By Kurt Matarese
I write to you as someone on the fence for the approaching bond vote, both figuratively and literally, as my property is near the Frenchtown fields. As a parent with two young boys who will benefit from this school system, I support school investment in general as well as taking advantage of the temporary bump in state reimbursement that expires in June 2024. Like many of you, I’ve found myself wondering what an alternate path would even look like, and hoped the town would give residents some reasonable guidance to consider. I think openly discussing considerations for plan B in more detail is prudent instead of just painting a “sky is falling” picture of our alternatives if the bond did not pass.
While there is a minimalist path that just tackles the roughly $20M+ in deferred maintenance and minor improvements, I think it’s more constructive to illustrate what a revised plan might look like that retains some of the key benefits of the $150M plan while addressing residents’ most repeated concerns. Luckily the building committee has already considered multiple options in detail and has a head start on this process.
Based on those documents and community feedback, a plan that performs renovations and additions as needed at all existing elementary schools as well as the high school might fit. It still addresses the issues of overcrowding, grade alignment, and specialty spaces while maintaining a neighborhood school approach that benefits students and local communities. It also reduces the tax impact, maintains much of the state bonus aid percentage, alleviates traffic concerns, lessens construction impact to neighbors, and provides for a more flexible financial future should the town decide to invest further in the high school or elsewhere. According to past presentations this option could cost anywhere from $50M to $90M before state reimbursement depending on specifics.
To be clear there are challenges. If left open, the capabilities of the Eldredge facility may not be reasonably modifiable to meet the same standards as the other schools – does the benefit of Eldredge being open outweigh that drawback for those local families? Swing space during construction will be more challenging – can this be pulled off with minimal disruption to students? That said, and as echoed many times previously, we have very competent town and school staff who I truly believe can manage these situations well.
The school and town committees have all worked hard over recent years to get the town here and deserve our thanks. They have been open to discussion via email or phone and care deeply about the town. This post is not an attempt to undermine any of their work, but instead seeks to daylight one possible alternative path grounded in previous committee discussions. In the end this should be all about student outcomes, which many would argue are driven by faculty, parents, and the community more than anything, but there is no question the schools need work.
I’m not writing to suggest how you vote, just that you do, and that you make an informed decision that is not based in fear. For more information on what this type of plan might look like, please visit https://egbond.com/planb. Note that this is one of many possible paths and in no way official or guaranteed to happen, but a revision is possible before the upcoming deadline for the bonus state aid. Please stay engaged with your representatives throughout this and future processes.
On a personal note, this is the first time I’ve taken on this level of civic engagement and I’ve been appreciative of all the positive feedback I’ve received. Thank you for reading this.
Kurt Matarese lives in East Greenwich.