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RHODE MAP

Will the third time be the charm for Westerly schools?

Rhode Islanders will be voting on dozens of ballot questions in cities and towns across the state, including on school projects in Westerly

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You know about the governor’s race and the battle for the 2nd Congressional District.

But in less than five weeks, Rhode Islanders will be voting on dozens of ballot questions in cities and towns across the state, and Rhode Map wants to learn about the most interesting proposals in those communities.

We’re starting in Westerly, where there’s a plan to borrow $50 million for a new elementary school and make improvements to two other schools. I asked School Committee Chairwoman Diane Chiaradio Bowdy to answer a few questions about the proposal.

If there’s a ballot question in your town that you’d like to see highlighted over the next few weeks, send me an e-mail.

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Q: This will be the third time since 2016 that Westerly voters are being asked to approve a school facility bond, and they rejected the previous two. What has the school committee learned from the previous proposals to make this time different?

Bowdy: In 2016, 52 percent of voters rejected a plan that would provide renovations and additions to three elementary schools. This $38.5 million bond would have cost the taxpayers approximately $25 million after reimbursement from the Rhode Island Department of Education. In 2019, 56 percent of voters rejected a plan that included building one new elementary school while renovating two others and providing improvements to both the middle and high schools. This $71.4 million bond, with 50 percent reimbursement, would have cost taxpayers $35.7 million. In both 2016 and 2019, there were small but vocal groups who opposed each project. The administration, school committee, and building subcommittee took lessons learned from each of these narrow failures to provide a plan that all voters should support.

Q: The town is asking for $50 million for a new school and repairs to two others. Tell us what exactly is being proposed and when the projects will be completed.

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Bowdy: The project entails investment in the district’s three elementary schools with the goal of providing upgraded facilities, modern learning environments, new furniture and equipment, and new playscapes for all K-4 students in the district. This includes replacement of one existing facility, State Street School, and significant renovations to two others – Springbrook and Dunn’s Corners. If approved by the voters, Springbrook and Dunn’s Corners will be completed by summer 2024, and State Street will be completed by summer 2025.

Q: The town is being pretty transparent about the small tax increase that will come with the project (about 28 cents on the rate). What do you say to residents who don’t have children in school and don’t want to pay for these projects?

Bowdy: Investment in schools is investment in the community. Great schools attract both new residents and businesses which improve the quality of life for all.

Q: If this question fails this time around, what other options does Westerly have?

Bowdy: A third failure would be devastating. The only way forward would be to invest in yearly capital improvements as the budget allows. We’ve spent vast resources [on the ballot question] once again, and hope that the third time’s the charm.

This story first appeared in Rhode Map, our free newsletter about Rhode Island that also contains information about local events, data about the coronavirus in the state, and more. If you’d like to receive it via e-mail Monday through Friday, you can sign up here.

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Dan McGowan can be reached at dan.mcgowan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @danmcgowan.