Building Warwick’s Future, a group formed to raise funds in support of building new Toll Gate and Pilgrim High Schools, announced its platform Monday afternoon at Pilgrim with the group …
Building Warwick’s Future, a group formed to raise funds in support of building new Toll Gate and Pilgrim High Schools, announced its platform Monday afternoon at Pilgrim with the group returning in less than two hours for the first in a series of meetings aimed at underscoring the need for voters to approve $350 million in bonds to build the schools.
“We get one shot at this,” Jo-Ann Scofield, president and CEO of Mentor RI told members of the media. Schofield and Lara D’Anutono, director of the Warwick Boys and Girls Clubs, co-chair the fund raising group. Schools are not permitted to spend funds promoting passage of bonds benefiting the district, however, political action committees can and that is what D’Anutono and Schofield have formed. They are working with Guy Dufault, who at one time was Warwick Recreation Director and now runs Checkmate Consulting Group in East Greenwich with his son Brad.
Pointing out that the Rhode Island Department of Education has approved a 52.5 percent reimbursement for the schools, Schofield said Warwick is getting two schools for the price of one if the bond is approved.
“You build one building and you get one free,” she said.
D’Anutono lent a sense of urgency to approving the bond and building the schools now. She pointed out that more than 70 percent of Warwick voters approved a state $250 million education bond that is being used to match local funding for schools. These are funds used for schools outside Warwick and, unless the city moves ahead with new high schools now, they may not be available in the future. “Now it’s Warwick’s turn,” she said. Additionally, she noted that if voters turn down the bond, the city will continue making repairs to the school with no prospect of reimbursement and at having to replace them at some point
Asked how much the group intends to raise, D’Antuono said, “as much as it takes” to get the bond approved.
School Committee vice chair David Testa spoke of the impact of new schools that have 21st century science labs and state of the art technology in every classroom.
“21st century education recognizes the importance of providing students with collaborative working spaces – the types of spaces they’ll see in college, technical schools and many work environments,” he said.
While Mayor Frank Picozzi neither attended the Building Warwick’s Future announcement nor the community session that evening, he voiced his concern Tuesday over the impact on taxpayers. He questioned the accuracy of tax implications the department displayed at the informational meeting, saying they weren’t what city finance director Peder Schaefer projected although school administrators said that’s where they got the numbers.
“I want the schools,” Picozzi said, “I’ll be voting yes.” But, he went on saying he’s concerned what it will mean in added taxes on top of the impact of inflation. Apart from questioning what would happen if $350 million isn’t sufficient to build the two schools, he noted that the city has yet to issue $50 million in bonds for improvements to elementary schools. He said he fears homeowners could be forced out of the city because of the impact of added debt on taxes.
Picozzi said he will ask Schaefer to compute the impact of the $50 million plus the $350 million on the city budget going forward, “we owe that to the public.” He said his role is to “provide all the information possible.”
Picozzi also questioned why the school department is holding information sessions now – a second session is being held today from 5 to 7 p.m. in the Toll Gate cafeteria – when the question will be on the November ballot. Lynn Dambruch said additional sessions will be held in the fall.
A forum co-sponsored by the Beacon, Warwick Rotary Club and the Central RI Chamber of Commerce will be held Tuesday, Aug. 9 starting at 6 p.m. at the Crowne Plaza. Panelists Dambruch, Schaefer, Katie Kernizan from Saam Architecture, Joseph DaSilva from the RI Department of Education, Testa and Realtor Phil Slocum will give presentations followed by questions from the audience. Retired Supreme Court Justice and former Warwick Mayor, Frank Flaherty will moderate.
Designed as an informational forum, not to espouse approval or rejection of the bond, the event was scheduled now so residents would have the time to consider the issue before campaigns for local and state offices heat up. It is also seen as primer for local candidates should they face questions while campaigning.
The forum will be live streamed on the Beacon and School Department websites.
No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here