Editorial: The Bristol Warren district deserves better schools

Posted 10/25/23

The communities of Bristol and Warren have almost everything going for them. They are home to beautiful coastlines, world-class sailing, historic downtowns, working farms, booming manufacturers, …

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Editorial: The Bristol Warren district deserves better schools

Posted

The communities of Bristol and Warren have almost everything going for them. They are home to beautiful coastlines, world-class sailing, historic downtowns, working farms, booming manufacturers, luxury estates, vibrant museums, spectacular restaurants, glorious open spaces, magnificent parks, diverse housing stock, a surging real estate market, and a bustling university.

The social networks are strong, volunteer organizations are active and abundant, and many longtime businesses have found a foothold and thrive. There are so many wonderful reasons to invest in, or live in, these communities.

Yet there is one glaring omission from the long list of attributes in these communities. People rarely talk about the schools.

Are the public schools bad? Absolutely not. But are they on par with what should be expected in communities this rich in resources? They are not.

This school district should be among the “best” in Rhode Island, but it has historically performed right in the middle of the pack — sometimes a little higher, sometimes a little lower, but on the average, it is classically mediocre.

Old, tired and outdated school buildings are not the cause of mediocrity, but they are definitely not the solution.

Mt. Hope High School is a drab and dreary facility. It has chronic problems with water, and it has none of the energy of a modern, 21st-century high school.

A few miles away, the city of East Providence, aided by significant state aid, recently made a massive investment of $190 million in its high school. The new building is spectacular — a bright, vibrant cathedral to modern education. It is home to more than a dozen different career and tech programs, equipped with state-of-the-art equipment, wiring, security, computer systems and infrastructure. Its campus has the feel of a small community college. An energy runs through the building.

School administrators have drawn up plans for a similar investment in Mt. Hope High School. They would construct a new facility on what they claim will be a better location on the existing campus, and then tear down the old, tired high school.

That project would consume most, but not all, of a $200 million school bond. The remaining funds would be used to upgrade the district’s other buildings, creating more versatile and modern learning spaces in the four other school facilities (Guiteras School would be retired).

The great news for taxpayers is that they will not be asked to pay the full $200 million. If state reimbursements come through as expected, at the highest level possible of 83%, the local burden would be $34 million of borrowing, plus interest. Depending on the value of their homes, most taxpayers would spend between $150 and $500 annually to build a new high school and renovate all school buildings. It would still represent a massive investment for these small communities, and buildings alone cannot change this district’s profile, but they can have an immediate impact on programming, resources and morale.

Parents and taxpayers must still hold district leaders accountable for sensible budgeting and quality instruction in the future. If they vote yes on Nov. 7, they can demand that accountability after doing their part, making a generational investment in public education for two communities that deserve better schools.

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Mike Rego

Mike Rego has worked at East Bay Newspapers since 2001, helping the company launch The Westport Shorelines. He soon after became a Sports Editor, spending the next 10-plus years in that role before taking over as editor of The East Providence Post in February of 2012. To contact Mike about The Post or to submit information, suggest story ideas or photo opportunities, etc. in East Providence, email mrego@eastbaymediagroup.com.