EDITORIAL

The unfortunate reality of fixing our schools

Posted

The release of the long-awaited Jacobs Report, an independent third party study of the condition of every school district in Rhode Island sanctioned by the Department of Education, confirmed what everyone already knew – the state’s schools are in sorry condition.

Statewide, the problem seems insurmountable. In total, around $2.2 billion is estimated to be the amount needed to get all the state’s schools up to modern standards for safety and learning efficiency. Facing such a huge figure renders the writing on the wall pretty clear that the taxpayers of Rhode Island will be asked to shoulder a significant portion of the rebuilding burden.

If the taxpayers are asked to pony up more money to fix a problem caused by decades of mismanagement and ignoring the needs for crucial repairs to schools, then government officials – both in local town and city halls and at the State House – will need to step up to the plate and craft a reimbursement program that encourages communities to address these problems now, and then maintain the buildings afterwards.

This is, of course, easier said than done, especially considering the state is facing a $237 million deficit next fiscal year and actual state revenues for the first month of FY17 have come in $11 million short of their projections. In the absence of help federally (don’t hold your breath), we seem to be on our own.

Perhaps, then, the issue should be framed and tackled from a community-by-community basis. In Warwick, the Jacobs Report estimates that there are about $190 million in deficiencies between the district’s 21 schools. To completely replace all schools with new construction would cost approximately $534 million.

Obviously, Warwick will not be tearing down its schools and starting from the ground up, and no municipality can take on such significant debt to try to address all these problems at once. The only real solution is to turn to bonds to address these issues step-by-step, starting with the most pressing problems first.

For example, Vets is in the last stages of an $8.6 million renovation project, paid for by a bond, which completely replaced the HVAC system and made crucial changes to the school’s electrical system, which now enables them to utilize the new tools that are becoming the standard in modern classrooms. The renovations have been performed on time and, by the time they are done, Vets will be a project that sets an example for the kind of work that is possible and necessary district-wide.

The school department hopes that the Jacobs Report reinforces what they have told the Warwick School Committee already – that the schools need serious fixes and they need them now – and will prompt the school committee, city council and the state legislature to approve an $85 million bond request so that it may hopefully appear on a ballot for residents to vote on next November.

While $85 million will obviously only put a dent into the overall expense, it is at least the start towards a better educational future for children in Warwick. The fact that many buildings still have unabated asbestos and nonfunctional air conditioning should be an unpleasant reality shock for anyone who perhaps thought the issues with local schools weren’t all they were reported to be.

Nobody wants to take on more debt. Nobody wants to pay more taxes. People without any kids will cry victim because they don’t care about or need better schools – but this is the unfortunate reality in which we find ourselves. Our kids deserve better than what they have, and more simply they need better in order to keep pace with the racing advances being made in the educational environment.

The tired cliché holds true. Children are our future. And they will be left with the future we give them, equipped only to handle it with the tools and preparation that we provide them. It is long past due for us to address these challenges and give them the best chance to succeed.

Comments

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ThatGuyInRI

This isn't earth shattering but every politician tries to keep expenses (taxes) as low as possible and one way to do that is to ignore needed repairs because it's cheaper in the short run.

The problem is its more expensive in the long run to ignore needed repairs and upgrades because by the time it really hits the fan someone else is left holding the bag. It's akin to saving $40 by not changing your the oil in your car.

One possible solution is to not have annual budgets but budgets based for a decade or more.

With effective leadership at all levels this wouldn't happen, but it is RI...

Wednesday, September 27
richardcorrente

The author of this editorial is either misguided or dishonest. I'm not sure which.

He/she is misguided if he/she is believing that giving an ADDITIONAL $85,000,000 of the taxpayers hard-earned money to the School Committee (SC), who already received OVER A BILLION DOLLARS IN THE LAST TEN YEARS!!!, will solve our maintenance problems when there is absolutely no guarantee that they will spend ANY PORTION of the money on these needed repairs. (They never did before! That's why we have these problems!) The Warwick City Charter allows the SC to have TOTAL CONTROL over any money from the minute it receives it. If the author is misguided I hope this warning will help open his/her eyes. Does the author honestly believe that the SC spent over a billion dollars of the taxpayers hard-earned money wisely. If that is the case, the author is...misguided. Very misguided. Maybe even blind. (I can't see where they spent over a billion dollars.)

If the author is dishonest maybe the author has an ulterior motive. maybe the author is a member of the SC. Maybe the author has enjoyed mismanaging OVER A BILLION DOLLARS of the taxpayers money and just wants $84,000,000 more. Maybe.

Maybe.

In either event, it's the taxpayers money. The SC hasn't spent past monies wisely and there is no reason to believe they will start now. Settle the teachers contract issue. Agree to an INDEPENDENT audit and then let's talk! A billion dollars is already way too much. An additional $84,000,000 is just insane!

Happy Autumn everyone.

Rick Corrente

The Taxpayers Mayor

Wednesday, September 27
CrickeeRaven

Rather than offering any constructive ideas, the fake "mayor" once again posts comments that only seem intended to make himself feel better.

Particularly idiotic is his statement that "maybe the author is a member of the SC."

First, the commentary is clearly labelled as an "editorial," which means it was written by a member of the editorial staff of the Beacon. Second, he is accusing the writer of having a self-serving interest in fixing local schools, another conspiracy theory sprung from his paranoid mind.

As has been proven time and again, the vast majority of readers know his claims to be at best misleading and at worst false. His ongoing attacks on the school committee over the contract issue [which he refuses to acknowledge is at least partly a result of the teachers union's refusal to accept a contract when offered one] are a blatant attempt to continue his stealth campaign on this site, as well as his use of a fake title.

He will no doubt continue to humiliate himself on this site, leading to his inevitable defeat next November.

Wednesday, September 27
Thecaptain

I wonder why the fake mayor didn't comment on the WFD not getting the truck. Maybe he was placed into a corner where if he agreed with the council he loses face with the union (not that he has their support) or if he took the side of the WFD he loses face with the council? Just another example of how hypocritical the fake mayor is. Maybe he was vacationing in Puerto Rico when the last issue came out and he simply missed the article.

Thursday, September 28
CrickeeRaven

Hello again Thecaptain:

What I wonder -- and perhaps you do, too -- is why the fake "mayor" continues what has proven to be a complete failure in trying to convince other readers of his fitness for office. I likewise wonder why he persists in using this site for free promotion of his once-failed candidacy, particularly since he maintains a free Facebook page that provides him what he clearly seeks: The completely unchallenged ability to write whatever he wants; the requirement that commenters use their real names to respond; and the capability to hide or delete comments that do not agree with him.

I suggest that we should encourage the fake "mayor" to build his own audience on Facebook, instead of continually trying to use the one built by the ownership of this website, so that he can prove whether he has any support outside of his own imagination.

Thursday, September 28
Bob_Cushman

Richard I hardly respond to your comments but as a former member of the School Committee I can state that you either don't know what you are talking about or you are the one being dishonest.

Any money related to Capital Improvements will come directly from bond money specifically designated for capital improvements approved by the taxpayers, mayor, city council, RIDE and the General Assembly. This is not the same as the property tax revenue the city allocates to the school budget each year which is at the discretion of the SC and the administration to budget. There are strict rules and guild lines that have to be adhered too.

In 2006 my last year on the school committee we had to submit to RIDE and the mayor and city council a detailed plan, school by school project by project justifying all the repairs being considered as part of the overall bond package. The mayor and council actually asked us to trim our request and we settled on the $25 million bond package that was approved by the City Council and signed into law by the Mayor.

The bond package was then approved by RIDE and submitted to the RI General Assembly where it was passed into law. The law read that the City of Warwick (as agreed by the mayor and city council) would pay the principal and interest on all bonded projects.

Your claims about schools never spenting the money on maintenance is absolutely false. In fact the plan was to commence projects over a 5 year period from 2007 through 2011 to perform the various projects. That never happened because in 2007 Mayor Avedisian froze all bonded projects in the city.

It was not until a crisis developed years later with the Pilgrim roof leaking so bad that barrels were place through the building to catch the leaking water and a school class room ceiling clasped on a student that the mayor agreeded to release the funds to fix the roof. But as a condition of releasing the bond money the mayor made the school committee sign an agreement (contrary to the original law) stating the schools would pay the principle and interest on the bonds. No other school department in the state has to do this.

So before you make your ridiculous claims, do some research ask some questions and stop with your FAKE COMMENTARY!

Thursday, September 28
richardcorrente

Dear Bob_Cushman,

I do my research. You are part of it! Don't you remember when we met at Newport Creamery and I asked you personally about the 25 million dollar bond issue in 2006 and asked for your opinion about how Mayor Avedisian felt he had the right to withhold it year after year? I have written before about that bond issue several times before saying that Avedisian was wrong to charge the interest charge to the schools. I have stated that, as Mayor, I would do everything I could to get that reversed. Maybe you never read that part of my platform.

My point in this latest comment is that the taxpayers have paid OVER A BILLION DOLLARS since 2009. If the School Committee (SC) spent it wisely, we wouldn't have NEED for a bond request in 2006 OR TODAY! And, to your point, the Mayor is aligned with Superintendent Thornton more than any previous Superintendent. In 2006 Mayor Avedisian blackmailed the School Committee into signing an agreement that no other town or city had ever done. You and I completely agree that he was wrong to do that. What's to stop him from doing it again?

Re-read the article Bob. Better yet, ask any one of the pre-2016 election School Committee members if I asked them about the 2006 bond issue and how Avedisian handled it. I attend almost every School Committee meeting (and City Council meetings too) and I have asked hundreds of questions of dozens of intelligent people and took pages of notes. If you want to disagree with my research Bob, that's fine, but please don't accuse me of not doing it, especially when some of it comes from you!

Happy Autumn Bob_Cushman.

Happy Autumn everyone.

Rick Corrente

The Taxpayers Mayor

Thursday, September 28
CrickeeRaven

Once again the fake "mayor" conveniently ignores the role that the teachers union has played in stalling consolidation, fighting even modest reductions in staffing, and refusing to accept a contract offer from the school committee.

There is no clearer evidence needed that the fake "mayor" is using this site to continue a free stealth campaign than this comment that he posted on another article: "In the upcoming election I will be asking again for the WTU's endorsement." [link here: http://warwickonline.com/stories/warwick-teachers-picket-city-hall-once-again,128014]

Continually attacking the school committee and blatantly admitting that he is seeking the WTU endorsement proves what many commenters already knew: That his only goal is supporting the union over the honest, taxpaying voters of Warwick.

Despite the WTU rejecting his request for their endorsement -- just as the voters of Warwick rejected his candidacy -- the fake "mayor" still believes, somehow, that he has support for his failed campaign.

He will no doubt continue to prove his complete unfitness for office and humiliate himself with his next comments.

Saturday, September 30