The Rhode Island School Building Task Force, chaired by General Treasurer Seth Magaziner and Education Commissioner Ken Wagner, has developed a plan to make a once-in-a-generation investment to public schools throughout the state.
"Every child deserves to go to a school that is warm, safe, dry and equipped for 21st century learning, but too many of our public school buildings are failing," said Treasurer Magaziner. "We cannot afford to wait any longer to take action so this group has developed a plan to do right by our children by repairing our school buildings all across the state."
To encourage school districts to embark on more school repair and construction projects, the Task Force recommends a system of targeted increases to the state's share of school construction projects, prioritizing projects to improve the safety, 21st century learning environments and operational efficiency of schools.
"This isn't just about making bold investments; it's about making smart investments, and this report is an important step forward in a long-term process that will help our students succeed," said Ken Wagner, Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education. "We appreciate the feedback we've heard from the Task Force members and from students, educators, and families across the state, and the report is reflective of the collective vision we share in which all students have access to 21st century learning environments."
The 19-member Task Force was convened by Governor Raimondo in September after an independent study 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 also found that the state's current level of support is causing the cost of repairing these deficiencies to grow by an average of $70 million per year.
The Task Force recommends issuing $500 million of state General Obligation bonds for public school construction and repair over the next 10 years, with the first bonds to be proposed to voters in a referendum in 2018. This level of bonding is less than half of the state's total capacity to issue bonds over the next decade, according to the state's Debt Affordability study completed earlier this year. While other states regularly issue bonds to support school construction, Rhode Island has not done so for more than 20 years.
Additionally, the Task Force recommends introducing new statewide requirements to ensure that buildings are properly maintained after they are repaired, and a series of new policies to limit construction cost overruns.
The final recommendations of the Rhode Island School Building Task Force were approved unanimously by the 15 members present at their December 13 meeting, with one abstention. House Finance Committee Chairman and Task Force member Marvin Abney had previously informed the group that he would abstain from the final vote out of deference to his committee's responsibility to consider the bonds in the upcoming legislative session.
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Evan England, Director of Communications Office of General Treasurer Seth Magaziner (401) 222-2240 | (401) 439-2199 (mobile) firstname.lastname@example.org
Meg Geoghegan, Communications Officer Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (401) 222-8471 | (401) 258-1829 (mobile) Megan.Geoghegan@ride.ri.gov