With Greenwood School as a backdrop and joined by the president of the Warwick Council PTA and superintendent of schools, Mayor Joseph Solomon urged Tuesday passage of the city $40 million school bond on the Nov. 6 ballot.
“It is our responsibility as elected representatives, school officials and the larger community to ensure that our students not only receive a quality education that will prepare them well for the future, but to ensure that they have safe and healthy environments in which to learn,” Solomon said.
The mayor also urged voter approval of the $250 million state bond to make schools “warm, safe and dry,” noting that the funding would “give us greater distance.”
The Rhode Island Department of Education approved city school projects would be reimbursed at 38 percent and higher, Superintendent Philip Thornton estimated, with passage of the state bond. He calculated this means the $40 million of Warwick school improvements could end up costing $24 million, thereby enabling extension of the program.
Asked what the bond would end up costing taxpayers over the 20 years it would be paid off, Solomon said that was dependent on the interest rates of the bonds and the market.
Last November, when the School Committee was considering an $85 million bond for school repairs, principal and interest payments were projected at $6.8 million a year for 25 years. With state reimbursement at 40 percent, the annual cost to taxpayers would drop to about $4.1 million. Presumably, a $40 million bond would more than halve those annual costs.
In his remarks Solomon said, “This bond funding will provide for essentially critical improvements at schools throughout the city. I urge all of our residents to cast their vote in approval of this bond.”
Sarah Theberge, president of the Warwick Council PTA, likewise urged passage of the bond. She was joined by a number of school PTA officers and pledged they would work together for bond passage. Following the formal comments, PTA officers huddled around the mayor to voice concerns over cuts in the current school budget resulting in the loss of funding for the Mentor Rhode Island program and reduction of 15 custodians. That cut in staffing has resulted in a system of night custodians alternating between elementary schools and charging for after school use of school buildings for such activities as cheerleading practice.
Solomon didn’t delve into budget talks between his office, the superintendent, School Committee Chair Bethany Furtado and City Council President Steve Merolla. Based on an audit of its budget, the School Committee argues it needs an additional $4 million if it is to meet state standards. It has threatened to bring suit to get the money.
Solomon expressed his support of the mentor program and said he was hopeful the custodian position could be restored.
But the focus of the announcement was improvements to the city’s aging school buildings, which, according to a state study last year, identified $225 million in deficiencies. A school department assessment was less and the School Committee further trimmed it to an $85 million bond. The City Council, with Solomon as president, cut the bond to $40 million.
“School infrastructure is at a crossroads here in Warwick,” Thornton said. “We have roofs at our schools that are way past their useful life and we have heating and cooling issues in many of our schools. The 40 million dollar school bond on the ballot for November 6 is a very much-needed first step in bringing our school buildings to where they need to be,” he said.
If approved, the $40 million bond would allocate $13,138,637 for mechanical improvements; $11,486,016 for ADA compliance; $9,034,233 for new roofs; $2,352,356 for fire and life safety upgrades; $2,100,000 for “all student access” playgrounds; $1,077,283 for interior upgrades; and $811,476 for asbestos abatement projects.
Specifically, as listed in a release from the mayor, funding would provide for:
l Twelve fire alarm systems – at Drum Rock (which now houses two programs of the Career and Technical Center as well as students aged 18-21 from Toll Gate and Pilgrim high schools), the Early Learning Center at John Brown Francis, Robertson, Greenwood, Scott, Hoxsie, Sherman, Lippitt, Warwick Neck and Oakland Beach elementary schools and Toll Gate High School.
l Interior improvements – 1,189 new doors, locks and hardware at all schools
l Asbestos abatement – Toll Gate High School and Cedar Hill, Hoxsie, Scott, Holliman, Oakland Beach, Sherman, and Wyman elementary schools
l ADA accessibility – All schools, to include 167 restroom doors, 122 student restrooms, 45 staff restrooms, 136 sinks (non-restroom), 143 interior doors, 595 electric actuator activated doors, and elevator replacements at the Career and Technical Center, Toll Gate and Greenwood Elementary
l Fourteen ADA accessible playgrounds – The Early Learning Center at John Brown Francis as well as Cedar Hill, Hoxsie, Robertson, Greenwood, Scott, Holliman, Lippitt, Norwood, Oakland Beach, Park, Sherman, Warwick Neck and Wyman elementary schools.
l Roofs – To include nine full replacements at the Early Learning Center, and Cedar Hill, Hoxsie, Robertson, Greenwood, Lippitt, Norwood, Oakland Beach and Sherman elementary schools.
l Mechanical improvements – To include a total HVAC/heating system replacement at Pilgrim High School, heating controls at Drum Rock, and extension of existing equipment at Lippitt Elementary School and Toll Gate High School.
The bond question will appear on the back of all local ballots as “Question 4: Schools and School Facilities $40,000,000 Bonds and Notes,” after three statewide bond questions related to Rhode Island school buildings, higher education facilities and green economy and clean water initiatives.