Opinion: Good for Schools, Good for Community. Vote Yes! On EG School Bond 

by | Nov 3, 2023

By Mark Schwager and Michael Isaacs 

The views in this letter are our own and do not represent the positions of the EG School Committee, School Building Committee, Town Council or School/Town Administration. 

Now is the time to act on the $150 million bond referendum before East Greenwich voters. Here are five reasons to vote yes to approve the school bond. 

  1. Our facilities need investment 

Extensive review of our school facilities has identified the priority areas for improvement. The elementary schools are all over 50 years old, with aging infrastructure and outdated designs. Overcrowding now requires use of trailers and makeshift classrooms. Our high school needs upgrades to facilities for special education, athletics, music, theater, art, and career-and-technical education. The school bond will address these priorities and have a major positive impact on the entire district for decades to come. It will allow the educational programs and grade realignments recommended by our educators, and provide the learning spaces and technology our students and teachers need to thrive. 

  1. The state of Rhode Island will pay for 55 percent of construction costs. 

East Greenwich school construction normally is reimbursed at a 35 percent rate. Our school master facility plan will be eligible for a temporary bonus incentive of 20 percent for a total of 55 percent reimbursement. Alternate plans will not qualify for this 20 percent incentive reimbursement. Our school facilities, if not funded now, will be funded at some point in the future but the 20 percent bonus reimbursement will be gone, and future construction costs will be higher. 

  1. The entire community will benefit from this project.

A vote to approve our school bond referendum will support the legacy of excellent education and wonderful quality of life that attract families and businesses to East Greenwich. Town recreational programs and many community groups make regular use of our gyms, fields, and auditoriums during non-school hours. Strong schools also support strong home values. 

  1. The tax impact of this project is manageable

Over the 30-year life of this school bond, the average annual property tax rates should average within historic levels of 2-3 percent increases per year. This is possible due to old debt which will be retired, the ability to refinance the bond in the future when interest rates decline, and the spreading of the tax impact over a larger tax base as a number of new residential and commercial units are built and occupied.

  1. Community input has been incorporated into this project. 

The School Building Committee has received feedback from many of our residents over the past two years in public forums, school tours, the town’s online engagement site and in constituent emails and phone calls. Several common themes (noted below) were voiced during public input. If the bond is approved, the School Building Committee will have the next year to finalize the architectural and engineering design for the project and incorporate this public input into the design. 

Eldredge School is a distinctive and meaningful presence in our town. 

The educational and financial analysis of renovating Eldredge as a school did not support the priority needs of our school district. Eldrege has completed its effective use as a school after almost 100 years of service, and will revert to town property. There are no plans to shutter or demolish the building. The Town Council will engage in a public process to determine how Eldredge might continue to serve our community, perhaps as a site for community programming that is accessible and enjoyed by residents of all ages. 

➢ The high school is an important focal point of our community. 

As cost estimates at each building site become clearer, there is opportunity to enhance funding to the high school that will address the current deficiencies of the facility and have a transformational impact on the look and feel of the high school. 

➢ The community values the concept of neighborhood elementary schools. 

While the master facility plan calls for a consolidation from four to two elementary schools, these facilities can be designed to feature smaller “houses” to carry forward the intimate learning environments of our current four elementary schools. Each grade would have its own area in a modern building that has adequate space, new health and safety features and enhanced traffic flow for pick up and drop off. 

Please join us in supporting this important investment in our community. Early voting is available 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. through Monday, Nov. 6. In person voting is Tuesday, Nov.7, at Swift Community Center from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m. 

Mark Schwager is the current Town Council President; Michael Isaacs was Town Council President 2004-2016.

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Micheline Nilsen
Micheline Nilsen
November 4, 2023 9:12 am

Hard to believe there was not a single negative comment.

Gene Wallenstein
Gene Wallenstein
November 4, 2023 1:47 pm

Thank you for such a thoughtful and well-articulated discussion! As a long-time resident with kids in the school system, I’m all in favor of addressing these much needed improvements. One question I had was about the 20% added state incentive. You indicate that: “Alternate plans will not qualify for this 20 percent incentive reimbursement.” Why is that? It seems incredibly restrictive that no alternative or modified plans would qualify for this critical incentive. Thanks again!

Kurt
Kurt
November 4, 2023 3:04 pm

According to a recent EG News article there is still time to attempt a revised referendum before the June expiration. The page below illustrates one potential (unofficial) path that is grounded in previous committee documents and would have potential for a similar bonus rebate percentage.

https://egbond.com/planb/

Renu Englehart
Renu Englehart
November 4, 2023 4:25 pm

Hi Mr Wallenstein – RIDEs Necessity of School construction is based on the Newer and Fewer model. Newer schools and fewer of them in order to reduce costs of maintaining old schools and schools that have outlived their useful life. EG has been working with RIDE to achieve that. If the intent is just to renovate all the schools, we will not be able to get the additional 20% and EG is already overcrowded in our elementary schools. I’ve attached RIDEs guidelines here. I would also ask you to talk to your children’s principals about specific concerns in the elementary schools. https://ride.ri.gov/funding-finance/school-building-authority/necessity-school-construction

Kurt
Kurt
November 5, 2023 8:43 am
Reply to  Renu Englehart

Hi Renu, the building committee’s own documents go over add/reno plans that are eligible for much of the bonus, particularly if Eldredge is still decommissioned. Option 3 here has a similar bonus to the current plan, for example. See slide 15:

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1fyi2ZXf4yGxnHkAwxODfIMKLZx2la8fS/view?usp=drivesdk

It might be more clear to say a revised plan might not get the full 20% but still qualifies for most of the bonus percentage. Please correct me if something changed in the RIDE guidelines since those building committee discussions. Thank you.

Catherine Rodgers
Catherine Rodgers
November 5, 2023 12:33 pm
Reply to  Kurt

According to our Town Manager, Andy Nota, these are the bonus incentives we hope to qualify for:

  1. Health/Safety (5% bonus),
  2. Newer and Fewer-consolidate two or more buildings(5% bonus), (Frenchtown/Eldredge)
  3. Educational Enhancements-Early Childhood (5% bonus), (Meadowbrook)
  4. Decrease Overcrowding – reduce 120% to 85% – 105% (5% bonus)

So to imply that we would lose the entire 20% is misleading.

Gene Wallenstein
Gene Wallenstein
November 5, 2023 1:27 pm
Reply to  Kurt

Thank you, Renu and Kurt, for the clarification.

Chris Lamendola
Chris Lamendola
November 4, 2023 6:28 pm

I have to take issue with the former TC President Iassics and our current TC President Schwager comments in their letter to the editor.” “Good for The Community and “entire community will benefit from this project”. You have to be kidding!
Where were both of you making these statements when Cole was being built and Sarah’s Trace homes were being destroyed? Michael Isaacs was the TC President and Mark Schwager was a Councilman and they both just watch our homes be destroyed while they sat in corner and did absolutely nothing. Where were both of you when we were getting scammed in court, while the Town and its lawyers sided with the contractors while promising to hold Gilbane and the other scoundrels accountable like you claimed? Where were you both when Gilbane’s lawyer showed up mid construction while our homes were crushed? Where were both of you when we told you there was fraud perpetuated on us, made both the Town and School Committee aware, Silence from the both of you. You call yourself leaders and elected officials you can trusted. Ethical? Such leadership! You both should be ashamed of yourselves, if that is possible. How do you sleep at night knowing thee families had their homes and lives destroyed while you sat by and did nothing, now you both know we were defrauded and you both stay silent. Such a positive event like a new school should be a wonderful event for students and parents in a small community but when three families and their homes and property are sacrificed it is a failure. Sorry, Cole project was a total failure because of this. This will be both of your legacies, the damage of three homes and our leaders are silent. I hear your comments.. they ring hollow…“Good for The Community and “entire community will benefit from this project.. How things come back to haunt you!
I have to say at least two former School Committee members, Jean Ann Guliano and Susan Records, have the courage to come forward on our behalf and speak the truth of the fraud we say was perpetuated on Sarah’s Trace and demand it be rectified. How could no one know the town hired a lawyer whose firm had represented Gilbane and we were thrown to the wolves while SC attorney Oliverio, Building Committee Chair Gowell, Supt Mercurio and Owners Rep Jon Winikur all knew. They don’t tell any elected officials? The current and former Town Council presidents just hide and cower. Shameful if they could even find the definition of shame. No worries it’s not their home and property. Don’t worry this will all go away if we stay silent.
Some might say this is mean, but what is really mean is having your home destroyed by a town sponsored project, while those in charge of our Town look the other way while innocent residents on Sarah’s Trace take it in the shorts… and do nothing!
Both TC Presidents, former and current, tell you that it is “Good for The Community and “entire community will benefit from this project.” I’m sure those abutters and neighborhoods of these proposed new schools will sleep well tonight knowing our leaders are on top of things with their awesome communication skills, honesty, integrity and that the fact they rehired the same project manager involved with damage with Sarah’s Trace to manage the proposed $150M bond. You can make up your own mind how to vote.

John Smalley
John Smalley
November 6, 2023 2:30 pm

Well said Chris, they don’t like controversy so you will get no response from either one. Chris, you are correct they love the limelight but hide from the real issues. I hope some day the residents of Sarah’s Trace get the proper respect from our elected officials and are made whole for damages.

Susan Aitcheson
Susan Aitcheson
November 6, 2023 9:17 am

I strongly support this bond for rebuilding our school system. This is a very positive step for the town.

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