The Warwick School Committee voted unanimously Tuesday night to return to the original $85,045,000 for a bond request to repair the direst needs at the city’s public school buildings, after the School Building came to their own unanimous conclusion that seeking an additional $33 million to satisfy differing state requirements for additional elementary school space was unfeasible.
Along with the recommendation, School Budget Officer Anthony Ferrucci provided the committee and the public with a comprehensive roster of what would be included in that $85 million number in regards to real projects, right down to the total number of exterior doors at each school that would need to be replaced, and the costs associated with each element.
The $85 million request is only about 38 percent of the total $225 million in deficiencies that were identified by the state Department of Education’s Jacobs Report. Of those $225 million, $178 million were listed as “current” deficiencies, with the remainder of the deficiencies estimated to come into need within five years.
Ferrucci said that the $85 million, which is 47 percent of the current need identified by Jacobs, is only to repair the most crucial fixes needed at the schools – things like $2 million in fire safety systems, $800,000 in asbestos abatement, $9 million in roofing repairs and about $5 million in electrical work.
“Everything in this package does affect instruction,” Ferrucci said. “It was unanimous [among the School Building Committee] that we seek the $85 million and have the folks realize how severe a need that $85 million is – these are our Priority 1s.”
School Committee member David Testa voiced his support for re-concentrating efforts on the $85 million bond number.
“What we have here is a picture of neglect, a picture of neglect that took place long before anybody up here was on this stage and long before anybody down there,” Testa said. “I would say it’s been a stain on the community for letting it get to the point where it got to, but we have to fix it. I have no problem with the $85 million…I think we need every penny of it to really make an impact.”
Other committee members, like Karen Bachus, were suspicious of the ability to hold the School Committee accountable for the funds – cautious about a potential for them to use the bond funds for uses outside of the proposed projects.
Ferrucci said that there will be a level of oversight in the process that would make this simply unfeasible, and that only a certain amount of the bond funds are released each fiscal year, and only for certain projects, which also must be approved by votes from the school committee.
“The generation of the budget priority roster is what we’re planning on living and dying on. So we’ll be reporting to the community against that approved roster,” he said. “If it’s the whole $85 million, we would take each category and you have a breakdown of each project at each building and we can be held accountable… Given the sensitivity and the expectation of this community, I think it’s going to be held to a high level of scrutiny.”
The updated, targeted bond request will now have to go before the Warwick City Council, and a bond request would require a resolution from them as well as the approval of the state legislature. This would need to be wrapped up by the deadline for the Stage 2 application for reimbursement set by RIDE, which is Feb. 1.
Should those steps happen, the bond would appear on a referendum for the November 2018 election. With a 40 percent reimbursement from RIDE for each dollar spent on school repairs and construction, as is expected for Warwick, the actualized impact on the taxpaying community would be $52 million.
The additional $33 million that was formerly accepted by the School Committee to address the state's "aspirational capacity" standards regarding elementary education was explored, in part, to show due diligence on the part of the School Department and display to RIDE that, while the district explored the possibility of addressing the standard, it turned out to not be affordable.