Council displayed good vigilance, now make the right decision
Some will be disheartened to read that the Warwick City Council delayed the question of whether or not to support an $85 million bond to provide all schools throughout the city with crucial repairs.
Take solace in the fact that the curtain has not closed on this issue just yet. The council reconvenes Tuesday, Jan. 30 to give one last crack at the issue. If the council chooses to throw support behind the bond, the school department will be able to submit the Stage 2 application to RIDE just in time prior to the Feb. 1 deadline.
In the case of Monday night’s meeting, where Council President Joseph Solomon made the ultimate decision to hold off on voting on the resolution to support the bond put forward by Mayor Avedisian. This publication agrees the decision should not have been made due to an inarguable lack of crucial information with which the council was privy to.
The resolution itself referenced an “attachment” that would outline further details of the bond should it be passed by the council. However no attachment was included with the packet received by council members. Even if this was a purely boilerplate, legalese-laden document that merely states the obvious, it is prudent of the council to not act on a document that doesn’t include attachments that it advertises.
Secondly, a representative of the administration should have been present to answer questions regarding the fiscal impact of a new bond on the city’s financial outlook and the down-to-the-dollar costs it would saddle onto the backs of taxpayers in the city.
Even if those answers were moving targets, dependent on different variables – such as cost of construction materials or upcoming debt scheduled to go off or onto the books and most import as much as 50 percent state funding – it would have been helpful to have either the city’s bond counsel or someone briefed on all the specific details to provide those facts to the council.
For these reasons, it was prudent to not vote on the matter and hold it. However, this publication also must take issue with the troubling response levied by certain members of the council in regards to the bond.
First and foremost, the state of school buildings in this city should mean that building new is off the table for a variety of reasons. Building a new junior or senior high school, Ed Ladouceur and Steve Merolla have suggested multiple times, would only benefit a fraction of the student population whereas as now planned the bond be used to make crucial repairs at every school in the district – all of which need work today, not years from now.
Unless both councilmen are willing, in an election year, to publicly declare that a majority of schools in Warwick will simply have to continue to rot, degrade and become further dilapidated, this politically sexy but wholly unrealistic notion that building a singular new school is the right way to go must end, as it does nothing but sew disinformation about the reality we find ourselves in.
The school department has also taken bricks to the head repeatedly for supposedly failing to properly maintain the district’s buildings. This, too, is a politically convenient way to ignore facts. The current administration didn’t defer maintenance for decades. They have been here for just a handful of years and have been, essentially, trying to play catchup. And regardless of your opinion on their management efficiency, no amount of preventative maintenance will make a 50-year-old school HVAC system run like a new one.
That, in essence, is what this whole bond issue comes down to. It is a way to buy some time – while giving our kids an acceptable school setting to learn in – to develop a master plan for what can be done in the years to come. With the favorable reimbursement formula from the state right now, it will come at a comparatively minor cost to the city – which, all things considered, is adding money in surpluses each year – and to the taxpayers, who should care enough to invest in their community’s schools.
The notion is far from perfect, but perfection isn’t really an option on the table. The school department has been transparent about the need, and they assembled an item-by-item list of what will get fixed with the money. They have rendered themselves easily accountable if they go off book – which is evidence that some council members’ continuing distrust of the department is rooted in little more than paranoia of ghosts of the past.