Newport & Middletown officials are in the beginning phases of talks to unify the school districts into one, with a twist. Under the preliminary discussions, each community could keep its own schools and get 80 percent reimbursement for new construction.
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NEWPORT, MIDDLETOWN LOOKING AT
WORKING TOGETHER TO IMPROVE SCHOOLS
MIDDLETOWN, R.I. (MARCH 28, 2022) – The City of Newport and Town of Middletown are considering restarting talks about regionalizing their school systems — with a twist.
During recent meetings with state Department of Education officials, it came out that both communities could keep each of their individual schools while governing the two districts together through a new joint school committee and one unified school administration.
According to preliminary numbers from RIDE, that move would allow both communities to receive up to 80 percent reimbursements from the state to build new schools in each district.
It could also free up money in each community’s budget to pay for exciting new programs to help put Newport and Middletown students on the cutting edge of education in the 21st century.
As part of the evolving process, the Newport City Council and Middletown Town Council are expected to authorize the Solicitor’s offices in each community to conduct a preliminary investigation into the concept together. The solicitors may jointly hire experts to assist with the process, with funding for that review expected to be paid for completely by RIDE.
If the results of that “fast” report are beneficial for both communities, the Newport and Middletown councils could approve motions to restart the regionalization talks. That could be done through a yet to be formed Regional School District Planning Board made up of representatives from both communities to see if a fair agreement could be struck to govern the united school district.
Should such an arrangement be brokered, it would need to go back to the councils in Newport and Middletown for approval. From there, it would likely be placed on the Election Day ballots on Nov. 8 for ratification by voters in each community.
“We have a great partnership with the City of Newport in so many areas,” Town Administrator Shawn J. Brown said. “When this opportunity was broached, the Town Council agreed made sense to look at and see if there was an opportunity for us to work together again in a way that could not only benefit both communities, but more importantly the students in each of our school systems. This is still in the very preliminary phases, but we’re very excited about working with Newport to see where this could lead.”
For as long as anyone can remember, the idea of school regionalization has been a topic of off and on again discussions, something Newport and Middletown have flirted with on several occasions.
Most recently, voters in Newport voted in 2014 to pursue a consolidated high school with Middletown. However, the concept didn’t get out of the starting blocks when Middletown voters shot down the proposal by a 54 to 46 percent mark.
But this go around is far different than prior versions for several reasons, which seem to benefit both communities.
For one, the up to 80 percent reimbursement rate for regionalizing was far better than prior amounts.
Also, instead of focusing only on combining high schools, this rendition would include every grade level, kindergarten through twelfth grade.
Importantly, Newport and Middletown would maintain a certain level of autonomy over the schools in each municipality and be free to have their own sports teams, bands and other offerings.
Talks with RIDE indicated Newport and Middletown could save at least $2.5 million together annually in redundant administrative services.
In Middletown, there’s been consideration about placing a question before voters in November to ask whether the Town should approve a bond to build a new super elementary school to replace Aquidneck and Forest Avenue elementary schools. Because the process is still so new, the specifics and amount of that potential bond have not been determined.
A third Election Day ballot question is also being considered in Middletown, asking local voters should regionalization be approved by Newport and Middletown, whether to fund construction of new middle and high schools in Town too. Again, because the process is rapidly evolving, the specifics and amounts of that bond have not been set yet either.
Much of what happens with the latest regionalization effort is dictated by state law, specifically Title 16, Chapter 3. A review of the law shows Title 16, Chapter 3 deals with everything from the membership of the new Regional School District Planning Board to the handling of debt and how payments are made by member districts. To view the state law overseeing regionalization, visit https://mdl.town/Regional online.
In addition to offering better, augmented classes in each district, the main reason both communities are back at the table is longterm financial viability.
In Middletown, the community is facing $190 million in total upgrades recommended to its four schools and limited funding to pay for any work.
RIDE indicates the Town could consider building all new schools for the same net price of health and safety repairs, which were estimated at about $90 million by the School Building Committee. Middletown could also have an opportunity for a combined early childhood facility, which might be required in the future.
By working together, RIDE has said the high schools in both communities could coordinate more closely on curriculum. That would allow both schools to eliminate unnecessary duplication and expand classes and opportunities to provide a more well-rounded education to students in each municipality.
“I think this is the start of a very exciting opportunity for Middletown, both communities really,” the Middletown town administrator Brown said. “We’re at the starting line and we’ll have to see where things lead us for better schools and better municipalities.”