Superintendent: ‘We are in dire need’ of school funding proposed by Raimondo

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — There was a bipartisan standing ovation when Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo proposed a “once in a generation” investment in public school buildings in her State of the State address Tuesday night, and superintendents across the state are already planning for how to make the most of the possible funding.

Raimondo proposed spending $1 billion on school repairs over the next five years, which breaks down to $650 million in state funds and $350 million in municipal funds. If passed by the General Assembly, the plan would ask voters to approve a $250 million general-obligation bond on the ballot in November, and would continue the current $80 million annual appropriation for school repairs.

“I’m so glad she emphasized the school bonding issue,” East Providence Schools Superintendent Kathryn Crowley said Wednesday. “We are in dire need of that money.”

Like districts across the state, East Providence schools are in need of repairs; Riverside Middle School flooded on Tuesday, and Myron Francis Elementary School had to close last week after a pipe burst. The 67-year-old East Providence High School is in such disrepair, Crowley says the city needs to build a brand new one.

“The mechanical and the electrical beneath that high school has deteriorated to such a point that we’re constantly band-aiding it,” Crowley said. “I’m operating on a wing and a prayer.”

Eyewitness News took a tour of the school last month, where some areas have been blocked off to students due to cracked ceilings, crumbling concrete and rusty pipes.

Raimondo’s speech was music to Crowley’s ears.

“It would be really impossible to raise that kind of money without state help,” Crowley said. Plans are already in the works to build the new school, with an estimated cost of $170 to $190 million.

While Raimondo has not yet released all the details of the program including how cities and towns will qualify for the money, Crowley believes East Providence could get up to 75% of the cost of a new high school from the state. She said she met with the governor about the proposal last week.

“Cities and towns will continue to have to invest in their owns schools,” Raimondo told reporters Wednesday. “But they do that now, and every city and town will be made better because of this program.”

She said more specifics would be released Thursday, along with her entire tax-and-spending plan for the 2018-19 state budget year.

A task force slated with reviewing the problem of crumbling schools recommended last month that the state borrow $500 million by 2022 for the repairs, in addition to continuing to set aside $80 million per year for school infrastructure projects.

The task force also recommended a “bonus system” that would incentivize towns and cities that move quickly to make repairs.

Raimondo’s pitch was generally well-received at the State House Tuesday night. Republican House Minority Leader Patricia Morgan, who was critical of much the governor’s speech, said she’s open to the school funding proposal.

“I think children and teachers deserve healthy schools to spend their days in,” Morgan said. “I just want to know the details.”

Crowley, who is also the chair of the legislative committee of the Rhode Island Schools Superintendents’ Association, said she plans to testify in favor of the plan in the General Assembly.

“It’s so important to the children, and the children are our future,” Crowley said.

Kim Kalunian contributed to this report.