Governor Gina Raimondo’s backdrop of choice to talk about the $250 million school construction bond on this year’s ballot was Cranston East last Wednesday afternoon, while Mayor Allan Fung chose to hold his press conference outside Edgewood Highland Elementary Monday night.
Both featured Cranston schools that dealt with infrastructure problems due to the severe cold weather last winter, and the two are now being used in a debate over school construction in the two candidate’s campaigns for governor.
Raimondo asserted that Fung hasn’t taken enough action as Mayor of Cranston to take care of the city’s schools, which she said was the cause of the flood in East’s basement last school year that damaged school supplies and forced the school to close for a few days. She said that she had been told there were “exploding toilets.”
Raimondo also said that Cranston was “one of the few towns” that hasn’t applied for state funding to address school infrastructure concerns, and that has led to infrastructure problems like at East or at Edgewood Highland, where a water main break caused the flooding of multiple classrooms this past winter as well. She has used a photo of the flooded classroom, with its destroyed classroom materials, in attack ads against Fung.
She also said Fung has been “silent or unopposed to the bond for schools.”
Fung responded in his press conference that he “unequivocally” supported the $250 million school bond and would be voting yes on the ballot question this election.
“My only concern about the school bond was in the implementation of the dollars,” he said. “I wanted to make sure that all 39 communities had the same access.”
He also asserted that Raimondo was being “dishonest” and “deceitful” about her attacks.
“The quote on quote crumbling infrastructure in that photo in the school is so false and misleading and a disservice to the school, teachers, principals, students, and community,” Fung said.
He continued by saying that Raimondo had her facts wrong about the incident, as it was a broken Providence Water main that caused the flooding, not anything wrong with the school itself. He said in response to a follow up question, however, that there was a need for school building repairs in every single school building in the state, and the city is working on a report to address those issues now.
In addition, Fung said that Cranston did apply for state funding after the incident at Edgewood Highland, borrowing roughly $2 million from the state’s Infrastructure Bank to install a new HVAC system in the school.
Ray Votto, Chief Operating Officer for Cranston Schools, said that the flooding in East was caused by a window blowing open in the middle of the night and the cold air causing a waterline connected to the toilets to rupture and flood parts of the school, though he added that there were not any exploding toilets.
Votto also said that the school department has been working on school repairs already, having used a $15 million bond to upgrade fire systems, sprinklers, and fire alarms in multiple schools. He also said that the city provided approximately $4 million for Park View to get new science rooms and replacement windows.
Votto also reiterated that the school department has been using the outside consulting firm Fielding Nair International to “extensively” review the school buildings with the goal of creating a “master plan.”
In addition to the statements about school buildings and infrastructure, Fung announced at his press conference that he would like to put a school resource (police) officer (SRO) at every single school in the state. He likened officers in schools to TSA agents at the airport in how they would protect the students from danger, and said that to pay for the cost of each officer he would cut the budget of the general assembly.
He estimated the cost of each SRO to be $80,000 per year, which would be a total of $24,480,000 across Rhode Island’s 306 schools, and would be split 50-50 between the state and municipalities. He also said he would like to offer $30,000 in state funds to each city/town for them to pay for school safety upgrades of various kinds, and each municipality would have the freedom to use it how they choose.
In a response to Fung’s announcement, Michael Raia, a spokesperson for Gov. Raimondo, said this:
“Mayor Fung’s proposal to put armed guards in every school will not make students, teachers, and Rhode Island families any safer. Governor Raimondo’s spoken to teachers, parents and students; they tell her, ‘We don’t need more guns in schools, we need a ban on assault weapons.’”