In performing their due diligence on behalf of the citizens of Warwick, we feel it appropriate to give a nod to the Warwick School Department for their ongoing professionalism and tact when it comes to allocating bond money to fix up the city’s ailing school buildings.
To say that the Warwick School Department and Warwick School Committee have had a tumultuous recent past history would be an understatement. Between the prolonged contractual dispute with teachers, the near cutting of school sports, the school lunch debt debacle and a laundry list of other, smaller issues that have somehow taken a life of their own (doorstops, anybody?), there have been no shortage of tangible or public relations challenges to tackle.
You can make various arguments on each of those issues and how they were handled – for better or worse. However, in keeping focus their goal to fix up schools and complete projects that need to be completed to ensure the safety and health of Warwick’s students, the school department has demonstrated a sharp focus and a strong understanding of how transparent government should work, and why that is important.
From the first dollar spent to the last dollar planned, the Warwick School Department has crafted a working document, available to all online at the district’s website, that shows what has been allocated, what is planned to be spent, what contracts have gone out, which have been completed, what was over budget and what was under budget. It shows specifically what projects at what schools and the detailed breakdown of each project.
What this type of accounting does is build trust and show that money is being spent where it has been promised to be spent. As opposed to past years, when city council members have accused the school department of using bond funds for things that weren’t approved, this school department has given no reason to doubt that they are managing taxpayer bond funds appropriately and promptly. The list of completed projects continues to climb.
A large chapter remains to be written, however, regarding how the school department and city will work together in an effort to explore the possibility of a new school. Will it be a new high school complex? Possibly a new super pre-school? These questions await the expert guidance of a consultant, which should be hired soon. The council already demonstrated great foresight in setting money aside to pay for this consultant in late October.
However, timing is working against the city if it hopes to have an updated bond request before voters in 2020. The consultant’s work could easily take nine months or longer, which would put the schools right up against the September, 2020 deadline for bond project approval by the state. Even if they make the deadline, the bond proposal that would include the new school – whatever that turns out to be – would have to be voted on without knowing for sure that the state would reimburse the city, or how much it would be reimbursing the city for.
It will also be interesting to see the school department go before the council this month, where they will go over the progress they’ve made in spending the first $40 million in bond funding thus far, and make their case for the second release of that money. Undoubtedly, talk of the new school possibility will come up as well.
The two sides have enjoyed a better working relationship in recent months, and we hope that continues into the future, and that both sides understand the complexities and tight scheduling that will dictate the ultimate success or failure of this new school proposal. Above all, we hope that the city recognizes the hard work that the school department has done to ensure that what schools we currently have operating are fixed up to a respectable degree. Regardless of what happens with a new school proposal, taking care of the students in these existing facilities should remain a top priority.
We also would be remiss to not mention that we find it incredibly encouraging that the city council and school department are coming together to collaborate on their individual five-year financial assessments. This meeting will be occurring following the Beacon’s print deadline on Wednesday evening, and we hope that it will bear vital fruit in terms of better predicting cost increases and budgetary needs on both sides in the years to come. Such a mutual understanding would only serve to benefit the students and taxpaying citizens of Warwick.