As a former school committee member and former chair of the school building committee, I have been paying close attention to the South Kingstown School District’s school facilities plan or some time. It has taken many twists and turns, with the most recent version being created during the pandemic with many still unaware that it was advancing. Mailers, advertisements, and letters to the editor supporting the plan misrepresent major components and I’d like to address one that comes up most often: "We must pass this bond because of potential additional state reimbursement (RIDE bonuses)."
These bonuses would only be received upon completion of the project, and ONLY if we meet the criteria for the bonuses.
Per state law South Kingstown receives 35% state reimbursement for any RIDE approved project at ANY time.
RIDE has confirmed SK is and will remain eligible to receive up front (pay-go) funds from the $250m state bond approved in 2018 as that money was never tied to the bonus funding or any specific deadline.
Only two of the three 5% bonuses expire at the end of 2022. The third is available until Dec 2023.
Supporters rarely speak about the merits of the plan, only that we cannot afford lose out on this potential extra reimbursement. They are now even making the absurd unsubstantiated claim that the new governor may cut off the normal reimbursement funding if we wait. Many of them even acknowledge that it is not a well thought out plan. I offer a simple analogy: I don’t like olives, but they’re on sale this week for 15% off. Therefore, I must buy these olives. I cannot pass them up, because they’re on sale.
RIDE recently provided extensive feedback and questions on the SK stage 2 application. While the number of questions asked and pieces missing are substantial, one general conclusion seems inescapable:
RIDE is clearly considering reducing the amount of this project they are willing to approve.
Even if the district and RGB “fix” all the requested items from RIDE's feedback by the end of the month, it’s still extremely unlikely that we will be receiving anywhere near 50% reimbursement on the entire submitted project. For instance, RIDE identified a 10% overage on soft costs due to inflation, which will not be reimbursed.
Assume that RIDE approves $75 million of our $85 million plan. The reimbursement would then be $37.5M or 44% of the project total.
Given the tone and substance of RIDE's initial review, I will be surprised if we end up at 40%. The argument that we need to approve this bond now or we won’t receive the maximum reimbursement no longer holds water. RIDE is aware of this projects flaws and is clearly concerned. This project will likely not be eligible for full reimbursement due to low enrollment (RIDE approval hinges on space per student standards), high soft costs (which include 3 years of expected inflation), contractor profit, and need for further site review (traffic, wetlands, ledge).
Why are we rushing to approve a risky, substandard project that is not going to be reimbursed at a much higher rate than our normal 35% share?
We live in a community that cares about our public schools. Together, we will come up with a better plan that we don’t have to convince people to vote for simply because it might be on sale. Please join me in rejecting the bond on May 4th. We can move forward together with a plan that is best for our children, our teachers, and our entire town.