Is rushing a new school the right thing to do?

The mere possibility of building a new school in Warwick is one that has brought about a kind of hopeful optimism that has not been seen in the city in regards to its educational facilities in years.

While there are no guarantees at this time as to where such a school would be located, how many students it would serve or when it would open – or if it will even come to fruition – we find it encouraging that the topic has seemingly brought people together in a way that is refreshingly positive.

There are sure to be disagreements along the road ahead. After all, there are legitimate concerns when talking about building the first new building since the early 1970s when it comes to equity. How can the city fairly go about building a school in an area that would serve one section, but leave another section in the past? How would this affect morale of students and teachers that get to enjoy a new facility versus those that don’t get one?

Is the default assumption that the district should build a new high school the correct approach? Ward 1 Councilman Richard Corley brought up an interesting point during this week’s city council meeting – where $100,000 was earmarked for the schools to hire an educational consultant to parse out some of these questions – when he approached the idea of possibly building a super preschool facility.

That idea, while seemingly going against the tide, could have some real merit. After all, the argument could be made that many of a child’s most important educational strides are made long before they start worrying about advanced mathematics and getting a date to prom. A state-of-the-art preschool that sets kids up for a lifetime of academic success could be worth looking into.

Is there potential to do more than build one school? Would such an effort jeopardize long-needed repairs to other schools throughout the district? Nobody knows the answers to these questions now, but they are questions worth examining.

The biggest problem that Warwick faces in regards to this issue is one of timing. If the city hopes to get a bond initiative onto the 2020 ballot, it will have to be done without knowing whether or not the state will even accept their application for reimbursement of the project. This is because the application for such a proposal is due in to the state in either February or September of next year. If the application is submitted in February, the city could have an answer from the state by next fall regarding reimbursement, in time for the 2020 election.

However, there is simply no possible way to get all the legwork done required of this massive undertaking within a couple months. The process could take as many as nine months according to those with knowledge of the process, meaning that the earliest the city could pass in its application is that September, 2020 deadline – and that is assuming everything goes smoothly. Even if the city and state then sign off on the proposed bond for a new school in time for the election, the bond referendum would have to come listed with a caveat that voters would be approving it without knowing for sure that necessary reimbursement is coming from RIDE.

Putting such an expensive capital project to a vote with such a stipulation to a citizenry that is already extra wary of tax increases does not seem to be a recipe for success, nor does it seem necessary. The district has already crafted a large Phase 2 bond measure full of needed repairs at schools throughout the city.

Perhaps the best approach is to secure that funding and lock in those crucial repairs, while being cognizant of the fact that certain repairs – like the large-scale HVAC projects slated at the high schools – should be put last in order while the new school proposal is properly crafted, with room to amend those projects if a new school does become an even more concrete possibility.

We’re attempting to be realistic, not pessimistic, here. It may not be the worst thing in the world to wait until 2022, armed with a fully fleshed out plan for a new school, rather than try to rush this concept to get it on the 2020 ballot with no guarantees the state will even accept the plan, which would squash all that work anyways if they decide the plan is missing crucial pieces.

We often hear politicians use the phrase “putting the cart before the horse.” In this case, it appears many are putting the hypothetical benefits of a new school before the plan. While we are happy to see our school administrators and elected officials working harmoniously together towards this very worthy goal, we are also concerned about the possibility of animosity and finger-pointing that could happen if this rushed concept doesn’t come to fruition as many are hoping.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, nor should the future of Warwick’s educational infrastructure be.