Newport and Middletown are moving closer to a school regionalization vote, but considerable work must be done for the proposal to go to voters in both communities in November.

The Newport City Council was expected to vote on a document that would have approved sending a request to the state legislature for permission to include the regionalization proposal on the November ballot. That vote was postponed to a special meeting on Monday (May 16), the same night the Middletown Town Council will consider a similar proposal.

If both councils agree, that will mean the legislature will be asked to authorize the regionalization referendum in November. That request must be submitted to the legislature before it recesses sometime in June. 

What it doesn’t mean, is that a regionalization proposal will be complete, according to Newport Mayor Jeanne Marie Napolitano.  

“This is an important first step,” Napolitano said. “We don’t have all the details. What is before us is the document to send to the legislature seeking authorization to include the question on the ballot”.

She said over the next several weeks an impressive team will be working on what will be the final regionalization plan. That group includes officials from both communities, including lawyers, plus the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) and The Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University. 

“We have got to get it on the ballot,” Napolitano said.

Middletown had previously rejected a regionalization proposal but apparently reversed its stance once the town’s school building committee proposed a $90 million school improvement bond. That plan was rejected by the council.

Newport, meanwhile, is in the midst of its school reconstruction project, an addition to Pell Elementary School, which is underway, and a new high school, with groundbreaking within a few weeks. Newport voters approved a $106 million school construction bond in 2020.

If voters approve regionalization, it will mean millions of dollars in savings for the local communities, lifting the state reimbursement up to 80 percent. Communities are only guaranteed 35 percent reimbursement, with additional funds available for reaching certain incentives. But without regionalization, that number would likely be no more than 52 percent. In real dollars, for Newport, the difference between 52 percent state reimbursement and 80 percent, is roughly $30 million.

Additionally, school and city officials have said that regionalization would likely offer more opportunities for students.

Newport City Council Special Meeting

Newport City Council’s Special Meeting to discuss “Action Item #6073/22, re:  Regional School District – Ballot Authorization (w/accompanying resolution)” will take place on Monday, May 16 at 5:30 pm (or as soon after the budget workshop concludes), in the City Council Chambers at Newport City Hall.

The meeting is open to the public. If you can’t make it to City Hall, you can join the meeting via Web-Ex (Webinar number: 2631 460 9628 Webinar password: budget) or by phone at 1-844-621-3956 (Access code: 263 146 09628).

Town of Middletown

During their Regular Council Meeting on Monday, May 16 at 6 pm, Middletown Town Council have the following four items on their docket regarding schools;

To discuss enabling legislation related to Middletown/Newport Regionalized School District and matters related thereto.

18.  Resolution of the Council, re:  MEMORIALIZING THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY TO ENACT LEGISLATION AUTHORIZING THE CITY OF NEWPORT AND THE TOWN OF MIDDLETOWN TO ESTABLISH A REGIONAL SCHOOL DISTRICT ‎AND PROVIDING FOR STATE AID FOR SCHOOL HOUSING COSTS ‎OF AT LEAST 80% OF DEBT SERVICE FOR EXPENDITURES ELIGIBLE FOR STATE AID.

19.  To discuss enabling legislation for school bonds in a principal amount not to exceed $235,000,000.

20.  Resolution of the Council, re: MEMORIALIZING THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY TO ENACT LEGISLATION AUTHORIZING THE TOWN OF MIDDLETOWN TO ISSUE NOT TO EXCEED $235,000,000 GENERAL ‎OBLIGATION BONDS, NOTES AND OTHER EVIDENCES OF INDEBTEDNESS TO ‎FINANCE THE  CONSTRUCTION, RENOVATION, IMPROVEMENT, ALTERATION, ‎REPAIR, LANDSCAPING, FURNISHING AND EQUIPPING OF NEW ELEMENTARY, MIDDLE AND HIGH SCHOOLS AND SCHOOL ‎FACILITIES THROUGHOUT THE TOWN, AND ALL ATTENDANT EXPENSES ‎INCLUDING, BUT NOT LIMITED TO, ENGINEERING AND ARCHITECTURAL ‎COSTS, PROVIDED THAT THE AUTHORIZATION SHALL BE REDUCED BY THE ‎AMOUNT OF CERTAIN GRANTS RECEIVED FROM STATE BOND PROCEEDS, FROM ‎THE RHODE ISLAND DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION OR FROM THE RHODE ISLAND ‎SCHOOL BUILDING AUTHORITY.

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.