Amidst the many actions taken by the General Assembly during the final moments of the 2023 legislative session, one decision in particular could potentially serve to the benefit of municipalities, …
Amidst the many actions taken by the General Assembly during the final moments of the 2023 legislative session, one decision in particular could potentially serve to the benefit of municipalities, taxpayers, and Rhode Island public school students for generations to come.
As many as 18 school districts are in the midst of the arduous and time-sensitive endeavor of formulating and finalizing plans for construction projects aimed at renovating or entirely rebuilding schools throughout Rhode Island. It’s hard to overstate the complexity of this process, which involves getting buy-in from voters to approve bonding to fund these projects, and then a multi-step, years-long process of designing and building projects in line with RIDE rules in order to secure reimbursement funding after those projects are completed.
Each district is unique in its challenges, scope of work, amount of money borrowed, and how much money it will (in theory) get back from the state. But one constant remains throughout: there’s just not a lot of time to waste.
For districts currently undergoing projects that have been approved (such as $350 million to replace both high schools in Warwick), the clock has been ticking to get a construction contract in hand in order to qualify for RIDE bonuses to boost the city’s reimbursement rate. For other districts, they face ticking clocks to finalize what projects they want to take on, get those projects vetted and approved by the community and local regulating boards, and designed and committed to by a contractor, in order to ensure they can receive the maximum reimbursement and any eligible bonuses.
One of the key deadlines for all this work had been Dec. 30, when all materials needed to be submitted to RIDE in order to finalize bonuses and lock in a total reimbursement rate. Thanks to the action of the General Assembly, that deadline has mercifully been moved back by six months, to June 30, 2024. This will enable districts more time to vet out construction estimates, and finalize designs ideally with more community input from stakeholders. Decisions of such magnitude should never be made under the gun, and the difference between reimbursement rates can mean a difference of many millions over the life of these bonds.
We are grateful that legislators heard the concerns of their constituents and from municipal leaders who are doing their best due diligence to ensure that these once in a generation investments in local public schools are doing so not in an expedited rush, but with the time necessary to make sure they get all their respective ducks in a row prior to putting taxpayers on the hook.