It’s still possible long-term that the facilities configuration of a merged Middletown and Newport School system results in one high school and one middle school. That’s one idea being discussed as the communities move closer to a regionalization vote in November.
Newport Schools’ Superintendent Colleen Burns Jermain raised the prospect in a phone interview recently with WhatsUpNewp.
It follows concerns raised by some who would like to see true regionalization, meaning one high school and one middle school serving the regionalized system. Additionally, concerns have been raised by some, who are hoping the more than $90 million (reduced debt) that would be saved by both communities through regionalization, results in a significant investment back into the schools.
“There’s definitely a group of people who are uncertain,” Jermain said.
At a recent Newport City Council Meeting, Councilwoman Jamie Bova introduced a resolution to delay the regionalization vote, while the communities met to come to some agreement on the one high school, one middle school concept. That vote failed, 5 to 2.
Similarly, there have been those that have questioned what happens with the combined $93 million the municipalities will save in debt on the construction projects if regionalization passes.
No one, Jermain said, questions the financial gains, but there are concerns are over the benefits, including how the communities treat the savings in debt.
“At the end of the day there is no guarantee that anything more will go to the schools,” Jermain said. “We need to have an educational fund set up. How is this going to be educationally better?”
Many of those questions won’t be answered until after the regionalization vote in November. Newport Mayor Jeanne-Marie Napolitano, who favors providing at least some of the saved money for schools, said no decisions are possible before the November elections, and new councils and school committees are elected in both communities.
Meanwhile, on the ballot in November is the regionalization vote in both communities, and a $235 million school building project in Middletown. All three issues need to be approved for regionalization to move forward, Jermain said.
Those running for school committee in both towns are running for only one-year terms. If regionalization is approved a regional school board will be elected next year, and a regional finance board, with control over the budget, appointed next year. It’s that board that apparently will have considerable influence on how the savings will be used.
With regionalization the amount of reimbursement from the state for building projects in both communities, increases substantially to nearly 90 percent. That’s a $46 million savings for Newport and $47 million for Middletown.
Middletown officials are taking advantage of the potential financial benefits, putting on the ballot a proposal for a new combined high school/middle school and consolidated elementary schools. According to school officials, the town’s schools need more than $190 million in repairs.
Jermain said, if approved, the Middletown project would not likely be complete for about five years. In Newport, construction is underway for a new Rogers High school and the Pell Elementary School addition is complete.
Jermain believes it is still possible to combine schools. Thompson, Newport’ Middle School is “becoming too small for the population” and not “structured for new learning,” she said.
In time, she speculated, the regionalized district might consider making Rogers into a middle school, with the high school the new Middletown structure.
Meanwhile, an unscientific poll taken by WhatsUpNewp found more than 70 percent of respondents favoring regionalization. The poll was conducted among subscribers to WUN’s online newsletter, with more than two hundred people responding.