The release of the long-awaited Jacobs Report, an independent third party study of the condition of every school district in Rhode Island sanctioned by the Department of Education, confirmed what everyone already knew – the state’s schools are in sorry condition.
Statewide, the problem seems insurmountable. In total, around $2.2 billion is estimated to be the amount needed to get all the state’s schools up to modern standards for safety and learning efficiency. Facing such a huge figure renders the writing on the wall pretty clear that the taxpayers of Rhode Island will be asked to shoulder a significant portion of the rebuilding burden.
If the taxpayers are asked to pony up more money to fix a problem caused by decades of mismanagement and ignoring the needs for crucial repairs to schools, then government officials – both in local town and city halls and at the State House – will need to step up to the plate and craft a reimbursement program that encourages communities to address these problems now, and then maintain the buildings afterwards.
This is, of course, easier said than done, especially considering the state is facing a $237 million deficit next fiscal year and actual state revenues for the first month of FY18 have come in $11 million short of their projections. In the absence of help federally (don’t hold your breath), we seem to be on our own.
Perhaps, then, the issue should be framed and tackled from a community-by-community basis. In Cranston, the Jacobs Report estimates that there are about $165 million in deficiencies between the district’s 24 schools. To completely replace all schools with new construction would cost approximately $579 million.
Obviously, Cranston will not be tearing down its schools and starting from the ground up, and no municipality can take on such significant debt to try to address all these problems at once. The only real solution is to turn to bonds to address these issues step-by-step, starting with the most pressing problems first.
The Jacobs report found that Cranston has deficiencies amounting to $165,588,929 throughout its schools. Between East and West, their combined 5-year need would total more than $46 million. Of the non-secondary schools, Hugh B. Bain Middle School’s 5-year need would calculate out to just under $18 million.
Exactly 37 percent of the deficiencies are defined as Priority 3, while just more than 29 percent count as Priority 4. The report also predicts that Cranston enrollment will decrease 9.1 percent over the next 10 years.
Nobody wants to take on more debt. Nobody wants to pay more taxes. People without any kids will cry victim because they don’t care about or need better schools – but this is the unfortunate reality in which we find ourselves. Our kids deserve better than what they have, and more simply they need better in order to keep pace with the racing advances being made in the educational environment.
The tired cliché holds true. Children are our future. And they will be left with the future we give them, equipped only to handle it with the tools and preparation that we provide them. It is long past due for us to address these challenges and give them the best chance to succeed.