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Sunday, April 28, 2024

The Chariho school construction bond

Why I am voting “Yes”

By Will Collette

Cathy and I don’t have kids, school age or otherwise. Our self-interest in the May 7 tri-town referendum for a $150 million Chariho school construction plan is limited to two factors: our taxes and our long-term stake in the community.

As taxpayers and voters, we are often asked to pay for things we don’t use, don’t need or don’t like. Though I may not agree with every item, I have no problem with this concept. Mutual aid is the foundation of a civil society, meaning we all have a duty to support the common good.

I don’t understand people who quibble about the costs of education given how much education gives back, or stated conversely, how much it costs us as a community if we fail to provide a solid and complete education for all.

Town Council member Scott Bill Hirst (R) and his band of Hopkinton MAGAs are campaigning hard against the school bond. They already convinced Hopkinton to vote down the Chariho budget, though the yes votes from Richmond and Charlestown were more than enough to approve the budget. The odious Clay Johnson and Richmond MAGAs are also against the bond, as is the right-wing RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity

And of course, they oppose any and all advances in public education. After all their Party Leader Donald J. Trump famously declared: "I love the poorly educated!" CLICK HERE to watch him say it.

That Hopkinton Republicans and these other MAGAnuts want to block this bond so badly is reason enough on its own for me to vote yes, but there’s much more than that.

By providing greater educational opportunities, we increase people’s earning capacity, reduce crime and poverty and improve productivity. Is there a down-side? Well, to MAGA Republicans, yes there is: an educated public is less likely to buy their bullshit.

Critics have grumbled about the cost of $150 million to build three schools and predict there will be cost over-runs. They dismiss the $112 million in estimated state funding saying that’s still our own money, but ignoring how the state cost-share spreads the cost out over the much larger statewide base.

I worked for the building trades for 10 years before I retired. One of my responsibilities was to review bidding on public construction projects. In 2005, the going rate for building a public school in Rhode Island was $60 million.

I am amazed at Chariho’s $50 million per school price tag compared to 20 years ago. Since 2005, schools must meet improved standards for digital learning, fire prevention, prevention of environmental hazards, isolation of communicable diseases like COVID and of course protection for the kids from the shameful plague of school shootings.

It’s not just age and disrepair driving the need being this bond issue, it’s new needs that were never envisioned when Chariho built the schools slated for replacement. We can’t afford to skimp on health and safety or the critical need to keep up with advances in technology.

Teaching young children in the best possible setting prepares them for success in high school, college or trade school and for careers beyond. The small bump in property taxes is a very worthy gamble.

Vote YES on May 7 or by mail-in ballot.