With the vote on regionalization and a $235 million school bond three weeks away, area officials talk about the educational and financial benefits of the proposal. #VoteNov8 #MiddletownRI
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MIDDLETOWN, NEWPORT LEADERS — REGIONALIZATION, BOND MAKE SENSE & CENTS
MIDDLETOWN, R.I. (OCTOBER 17, 2022) – When it comes to Election Day, regionalization and a $235 million bond, Town Council members said it’s all about education.
Despite talk leading up to Nov. 8 about how great a deal financially the proposal was for Newport and Middletown, local leaders said during a presentation Monday night in Town Hall before more than 30 people that students and educators would be the big winners in the end.
The pitch was the latest in the days leading up to the vote, including briefings to the Middletown Rotary, the Middletown and Newport senior centers and a number of others promoting regionalization and bond.
Another joint Newport-Middletown forum is planned for Oct. 24 from 6:30 pm at the CCRI Newport Campus, 1 John H. Chafee Blvd., where those in attendance will have another opportunity to hear directly from those involved in the process, get the facts and ask questions.
“If we do regionalize and there’s educational opportunities in Middletown for Newport children, then they come to Middletown,” council President Paul M. Rodrigues said. “If there’s educational opportunities in Newport, whether it’s vo-tech or other opportunities, they go to Newport. It’s what’s best for the child. And by the way, neither community would pay tuition like they do now."
Rodrigues and council Vice President Thomas Welch led the discussion, with Newport Mayor Jeanne-Marie Napolitano on hand to offer input as well. Most of the School Committee and School Building Committee were in attendance too.
Using a computer slideshow to guide the discussion, Rodrigues and Welch explained how Newport and Middletown got to today.
Throughout, audience members asked questions on everything from the financials to how classes would be determined, transportation costs and to how special education was going to be handled.
Local leaders said that educational items like course offerings and special education would be addressed by the regional school board. However, they continually emphasized how there would be more and better opportunities for every student group from the highest achieving senior to a struggling kindergartner.
They also stressed if Middletown didn’t act now, it would be missing an “opportunity of a lifetime.”
“The opportunity for those dollars isn’t going to be there,” Rodrigues said. “If you look at our other option of $90 million, that was to basically put a Band-Aid on the schools.”
“If this were to fail, we’re in trouble…” council Vice President Thomas Welch said. “If we were to try to bond $90 (million), $100 million today, we would still have to limp along those two elementary schools and then we’d be forced, or some future group up here, would have to go out and get more money to replace those buildings. Numbers wise, there’s no question.”
“I say to people, if you were building a home and someone came to you and said ‘I’m going to build a house and we’re going to pay 80.5 percent of that and you’re only to have to pay 19.5 cents on the dollar,’ what are you going to say?” Rodrigues added. “You’re going to say ‘Build it.’ That’s what I’d say. Think about that. The dollars add up.”
Ed Brady, co-chairman of the school building board, said the state has made it clear it would not fund Band-Aid fixes from Middletown, only proposals that move the educational opportunities forward for students.
“The $90 million Band-Aid, the state is not going to give us any money for that,” Brady said. “We’re on the hook for that dollar amount. I want everyone to keep that in mind. We will not get 35 percent, 40 percent. We will get zero from the state if we go that route.”
Like everyone in attendance, Rodrigues it was important that voters remember what’s most important in the entire process — what’s best for students.
Middletown Superintendent Rosemarie K. Kraeger said the Newport and Middletown school boards were hosting a joint session on Oct. 27 at the Oliphant administration building to focus on the educational impacts.
“There are a lot of positives and I personally feel the positives far outweigh what happened four years ago when Newport came into this chamber…” Rodrigues said. “It will be the biggest tax savings for any of these communities. As Tom said and if it doesn’t pass and we have to Band-Aid, most of that $90 million would go to the high school and the middle school.”
The subject of years of on and off again discussions between the two communities, regionalization took off in mid-March. That’s when the state Department of Education (RIDE) said Newport and Middletown would be reimbursed 80.5 percent on any new school construction.
The announcement opened the doors for Middletown to put forward an ambitious plan to build three new state-of-the-art schools — a new middle-high school with an auditorium next to the existing Gaudet Middle School as well as a combined elementary school and pre kindergarten center on the Valley Road property now home to Middletown High.
At the same time, Newport could recoup close to $50 million in costs for the construction of the new Rogers High School.
Under a strict timeline from RIDE, officials in both communities worked hard for months lining up as many details as possible since.
That included securing the passage of legislation in the General Assembly guiding the process. One of the keys of that legislation was to guarantee a fair balance between the communities so the proposal wouldn’t sink before it launched. To view that document, visit https://mdl.town/Regionalization online.
Middletown also got permission to place a $235 million bond before voters on Election Day. When interest is factored in, the total cost of that proposal is expected at about $406 million. Of that amount, Middletown would be responsible for pay $79 million, less than the cost of “Band-Aid” repairs to the existing schools.
In order for the proposal to move to the next phase, Middletown voters need to approve ballot Questions 4 and 5 about regionalization and the bond, with Newport voters asked to okay Question 5 on their ballot about regionalization.
If one fails, officials have said the entire proposal is off the table. That means Middletown taxpayers would have to pick up the tab for at least $200 million in repairs mostly — if not completely — on their own.
RIDE officials have also said the communities could save close to $5 million annually in duplicative spending on everything from administration, maintenance and operations. Newport and Middletown leaders have both pledged to roll back some — if not all — that money back into classrooms to help improve education.
The legislation spells out that every teacher employed as of June 30, 2024 would have the same — or substantially similar — position.
As for items like the curriculum and the school calendar to the superintendent of the combined district, those would be decided by a joint School Committee elected on Nov. 7, 2023 should regionalization be approved.
To view a copy of the presentation, visit https://www.middletownri.com/DocumentCenter/View/5871/Regionalization online.
Document Link: https://www.middletownri.com/DocumentCenter/View/5912/NYCU-Regionalization-Meeting