An amended capital improvement bond request of $85.8 million was approved by the School Committee at Tuesday and now must gain the approval the City Council, State Department of Education and General Assembly before it can come before voters in a special November 2017 election.
The School Building Committee, chaired by Anthony Ferrucci, put forth a recommendation for a bond amount of $90.8 million to be spent over the next five years, but with some slight changes in recommended amounts. Recommended is $13,941,000 in ADA District Wide Compliance, $12,553,079 for roofs, $4,244,070 in building specific projects, $2,285,280 in asbestos abatement, $10,472,689 in boiler replacements in 9 buildings, and $12,176,250 in building envelope (windows, doors, ceiling), among other things, all of which is eligible for the 38 percent housing aid reimbursement from RIDE.
At stake was $5 million for a state-of-the-art athletic complex at Vets, which new School Committee member David Testa wasn’t so sure about endorsing.
“I can’t help but see that more as a want than a need,” he said.
School Committee Chair Beth Furtado then moved to cut the $5 million allocated for the complex knocking the total bond request down to $85.8 million.
“If it’s a citywide complex, the city should be part of it and not just the school department,” she said, a sentiment which was agreed upon by all School Committee members.
Furtado’s motion was seconded and the amended bond amount approved. The amount is only part of school improvement costs recommended by RIDE and consulting firm Symmes, Maini & McKee Associates (SMMA). RIDE recommended $197,668,191 in improvements be spent over the next five years and SMMA recommended $276,308,843 over the next ten years.
Though each member of the School Committee individually received applause and approval for their action on the bond, they soon were met with disagreements when it came to public comment, much of which regarded the student walkout that the Rhode Island chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union recently acknowledged. Students walked out of their classrooms to protest after the School Committee last month did not endorse a City Council resolution to retain an outside investigation into special education and argued the ongoing RIDE review of special education would not suffice.
Michele Landrie, a Toll Gate science teacher, expressed “extreme displeasure” with the three-hour detention the students received, saying most of the students who walked out “did not do so to go get a coffee.”
“I experience students skipping class. I have multiple repeat offenders. To my knowledge…no student that I have ever written up for cutting [class] has ever received a three-hour Friday detention,” she said. “I can only conclude that the reason why these students were assigned a Friday detention for the statements they were trying to make, specifically that the special education practices as applied in our schools are entirely inept and are actually hurting the most vulnerable students in our schools.”
Walkout organizer Zach Colon and participant Julia Sharma-Mathias were present and made remarks themselves. Sharma-Mathias said she requested to be allowed to participate in mock trial and make up the detention later but was denied.
“I plan on becoming a lawyer for my career, and I was denied this experience,” she said, adding that in the email response she received, she was told the students received disciplinary actions “resulting from your involvement in the recent student protests.”
Most who spoke about the students spoke in their favor. The one parent who disagreed and echoed the many safety concerns that were spread across social media during the week of the walkout heard verbal reprimands from the audience. School Committee Chair Eugene Nadeau, who agreed with the safety concerns and had previously said students should not protest on school time, continued to express disapproval.
“I would like everyone to listen to the noise. That noise is the late beloved Principal Stephen Chrabaszcz turning over in his grave because of the disrespect shown to the reputation of Toll Gate High School and Pilgrim,” he said over shouts of disagreement.
After some more squabbling, the meeting was abruptly ended after nearly four hours.
The School Committee also approved contract awards for Chromebooks for special education students, computers for the Career and Tech Center, foreign language textbooks, and repairs to the Vets PA system, among other things.