It’s back to the drawing boards for Middletown’s school buildings after Newport voters rejected regionalization.

While Middletown voters overwhelmingly okayed a proposal on Election Day to team up with Newport schools and a $235 million bond to clear the way for construction of three new schools, the same wasn’t true in the City-By-The-Sea.

According to preliminary numbers with 100 percent of polling places reporting, 3,645 Newport residents voted against regionalizing, with 3,253 in favor. In the process, Newport leaves close to $50 million in state aid on the table in the process along with the ability to reinvest operational savings back into the classroom, a joint curriculum and other benefits of regionalization.

Town officials thanked Middletown voters for their strong support of Question 4 to regionalize by a 3,704 to 2,039 mark (65 percent in favor) and Question 5 for the $235 million bond by a 4,237 to 1,500 tally (74 percent), saying it was clear they had the best of the school children in mind.

Now, it will be up to area officials to decide what’s next, whether to continue to push plans for new schools or rehab the aging buildings it has. Because of the freshness of the vote totals Tuesday night, local leaders said it was far too early to decide what to do next.

“I want to thank our Middletown voters,” School Building Committee Co-Chairman Charlie Roberts said. “Unfortunately, despite a lot of great work, we could not overcome past relationships with Newport and a vocal contingency to reject regionalization. We still have a need for our kids and when it comes down to it, that’s all I care about. Helping the kids.”

“We worked extremely hard to get regionalization and the bond to the point we did,” Town Administrator Shawn J. Brown said. “I’m very proud of what we were able to accomplish and it showed in the support we received from Middletown voters. They understood what a well formulated, solid plan this was.” 

Votes For The Future

Although the final vote totals had not been announced late Tuesday night, the preliminary results showed two new faces on the town’s top elected body.

The figures showed former Newport Fire Chief Peter D. Connerton Sr. was the No. 1 vote getter with 3,389. He was followed by incumbent council Vice President Thomas P. Welch III with 3,258, and newcomer and Zoning Board of Review member Emily M. Tessier third with 3,144. Sitting council President Paul M. Rodrigues was next with 3,084 votes and incumbent Councilman Christopher M. Logan fifth with 2,873 votes.

The status of the final two spots was in flux late Tuesday night with a number of mail ballots still yet to be counted. As of close to 10 p.m., incumbent Councilwoman M. Theresa Santos was in sixth place with 2,790 votes and incumbent Councilman Dennis B. Turano seventh with 2,788. Sitting Councilwoman Barbara A. VonVillas and Antone C. Viveiros ended in eighth and ninth place with 2,778 and 2,165 votes, according to the latest vote

On the School Committee side, newcomer Wendy E. Heaney finished in first place according to the preliminary vote with 2,961. Sitting Chairwoman Theresa Spengler was second with 2,849 votes and newcomer Gregory M. Huet taking the third and final seat with 2,676 votes. Incumbent school board member Liana Fenton finished fourth with 2,641 votes.

As for the other local question, voters approved allowing the sale of recreational marijuana in Middletown by a 3,281 to 2,482 mark with Question 6 on the ballot.

After the totals started coming in, local leaders said they appreciated the support and would work hard over the next two years.

“I am honestly shocked and humbled to get the top spot,” Connerton said. “I didn’t expect that at all. I appreciate the public support and I look forward to working with the other councilors, the administration and the residents to make Middletown a little bit better.”

“I want to thank everyone who helped me during my campaign,” Tessier said. “We worked really hard and knocked on a lot of doors. I’m grateful to be elected by my community. My goal is to make positive change here in Middletown. My top priorities are to address our housing crisis and work on pedestrian and cyclist safety.”

“I am grateful for the support of the Middletown voters and their trust in me to serve for another two years,” Logan said. “I will work tirelessly to make sure we fulfill our campaign promises and make Middletown the best place for families, businesses and our entire community.”

Local Reaction

At Town Hall, the words used throughout the day to describe Tuesday’s voting were “strong” and “steady.”

Town records indicated there were 12,443 registered voters eligible to participate in Tuesday’s election, including inactive voters.

Town Clerk Wendy J.W. Marshall applauded her staff and all the poll workers for their efforts throughout the day — and the days leading up to Election Day. She said there were no issues or malfunctions to report throughout the day and everything went as smoothly as possible.

“We can’t thank everyone enough for their hard work on this election,” Marshall said. “There’s more work than most people would ever realize that goes into this and it’s nice when everything goes exactly as we planned it. So much of that could not happen without the help from our staff and residents who come forward to pull this all off.”

Even during mid-morning and mid-afternoon periods when there’s historically a lull, the action was busy at the five polling stations across town — particularly Gaudet Middle School.

Town records indicated there were 12,443 registered voters eligible to participate in Tuesday’s election, including inactive voters. In the last mid-term election in 2018, there were 6,240 votes cast in Middletown.

Outside Forest Avenue School, Jhamielle Walker said she felt compelled to vote, especially since she became a citizen of the United States two years ago after being born in Jamaica. Although there weren’t any issues compelling Walker to the polls, she said voting was something she needed to do.

“I feel it’s important,” Walker said. “It’s one of those responsibilities none of us should take lightly.”

Around the corner on the Turner Road side of Gaudet Middle School, the message was very similar. As most voters walked into the joint polling location in gymnasium from the back parking lot, they went through a gauntlet of political signs urging support for different candidates and issues.

“It’s really important to vote and give your opinion,” Rita Finn said. “There wasn’t any one issue for me, just the need to support our democracy and everything that entails.”

Jon Zins said school regionalization was definitely on his mind entering the polling place, something he’d heard much discussion about over the last few weeks.

“I’m curious to see how Newport votes on regionalization,” Zins said. “No matter what it is, I  (showed up to vote) to get my opinion out there because this is one of those elections where things are so important.”

Caroline McNamara agreed, saying it wouldn’t feel right if she wasn’t voting on Election Day.

“There’s a lot that I wanted to vote on today,” McNamara said. “Certainly, affordable housing in town is one of my big issues, the unified schools is another and then women’s reproductive rights has to be on that list too.” 

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