NEWS

Both sides support Cranston school bond

Republicans, Democrats urge passage

Warwick Beacon ·

Political voices on all sides seem to agree, Cranston can’t afford not to pass next week’s $40 million school bond referendum.

Voters will decide whether to listen to city officials at the ballot box on Tuesday, June 4.

According to city officials, the funding will cover vital school projects and result in “negligible” future tax increases.

They All Agree?

All three candidates for mayor, two Republicans and a Democrat, have endorsed the bond proposal.

​“As a cosponsor of the Cranston bond at the General Assembly, I am in full support of getting these funds to upgrade our schools at a very high state reimbursement level to our city, which maximizes our relief for local taxpayers,” State Rep. Barbara Ann Fenton-Fung (District 15), a Republican candidate for mayor, said Tuesday.

Democratic City Councilman and mayoral candidate Robert Ferri gave his full-throated endorsement.

“I’m endorsing the school bond,” he said Tuesday. “I want to thank Council President Jessica Marino for her diligent work making sure that this made the ballot.”

And incumbent Cranston Mayor Kenneth J. Hopkins released a statement, reiterating his public endorsement for the June 4 referendum.

“As early voting has begun and mail ballots are still available on an emergency basis, I wanted to urge Cranston voters to support the school bond issue at the polls on June 4th.” said Hopkins. “The $40,000,000 bond for schools is critical for the school department’s capital needs and in particular the successful completion of the Gladstone Elementary School and Phase 3 of Eden Park Elementary School. In addition, the bond issue will enable the school department to acquire and renovate the Apprentice Exploration School (AES) on Sharpe Drive.”

The Bond

In early May, Cranston School Committee Vice Chairman Domenic F. Fusco Jr. (Ward 3) wrote a letter to the editor endorsing the bond vote.

“Why is the Cranston School Department asking for a special election and not waiting for the November election?” Fusco asked. “The answer is simple, higher reimbursement rate from the state. The projects this bond will cover must be approved before June 30 ... This will allow Cranston to apply for, and most likely receive, a reimbursement rate of up to 74%!”

“As a result, a $40million bond will net out to a final cost to the taxpayers of $10,400,000,” Fusco argues. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime offer to complete some projects at a greatly reduced cost to Cranston.”

According to Fusco, the bond will cover “quite a few things.”

The list includes the completion phase III of Eden Park School, the refurbishing of the parking lot at Cranston High School West, the installation of a new HVAC system at Cranston High School East, floor replacement in several elementary schools, the completion of Gladstone School (currently under construction), and the purchase and renovation of Cranston’s third high school, the Apprenticeship Exploration School (AES).

Hopkins said, however, that on the ballot, the bond issue language “will refer to a minimum of 50% state reimbursement, but school officials are pressing for up to 74% reimbursement from RIDE (Rhode Island Department of Education).”

How Much?

City Finance Director Thomas Zidelis provided the fiscal details connected to bond approval. City taxpayers will be in line for a small increase in  taxes if voters pass Tuesday’s bond.

“This is the crux of the comment on the project,” Zidelis wrote Tuesday morning. “The net debt service, net of the projected 74% RIDE reimbursement on the proposed $40 million school bond, in addition to the existing $147 million school bond, are expected to have estimated incremental property tax increases.”

Those “incremental property tax increases” have been called “negligible” by city officials like Ferri.

“An estimated ½% (0.5 percent, or half of one percent) property tax increase, $800,000 above the existing debt service payment is anticipated in Fiscal Year 2026,” Zidelis explained. “In Fiscal Year 2027 an estimated 1% property tax increase, $1,800,000 above the Fiscal Year 2026 debt service budget level would be required.”

Tuesday Resolution

On Tuesday night, May 28, Cranston City Council was poised to adopt a resolution for the city to issue a loan order “not to exceed” $40 million.

“It seems like it will be a negligible increase,” Ferri explained on Tuesday. “The overall benefit is not something we could turn down. The schools need the investment.”

Hopkins agreed with his Democratic mayoral opponent.

“Based on the superintendent and her administration’s representation of the 74% reimbursement, I am comfortable in supporting its passage,” Hopkins said. “My finance team has factored in the 74% reimbursement to their analysis of affordability of our debt service.”

According to Hopkins, while the school department controls the spending of the bond funds, city officials manage the repayment of the bonds by taxpayers.

“Fitch Ratings Agency recently affirmed Cranston’s AA+ rating on the city’s outstanding general obligation bonds,” Hopkins said. “The credit rating services study Cranston’s financial condition and the financial management policies of Rhode Island’s second largest city and have endorsed our financial management protocols. I am urging Cranston voters to support this school bond issue as a worthy investment for the next generation of school facilities in Cranston long-term financial planning.”

According to City Council’s planned resolution, the “General Obligations Bonds” will be used to finance the purchase and/or acquisition of land and buildings, construction, renovation, improvement, alteration, repair, landscaping, furnishing and/or equipping of Schools and school facilities throughout the City.” The resolution will likely be referred to the Finance Committee for a special meeting on June 13.

Vocational Future

Some city residents have voiced concerns regarding the AES acquisition and overhaul.

“The purchase and remodel of the AES school has been somewhat controversial, it should not be,” Fusco argued. “This facility, which is the only one of its kind in the state, provides an opportunity for students to learn a valuable trade. AES students also can enter the workforce upon graduation to a high-paying job.”

Hopkins also noted that the AES vocational program “is a long-standing joint venture between Cranston Public Schools and the Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA).”

“I have said many times that construction trades education and vocational pathways are a critical component to the range of educational opportunities in Cranston,” Hopkins explained, noting that several other school projects will be addressed if the bond issue is approved, “including a new parking lot at Cranston High School West.”

According to Hopkins’s office, six polling places will be open on June 4, from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. (Ward 1 Scottish Rite Masonic Lodge; Ward 2 Cranston High School East; Ward 3 Peter T. Pastore, Jr. Youth Center; Ward 4 Hope Church Scituate Avenue; Ward 5 Kelley-Gazzerro VFW Post 2812; and Ward 6 RI National Guard Building Schofield Armory). Early voting will also continue through 4 p.m. on Monday, June 3. Anyone with questions about voting is urged to contact the Cranston Board of Canvassers at 401-780-3121.

schools, bond
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