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School construction is on the ballot across Rhode Island this November, asking voters to approve nearly $1.4 billion in school construction projects. 

Voters in Middletown and Newport will also vote on whether to regionalize their school systems, and statewide voters are being asked to approve another $250 million school construction bond.

These proposed projects, some controversial, follow several others over the last few years that evolved from a 2017 Rhode Island Department of Education survey of all Rhode Island schools, the Jacobs Report, which concluded it would cost $2.2 billion to just “meet warm, safe and dry standards.” 

The aim of a past statewide school bond and the one on November’s ballot is not just to incentivize bringing schools to safe and dry standards, but also to transform or replace decades-old schools to 21st-century educational standards.

Here’s a snapshot of the referenda:

  • Middletown and Newport regionalization proposal. The question appears on the ballot in both communities. For regionalization to pass not only does this question need to pass, but so does a school construction bond in Middletown. The towns have held a series of informational meetings, hoping to address concerns about financing, and structure. 
    • There have been questions about how the communities plan to use the money saved in debt service. By regionalizing, the towns will receive up to 80 percent aid from the state (as opposed to some 50 percent), which equates to about $47 million in savings in debt payments from Middletown, and $46 million from Newport.
    • Some have questioned whether this is a true regionalization if high schools are not combined. Colleen Burns Jermain, Newport’s School Superintendent, envisions the possibility that in time the high schools and middle schools could combine.
  • Middletown has a $235 million bond on the ballot to build a new elementary school, new middle and high schools, and school facilities throughout the town.
  • Westerly voters are trying for a third time to pass a bond to improve schools. This time, they’ve capped spending at $50 million to build a new elementary school and renovate two other elementary schools. In the past, there has been considerable opposition. 
  • On the ballot in Warwick is a $350 million bond issue that would fund the replacement of the 59-year-old Pilgrim High School and 51-year-old Tollgate High School. There is considerable opposition, with taxpayer groups and pro-education groups clashing. Signs in the community urge voters to vote “Yes#4kids.”
  • Providence voters are being asked to approve a $125 million bond that will renovate Classical and Hope High Schools, the Spaziano Elementary School Annex, and The Narducci Learning Center. This bond follows one passed in 2018 for $160 million.
  • Pawtucket voters are being asked to approve a $330 million bond to build a high school on the McCoy Stadium site. It would be the first new high school built in the city in more than 80 years.
  • North Providence is planning to build three new elementary schools and renovate its high school if a $125 million bond is approved.
  • East Providence, which only four years ago approved a nearly $190 million bond to build a new high school, is asking voters to again approve a school bond, this time for $148 million to renovate the middle school, the Martin pre-k, and to renovate the Waddington Elementary School.

In each of these cases, the communities are expecting state aid from 35 percent to over 90 percent.

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....