnitz brings to WhatsUpNewp several years in journalism, including 10 as editor of the Providence (RI) Business News and 14 years as a reporter and bureau manager at the Providence (RI) Journal. Prosnitz began his journalism career as a sportswriter at the Asbury Park (NJ) Press, moving to The News Tribune (Woodbridge, NJ), before joining the Providence Journal. Prosnitz hosts the Morning Show on WLBQ radio (Westerly), 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. Monday through Friday, and It’s Your Business, also on WBLQ, Monday and Tuesday, 9 a.m. to 10 a.m.

Prosnitz has twice won Best in Business Awards from the national Society of American Business Editors and Writers (SABEW), twice was named Media Advocate of the Year by the Small Business Administration, won an investigative reporter’s award from the New England Press Association, and newswriting award from the Rhode Island Press Association.