Some on Joint Finance urge caution over Bristol Warren school bond

By Ethan Hartley
Posted 5/25/23

The Bristol Warren Joint Finance Committee (JFC) unanimously voted to allow the school district to potentially borrow up to $200 million for school construction projects, including possibly building a new high school. Some were cautious of that number, however.

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Some on Joint Finance urge caution over Bristol Warren school bond


The Bristol Warren Joint Finance Committee (JFC) unanimously voted to allow the school district it oversees to proceed with the process of moving towards asking voters for a school construction bond worth up to $200 million during their meeting last Wednesday evening at Mt. Hope High School.

The board, consisting of members of Bristol and Warren’s Town Councils as well as Warren’s Town Manager Kate Michaud and Bristol’s Town Manager Steve Contente, listened to the presentation that was given to the school committee earlier last week from PMA Consultants and architectural firm Perkins Eastman, and ultimately came to the conclusion that the bond was worth pursuing and taking to the voters in November.

“We’ll probably never see this again with a reimbursement of up to 78%…In a way I look at the school district as we’re losing students. We’re losing students and we’re still paying for those students; we’re losing aid. I think we need the investment,” said Contente. “When you look at modern schools you realize that it’s time for an upgrade…It is a lot of money but I think we would be shortsighted if we don’t look at this as an investment…I don’t think we can afford not to do this.”

Although there has been no decision made in regards to how much money would ultimately be bonded of that $200 million limit, the initial tax implications put forth by the school department’s estimations (assuming they go out for the whole $200 million) showed that that the property taxes on a $250,000 home in Bristol would increase by 6.85% ($222) if the district received the lowest reimbursement possible (63%). A $250,000 home would see a 4.60% ($149) tax increase if the district received all bonuses through RIDE and got a 78% reimbursement on the projects funded by the borrowing. In Warren, the those same potential impacts are estimated at 8.45% ($380), and 5.67% ($255) respectively, depending on the reimbursement rate.

Although those numbers are purely theoretical at this stage in the process, they were enough to cause concern from some of Warren’s representatives on the board.

“My big concern is my constituents who are Warren residents, with the referendum being a simple majority, if my constituents vote against it, they’re stuck with it,” said Warren Town Council President John Hanley. “That’s my concern. I’m hoping we don’t get up to that $200 million because that’s going to be devastating for the Town of Warren, even though it’s gradual.”

Warren Town Councilwoman Keri Cronin approved moving the process forward but used the opportunity to criticize how school construction projects are conducted in the state.

“I hope everyone that’s here and is listening and our legislators in the state maybe takes this as yet another red flag that we might not be doing this right. That we are left as this little teeny tiny school district. One of how many? Too many? And we’re shouldering this burden ourselves. This shouldn’t on us to be doing it this way,” she said. “We’re not going to make a change tonight, but my goodness, when are we going to come to the reality that we have too many school districts and too much administration happening redundantly? And if we maybe came together and reduced the number of school districts, put building and infrastructure on the state and focused on the things that are really important, like educating our students, we wouldn’t be thinking about how our seniors and our economically challenged citizens are going to be pushed out of their homes and not be able to stay living in our community.”

With the approval of the JFC, the district can proceed with legislation allowing them to go out to bond. That would need to be passed before the summer recess of the general assembly. If the district can make several RIDE deadlines in the upcoming months (including a public outreach process to gain feedback and generate a tangible plan for construction projects), the voters will ultimately decide on whether or not to borrow the necessary money during the special election in November.

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A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.