Middletown and Newport leaders brief a crowd at Middletown Senior Center about the pros and cons of regionalization, bond, saying support was essential to move both communities forward. #MiddletownRI
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REGIONALIZATION, BOND NEEDED TO KEEP
SCHOOL INFRASTRUCTURE VIABLE, MOVING FORWARD
MIDDLETOWN, R.I. (OCTOBER 13, 2022) – Newport and Middletown leaders are taking the message about regionalization directly to voters.
Late last week, President Paul M. Rodrigues and members of the Middletown Town Council and School Committee joined Newport Mayor Jeanne-Marie Napolitano and Vice Chairwoman Lynn Underwood Ceglie at the Middletown Senior Center. Middletown council Vice President Thomas P. Welch III, council members Barbara A. VonVillas and Dennis Turano and Middletown School Committeewoman Tami Holden also participated.
There, the group explained the pros and cons of the proposal to a group of 75 plus residents, saying both communities could not afford to pass up this “once in a lifetime” opportunity from the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE).
The hour-and-a-half presentation was one of many engagements in recent weeks leading up to Election Day, Nov. 8 to spread the word about the importance of the ballot questions in each community.
The Middletown council is slated to hear the presentation Monday, Oct. 17 at 5:30 pm in Town Hall prior to its regularly scheduled meeting.
“This will set up the Town of Middletown and City of Newport for years to come,” Rodrigues said. “From a taxpayer perspective, from an educational perspective and obviously from an infrastructure perspective…If it doesn’t pass, then we’re going to have to go at it alone and put Band-Aids on our schools and go that route.”
“We have families struggling now, we have young people that can’t find places to live at a reasonable cost,” Napolitano said. “Newport, between being squeezed out with AirBnbs and other things, it is really tough to maintain here, so if we can do something for our kids this election, this is it. This is for my grandkids, this is for my four kids that graduated, we need to offer the kinds of learning that will allow these kids — if they choose — to remain here with decent pay.”
“We also have to remember that RIDE is putting us under a time crunch,” Ceglie said. “They’re not waiting for anyone. They want us to decide on this now and if we don’t pass this, this money will go to another community. That’s just the facts. The school have always been on the (backs) of the taxpayer. Why not take some help to educate our kids?”
Moving Into The Future
Since mid-March, regionalization of the Newport and Middletown schools has dominated much of the agenda in both communities.
According to legislation guiding the process, a new joint School Committee would lead the new combined district. The School Committee would have the power to do everything from hiring a new superintendent to setting the school calendar, determining the curriculum and hours school would be open.
The way the regional district was structured, everything is set up to be fair between the two municipalities, that way neither community has too much power, potentially sinking the effort before it gets out of the gates.
One of the big selling points of the campaign has been the 80.5 percent reimbursement from RIDE on all new school construction. RIDE has made it clear this is a limited time offer and the money will not be available if the town doesn’t take advantage of the opportunity now.
While Newport is well underway with its work to revitalize its schools, RIDE officials have said the 80.5 percent reimbursement will net the city an additional $46 million for work to redo Rogers High School.
Going into the regionalization bid, RIDE indicated the communities could save up to close to $5 million. Most of that money would come from reducing duplicate spending.
However, Newport and Middletown officials have said regionalization would help add money to education. In addition to pumping some — if not all of the $4.8 million — into classrooms, they’ve said every teacher employed as of June 30, 2024 would have the same — or substantially similar — position. Under state law, the municipalities must also provide at least the same money to fund education as the prior year through “maintenance of effort.”
In terms of really specific questions, local leaders have said how the regional school district would move forward was up to the combined school board. That group would shape everything from what school students attended to courses offered, length of the school day, busing schedule and more.
That’s been the main sticking point for critics of regionalization — that some of the details of the proposal aren’t available yet.
“In general, it’s the unknowns,” Middletown School Committeewoman Tami Holden said, speaking about the criticism she’s heard. “What’s going to happen in the future? What’s going to happen with that school committee? With those unknowns come incredible opportunities that are not there should this not happen. As a School Committee member moving forward, I’ve talked with School Committee members from Newport and I have faith that those people who run for a regionalized district and that’s where their hearts are and we’re going to work together.”
In order for the proposal to progress, local leaders reminded the audience ballot questions four and five needed to be approved in Middletown as well as a question about regionalization in Newport. If one of those items gets rejected, regionalization is off the table and it’s back to square one in Middletown.
“All three have to pass,” Rodrigues said. “Any one of those three fail and it’s done and this money may never be available again.”
Too much at stake
Opening the recent session, the Middletown council President Rodrigues told the crowd that what was being discussed was “a big deal” although most in attendance probably didn’t have children in the schools for some time.
Continuing, Rodrigues, Napolitano and Ceglie took the lead and explained quality schools were important to help boost current students — and those heading to schools for years to come.
At the same time, Rodrigues said given the declining condition of Middletown’s 60 plus year old schools, something had to be done now. There were mold issues, failing windows, security upgrades, the list went on and on.
And instead of fixing what the town already had, Rodrigues said it made sense for Middletown to start over. Not only would the town have all new buildings, but it wouldn’t have to pay at least $190 million to renovate the existing four schools — and bear that cost largely on its own.
Noting all the work that’s gone into the regionalization effort in six short months, Rodrigues said experts have said such a move would work here.
“(The consultants) have said ‘Look, we’ve studied other regional school districts…and it’s like any job, it’s only as good as the leadership you have in place,’” Rodrigues said. “You want to be a successful company? You have to have vision, you have to have good CEOs and good CFOs and you have to work together.”
Taking a number of questions from the audience, some said it seemed like it was too good a deal to be true, something local leaders assured them was very, very real.
“This seems like a no brainer to me. You buy a home and someone says ‘We’ll give you 80 percent’ and if not, I’ve got to pay 100 percent?” asked Newport resident Robert Nula. “What are the objections that they’ve heard from people during the course of these presentations about why they’re not going to vote or why they don’t support this because I’m at a loss?”
“It gets tighter and tighter every year and now this inflation is tightening everybody,” Rodrigues said. “For me, I don’t believe there’s one community — I don’t care if it’s Barrington or East Greenwich, those are the two richest communities in Rhode Island — maybe in the whole country, that can afford to sustain the infrastructure improvements to keep the schools where they need to go. Here’s the opportunity at 80.5 percent to bring our schools up to par, to create potentially a better education for our students, create those savings that can go back into education and not have to go back to the taxpayer.”
“I hear a number of people, particularly in Newport, who are mad about what happened before and they’re letting that get in the way of looking forward,” VonVillas added. “You cannot live in the past. You have to live going forward. And you have to remember, it’s all about the kids.”
To view a copy of the presentation, visit https://www.middletownri.com/DocumentCenter/View/5871/Regionalization online.
Document Link: https://www.middletownri.com/DocumentCenter/View/5879/NYCU-Regionalization-Senior-Center