Wagner: Condition of RI public school buildings is ’embarrassing’

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The state’s top education official said Friday that the state of Rhode Island’s public school buildings is a “crisis.”

During a taping of WPRI 12’s Newsmakers, R.I. Education Commissioner Ken Wagner said addressing the poor condition of many of the state’s 278 public school facilities is a top priority for the Raimondo administration moving forward.

“Our facilities are embarrassing in many instances, and it absolutely is having an effect on the morale and achievement of our teachers and our students,” Wagner said. “We have a crisis. We absolutely have a crisis.”

In 2015, Gov. Gina Raimondo approved a building-by-building assessment of the state’s public schools. Meg Geoghegan, Wagner’s spokesperson, said the commissioner has seen the results of that study – which wrapped up in the spring – and it will be released publicly in mid-September.

The R.I. Department of Education released an assessment in 2013 that showed cities and towns would need to spend $1.7 billion to fully improve every school, but that review was based on information provided by each district.

Asked if he anticipated the cost to repair the school buildings to be in the billion-dollar range, Wagner said, “It will be a big number.”

“We didn’t get into this challenge quickly, it’s going to take us some time to get out of this spot we’re in,” he said. “I believe we can do it, but it will require big partnerships and big numbers.”

During her first year in office, Raimondo and the General Assembly lifted a four-year moratorium on school construction and allocated some money to repairs.

Tim White ( twhite@wpri.com ) is the Target 12 investigative reporter and host of Newsmakers for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook