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.
- 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 The elementary schools are all over 50 years old, with aging infrastructure and outdated designs.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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.