The shift comes after feedback from educators and community members
The School Building Committee this week said planners are working on two “options” to present to the public in November, one that would look at district building needs with the current grade alignments, the other looking at district needs if grade alignments are changed. This is a shift – plans up to now had been focused on keeping grade alignments as they are today (K-2; 3-5; 6-8; 9-12).
The panel also took a different approach at their meeting Wednesday morning from recent meetings and spent the entire meeting mapping out what needs to happen in the next two years if the town is to take advantage of extra state reimbursement incentives for school building projects.
School Committee member Alyson Powell, who chairs the building committee, said after the meeting the decision to revisit grade alignments came as a result of feedback from teachers and community members. The panel had sought School Committee approval of a big-picture plan that included the decommissioning of Eldredge and a new school for all third through fifth grade students at Frenchtown last spring. The School Committee, however, said it wanted more input from teachers and did not vote on the proposal. That and feedback from town officials and residents prompted the decision to take more time and go back a step by looking at grade alignment possibilities.
During the meeting, Powell acknowledged the process can be confusing, which was why they wanted to reiterate the timeline. The committee has learned it has more time before it has to submit what’s known as a “stage two” application to RIDE – it now has until September 2023. That timing would keep East Greenwich in the running for the extra state reimbursement available to cities and towns for school construction right now.
The state already reimburses school construction it considers necessary at 35 percent. But, bowing to the reality of building infrastructure needs across state school districts, the General Assembly approved additional money for districts depending on the types of construction undertaken. For East Greenwich, the additional “incentives” mean the town could receive up to 52 percent reimbursement for school construction. In other words, the state would end up paying for more than half of the cost of the project.
But what exactly is a stage two submission?
Stage two applications are conceptual plans that mark the start of a lengthy process that involves approvals from both the School Committee and the Town Council, approval from RIDE, and only then would the town put a school bond referendum before voters.
It’s somewhat akin to a homeowner working with an architect who comes up with an initial broad-brush idea for a new house based on early conversations about what the homeowner is looking to achieve. Before they move forward, there could be some back-and-forth (“we want a bigger garage” or “we need an extra bathroom,” for instance). But once the basics are agreed upon, that’s when the architect would draw up more detailed plans.
All this is to say, the town is a long way from putting shovels in the ground, according to the building committee, despite all the ideas that have been floating around.
“On the outside, voters will weigh in by June 2024,” Powell said after the meeting. “By then, we will be able to tell voters what the plan would mean for the community and what it will mean for individual taxpayers. If we’re going to ask voters to make a huge investment … there’s no way we ask them to do it without them having all the information they need to make an informed decision.”
The grade alignment options will not be unveiled until November, according to Derek Osterman of Colliers, the district’s school construction project manager. The next building committee meeting is scheduled for Oct. 12.