Opinion: Bond Will Meet EG School Needs for Decades

by | Nov 1, 2023

By James A. Diossa

On Nov. 7, residents of East Greenwich will vote on a $150 million school bond referendum. If approved, the bond would finance the construction of a new facility for the Frenchtown Elementary School, a new or renovated facility for Hanaford Elementary School, and other much needed repair and construction projects. 

The town of East Greenwich enjoys a stellar and well-earned reputation for the quality of its public education. However, many of the town’s school buildings are very old, ranging from 54 to nearly 100 years, and require significant investments to repair them, address latent issues such as asbestos abatement, and bring them up to contemporary learning standards. Additionally, there are reports of overcrowded schools where children are being taught in trailers and makeshift classrooms. No child should have to learn and no teacher should have to teach in such conditions.

Like so many other communities, investment in school infrastructure has been deferred for years. In fact, the estimated costs in maintenance and repairs alone are $22 million. By supporting the bond, East Greenwich’s school districts’ needs will be met for the next several decades.

Creating a more equitable educational environment districtwide for elementary school will help ensure that students have a swift transition to middle school. Especially as learning environments will now be in alignment with the town’s long term strategic plan – which is intended to empower students to achieve their full potential by encouraging life-long learning and positive contributions to society.

Some may wonder if taking on this additional debt could lead to a property tax increase. It is impossible to predict future economic conditions, but we can all agree that, left unchecked, the town’s school buildings will continue to deteriorate and cost taxpayers millions to repair. Although the town is seeking authorization for $150M in building investments, if conditions are favorable, the town may borrow less. If East Greenwich qualifies for bonuses allowed by the Rhode Island Department of Education, the town is eligible for a reimbursement rate of up to 55 percent. 

As someone who attended public schools that were not exactly optimal, I understand and value the importance of ensuring that every student can learn and blossom in a quality learning environment – in East Greenwich and across the state. Therefore, I encourage all voters to vote YES on the school bond referendum.

James A. Diossa is the general treasurer of the State of Rhode Island.

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Andy Nota, Town Manager
Andy Nota, Town Manager
November 2, 2023 12:57 pm

After three years of comprehensive community work to formulate and secure a viable and supported plan to advance our School District, supported by both the School Committee and Town Council, for many reasons, now is the time to press forward with the School Construction Bond and not turn back.  

From a financial perspective, the Town Administration’s actions have and will continue to involve conservatively managing the Town’s fiscal business, not along defined political lines, but rather, sound fiscal principles. In doing so the Town leadership has been able to continue to support and advance critically important community services of all types  This includes public safety, environmental and preservation efforts, education, community programming, commercial support, local infrastructure and senior and social services. This has all occurred while at the same time balancing the need for both sizable increases and at times, reductions to various department budget requests, due to a multitude of priority competing interests.  

The proposed plan is based on a premise to address enrollment and educational need today while planning for the future, while also consolidating aging district buildings in a thoughtful and cost efficient manner. Not an easy thing to do, especially in a small town. Seeing that the present school construction program and incentive bonuses will no longer be available after June 2024 and the town would lose out on the added 20% in state reimbursement incentives ($150 mil. x 20% = $30 mil.), should the bond fail, the community would need to be prepared to submit a future plan involving significantly reduced district improvements, that could in fact cost more in certain scenarios than the plan that had been hypothetically defeated. (At 55% reimbursement and a $150 mil. project, the towns debt principal obligation is $67.5 mil.) while at (35% reimbursement (our normal reimbursement rate) at $104 mil. project, the towns debt principal obligation is $67.6 mil.) There’s no difference in the tax impact and out of pocket cost except we’re losing $46 mil. in investment in the district, that will most likely cost you more as a tax payer in future years, unless somehow, we incur a mass exodus of students and we close more schools while significantly reducing operating costs.  A very unlikely outcome in East Greenwich in the near future. From my experience, I strongly believe that should we not step forward at this time, the negative ramifications to the quality of the district, quality of education, delivery of education services now and in the future, and our resident’s quality of life in the community will be long lasting, impacting many facets of the fabric of the local community in future years.

There is a balance that needs to be maintained in every town in order to allow a community to advance many of its most important priorities. When a municipality lacks that balance, stability, consistency and planning, there are aspects of each community that will suffer and be eroded at the expense of other select programs, while being subjected to other environmental and economic pressures.  

From my perspective from the Town Administration – it would be very unfortunate for East Greenwich should this opportunity be lost, as it would significantly impact the fiscal position of the town in the future as these critical needs will remain unattended. The district would be set back many years in their ability to manage the student population already enrolled and projected, and in their ability to meet RIDE standards for teaching and learning. The district is inextricably linked to the quality of life and makeup of the broader EG community and in this scenario, the whole community will suffer the ramifications of a setback of this magnitude (albeit differently), for many years to come. East Greenwich is an incredible town and is presently advancing to something even more, we can both manage fiscal impact and advance the quality of life, as long as we’re all willing to compromise at times along the way.  


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