Council holds off on Aldrich bid for more information
Editor's note: This article has been updated from its print version with corrected financial information pertaining to the loss of state-funded money on a per-student basis, as provided by Chief Budget Officer Tony Ferrucci
Citing a need for more information, the Warwick City Council voted last Monday to hold the ultimate approval or denial of the bid put in by the International Charter School to purchase and renovate the former Aldrich Middle School Building and turn it into a bilingual charter school.
“We would like to thank the council president and the City Council for their consideration of our proposal to rehabilitate and maintain a historic school,” said International Charter School director Julie Nora in a statement. “We are currently sharpening our pencils with Council President [Joseph] Solomon in the hopes of reaching a good deal for the city, the community and the school.”
Ward 2 Councilman Jeremy Rix, who was the council sponsor for the bid, said in an interview last Wednesday that, while the bid has shown to be popular with the neighborhood and has a lot of positive aspects to it, the reason for holding off on a vote was purely cautionary, as the council wanted more time to ascertain what the possible fiscal consequences could be by allowing a state charter school to open in Warwick.
“I heard from a large number of people who live in the area, and there was overwhelming support for the charter school from a land use perspective,” Rix said. “There are some financial concerns that should be addressed before this is ripe to go to before the council.”
This financial concern revolves around two angles – the amount of money that the charter school would pay to the city in the form of an annual payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) program, and the amount of money the district would lose on a per-student basis by students opting to go to the charter school rather than the public schools.
Nora confirmed in an interview for a previous article that the charter school is willing to pay $70,000 a year in PILOT payments, which the Warwick Planning Department reported in its recommendation of the bid to an equivalent payment of a commercial business assessed at $2,305,665. The assessed value of the Aldrich property was set at $2,535,000 by Peter M. Scotti & Associates in September.
That PILOT program, along with the school’s purchase of the property at $1.9 million, would ensure that the school would equal the assessed value of the property in nine years. The proposal also offered a 1.5 percent escalation in the PILOT set to be paid in five-year installments over 20 years. Afterwards, a 1 percent escalation rate would go into effect, and the PILOT would be transferred to any owner who purchased the property after the school.
The charter school would also open its recreational facilities – various playing fields and open space areas – to residents from all over the city when school isn’t in session.
Nora had also confirmed that, as stated in the bid, she would be in favor of limiting the number of students from Warwick who could attend the charter school each enrollment session to five students, and that these five students would get priority enrollment due to being a student from the school’s new host community.
Nora said that the school hopes to initially open as a K-5 charter school, and would grow to expand into a K-8 charter school within a few years.
The per-student loss to the district for a Warwick child not attending public schools – which is incurred by a formulaic reduced amount of state funding – is around $17,146, according to Warwick School Department Chief Budget Officer Tony Ferrucci.
This means that, at the very most during any given year, the school would take a maximum of 45 students from the Warwick public schools – equating to a loss of just over $770,000 in state funding to Warwick schools.
The district would obviously not need to provide resources for those additional 45 students, but Ferrucci said those cost savings would only amount to about $90,000, and that the district would not be able to cut one teaching position to help save costs either, since those kids would be leaving from a multitude of grade levels and schools.
Ultimately, Ferrucci said the cost to the district by losing 45 students would be a minimum of $680,000.
While the bid has some unquestionably positive angles to it – including retaining the original Aldrich building and its use as a school – members of the city council maintained it was wise to wait and talk it out a little more.
“I had some questions about the deal itself and wanted to make sure it was the best deal for the taxpayers,” said Ward 7 Councilman Stephen McAllister.
Nora, meanwhile, is hoping that the talks ultimately lead to an approval.
“We hope to reach a resolution soon as we truly believe that the Aldrich school is a great fit for the school, the neighborhood and the city,” she said.