LETTERS

Why we need new schools

Posted 3/9/22

To the Editor,

Warwick residents are facing an issue of major importance: whether or not to build a new high school, build two, or refurbish the two existing high schools.

The issue raises …

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LETTERS

Why we need new schools

Posted

To the Editor,

Warwick residents are facing an issue of major importance: whether or not to build a new high school, build two, or refurbish the two existing high schools.

The issue raises several critical questions. How important is the physical infrastructure of our schools toward increasing student proficiency? How much will construction of one or two new high schools cost our taxpayers-both the initial building costs and the resulting impact on property taxes? Can our taxpayers afford to build new high schools?

Even if individual taxpayers can afford the tax increases, should a city like Warwick that is mired in over a BILLION dollars in liabilities be pursuing more borrowing? If Warwick doesn’t want to build new schools, is it worth the almost equal expense to refurbish our existing high schools?

Should we build one or two high schools?

How important is the physical infrastructure of our schools toward increasing student proficiency? Very important, apparently. Several studies have shown that a safe, healthy, attractive school facility results in increased student motivation, better attendance, greater student proficiency, lower dropout rates, and increased teacher retention. One study published in Education Week magazine reported, “School facility investments lead to modest, gradual improvements in student test scores, large immediate improvements in student attendance, and significant improvements in student effort”. The latest figures available for student proficiency at Warwick’s two high schools put Toll Gate at 24% proficiency in math and 46% in reading. Pilgrim fares a little better at 26% proficiency in math and 54% in reading. Bottom Line: Warwick’s dismal student proficiency can only be helped with improved high school infrastructure.

What would be the construction cost and tax rate increase should the school(s) be built? According to Warwick Finance Director Peder Schaefer, the worst case cost scenario to build two new high schools would be $400M.

The most recent new school construction in RI-East Providence High School-cost $190M with 190 SF per student for up to 1,600 students. That’s about $119,000 per student. Warwick has 2,629 high school students, so using East Providence’s costs, Warwick’s new schools would come in at about $313M. Mr. Schaefer’s estimate seems a bit high but with costs increasing with inflation, he’s probably spot on $400M repaid over twenty years would result in a required tax (mill rate) increase from the current 1.03 per 1,000 of valuation to 1.55 per 1,000. That would mean a tax increase of $550 per year for the owner of an average home in Warwick (valued at $336,415 according to Zillow). Bottom line: Construction costs are skyrocketing, but the longer we wait to build, the more costly it will be. Let’s do it!

Can Warwick taxpayers afford such a tax increase? Most probably can.

The inflation rate-at over 7% this year-has increased costs almost across the board, but wages have also increased. Even Social Security checks have increased by 5.9% this year. Those whose wages haven’t increased enough to approach the inflation rate increase and those on fixed incomes will have a much harder time paying the extra property taxes for new schools. But, what’s the alternative? Perhaps a reduced property tax rate for retirees and other homeowners with limited income. That, of course, would mean everyone else would pay more. Bottom Line: Education is expensive. If Warwick wants its students to have the best chance to succeed in adult life, we need to build new schools.

Should a city that is so deeply in debt with over a billion dollars in liabilities be borrowing even more? Not without some offsetting savings engineered into its union contracts. Especially important is to get

Warwick’s retirees who reach Medicare age off the city’s health insurance plan! Many, perhaps most, RI cities do this already. Additionally, there are many other cost saving areas to be explored. Bottom Line: Students are our future. Retirees are our past. I appreciate retirees and everything they’ve done for our society. I am one, so I can empathize.

But Warwick needs to prioritize its spending and schools are more important than retirees who refuse to switch to Medicare like everyone else

Can we afford 2 schools?

Two schools, one, or refurbish the existing schools? First, the RI Department of Education was right to reject Warwick’s initial plan to spend over $300M to repair two high schools when, for a little more, two new high schools could be built. Additionally, repairs would have disrupted education at the schools for years to come.

With 2,629 high school students, building one high school to house all of them would likely be less expensive than building two to house half in each. Additionally, there would be some future savings due to consolidation of the two current school staffs. However, a school of over 2,500 students could be quite unruly. Many studies have shown that students at schools with more than 900 students learn substantially less than those who attend smaller schools. The closest high school to Warwick with over 2,500 students, Taunton High School, had very low proficiency scores last year-34% in math and 38% in reading. Warwick’s demographics are different than Taunton’s, so perhaps a giant high school might work for Warwick. Certainly Warwick wants its student test scores to go up, not remain static or go down.

Another alternative would have all Warwick students living in Potowomut, Cowesett, and other neighborhoods south of Apponaug going to East Greenwich High School, at Warwick’s expense, of course. That would allow Warwick to build one high school, albeit larger than either current school-perhaps the size of East

Providence’s at below $200M. Bottom Line: Warwick should approach the East Greenwich School Department to determine whether partnering with that city would be feasible. If it doesn’t bear fruit, then Warwick should build two new high schools.

Lonnie Barham
Warwick

schools, new schools

Comments

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  • igor1113

    Mr. Barham is has entered his voice in the issue of paying for and constructing two new High Schools at the projected cost of $400 million and according to him: “That would mean a tax increase of $550 per year for the owner of an average home in Warwick (valued at $336,415 according to Zillow). Bottom line: Construction costs are skyrocketing, but the longer we wait to build, the more costly it will be. Let’s do it!” The current Warwick School Budget is $173.9 million and the current Warwick School population is 8,578 students K thru 12 which mean that each student costs the taxpayers $20,225. - this year. Warwick students are testing in the bottom 50% of public schools in RI. (All this according to local websites). In contrast, Bishop Hendricken High School currently charges $15,750.- for 12th grade tuition with an optional program cost of $20,750.-.

    Mark Levin, in his informative book “American Marxism” has said: “Children in classrooms across America are being indoctrinated with Critical Race Theory, white children are taught that they were born privileged and advantaged, and students study lessons prepared by the disgraceful New York Times ‘1619 Project’. Black Lives Matter, an openly Marxist and often violent organization that actively seeks the elimination of capitalism and the American governing system, is celebrated. Moreover, in school district after school district, teachers are being trained to confront their white privilege and taught to reform their knowledge of history to accommodate CRT…Education is being infused with a Marxist-oriented, extremely divisive, racist and intersectional ideology, where teachers and students alike are compelled to participate in and embrace their own indoctrination.” So now it’s not only students being indoctrinated with Marxist dogma, it’s the teachers as well. And Mr. Barham endorses the idea of voting for a bond issue that will increase the tax burden on the taxpayer with the promise that testing scores will improve. Sure they will along with the Party indoctrination.

    How about an alternative idea like giving each student a voucher for $20k and let the parents decide where to send their children to school? New schools would spring up all over Warwick and freedom would reign supreme!

    Erik Thorp

    Wednesday, March 16 Report this