The EGRTC Blog

Important School Construction Updates

(May 31, 2024) This week, RIDE approved the Stage 2 application for school construction/renovation projects for East Greenwich Schools in the amount of $172,092,790. We reached out to RIDE’s Finance Officer, William Trimble, with the following questions:


What were the approximate requests/approvals for funding?

·      $56M for new Frenchtown Elementary

·      $5M for renovations to Meadowbrook Elementary

·      $47M for renovations for a like-new Hanaford Elementary

·      $48M for renovations to the High School

·      $12M for physical education renovations 

·      $1-2M for renovations to Cole Middle School

·      $100K for Eldredge Elementary  

 

When will we know what bonus incentives we will be receiving?

 According to RIDE, “At the completion of the project, LEAs (school districts) would either receive the base share rate (ours is 35%) OR a bonus rate for any eligible incentives not to exceed the maximum rate.” This means that we will have to wait until the construction projects are completed sometime within the next five years to be officially approved for these bonus incentives. However, according to Mr. Trimble, we are guaranteed by state law to be granted the bonuses as long as we meet the requirements. 

 

Is our ability to receive the bonus incentives tied with how many districts pass bonds and get RIDE approval for their projects?

No, the state has guaranteed that every district that meets the requirements for the bonus incentives will receive them, despite how many districts are approved for this funding.


Why did we get approval for an amount above the $150M bond that passed in East Greenwich?

The additional $22M in projected costs will be paid using our fund balance, not bond money. RIDE’s approval for these additional expenses will be based on the same reimbursement rate as the bond.


We have heard that construction costs are rising due to inflation and the competition for labor. Does RIDE compensate districts for these costs?

Each year, RIDE calculates the increased costs associated with school construction and renovations calculated as a price per square foot. Our approval for $172M was based on the projected costs for 2024. Since the work will not commence this year, if inflation continues to increase over the course of the project, East Greenwich taxpayers will have to bear the burden of those increased expenses or scale back the project.

 

If project costs increase, can East Greenwich move funds from one project to another?

Yes, if the cost of a new Frenchtown, for example, increases, we have the ability to move funds away from the high school in order to pay for the new elementary school. Of course, this is a strong concern for many who wish to make certain that the high school gets the renovations it needs to remain competitive. Already, many families choose to send their students to private schools due to the deteriorating facilities. 

 

While some of the information we learned is reassuring, the EGRTC believes that it is imperative that our elected bodies have balance come November in order to responsibly oversee the management of these projects, to listen to and gain the trust of the community, and to guarantee that problems that arise are transparently discussed in an open forum. Republicans are encouraged to step forward to run for Town Council and School Committee in order to ensure that a variety of views are represented. Reach out to our Vice Chair of Candidate Development, Peter Carney, to learn more about running for office: pcarney1433@gmail.com. And please mark your calendars for upcoming dates in which candidates must turn in “Declaration of Candidacy” paperwork to EG Town Hall.

Stage 2 School Construction Application Submitted to RIDE- Now What?

(February 23, 2024) On February 15th, the School Committee submitted Stage 2 plans to RIDE for the proposed school construction projects, and we await RIDE’s decision as to whether the plans will be approved and partially funded by the state. 

 

However, we continue to have concerns about the composition of the School Construction Committee and how that could impact future problems that may arise during the construction process. You may remember that Superintendent Ricca sent RIDE a letter asking for clarity about a draft of the Town’s ordinance that described the composition of the School Construction Committee. Ricca’s letter could have prevented our Stage 2 application from being submitted on time, thereby sacrificing the potential for $30M in bonus incentives. In the end, the Town Council and School Committee came to an agreement in which they will share control of the project. It appears that the Democrats, who hold every elected office in our town government, circled the wagons. 

 

In Newport, problems with who has ultimate authority over the Rogers High School construction project could prove instructive. The Newport town and school district are at odds over who is responsible for significant cost overages and contaminated soil on the site. “In a memo to the City Council, interim City Manager Sitrin recommended the city ‘inform’ the school that they can no longer add any more excavated soil to the pile. The word ‘inform’ is key to this request, as the city has very limited authority when it comes to decisions being made on the site.... Behan advised the council that ‘ordering’ the school to stop adding soil to the pile could lead to legal complications, possibly litigation between the City Council and School Building Committee.” 

 

And cost overages are now the new normal across the state due to elevated interest rates and multiple districts competing for the same contractors and laborers. In North Providence, the district had to completely abandon the plans for one of their three new elementary schools due to skyrocketing construction costs. What was originally estimated to cost $80M now comes with a price tag of $148M+. School Committee Chair Pallotta said that it bothers him “that residents won’t be getting what they were promised, saying there’s a trust factor here that’s impacted by changed plans, which I think is a little unfair to taxpayers.” In Cranston, school construction costs have risen to $40M beyond what was originally projected, so the town is faced with asking taxpayers to approve another bond. In Warwick, where a $350M bond was passed to build two new high schools, “costs have increased by millions and the city is considering extending by a decade the payback period for the bond, which would increase borrowing costs by tens of millions. To stay at the $350M price tag… amenities at the two schools have been cut back using a term that planners call ‘value engineering.’” In Johnston, four school projects estimated at $215 million last year could now cost $265M. Town leaders are proposing that the additional funds come from drawing down the town’s surplus. We expect East Greenwich will also have to make some tough decisions when confronted by cost overruns. 

 

We will continue to keep you up-to-date about how your elected officials are managing this $150M project. Of course, we believe that new voices on our School Committee and Town Council are necessary for better transparency.  

Important RIDOH Hearing on School Mask Policy- March 15

(February 13, 2024) At last night’s meeting, we were delighted to welcome Richard Southwell as our guest speaker. Southwell was the lead plaintiff in the school masking lawsuit against Governor McKee and the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH). The case was recently settled, but he updated us about an important March 15 public hearing that all parents need to know about. He explained that RIDOH has proposed a policy which would enable them to impose a mask mandate on school children for any infectious disease. Southwell’s Call to Action describes what you can do to prevent this from happening: attend the hearing, provide written or verbal testimony, and share this Call to Action with others. 

A Pattern of Dishonesty?

(February 4, 2024) Much has been shared in the news and on social media about Superintendent Brian Ricca’s letter to the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) and the EG Town Council’s position that the Bond Act supersedes legislation that gives the School Committee control over our school buildings. While we await a resolution to this, either by both bodies coming to an agreement about how many of their members will serve on the Building Committee or by a decision in Superior Court, we are concerned about contradictory statements made by our School Committee and the implications for diminishing public trust.


Superintendent Ricca’s letter to RIDE, dated 1/23, is written “on behalf of the School Committee”. And according to an EG News piece dated 1/30, “Ricca said he had communicated with the School Committee prior to submitting the request to RIDE.” However, the same EG News piece seems to imply that some school committee members may have known about Ricca’s letter before it was sent, while others did not. For example, School Committee Chairwoman Alyson Powell said, “‘Ricca acted under his own authority ‘on advice of counsel,’’ adding, ‘It’s not a decision that I or the School Committee made.’” But School Committee member Eugene Quinn “said he learned of Ricca’s letter on 1/26,” after the RIDE letter was sent.


When asked by EG News to comment in this article, School Committee members Kevin Murphy, Tim Munoz, and Claire Cecil Karb declined to comment. School Committee Vice Chair Nicole Bucka provided no comment other than to refer residents to Dr. Ricca. School Committee member William Hangan did not respond to EG News’ request. In addition, in a comment to this article, it was noted that, “The School Committee was not alerted to it until after it was sent.” And on 2/2, on the Nicole Bucka for EG Schools Facebook Page, Bucka stated, “The Superintendent acted squarely within his role in submitting this order, and all committee members were appraised [sic].” Furthermore, she stated that she will not be answering any questions on this topic.


Why are the timeline and these public statements, or lack thereof, important? Because the statements by the School Committee members are inconsistent, and they do not match what Dr. Ricca claimed. So, one or more members of the School Committee may not be telling the truth. Yet this is the group that wants to have majority control over $150M of taxpayer money. Furthermore, if some of them did know about the letter before it was sent, they did not discuss this matter in a public forum allowing for public comment. This potentially denied residents their right to openly discuss this issue and provide feedback. Finally, it is important because, as of yet, no one is coming forward to denounce the others. This means that the members who are telling the truth or who gave no comment could be protecting the ones who are possibly not being honest. Taxpayers should ask themselves, is this true leadership?

 

We shared similar concerns about honesty in October before the bond vote when we cited examples of disinformation by our elected officials. The misleading statements by our town leaders could have led voters to believe that if they didn’t vote in favor of the bond, we could lose all state funding. We explained that this was not accurate. 

 

Some readers may believe that the EGRTC is “politicizing” this issue. However, they should realize that, while we are not in favor of the lack of transparency amongst our School Committee members, we applaud our Town Council, all of whom are Democrats, for taking the necessary steps to provide oversight on this project. In fact, we believe that it is the School Committee that is politicizing this issue by closing ranks. It seems that they wish the Town Council would join them. 

 

Ronald Reagan famously said, “Trust, but verify.” EG taxpayers are encouraged to check the veracity of what our School Committee members are saying and hold our elected officials accountable. If you agree that they have been dishonest, we urge you to be civically engaged, attend meetings, run for office, and support those who step forward to run. Our children are depending on us to responsibly manage the largest municipal spending project of a generation.


The East Greenwich Town Council and School Committee will be having a joint budget meeting on Monday, February 5, at 6:30 PM at Swift Community Center. Here is the agenda.

Who Will Have Ultimate Control Over the School Construction Projects?

(January 30, 2024) On January 18th, the School Building Committee (SBC) voted unanimously to recommend an add/reno at Hanaford. On January 25th, the Town Council was blindsided by School Superintendent Dr. Brian Ricca’s submission of a Declaratory Order to the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE), the intent of which is to impede the Council from proceeding with its legal options as provided for in the locally and legislatively approved Bond Act. Only upon the Town’s request was the Council alerted to the existence of any such communication sent to RIDE, and it was the Council’s expectation that they were not going to be provided notice until RIDE took some action associated with this Order request.   

 

As noted in Dr. Ricca’s letter to RIDE, the School Committee is concerned about the composition of the yet-to-be-formed Construction Committee, which will be created after the Stage 2 submission to RIDE in mid-February. Ricca explained that in the new Construction Committee, the School Committee would have fewer votes and would lose control of the project, which he states the law provides to the School Committee. 

 

The EGRTC reached out to Town Manager Andy Nota for further clarification about this Order.

 

What is the purpose of this action? 


Nota: The project has approval of up to $150M in funding, ultimately decided by the Town Council, and was prepared to move this stage 2 application forward at this meeting on 1/29, except for this outstanding issue that just surfaced. This is not a mere request for information; it is an Order claiming improper and unlawful action on behalf of the Town Council which to me is completely unsubstantiated and misplaced. There are those that have already stated to me that this was just a request for information and clarification, but the content of this Declaratory Order request is much more than that and represents an attempt to impede the Council from progressing with its options as outlined in the legal and legislatively approved Bond Act. 

 

Why was this Declaratory Order made now?


Nota: I am professionally perplexed by the timeliness of the Order and when it was submitted. The Council started discussions on the Bond Act language in March 2023 and completed that process in August 2023 with no formal questions having been presented  The same week the SBC approves in unanimous fashion a proposed project scope, most likely to be acceptable to the Town and School on the stage 2 application, this Declaratory Order (not a mere request) is submitted by the Superintendent and represents a real threat to this school construction project and the largest ever community investment in public education in the Town’s history.   fail to understand or see any benefit or value to this prohibitive action being advanced at this time. School Legal Counsel recommended not moving the matter forward until an Order was received by RIDE, thus expecting the Town Council (who was unaware of this action) to approve this Stage II Application and wait for the potential of some outcome that may or may not support their responsible oversight of this project that was echoed by many residents during their contemplation about whether to support the $150M  bond. 

       

Who directed this action by the Superintendent?


Nota: I am very concerned to have learned that this matter was not discussed before the full school committee as the significance of this request and its content and potential impact on the community and this project go beyond my role or that of the superintendent in this community.  The matter pertaining to who directed this action as the Order noted it was provided to RIDE on behalf of the School Committee, although it is only signed by the Superintendent, remains unanswered question.  In review of the SC agendas, I am unaware of any formal vote having been taken on this matter by the committee as I have since learned that several School Committee members were unaware of the Order having been submitted, meaning that either the Superintendent worked independently with legal counsel on this matter or potentially a minority of the School Committee guided and directed this action. Such conduct may warrant further attention in this area to better understand the purpose of the action in developing and sending this formal request to RIDE and how that was initiated. Normally an internal matter of the School Committee would not raise these questions and would be the School Committee’s issue to address, although, in this case, a significant Town initiative involving a broad community-based project along with significant public debt, extends beyond the District and now involves the entire community as the potential impact of said action is far reaching and can affect other aspects of the community and local government. 

 

Who has the authority to establish the new Construction Committee?

 

Nota: According to the Bond Act, the Council has the option to delegate partial or full authority to a School Building Committee, a Construction Committee, or the School Committee. In addition, the Council is the only public body that can issue debt, as reflected in the Bond Act and Town Charter. To establish a committee, the Charter provides that the Town Council must adhere to the three-meeting process involving a public hearing. The Council approved of the first reading on 1/22 and set a public hearing date for 2/12 at which time they will discuss specifically the committee makeup, charge, and other relevant formation issues. 

 

How does the Bond Act grant the Town Council such authority?   

 

Nota: In general, Karen Grande, our Bond Counsel, noted that the Bond Act language approved by the Council has been vetted. Although it is not the more routine type of language used in such legislative documents, she is familiar with it and has seen it used before. In her experience, there is always clarity between a general law and a special Law of Applicability, like what was devised for the Town of East Greenwich in this matter. Meaning the Special Law was approved just for East Greenwich making it a specific application and was approved after the General Law, which means it traditionally supersedes the general law on the books, as it is presumed that the Legislature knew what it was doing regarding the law’s impact when it was approved.

   

Bond Counsel further noted that it remains clear that Town oversees all bond issuances to be signed by the Council President and Director of Finance, thus in any case, the Town is responsible for the funding and the approval of all contracts and expenditures, unless it decides to delegate the responsibility associated with expenditure approval and contract approval to another public body. The issuance of debt is found in the Bond Act and in the Town Charter and this responsibility rests purely with the Town Council through the process as outlined. 


What does the Bond Act state about the composition of the Construction Committee? 


Nota: Regarding the Construction Committee formation, Grande noted that the language of the Act requires the committee formation by the Council to conform to at least the basic minimum requirements of the RIDE regulations as noted in Section 4.9.2 Necessity of School Construction – Stage 1, (2) Construction Committee Members, including a minimum of eight people, including the Superintendent, at least one school committee member, local official responsible for school maintenance, a representative of the office or body authorized by law to construct school buildings in the municipality, a school principal for the subject school, a member who has knowledge of the educational mission and function of the facility, a local budget official or member of the finance committee, and at least one member of the community with architectural experience/engineering and/or construction experience to examine the design and construction plans for reasonableness. As with the present SBC, the Construction Committee can always be larger than the present SBC at thirteen members.

 

What legal standing does the School Committee have?


Nota: As echoed by Town Legal Counsel, there doesn’t appear to be any legal standing for the points raised in this Order request by the Superintendent and/or School District and the Town appears to be on solid legal footing in proceeding as planned with the ordinance construction and development of a construction committee to assume various responsibilities in the construction phase of this project encompassing Town Council oversight on all bond issuances and major contract approvals.  


Who will decide who has the authority in this case?


Nota: It is unclear at this moment what those exact next steps may be, although the Town Council is in review and considering its options at this point. In fact, I believe everyone would agree that resolving this matter locally is the best option, and we are pursuing that process at this time. Only if this matter is not resolved prior to Feb. 15th and is elevated to the level of seeking a court decision or should the Town feel we have any legal exposure in this matter and feel compelled to react, would the idea of pursuing a decision in Superior Court be contemplated. When you look at the facts of this situation, none of those options should really be necessary. 

 

In a nutshell, why does the Town Council oppose this Order?


Nota: This action goes far too far and is completely misplaced and detrimental to this community and this transformational project for our public schools that at the moment is extremely time sensitive. 


The EGRTC supports the Town Council in its efforts to provide oversight on the School Construction initiative and believes that it is important that the Council exercise its authority to shape the composition of the Construction Committee and to responsibly manage the funds that the community entrusted to it. It has been our observation from the beginning of this process that the School Building Subcommittee has not adequately sought community input, has made its meetings more convenient for its members than for the public, and has not sufficiently provided for the needs of the high school. And the School Committee has let the high school fall into such a state of disrepair as to lose our trust.


As we await further clarification, we will continue to keep you informed, and we urge community members to stay engaged. The School Committee has the Stage 2 application to RIDE on its Wednesday agenda: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1udnjSlm1YyHSH9KQzxN1bbwjXuNCwIa6/edit and the School Committee and the Town Council will hold a joint meeting on Monday, Feb. 5, at 6 p.m. at the Swift Community Center.

Safe, Warm, and Dry Should be our First Priority

(January 21, 2024) As the School Building Subcommittee must decide by February 15th whether to build new at Hanaford and must present RIDE with definite costs associated with each school project under the bond, the local outcry about the deterioration of our high school, estimated at $12.6M in needed outstanding repairs, should give the school committee pause about pursuing their vision of the costly, open, collaborative spaces that they had planned. 

Based on their comments at several School Building Subcommittee Community Forums and meetings, School Committee members Allyson Powell and Tim Munoz strongly favor a new build at Hanaford since it would better enable them to realize their vision for open-plan learning spaces such as the ones shown here that were presented by Colliers in March. In fact, they are absolutely unwilling to entertain the idea of money being moved from the elementary projects to the high school. They say it’s a “non-starter.”

While the photos from their presentation are visually striking, Powell and Munoz have not adequately explained why these architecturally impressive spaces are necessary to improve learning. They mention that they are essential for “21st Century Education,” yet even in our schools’ current state of overcrowding and disrepair, five of the East Greenwich schools earned the highest rating in the recent STAR Report on academic performance. Of course, this is attributable to the outstanding work of our teachers, staff, and principals. Furthermore, in a 2023 Yale study that examined the impact of school bonds on student academic performance, it was determined that in districts of high socio-economic status, like  East Greenwich, the “effect is indistinguishable from zero.” 


Indeed, there is not enough evidence to support the need for these open spaces, yet this trend appears to be worldwide. While classrooms should most assuredly be comfortable, well-lit, and fully supplied with the tools students need to learn, wide open spaces can actually be detrimental to learning. According to this 2023 study from npj Science of Learning, students in the open learning spaces read half as fluently as their peers in the traditional classrooms, mainly due to visual distractions and because the open layouts were so acoustically challenging.


Ultimately, when we pour the lion’s share of the bond money into our elementary schools, and our high school students are learning in substandard conditions, our district is not living up to its motto of “All Means All.”


There is some good news to report, however, in that the town is working with the district to provide $100K in funding to repair the leaky high school roof. This is unequivocally due to the community coming together to hold our elected leaders accountable. The EGRTC has long encouraged community engagement on this and other topics and has kept you informed through every step, which has elevated the focus on the high school by town leaders. Our voices are making a difference.

Still Concerned About the State of our School Buildings?

(The picture above was taken at EGHS in December three days after a rain storm.)


(January 13, 2024) This Wednesday, the 10th, many residents who attended the School Building Subcommittee meeting left unsatisfied that they still did not have a handle on the timeline for extensive, long deferred repairs to the high school, although they were presented with a general breakdown of where the repairs are needed, as depicted in this chart.

Town officials explained that public comment must be limited to the buildings as they relate to the stage 2 bond application to RIDE, and they directed frustrated parents to different meetings about the needed repairs. For those interested in following the progress of the Building Subcommittee, unfortunately they have moved future meetings back to mornings, and the next meeting will be held on Thursday, January 18th at 8:00 AM at Swift Community Center. We will share the Zoom link when it is announced.


Residents wishing to advocate for improved building maintenance and repair at the high school may attend the EGHS PTG Meeting on Wednesday, January 17, at 7:00 PM at the library. Director of Facilities Bob Wilmarth will provide a “Building Update.”


Another opportunity for engagement will be at future Facilities Subcommittee meetings, led by School Committee member William Hangan. The subcommittee last met in November, and the minutes are here: https://opengov.sos.ri.gov/Common/DownloadMeetingFiles?FilePath=\Minutes\5196\2023\478812.pdf. There is not a scheduled meeting at this time, but we have twice reached out to Mr. Hangan, who has not responded. We will share more information about upcoming meetings as soon as possible.

Running for office is the single most important way that concerned residents can make a positive impact. If you are concerned about our deteriorating school buildings or the management of the $150M bond, our community needs leaders who will step up and be a new voice for accountability and transparency. School Committee and Town Council members come from all educational and career backgrounds. The most important qualities are a willingness to do what is right for the community and the commitment to serve. In the November election, there will be three School Committee seats and five Town Council seats that will need to be filled. Please note that our goal is to run a full slate of candidates for these seats.


If you are interested in learning more about these opportunities, please contact EGRTC Vice Chair of Candidate Development Peter Carney at pcarney1433@gmail.com. Please note that, although candidates won’t formally declare until July, now is the time to start planning for that process. Let’s not sit on the sidelines while important decisions are being made.

Division Road Updates

(January 7, 2024) We are pleased to see that the Town Solicitor, Andrew Teitz, has appealed to the RI State Superior Court on behalf of the Town of East Greenwich and the Town of East Greenwich Planning Board. You may remember that on December 30, 2023, the State Housing Appeals Board (SHAB) overturned the EG Planning Board’s decision to deny the development’s plan to build a 410+ unit neighborhood on Division Road. This was one of SHAB’s last decisions before the state shut down this body and moved some decisions regarding local planning and zoning as they pertain to affordable housing to the State Superior Court.


Keep in mind that the recent concerns about the poor condition of the high school and the fact that the town’s debt burden prevents us from building a new high school until after the new 27-year school construction bond is paid off, may only be exacerbated by the out-of-control building of high density developments thanks to the legislative efforts of our state representatives and state senator. In addition, our town officials have stated that they fully expect to see several more high-density developments be planned in the coming years.


However, it is because of the outcry of so many residents of East Greenwich that our town is continuing to fight state overreach. Please know that it is unlikely that the Court will rule in favor of East Greenwich, but your efforts are not in vain. Residents need to stay involved and continue to send the message to our elected officials that we are not in favor of overdevelopment at the expense of responsible, local planning. And East Greenwich needs to elect new leaders who will make this a priority at the state level.  

EGHS Building Subcommittee Meeting Updates

(January 4, 2024) After repeated requests by the EGRTC and the public over many months, the School Building Subcommittee moved its meeting to the evening on Tuesday when more residents could attend. The result was the participation of 70-80 members of the public in person and online and a productive conversation between taxpayers, elected officials, staff, and Colliers. Parents expressed concern about the needed repairs at the high school and what progress is being made. The EGRTC reached out to Town Manager Andy Nota to follow up on many of the remarks from this meeting.

School Committee Member Tim Munoz mentioned that the high school currently has $15M in deferred maintenance and repairs. On what is this number based?

 

According to Town Manager Andy Nota, “The $15M+/- estimate came originally from the Jacobs Study back in 2017-2018 and just addressed visible and apparent areas of need, those both immediate and longer-term as well as some less critical improvements. Those cost estimates, I’m confident, are much more costly in today’s construction dollars.”

 

What assessments have occurred at the high school since 2018, and what were the results?

 

Nota shared, “In 2020, Colliers issued a Facility Conditions Assessment which identified 78 individual projects related to maintenance repair and regulatory issues across East Greenwich High School. The identified cost for the repair of these deficiencies is estimated to be $12.6 million. Each project was assigned a priority based upon its relative urgency of need as judged by the Colliers inspection team. Of the total need, $4.3 million has been deemed High Priority."

Summary of Identified Needs at the High School by Priority

·      Priority 1– High Priority $4.3M: Projects include asset protection, quality of space, physical environments, or regulatory concern.

·      Priority 2– Important $6.5M: Projects are not imminent in nature but do improve the quality of the school’s environment, both administratively and publicly.

·      Priority 3– Deferrable $1.7M: Projects are recognized for the impending nature of their existence. However, at this time, these issues can be deferred until a later date.

Total Facilities Needs $12.6

What specific areas in the high school were identified in the assessment?

The Town Manager explained, “The individual needs were categorized within eight major building maintenance systems as summarized below.

 

· Exterior Shell: Projects total $253K and include repair and replacement of original exterior doors, addressing ground water infiltration at the auditorium and machine shop, caulking horizontal and vertical exterior joints, painting soffits, and repairs and painting of the exterior wood unit ventilator covers.

· Interior Shell: Projects total $4.7M and include renovating the boys’ and girls’ locker rooms, replacing interior corridor doors, replacing auditorium seating and gym bleachers, constructing permanent walls in lieu of movable partitions to improve acoustic separation between classrooms, painting corridor ceilings, and replacing the vinyl floor tile in the cafeteria.

· HVAC: Projects total $2.7M and include replacing the boilers and auxiliary equipment, upgrading pneumatic controls to direct digital controls (DDC), replacing original rooftop and interior air handling units, and repairing insulation in the boiler room.

 

· Electrical: Projects total $1.3M driven by the need to replace the electrical power and lighting controls for the building due to age and inadequate circuits and outlets.

 

· Plumbing: Projects total $472.8K to replace selected fixtures, faucets, flush valves, and shower valves, repair piping insulation and replace the domestic water heater in room 216.

 

· Grounds: Projects total $1.4M and include replacing the synthetic turf field, resurfacing the running track, repaving walkways in the courtyard, filling cracks and seal coating parking lots, and improving lawn areas.

 

· Statutory – $1.6M in Statutory projects include providing a sprinkler system throughout the building, constructing a second means of egress from the boiler room, replacing corridor door hardware with security-type on classrooms and offices, adding an emergency shower in the wood shop, and adding panic hardware from the band room.

 

· Accessibility – Accessibility projects total $275K and include modifying toilet rooms for ADA conformance, upgrading water fountains, and replacing signage throughout the building.”

 

At the Building Subcommittee meeting, Mr. Nota stated that whenever the school committee makes a valid funding request based on dire infrastructure needs, the town council has been willing to support those requests. Has the school committee made specific requests regarding infrastructure needs, and has the town council provided funding to support them? Has this funding then been used to repair/replace the things that were in need? 

 

Nota stated,My point was directed at specific individuals present when making this statement. I always hear that school repairs have not been made due to lack of funding, which means to me that someone has made a professional request, and that request has been denied at some level within the district or later in the budget process by the Council or community in a rejection of a bond. In my experience, this has not been the case– which prompts the question as to what level of maintenance related planning is actually occurring within the district?   

I am unaware of any such scenario having occurred where a request has been made and later denied. In recent years, there has been a supplemental appropriation for the operating budget in 2019 and other actions taken directly by the Town, for the HS turf field replacement (approx. $400K, $800K total project) and Cole tennis court crack repairs (approx. $16K), Girls Varsity Softball Field dug-out construction, and other such efforts when action was not occurring in the district although need existed at these facilities.  


The Town is now moving forward in planning all major outdoor improvements to community and school outdoor facilities, competitive and passive. (Academy Field, Eldredge Park, High School Complex, Trails at the donated 125 acre Tanner Clarke Preserve and the recently purchased 40 acre Pine Property on Tillinghast and other initiatives.


As you’re aware, I have taken actions in reducing the districts overall transfer request in recent years, and it is then the responsibility of the District to make any such modifications to the reallocation of funds within their overall budget. The district will many times reduce capital or other such projects, to avoid an impact on program or its employees, but they do have options in this regard.

In addition, the Town has been paying for years for a series of operating budget services that clearly should be reflected in the school operating budget. This would include such services like trash removal/dumpster services, SRO costs, substance abuse prevention and mental health services, grounds maintenance, and others totaling in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. In the end, these are still tax dollars, but it does skew the district’s cost per pupil reporting and other Uniform Chart of Account assessments, due to the fact that these funds still reside in the municipal budget, inflating the Towns operation. We have been slowly repositioning these costs back in the school budget, and this year, we will reposition approximately $80K to the school budget to support the dumpster contract. We perform this adjustment incrementally to avoid any volatility in overall budget impact.”

School Committee Member Mr. Munoz and others stated that the needs at the high school would be covered by the $30M that the town council has earmarked for the high school. Will the recent problems be repaired using bond funds?

Nota explained, “I would not focus solely on the $10-15M estimate of needed capital work. Yes- some of the more pressing issues noted in that original list will be funded, others have already been completed over the past five years, while others will be addressed with funding from this project/bond or funded with Paygo capital funds or (annual capital funding) in future years. The vast majority of funding will be invested at the HS in the specific areas noted in the planning for this bond. Locker rooms, arts, life skills, accessibility, new classrooms, auditorium, etc.”

 

How can we be assured that the high school will receive the needed funds in the coming years?

 

Nota stated, “The struggle we are having at times as you witnessed is that there remains a singular focus by some on the two elementary schools Grade 1-5. I believe we have sufficient funding to value engineer those two buildings, improve Meadowbrook to an appropriate standard for PreK-K, and still have sufficient funding to make substantive improvements at the high school. Of course, construction costs do remain variable and extremely high at this stage, so that may impact this plan in the coming years, should economic conditions worsen during that time period.    

In addition, we do have flexibility built into the Bond Act language allowing the town to free up some added funding, should that be needed to complete some of the more important elements of this work. We just briefly touched upon this point last night.”

 

How does the town’s debt burden affect our ability to borrow in the future to meet the high school’s needs?

 

Nota: “When we incur this added debt burden, we truly need to retire some existing debt before we can take on any added debt of significance in the near future. We can address small bond needs but nothing even close to investing another $30-50M in the High School over the next 10 years. We will need to wait until the Cole Bond is paid down in 2037 before considering our next major investment, so we need to plan accordingly. A good estimate today for a new HS alone, falls within the range of $150-175M.

On the Town side in this coming year, we are issuing $4M in debt for a short-term road bond for paving, up to a $12M bond for needed improvements at the Highway and Fleet Maintenance Facility and possibly a $3-4M capital bond to support both fleet replacement and other capital needs.”

Is any money left over from previous bonds that could be used for future projects?

According to Nota, “I also referenced the 2019 $5M bond approved by the community for capital improvements throughout the district. For various reasons, these projects were never sent to RIDE by the District in the form of an application, and thus we continue to have a balance of approximately $2M today, which has been reduced by $1 mil. - $1.5 mil. in a series of emergency $500k allocations in the past 2 years.  

A prior authorization balance on a previous application was used initially to spend some of these funds and receive reimbursement, but we are at a standstill until such time that the district receives authorization from RIDE for eligibility to receive reimbursement. My mention [ night] was to draw attention to this issue and potentially gain access to these funds as part of this broader project, which is being addressed by the consultants in the Stage II application. (So in some cases, funding has been approved in prior years, but not spent on specific projects discussed, and later reapportioned to other projects based on the timing or delays in one or more project(s)."

Many parents are frustrated that the problems at the high school have existed for so long, and they do not have a handle on the progress/steps for accomplishing needed repairs.

 

Nota: “As noted, in the end it is really just about results. It involves a realistic scope of work that can be performed and achieved by the building staff and whether they are capable of managing the district’s business at the level required. A change of some type is clearly warranted, although that could take many forms: staffing, outsourcing of services, leadership, etc., but the present system is not working and can’t be defended in protecting and caring for our Town assets and the environment used by our residents.”


According to Town Council President Mark Schwager, the next meeting of the School Building Subcommittee will also be taking place in the evening. The EGRTC will keep you informed about it once it is announced. 

Division Road Development Update

(November 28, 2023) As predicted, the developer of the proposed 410+ unit Division Road site yesterday appealed to the RI State Housing Appeals Board (SHAB) which overturned the August decision of the East Greenwich Planning Board not to approve this development. It was announced by our town solicitor at last night’s town council meeting and confirmed by phone with SHAB today. This means that the state has bypassed the will of East Greenwich residents and its local authority to carefully and responsibly plan the growth of our community, and the development has been given the go ahead to proceed with Phase 1- Master Plan Review, potentially adding 400-800 cars to the area and contributing to the overcrowding in our schools. As of January, the SHAB will be disbanded, and the town’s only recourse is for our town solicitor to appeal to the State Superior Court. We reached out to our Town Manager, Andy Nota, who informed us that the EG Town Council is tentatively scheduled to discuss its options, including various legal appeal scenarios,  in executive session on December 11. 


You may remember that neighbors of the proposed development hired an attorney at their own expense to argue against its approval, and the decision by the SHAB mentions them as “Intervenors.” Not only has this proven to be a costly burden on nearby residents, but our State Representative Justine Caldwell and State Senator Bridget Valverde actually voted in favor of legislation which provides for further state overreach after promising they would not do so.

You can read more about our position on this topic here and in the LTE below.

Check Out Our LTE in The Providence Journal (11/25/23)

EG School Bond Passes Despite Community Concerns

(November 8, 2023) The East Greenwich $150M school bond is the most consequential municipal spending initiative of a generation. And it passed, despite the need for better responsiveness about community preferences, mixed messaging, and the potential negative impacts to neighboring properties. To be clear, the EGRTC was not opposed to the bond’s passage and is encouraged that our town could be eligible to receive 55% in state aid. However, we are concerned about the process that was followed and the lack of diverse representation managing your tax dollars on this project for the next 30 years. 

In the past, our School Committee has sought its residents’ feedback about a host of topics using online surveys that went home to families: school start times, the full return to school during Covid, the academic calendar, full day kindergarten, and the superintendent search. And our Town Council sought taxpayer feedback with its Community Services Survey to include questions about dog parks, pickleball courts, a natural hazards mitigation plan, and the Swift Community Center expansion. Yet, a survey was not sent out to gauge your preferences regarding whether Eldredge Elementary School is decommissioned, which schools should be renovated/rebuilt, and what increase in taxes residents could comfortably support. Because they did not garner this feedback through a survey, our elected leaders were lacking important data needed to understand whether the wider community was behind their proposal. 

  Many have stated that the public had multiple opportunities to have a say in the school construction bond proposal process before any decisions were made. However, school building subcommittee meetings were held on weekday mornings, excluding most working people, including teachers, from attending. The subcommittee also didn’t meet from mid-September to mid-January during the last election cycle when they would have had the ear of the public. At the spring Community Forums, some residents shared their preference that the bulk of the bond be used to rebuild our flagship institution, the high school, where we lose the most students to private schools due, in part, to its deteriorating condition. (Even the “School Master Plan Construction Initiative” questionnaire, which was part of the EG Community Engagement Page, echoed the same sentiments about the high school being the priority: https://east-greenwich-ri.civilspace.io/en/projects/master-planning-process-school-construction/engagement_reports/1) Other parents shared at the forums that the only truly walkable school in the district, Eldredge, should not be closed, even if it would cost more to maintain and fewer students could attend. Some residents left with the impression that the point of the forums was to disseminate, not gather, information. 

Furthermore, town messaging on social media and in our local newspaper could have led voters to think that if they didn’t support the bond, EG could lose all state school construction aid. Town Councilor Caryn Corenthal commented on social media that, if the bond fails, EG taxpayers will have to shoulder the entire burden of school construction in the future. She asked, “Should we wait to build when the town has to absorb all costs?” And Vice Chair of the School Committee Nicole Bucka shared the same message on her Facebook page. She wrote, “Fund necessary school building updates either with state reimbursements or (down the road) fund them 100% on the EG taxpayers’ dime.” This is not accurate. The RI State Legislature voted to fund school construction at a base rate of 35% in East Greenwich, and this “Housing Aid” will not go away next year. What will be expiring is the potential for an additional 20% in bonus incentives that we may be eligible for. On October 13, Ms. Bucka published a Letter to the Editor in East Greenwich News in which she shared the same information: https://eastgreenwichnews.com/opinion-vote-yes-on-the-school-bond/. She wrote, “Delaying this investment will mean our community will bear the full cost in the future,” a statement that was revised by the newspaper’s editor. 

Then, Town Councilor Renu Englehart commented online that the state could impose another moratorium on school construction spending, and we could lose the base reimbursement rate of 35%. In actuality, during the 2011-2015 moratorium, RIDE assessed the state of all the schools, after which the Schoolhouse Report was released and the School Building Authority Capital Fund was created. (http://rihebc.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Treasury_RIHEBC_TrainingPresentation_Oct21.pdf) It would not make sense for RIDE to impose another moratorium in the near future as the study has already taken place, and the report found that most of the older schools across the state are deteriorating; this problem grows worse every year. Also, there is a law in effect for 2024 which provides EG with 35% in aid, so that base reimbursement rate is not in immediate danger. (https://ride.ri.gov/funding-finance/school-building-authority/housing-aid) Unfortunately, these mixed messages by our elected leaders have caused unnecessary confusion amongst voters.

  Finally, many residents feel that their concerns about the potential for damage to their homes were not adequately addressed. Colliers (formerly Strategic Building Solutions) also managed the Cole Middle School project which resulted in a five-year lawsuit for the town by homeowners in the adjacent Sarah's Trace development who suffered damage to their homes costing them hundreds of thousands of dollars in repair. We were surprised that our School Committee would vote to retain Colliers as the design firm on this next project, and its representative, Derek Osterman, did not regain residents’ trust when, at the Community Forum on October 18, he stated that there is no plan to analyze and monitor damage to homes near Frenchtown and Hanaford through pre-construction surveys (at minute 15:16 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6XrK63alCeo). More concerning to nearby homeowners is that their homes are even closer to the proposed construction than Cole is to Sarah’s Trace. 

  The EGRTC has consistently advocated for transparency throughout this process and has worked to keep you informed so that you could make the best decision about the bond for your family and our community. True leadership seeks community buy-in, especially when the financial impacts are so significant. For now, let’s continue to stay engaged about the school construction bond; the next School Building Committee meeting is on Friday, Nov. 10, at 11:00 AM at Cole Middle School. And in 2024, let’s ensure our community has more balanced representation.

Special Election Updates

(October 31, 2023) Some have been wondering what will happen if the school bond fails. The EG Town Council and School Committee are now stating that if the bond does not pass, while it would be difficult, it is possible for them to revise the school construction plan and be able to submit Stage 2 plans to RIDE by the February 2024 deadline. This means that voters should not feel pressured to vote for something simply based on the “once in a lifetime” offer of the 20% bonus incentives. This does not mean that voters should stay home on November 7th; in fact, any revision to the bond would depend on how the election results break down. Read more about this here: https://eastgreenwichnews.com/what-if-school-construction-bond-fails/


The EGRTC is not advising voters whether to approve the bond as we believe that each household’s needs and budget are different. However, we have endeavored to keep you informed about the process and have advocated on your behalf for transparency from our elected officials, especially about information that has been confusing or misleading.


Furthermore, we are encouraging every Republican to vote. This choice rests in your hands, so please don't allow a small minority to chart the community’s educational and fiscal trajectory for the next 27+ years. We know that special elections typically have a low voter turnout, but let’s not sit on the sidelines while important decisions are being made. Check out the EGRTC Blog on our website for all of our coverage of the bond and other topics of concern: https://www.egrtc.org/the-egrtc-blog.


Early voting is already underway and will be continuing at Town Hall from 8:30 AM to 4:00 PM through November 6th. Election Day voting will occur only at Swift Community Center from 7:00 AM to 8:00 PM. Please reach out to us if you need a ride on Election Day- we would be happy to help. Email us at info@egrtc.org.

Misleading Media About the School Bond

(October 17, 2023) Why are our elected officials spreading misleading information about the upcoming school bond? Two weeks ago, Town Councillor Caryn Corenthal commented on social media that, if the bond fails, EG taxpayers will have to shoulder the entire burden of school construction in the future. And Vice Chair of the School Committee Nicole Bucka shared the same disinformation on her Facebook page.

This is false. As we have shared in previous statements, the RI State Legislature voted to fund school construction at a base rate of 35% in East Greenwich, and this funding will not go away next year. It is called “Housing Aid.” What will be expiring is the potential for an additional 20% in bonus incentives that we may be eligible for. This amounts to $30M on a bond of our size. 


On October 13, Ms. Bucka published a Letter to the Editor in East Greenwich News in which she twice purported the same thing: https://eastgreenwichnews.com/opinion-vote-yes-on-the-school-bond/

After we corrected Ms. Bucka and several days had passed, East Greenwich News finally edited these misleading statements.


To be clear, the EGRTC understands the need for our schools to be updated, and the bonus incentives of $30M in state aid are substantial. We simply want taxpayers to have the correct information so that they may make an educated decision that is best for their families and our community. What is disappointing is that the misleading statements amount to fear mongering about EG’s most consequential municipal spending of a generation. The question is, why do our elected officials persist in using these high-pressure tactics? If the state funding is a “once in a lifetime opportunity,” why not take the time to get their facts right?

We encourage voters to attend the Community Forum at NEIT on Wednesday, October 18, from 7:00 to 8:00 PM. Although questions are being pre-screened by the moderator and editor of EG News, and the public will not be able to ask questions directly to our elected officials, it will be one of the last opportunities before Election Day to learn about the school bond.

Make Your Voice Heard About the School Bond

(October 1, 2023) Now is the time to become informed and ask questions about the upcoming School Bond Referendum. The EGRTC wishes to promote community engagement about this topic and will continue to highlight opportunities for voters to have the data they need to make a knowledgable decision at our special election on November 7.


School Committee member Dr. Eugene Quinn has created a searchable database regarding the tax impact on your household. You can look up your address to determine how much the proposed bond will cost by going to http://eugenequinnforegschools.org/2023_bond_impact_test/bond_impact_index.html?mibextid=Zxz2cZ. You will see your estimated yearly  taxes if the bond is approved and if the bond is rejected. The difference, or delta, is the yearly increase if the bond is approved. The yearly tax increases include all of the operating costs for the town as well as other debt. Please note that these figures are based on your house’s current assessed value, and the town will be reassessing these values over the next couple of years.


Also, East Greenwich News, in conjunction with the EG Chamber of Commerce, is hosting a one-hour community forum in which school and town officials will be answering questions about the school bond. The event will be happening at New England Tech auditorium on October 18, from 7:00 to 8:00 PM. Residents are encouraged to send their questions in advance to editor@eastgreenwichnews.com. The Chair of the EGRTC is concerned that audience members will not be able to ask questions directly to our elected officials, and all of the queries will be pre-screened by the moderator. The Chair has requested that voters not be restricted by an intermediary and that the forum not be limited to one hour if voters have additional questions.


Finally, there is another forum in which voters may submit questions as well as view other residents’ inquiries about the bond. Please note that this online forum closes on October 31, and no questions will be posted after that date. This discussion is part of the Engage EG town website and is moderated by Town Manager Andy Nota: https://east-greenwich-ri.civilspace.io/en/projects/master-planning-process-school-construction/discussion_topics/discussion-of-master-planning-process-district-priorities-funding-impacts-and-150-mil-ballot-question.


We hope you will participate in one or more of these opportunities to be aware of how the school bond could affect your family.

Mark Your Calendars & Vote on the School Construction Bond

(September 23, 2023) Did you know that special elections typically have low voter turnout? East Greenwich residents, please make your voice heard by voting on our town’s most consequential municipal spending of a generation. Here is some important information regarding the upcoming $150M East Greenwich School Bond Referendum.


What: The 27-year $150M bond is slated to cover the costs of a new build of Frenchtown Elementary, a new build or renovations to Hanaford Elementary, and targeted renovations to the High School.

Of the $150M, the state is projected to cover $82.5M, or 55%, of the total costs. This includes expected temporary bonus incentives of 20%, totaling $30M, the application for which expires next February and which are described here: https://ride.ri.gov/sites/g/files/xkgbur806/files/Portals/0/Uploads/Documents/Funding-and-Finance-Wise-Investments/SchoolBuildingAuthority/SchoolBondPresentation.pdf. The usual state reimbursement rate for school construction and renovation, also known as “Housing Aid,” is 35%, and this does not expire.


In August, Town Manager Andy Nota shared the projected tax impacts with the public. These values include all operating costs for the town as well as current debt and the school bond. Your yearly tax increases would be based on your home’s assessed value. Please note that the town will be reassessing house values over the next couple of years. https://legistarweb-production.s3.amazonaws.com/uploads/attachment/pdf/2100996/_150_mil._Tax_Levy_Impact_24Auth_Unissued_Bonds_ALL_07_07_2023.pdf


When/Where:  Early voting will be happening at Town Hall from 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM, and Election Day voting will occur only at Swift Community Center from 7:00 AM to 8:00 PM. More details about registering and voting can be found at https://elections.ecms.ri.gov/voter-registration.

The EGRTC will continue to keep you informed about this topic in the coming weeks.

Let's Talk About the Upcoming School Construction Bond

(August 21, 2023) At our next monthly meeting on Monday, September 18, we’ll be seeking your feedback about the upcoming School Construction Bond, which East Greenwich residents will vote on this November in a special election. Last week, the Town Council voted to put a $150M bond on the ballot. This could pay for one or two new elementary schools and some renovations to the high school. A summary of this meeting can be found here: https://eastgreenwichnews.com/town-council-votes-3-2-on-150-million-bond-for-school-construction/


According to the town’s finance manager, the impacts on every taxpayer will be spread out over 27 years with the biggest increase happening in 2027. Please note that the town will be reassessing home values over the next couple of years. https://legistarweb-production.s3.amazonaws.com/uploads/attachment/pdf/2100996/_150_mil._Tax_Levy_Impact_24Auth_Unissued_Bonds_ALL_07_07_2023.pdf


These values include all operating costs for the town as well as current debt and the proposed school bond. We hope you will join us on September 18th to ask questions and provide feedback about this bond. Of course, you can always email us to let us know your thoughts at info@egrtc.org.


We will also be hearing from our guest speaker William Jacobson, Cornell Law Professor and Founder of Legal Insurrection. His talk “Recent Supreme Court Decisions Explained” will help us understand how the Court’s rulings affect us here in Rhode Island. Join us at Safehouse Restaurant on Old Forge Road. Doors open at 6:30, and meeting begins at 7:00 PM. Dinner and bar service will be available.

East Greenwich Needs Heroes

(August 24, 2023) In 1981, President Reagan inspired us with this reminder about what makes our nation unique- “We are a nation that has a government, not the other way around, and this makes us special among all the nations of the earth. Our government has no power except that which is granted it by the people.” We sometimes hear from Democrats that constituents must live with the egregious policies that have been enacted because the voters have spoken. However, voters who sent Democrats to elected office did so because they believed their dishonest promises. As we have described in previous posts, your elected officials have failed to uphold their promises and advocate for your best interests.

What makes this all the more galling is that they don’t respect their constituents enough to publicly address this topic. Instead, they are unresponsive or divert attention away from voters' valid concerns: https://eastgreenwichnews.com/general-assembly-roundup-abortion-coverage-school-bond-polystyrene-ban/

President Reagan continued with words that may as well have been written today- “It is time to reverse and check the growth of the government which has shown signs of growing beyond the consent of the governed. It is no coincidence that our present troubles parallel and are proportionate to the intervention and intrusion into our lives that result from the excessive growth of government.” Anyone concerned about state overreach and its profound impact into your life, your children’s education, your ability to prosper, and your town’s rightful autonomy should know that this is the result of a government that has grown beyond the consent of the governed.


So, what can we do? Reagan posed a solution and a warning. He stated- “We are not, as some have us believe, doomed to an inevitable decline. I do not believe in a fate that will fall on us no matter what we do. I do believe in a fate that will fall on us if we do nothing.Those who say that we are in a time when there are no heroes, they just don’t know where to look. Well, I believe that we, the Americans of today, are ready to be worthy of ourselves, ready to do what is needed to be done to ensure happiness and liberty for ourselves, our children,  and our children’s children.”


Every two years, East Greenwich has an opportunity to be worthy of ourselves and put forth qualified candidates for elected office who will honestly and fairly represent our interests, not those of out-of-town special interest groups. We must look right here in East Greenwich for the heroes we sorely need. If you have never considered running for public office, think about it now. We can assure you, you won’t be alone. In fact, our chances of winning increase with every candidate we run to unseat the incumbents who habitually fail in their duty to represent you. Reach out to our Vice Chair of Candidate Development, Peter Carney, to discuss how at pcarney1433@gmail.com.

East Greenwich Sent the State a Message

(August 5, 2023) After months of hearings, the East Greenwich Planning Board voted this week not to approve Ned Capozzi’s Division Road development. They were persuaded by the compelling testimony of a host of residents who described the likely negative impacts on the health, safety, and environment of the community, as well as the fact that the project would be in contradiction to our Comprehensive Plan that sets aside the western part of town as rural. Most interestingly, the Board found that the evidence provided by the traffic expert hired by the residents about the impacts to the surrounding roads and neighborhoods was more convincing than that of the town’s own traffic expert.

While the developer will almost assuredly appeal the decision, and the state has the power to override our local boards, it is encouraging that so many East Greenwich residents came together to push back against state overreach. What is unfortunate is that our own elected officials have long been silent on this topic, albeit a few Town Councilors have spoken out in their personal capacities. We have already demonstrated that, during campaign season, our state reps misrepresented their intentions to uphold local control at the statehouse. However, please remember that our Town Council didn’t make any empty promises regarding pushing back against developer abuse of our affordable housing laws. In fact, they signaled that they would simply allow it to happen. It was Republican Town Council candidates who sounded the alarm about this development and the need for better advocacy on your behalf: https://mailchi.mp/e223152fdc54/read-our-town-council-candidates-lte-on-affordable-housing?e=[UNIQID]


Ultimately, East Greenwich has sent a message to the statehouse that we prefer local control, that we trust our neighbors to make responsible decisions to grow our community in a way that helps people who need housing while minimizing the negative consequences to our schools, safety, and environment. While this is an important message, we must take the next steps to regain our autonomy in 2024. What can you do next?


Please reach out to us to discuss how you can get involved and make a difference in your community- info@egrtc.org.

Progressive Control or Local Control?

(July 24, 2023) Progressives who criticize concerned residents for their supposed NIMBY attitudes about the Division Road project ignore the fact that it is not the affordable nature of the development that concerns them. It is the high-density quality of the project and the inevitable change in the rural, western side of town that is supposed to be set aside as such in our town’s Comprehensive Plan. Overdevelopment of rural areas in East Greenwich, combined with the deforestation of nearby West Greenwich to create solar farms, is an ecological nightmare. 

 

Progressives are experiencing cognitive dissonance as their concerns for the environment are clashing with their out-of-control push for overdevelopment. They should know that overdevelopment, especially of a high-density nature, causes excessive storm water runoff, polluting nearby bodies of water. As it stands, the Carrs Pond and Greenwich Cove areas are compromised, and this development and others that will follow, will only exacerbate the problem. Please see the DEM's 2022 Impaired Waters Report (https://dem.ri.gov/.../xkgbur861/files/2022-08/iwr22.pdf).

 

According to the Conservation Law Foundation, "New England’s coastal watersheds are the second most developed in the country, with 17 percent of the land area developed – a number that could rise to 30 percent if current rates of development continue." THE CLF predicts that New England is projected to lose hundreds of thousands more acres of forest and farmland to development by 2050. (https://www.clf.org/.../CLF_WhitePaper...) "From boil water orders, to fish advisories, to beach closures, the effects of stormwater pollution, particularly after a heavy rain, have health and economic implications for everyone from the source to the sea." 

 

It appears that the EG Planning Board is not inclined to approve the project with at least one member expressing the fact that the developer has not offered any concessions to the residents who have spoken out about how it will affect their families. However, developer Nick Capozzi knows that if our Planning Board refuses to approve, he can bypass local planning by appealing to the State Housing Appeals Board which will almost certainly allow the development to be built.

 

East Greenwich News is today reporting what you heard here first (https://mailchi.mp/b7dfcdea1247/the-neighbors-dont-get-to-decide?e=[UNIQID]) about Senate Bill 1037, which State Senator Bridget Valverde voted to approve and which further erodes our local control. “One factor that has not been discussed is new state laws easing housing regulations that go into effect Jan. 1, 2024. One law is particularly relevant since it will make it easier for developers to maximize density by providing more affordable units. Developers would get 5 units per acre with 25 percent affordable (like the Division Road project), 9 units per acre with 50 percent affordable and 12 units per acre for 100 percent affordable projects. In other words, if Capozzi were to sell his property to another developer or withdrew his current application and resubmitted it after Jan. 1 as a 50 percent affordable project, he could build 720 units. An all-affordable project could come in at 960 units.“ (https://eastgreenwichnews.com/planning-board-skeptical-about-division-road-development/)

 

The EGRTC believes that it is still important that residents speak out about their concerns in every forum possible and send a message to our state lawmakers that they are not satisfied with their broken promises about returning local control to our town. And it is imperative that we replace our state legislators and town councilors by electing common sense candidates who will advocate for East Greenwich. Can't run for office but still want to help? Donate to our Summer Fundraising Campaign, $24 for 2024.

A Message From our Vice Chair of Candidate Development

(July 9, 2023) Hello, East Greenwich! My name is Peter Carney, and I recently accepted the role of Vice Chair of Candidate Development for the East Greenwich Republican Town Committee. The time is NOW to start planning for our town’s 2024 election cycle. With three School Committee seats open, all five Town Council seats, one State Rep. seat, and two State Senate seats, 2024 presents a great opportunity to address the total lack of balance representing East Greenwich. 


For the first time since 2018, the EGRTC fielded several competitive candidates in 2022. Though all came up short of claiming victory (some by only a few hundred votes), organizational roots were laid for a much more successful 2024, and the data showed solid support among both Unaffiliated voters and Democrats for more balance on East Greenwich’s governing bodies. For some Republican candidates, Unaffiliated voters and Democrats combined to bring more votes than the total registered Republican voter turnout. With more Get Out the Vote efforts, more donations, and running a full slate of qualified candidates, I am confident the results will be different in 2024. 


There is also a groundswell of concern in our community about the broken promises by our elected officials regarding state overreach and the resulting loss of local control over our planning and zoning authority. Voters from all political parties want state leaders who will fight for them, rather than aligning with out-of-town special interest groups and PACs. And at the town level, residents want leaders who will ask tough questions about academic performance, school construction spending, and our town's position on developer abuse of our affordable housing laws. Simply put, they want to know that there is someone who is advocating for them.


Are you one of those great potential candidates seeking better, and more balanced, representation here in East Greenwich? An important first step, with no obligation at all, is to attend an upcoming candidate training on July 22 at the RIGOP Headquarters at 1800 Post Road, in Warwick. No experience is necessary to run for office, and training and support are provided throughout the process. Please contact me for further details, or to discuss YOUR potential candidacy in 2024. Registration for this training is preferred at https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSfA9eC-GSLjyEq96uik8TgprXK4SIzq30kqBwT42JQz7H2O7A/viewform. If you cannot make this training session, but may still wish to run, please reach out. 

And if you cannot run for office, please consider supporting those who will by donating to our Summer Fundraiser– a big success so far – by giving just $24 to help implement our plans.


Regards,

Peter Carney

Vice Chair of Candidate Development, EGRTC

pcarney1433@gmail.com

Who's Fighting For You? 

(July 6, 2023) If you missed our recent pieces about how your state representative and state senator broke their campaign promises to fight state overreach with regard to planning and zoning, check out our expanded Letter to the Editor which was published today in The Pendulum.


Regarding the Division Road 410 unit development, the next Planning Board meeting will be held on July 19 at town hall, and, according to the EG Director of Planning, Al Ranaldi, the Planning Board chair plans on limiting public comment to the information presented within three outstanding reports (archeological, ecological, and RIDOT report regarding access points from this state highway) or any additional new information not discussed during past meetings. Please don’t hesitate to share your thoughts about how the largest development in the history of East Greenwich will affect our community. This will likely be your last opportunity in which to do so.

 

Here is an update about the last planning board meeting, where you may also leave your comment:

https://eastgreenwichnews.com/vote-on-division-road-project-likely-by-august/?mc_cid=8e1d48bca2&mc_eid=17eb490f6d&fbclid=IwAR29Rh_WHRURaUSsOzzbZ6bfsTKR6VP6NjmFKDGuf4PPf6PLPWgDx7YKVqs


Your state lawmakers may not be fighting for you, but the EGRTC continues to advocate for you and your family.

"The neighbors don't get to decide."

(June 30, 2023) At the June 21 EG Planning Board meeting, Bill Landry, the lawyer for the Division Road project developer Ned Capozzi, stated, “The neighbors don’t get to decide.” Never was this more the case than now because your State Senator, Bridget Valverde, just voted to approve several affordable housing bills which further erode local control over zoning and planning. Mr. Landry may have been referring to who gets to decide whether another traffic study is done, but it could easily have been the General Assembly’s slogan for this legislative session.

 

When it was time for Ms. Valverde to win your vote in 2022, however, her approach was entirely different. At the candidate forum last fall, she stated, “I know this is a hot button issue right now because of the proposed development over on Division Road. I absolutely do respect our home rule provisions that we have here in the State of Rhode Island for cities and towns to make their own zoning and planning decisions. Our affordable housing laws have been on the books since the early 90s in some form or another, and, to my knowledge, I don’t believe that anyone has tried to amend those laws yet. If that’s something that the towns that I represent are interested in trying to pursue through the General Assembly, you know, I’d definitely be open to that conversation.” (This forum video, along with the one featuring Rep. Justine Caldwell’s broken promise, can be viewed on our website at https://www.egrtc.org/events. Ms. Valverde’ remarks begin at minute 10:33).

 

One bill which Senator Valverde voted to approve, Senate Bill 1037 (http://webserver.rilegislature.gov/BillText/BillText23/SenateText23/S1037A.pdf), diminishes local control in the following ways-

 

If Senator Valverde had been open to returning zoning and planning power to the town, as she stated in the forum, she may have joined Senator Gordon Rogers in his efforts to create a coalition of rural communities seeking better local control over affordable housing laws, and she would have encouraged the EG Town Council to write a resolution to that effect. https://www.valleybreeze.com/news/rogers-to-form-coalition-of-rural-communities-to-combat-overreaching-state-zoning/article_c2cf4e0c-95fc-11ed-9c08-3b86eb68b20b.html

 

A quick look at Senator Valverde’s campaign finance records indicates that much of her funding is derived from special interest groups and PACs from outside of East Greenwich: http://www.ricampaignfinance.com/RIPublic/Filings.aspx

 

When it comes to the health, safety, environment, wildlife, traffic, and quality of life in your neighborhood, our lawmakers are taking away your power to decide. But the neighbors will get to decide on Election Day, 2024. 

Promises, Promises, Promises

(June 25, 2023) If you are concerned about the 410+ unit development on Division Road, you should be aware that Representative Justine Caldwell, who represents East and West Greenwich,  has not kept her campaign promise to fight state overreach of housing/zoning/planning. Last fall, during the candidate forum, Rep. Caldwell stated that she would "go up to the Statehouse in January… and say this actually isn't working for East Greenwich. It’s probably not working for a lot of cities and towns. I speak to people at their doors, I talk to people on the phone about some ideas that we could do to have more local control, and I work very closely with our town council. The idea that we have wrested away local control from East Greenwich is simply untrue.” (Her remarks begin at 29:50 in this video: https://youtu.be/2SbVp6cwgt8).

 

You should know that Ms. Caldwell did the opposite of what she promised. She voted to approve House Bill 6058, which amends the current law by actually giving towns less, not more control over planning and zoning. This bill changes the requirement for developments that are greater than 10 units regarding the percentage of units that must be considered affordable. Previously, the law required that 10% of the units be affordable with inclusionary zoning. This law increases that minimum to 25% of the units as affordable. While it is helpful that more units will be built that are affordable, towns will now have less, not more, power to decide whether a developer gets approval. Any state law which establishes “the zoning ordinance shall” or “must be permitted by planning board” is dictating what towns are obligated to do. “Shall” and “must” are not optional terms – they are mandates. This is the elimination of local control – plain and simple.  

 

Furthermore, according to this bill, once our town meets the state's goal of having 10% of all housing in East Greenwich be affordable, we will still be required to build 25% of all new housing as affordable under inclusionary zoning laws. So, in essence, the total 10% goal set for municipalities is an ever-moving target. In addition, the law states that for every affordable unit that a developer builds, the town must allow them to build two more houses at market rate. Why should the state decide how many units are built in East Greenwich? There may come a time when every farm and large parcel in our town is sold to developers to take advantage of these laws that we have no local power to restrict. 

 

Senator Bridget Valverde also voted in favor of this bill when it moved to the Senate. And if the East Greenwich Town Council is working closely with Rep. Caldwell, as she stated, then they are not effectively advocating for you either. Ask yourself, are the leaders East Greenwich voted to represent them working in your best interests? Reach out to us at info@egrtc.org and let us know. And look for future posts about your legislators’ voting records.

School Safety NOW

(April 12, 2023) Introducing School Safety NOW- a non-partisan group of Rhode Island parents, educators, and community members, advocating for school safety. Their mission is to ensure the presence of an armed law enforcement officer at our elementary and secondary schools so our staff can teach and our children can learn without fear for their safety. 

This grassroots organization formed recently in the wake of yet another school shooting tragedy. East Greenwich and Warwick parents met to plan how they could work together to protect our children while spreading this message statewide. 


Please check out their website (https://schoolsafetynow.com/) and consider signing the petition. (Please do not donate via the petition platform at this time.) Even more importantly, if you agree with this initiative, please write a brief, but heartfelt, email to your representative and senator so that they will be urged to renew state funding for this purpose. Instructions are listed on their "Take Action" page. We have heard from a member of the General Assembly that boilerplate letters are deleted, so please personalize your message in order to communicate your support. 


Also, please subscribe to School Safety Now on their website to receive updates via email about upcoming meetings and how you can get involved.

Even if you don't have children in our schools, we know that you care about East Greenwich families and teachers. Together we can make our schools a safer place in which to teach and learn now, because tomorrow may be too late.

Division Road 410-Unit Development

The Problems

(March 16, 2023) The 410-unit residential development proposed for Division Road between Westfield Drive and Moosehorn Road by Developer Ned Capozzi is progressing to the next stage in the approval process. The EGRTC is extremely concerned about this development for the following reasons:

Here are some recent articles which explain more about this development:

https://eastgreenwichnews.com/division-road-project-back-on-track/

https://eastgreenwichnews.com/410-unit-division-road-project-secures-water-sewer/

Proposed Solutions

(March 16, 2023) Senator Gordon Rogers, of District 21 which includes Coventry, Foster, Scituate, West Greenwich, has formed a coalition of rural RI communities which are working together to fight state overreach and developer abuse of our affordable housing laws (https://www.valleybreeze.com/news/rogers-to-form-coalition-of-rural-communities-to-combat-overreaching-state-zoning/article_c2cf4e0c-95fc-11ed-9c08-3b86eb68b20b.html).

Our Republican candidates for Town Council in 2022 offered other creative solutions to help ameliorate this problem. https://eastgreenwichnews.com/affordable-housing-egs-town-council-hands-are-not-tied/ Although none of our candidates were elected, it is still important to stay engaged and ask your local leaders what they are doing to solve this problem.

What can you do? 

East Greenwich Town Council

Mark Schwager
Council President, Democrat
mschwager@eastgreenwichri.com

Michael Donegan
Council Vice President, Democrat
mdonegan@eastgreenwichri.com

Caryn Corenthal
Council Member, Democrat
ccorenthal@eastgreenwichri.com

Renu Englehart
Council Member, Democrat
renglehart@eastgreenwichri.com

Michael Zarrella
Council Member, Democrat
mzarrella@eastgreenwichri.com

East Greenwich Planning Board
https://eastgreenwichri.com/DocumentCenter/View/1415/Boards-and-Commissions-Membership-May-5-2023-PDF?bidId=

State Senator Bridget Valverde, Democrat
sen-valverde@rilegislature.gov

State Representative Justine Caldwell, Democrat
rep-caldwell@rilegislature.gov

East Greenwich School Building Bond Referendum

Reason #1 to Attend Building Subcommittee Forums: Their Math is Wrong

(March 4, 2023) Option C*, which the subcommittee seems to be favoring, has a price tag of $130M, not the $120M they have been advertising since last year. Apparently their math is wrong, and none of our elected officials, town employees, or even the builder noticed it until we brought it to their attention. This means that the tax impact for this option, which was shared with the Town Council in February, cannot be accurate either. Taxpayers are not being given accurate information about the cost of this project and the impact it will have on family budgets. 

The School Building Oversight Subcommittee has planned two community forums on March 21 & March 30, at 5:30 PM, at Cole Middle School (in addition to PTG meetings) in which they will share the three options* they are considering for the construction and renovation of our schools. Please consider these concerns and make your voice known.

*Please note that the subcommittee has since modified their options and corrected their error, in addition to raising the prices of all options on the table. See Reason #5 for more information. 

Reason #2 to Attend Building Subcommittee Community Forums: Does "Newer and Fewer" Mean Better?

(March 7, 2023)- RIDE's vision for schools is "Newer and Fewer," and it is incentivizing districts to close older school buildings and consolidate students into fewer buildings. The School Building Oversight Subcommittee has planned two community forums on March 21 & March 30, at 5:30 PM, at Cole Middle School (in addition to PTG meetings) in which they will share the three options they are considering for the construction and renovation of our schools. Please consider these concerns and make your voice known:

By June, the School Committee will be voting to approve one of those options, and a bond referendum will be voted on by taxpayers in the fall. NOW IS THE TIME to share your concerns and ask your questions before the impact on your family is irreversible.

Reason #3 to Attend Building Subcommittee Community Forums: The Choice of Colliers Engineering & Design

(March 8, 2023) Did you know that the School Building Oversight Subcommittee chose Colliers Engineering & Design to handle our district's proposed school construction and renovations? Let's take a closer look at this decision:

The School Building Oversight Subcommittee has planned two community forums on March 21 & March 30, at 5:30 PM, at Cole Middle School (in addition to PTG meetings) in which they will share the options they are considering for the construction and renovation of our schools. By June, the School Committee will be voting to approve one of those options, and a bond referendum will be voted on by taxpayers in the fall. NOW IS THE TIME to share your concerns and ask your questions before the impact on your family is irreversible.

Reason #4 to Attend Building Subcommittee Meetings: Timing

(March 11, 2023) Did you know that our School Committee plans to vote on which building/renovation option our district will use by June? That is so RIDE can approve our plans, and the state can prepare the bond referendum that EG residents will vote on this November. Let's look at the issue of timing and how that has affected your ability to have a say in these decisions:

The School Building Oversight Subcommittee has planned two community forums on March 21 & March 30, at 5:30 PM, at Cole Middle School. NOW IS THE TIME to share your concerns and ask your questions before the impact on your family is irreversible.

Reason #5 to Attend Building Subcommittee Community Forums: Cost

(March 14, 2023) There's no question that our schools need work. But how much will the school bond cost your family? Since our message dated March 4, the School Building Subcommittee has already increased its estimates for school construction/renovations, and added some options.

Don't miss your opportunity to have a say about the impact this decision will have on your family budget. The School Building Oversight Subcommittee has planned two community forums on March 21 & March 30, at 5:30 PM, at Cole Middle School. NOW IS THE TIME to share your concerns and ask your questions before the impact on your family is irreversible.