PROVIDENCE – Last week’s approval by the General Assembly and the governor of the fiscal year 2019 state budget moved a huge project to repair school buildings into the hands of voters.
The votes on the $9.6 billion budget placed a $250 million school construction bond on the November ballot.
Sen. Ryan William Pearson, D-Cumberland, referred to the plan for a bond to finance school repairs as “a highlight in the budget.”
Senate Finance Committee Chairman William T. Conley, D-East Providence, said, “This is a historic investment in our school facilities that will result in the transformation of classrooms into 21st-century learning environments.”
These votes are the result of a rigorous campaign that included reaching out to state and municipal legislators, school committees, teachers, students and school administrators, according to Erich Haslehurst, director of Fix Our Schools. The outreach campaign was intended to make sure all parties understood how the plan would work.
Referring to school deterioration and the cost of repairing schools, Gov. Gina M. Raimondo said on an earlier occasion, “We have to do it. We can’t afford not to.” The state currently pays about $80 million annually toward school repairs, a piecemeal approach Raimondo likened to paying for Band-Aids.
The R.I. Department of Education’s 2017 State of Rhode Island Schoolhouses report identified more than $2.2 billion in deficiencies in the state’s 306 public schools, more than $600 million of which are immediate “warm, safe and dry” needs.
The report said nearly 90 percent of the 306 buildings were below average or worse. Eighteen need to be replaced.
In September 2017, Raimondo signed an executive order creating the Rhode Island School Building Task Force, which considered policy and financial models with a focus on how to meet the needs outlined in the Schoolhouses report.
Mary Lhowe is a PBN contributing writer.