Council, Schools Come Together Over $150M Bond Management

by | Feb 6, 2024

Above: Mark Schwager (second from left) and Alyson Powell (second from right) announce their joint agreement on the $150 million school construction project.

Panel heads announce agreement at joint session 

The sparring for control of $150 million to improve local schools took a turn towards reconciliation Monday night as Council President Mark Schwager and School Committee Chair Alyson Powell announced their respective panels had come to an agreement over the composition of a school construction committee to oversee the voter-approved $150 million construction project. 

The actual contents of that compromise have not been made public. 

The announcement (joint statement on school construction) came at the start of a joint session at Swift Community Center to begin work on the budget for fiscal year 2025. 

The rapprochement comes after the Town Council on Jan. 29 voted 4-1 against approving the long-worked-on “stage 2” construction plan to stop the state Department of Education from ruling on a request submitted by EGSD Supt. Brian Ricca, on behalf of the School Committee, seeking a “declaratory order,” determining that the School Committee had ultimate control over the $150 million project. 

The “no” vote on stage 2 threatened the feasibility of the entire project since both the Town Council and the School Committee need to approve the stage 2 before it is submitted to RIDE and they need to get it in by Feb. 15 to be eligible for up to 20 percent in additional reimbursements. Under existing legislation, the reimbursement will return to the standard 35 percent for projects submitted after Feb. 15.

Ricca submitted the request after school officials saw the first draft of a Town Council ordinance to establish a school construction committee. That draft called for two members from the Town Council but only one member of the School Committee to sit on the construction panel. In addition, the Town Council was the entity in that draft that would be signing contracts. 

In the last big project paid for by a voter-approved bond – $50 million for construction of a new Cole Middle School, as well as a rebuilt entrance at the high school and a number of smaller improvements districtwide – then School Committee Chair Jean Ann Guiliano signed the contracts and one member of the Town Council and one member of the School Committee sat on the school construction committee. Find the charge and fiscal management agreement for  the 2009 committee here: Building Committee Charge (2009)

Language from RIDE gives responsibility to the School Committee, saying it has the “sole and exclusive responsibility for all aspects of a proposed and/or approved project from its inception, including engaging all necessary and appropriate personnel for design, construction and oversight….”

Town Council members have argued they promised voters they would be in charge and Town Manager Andy Nota said language in the General Assembly legislation authorizing the town to put a bond referendum on the ballot spelled that control out: “The projects shall be carried out and all contracts made therefor on behalf of the town by the town council or the town council may delegate such authority to the school building committee, the school construction committee or the town school committee.”

Nota has also argued the $150 million project is so big – the biggest ever undertaken by the town – that more town involvement would be prudent. 

With as much as $30 million (that additional 20 percent reimbursement) on the line, both panels sought to find consensus late last week and through the weekend. According to the joint statement made Monday, they each deputized one member – Mike Donegan for the Town Council and Alyson Powell for the School Committee – to find a compromise.

The Town Council will take up the stage 2 plan again at a special session Thursday, Feb. 8. Find the agenda for that meeting HERE (Editor’s note: the meeting date and time have been revised since this story first posted). It will hold the second reading of the construction committee ordinance at its regular meeting Monday, Feb. 12 – the second reading will include a public hearing. (An ordinance must have three readings by the Town Council before it is voted on.)  

Meanwhile, Supt. Brian Ricca said Tuesday he had sent this message to RIDE Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green earlier that day:

“Given the fact that the East Greenwich Town Council and East Greenwich School Committee are negotiating next steps for our Master Plan, I would like to hold the Request for a Declaratory Order in abeyance while those conversations move forward.”

In the joint session read Monday, Schwager and Powell acknowledged “there are likely to be some disputes” in a project as big as this, but added, “… our community is capable of doing big things, as long as we work together to maintain the public’s trust.”

Editor’s note: The information from Supt. Ricca was added Feb. 6 at 9 p.m. 

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Bob D
Bob D
February 6, 2024 3:15 pm

Public trust? What are the details of the compromise? Why would you read word of a compromise publicly without details? Was the letter to RIDE rescinded? This doesn’t sound good! This sounds just like the SC explanation of Ricca’s letter…they knew, they didn’t know, maybe some knew, the dog ate my homework. Not good government!

Mary Madden
Mary Madden
February 7, 2024 7:05 am
Reply to  Bob D

There is a public hearing at the Monday, February 12 meeting.

Bob D
Bob D
February 7, 2024 10:31 am
Reply to  Mary Madden

I am aware of the public hearing on Monday, thank you. What I don’t understand is everyone voted in November and the bond was approved all knowing that the “Bond Act” would dictate control of the project. So, with all this nonsense going on, what good was passing the bond act at with legislature when you can get blackmailed, a power grab, into changing and negotiating that law. I’m sorry but the SC explanation is sad and ridiculous. Who would believe anything they say! Just forget about it and move along. Wow!
What was the purpose of letting everyone know of some kind of compromise without giving details. You just tell everyone the details once. What is this – a movie premier? The devil is always in the detail. It only makes it worse, more anxiety and why did the TC even agree when this was set in stone. If this is the way this project is going to work, the residents are in serious trouble.

February 8, 2024 9:49 am

I am confused or maybe it’s my age. Why would Supt. Ricca send RIDE a “hold the Request for a Declaratory Order in abeyance” if an agreement exists? Wouldn’t he and the School Committee rescind the letter to RIDE if there is this agreement? How does this make any sense? I believe the taxpayers are being snookered. Terrible.

February 8, 2024 10:24 am

Thank you EM, The way it is worded doesn’t sound like it has been rescinded totally and can be brought up again! Also where is the agreement so the taxpayer can see and evaluate? Why the secrecy?

February 8, 2024 10:35 am

Thank You!

Bill Higgins
Bill Higgins
February 8, 2024 3:36 pm

Chair Alyson Powell previously said Ricca acted under his own authority “on advice of counsel,” adding, “It’s not a decision that I or the School Committee made.”, but the joint notice says, “Superintendent Ricca – acting within his statutory authority, and with the full knowledge and support of the School Committee”.
While SC Member Clare Cecil-Karb declined to comment, her wife, Rebecca Karb posted, “no, the School Committee was not alerted to it until after it was sent.  
SC Member Dr. Gene Quinn said he learned of Ricca’s letter on Friday, Jan. 26, which is after it was sent.
If this was done with “full knowledge and support”, when did that discussion take place? It had not been on the SC agenda prior to the letter being sent, were private discussion taking place? Perhaps an OMA violation?
If this is the honesty, transparency and clarity that we’re are going to receive as this project processes, God help us. 

February 8, 2024 10:07 pm

Absolutely. Closed door meetings and a lack of transparency from the get go. Something doesn’t equate.


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