Letter: Must continue push for safe, well-equipped school buildings

By Seth Magaziner
Posted 3/18/22

Every child in Rhode Island deserves to go to a school that is safe, warm, dry, and equipped for 21st-century learning. 

In 2018, I co-chaired the state’s School Building Task Force …

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Letter: Must continue push for safe, well-equipped school buildings

Posted

Every child in Rhode Island deserves to go to a school that is safe, warm, dry, and equipped for 21st-century learning. 

In 2018, I co-chaired the state’s School Building Task Force that brought together educators, experts, and community stakeholders to develop a once-in-a-generation plan to rebuild Rhode Island’s schools. 

In just four years, our plan has allocated funding to repair or replace 180 school buildings across 28 districts in Rhode Island. These schools serve more than 100,000 students annually and the projects to fix them have created more than 28,000 jobs. 

East Providence has a brand new, state-of-the-art high school with 11 science labs and expanded facilities for career and technical education, and nearly 80 percent of Newport voters supported a plan to launch a 15,000-square-foot addition already underway at the Pell Elementary School and the construction of a brand-new high school for 755 students that is expected to break ground later this year. The new state-of-the-art high school will consolidate the outdated Rogers High School as well as the City’s Career and Tech Center. 

Last November, Portsmouth voters also approved up to $21.4 million in public school projects, including air quality improvements, renovated bathrooms, improved accessibility, and other repairs at Melville Elementary School, Hathaway Elementary School, Portsmouth Middle School, and Portsmouth High School. Importantly, by approving this borrowing now, Portsmouth will be reimbursed 40 percent (about $8.6 million) by the Rhode Island Department of Education to offset the cost of the projects.  

Despite this progress, there are still thousands of children across Rhode Island attending schools that are old, unsafe, and poorly equipped. We need to continue prioritizing school modernization until all students in Rhode Island are attending schools that are safe, warm, and built for 21st-century learning.  

I recently introduced legislation along with sponsors Sen. Hanna Gallo, Sen. Sandra Cano, and Rep. Brandon Potter to allow for even more communities around the East Bay and across Rhode Island to share in Rhode Island’s progress on school construction over the coming years. This legislation will include a $300 million statewide bond proposal for voters to consider on the 2022 ballot, as well as the continuation of incentive funding for early childhood education facilities, career and technical education facilities, and STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) facilities. 

In addition to the continuation of these programs, our legislation includes funding for additional key priorities. Our bill includes significant incentives for energy efficiency and renewable energy improvements to public school buildings, in keeping with the state’s Act on Climate goals to achieve a net-zero emission economy. Our legislation also includes incentives for school districts to employ local contractors and minority business enterprises on school construction projects, to help ensure that when the state spends money on school construction work, it is Rhode Island businesses and workers that benefit. 

By approving this funding now, we can continue our progress delivering the schools that Rhode Island students deserve and avoid the higher costs of having to build new schools in the future.  

We must continue our momentum and invest in the next generation so that all Rhode Island children are safe in school and prepared to thrive in the years that follow. We’re off to a great start, but we must keep going until we finish the job for Rhode Island students. 

Seth Magaziner is the general treasurer of the State of Rhode Island and co-chair of the state’s School Building Task Force.

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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.