NEWS

New high schools, but at what cost?

By JOHN HOWELL
Posted 8/31/22

Heard of the Warwick Affordable School Act? Probably not and for good reason.

The City Council hasn’t approved such an act. It hasn’t been introduced and for that matter it …

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NEWS

New high schools, but at what cost?

Posted

Heard of the Warwick Affordable School Act? Probably not and for good reason.

The City Council hasn’t approved such an act. It hasn’t been introduced and for that matter it hasn’t been drafted, but that doesn’t mean the concept isn’t viable or that it can’t be discussed. That’s what former councilman and chair of the Warwick School Committee Robert Cushman plans to do Sept. 7 at the Warwick Public Library starting at 6 p.m.

Compelling Cushman is the $350 million bond issue on the November ballot to build new Pilgrim and Toll Gate High Schools. Cushman, who for years has highlighted how the city can’t afford to address unfunded liabilities without making fundamental changes in the benefit packages of municipal retirees, questions if taxpayers can afford the new high schools.

“I want to get people to think,” said Cushman in an interview Friday.

Triggering the concept of an act and a meeting at this time was a comment Mayor Frank Picozzi made to the Beacon when asked if he would support the school bond.

Picozzi said he personally would vote for the new schools, but wanted voters to know the impact the increased debt could have on taxes.

“Mayor Picozzi said people could be forced to leave the city because of the cost of taxes,” Cushman said. “That’s really an issue that needs to be appropriately addressed.”

“We have to make sure it (cost of the bond) doesn’t (force residents out of the city),” Picozzi said Tuesday when asked about the remark. Picozzi said the referendum is one step in the process. Should voters approve the $350 million, he pointed out the council still has the authority to award the contracts and should bids exceed the bond they wouldn’t gain approval. But not until the projects are put out to bid will the city know the realistic cost of the schools, he said.

Cushman reasons neither the School Committee nor the City Council properly vetted the financial impact of the $350 million bond even though the state Department of Education is committed to reimbursing 52.5 percent of the cost of the two schools and proponents of building now reason the city will get two schools for the cost of one. Additionally, they argue by waiting the city could end up paying more for the schools, lose the matching funds and be stuck paying the full cost of upgrading old schools.

Picozzi has distanced himself from the school bond. He did not attend either of school department informational sessions held at Pilgrim and Toll Gate or the forum sponsored by the Warwick Beacon, Central Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce and the Warwick Rotary Club. City Finance Director Peder Schaefer was one of the forum panelists. He outlined the additional annual costs the city would face not only from the $350 million bond but other school bonds going forward.

Cushman said School Committee and City Council approval of the bond enabling it to get on the November ballot was rushed. He said the public did not have the opportunity of a question and answer session about the need for the new schools as committee meetings allow for statements, but don’t provide for a dialog. 

“It’s been a rushed process and not all information has been given to taxpayers,” he said.

“How is it that the CEO of the city is forced to think people will be forced to move out?” He likened the process of bonding for the new schools to “throwing the dice on future of our city.”

Cushman says there is an alternative to rolling the dice and that is planning and holding leaders accountable to cutting costs.

Using information that Cushman said is readily available, he has created a forecast of what taxes are going to look like when bond payments kick in. He anticipates the added municipal costs are going top have “a huge impact on a lot of us” and in particular small businesses.

Delaying the revaluation by one year, as Mayor Picozzi advocated, and a no tax increase budget was a “political move” that has lulled taxpayers into believing everything is great said Cushman.

“People are not paying attention,” he said.

Cushman said he is not looking to give a monolog. He hopes to hear suggestions and rally support for a Warwick Affordable School Act.

high school, Cushman

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  • ThatGuyInRI

    It's pretty simple, the schools are old and need to be replaced. As Bob Kraft once said, "you can only polish an old shoe so many times."

    If you have kids in the city, or value your property value, you should be voting for this, I will be.

    Monday, September 5 Report this