Join Your Neighbors to Explore School Regionalization

The primary concern about school district regionalization has been the lack of specifics on the possible opportunities and financial benefits. In public meetings on July 25 and 26, consultants revealed their findings on the potential savings of regionalization, which were many, and the educational benefits that could result for Middletown and Newport students.

During two sessions held from Innovate Newport headquarters on Broadway, 60 attendees were provided data on everything from current spending on education to the potential savings in each community and three case studies of school districts in California, Pennsylvania, and Texas that regionalized. Importantly, consultants also spelled out the cost of Middletown and Newport “doing nothing,” providing insights for each municipality.

Throughout, organizers stressed the importance of focusing on student achievement as the unifying factor behind regionalization. The mission and vision of regionalization are to improve the overall school experience for every student.

Consultants said the goal was to provide everyone a complete picture of the impacts of regionalization as residents will vote on the proposal on Election Day, November 8. For those unable to make the July meetings recordings of the meetings are available on the Documents page.

The next regionalization meetings are August 22 and 23. See the Events page for time and location of the in-person meetings and for links to the online meeting.

Meetings attendees were introduced to consultants Jessica Goodell of Woolpert , David Sturtz and Susan Miller of Cooperative Strategies, and members of the Regionalization Steering Committee from each community. Representing Newport on the committee are City Manager Joseph J. Nicholson Jr., School Superintendent Colleen Burns Jermain, City Council Vice Chairwoman Lynn Underwood Ceglie, and School Committeewoman Rebecca Bolan. Middletown is represented by Town Administrator Shawn J. Brown, School Superintendent Rosemarie K. Kraeger, Town Councilwoman Barbara A. VonVillas, and School Committee Chairwoman Theresa Spengler.

The group defined regionalization, how it would work, and framed the November 8 vote. There were also specifics about the transition to regionalization and how the school district would be governed. The presentation explained to attendees the need to move quickly to regionalize now because the state has said that its current financial incentives won’t be around much longer.

Data collected from the June informational meeting indicated there is a good level of support for regionalization already and fewer concerns about lost opportunities as a result of the change. Also, a look at the data shows Middletown and Newport spend more per student than many similarly sized communities across Rhode Island.

While consultants stressed regionalization was not about the money, the impact on funding needs to be considered. Potential educational benefits for students would stem from increased savings that allow for investments in our schools.

Case studies included Twin Rivers Unified School District in California, the Central Valley School District in Pennsylvania, and the Texas City Independent School District in Texas. Across the board, they reported a positive impact of increased focus on improving student outcomes. That included better academic performance, a reduction in adverse behaviors, and more opportunities academically and for capital improvements.

Based on their findings, the consultants indicated there was no reason Middletown and Newport couldn’t capitalize on similar opportunities here.

“Regionalization of Middletown and Newport schools is a unique opportunity to expand educational programming by providing potential access for all students to educational offerings,” they said. “Further, financial incentives from the state allow for significant facilities investments while minimizing impact to local taxpayers.”

Five Big Reasons to Regionalize

1. More Options for Students

High school students in the combined district will have double the career tech programs and more AP opportunities and course choices. The regional school board will have more options to add more new programs.

2. More Money for Classrooms

Middletown and Newport spend $5 million annually on separate services like attendance tracking and purchasing. Creating a combined administration would lower these costs, allowing them to use the savings to improve teaching and learning.

3. Higher State Funding for Schools

Both communities would receive up to 80% state reimbursement for schools they build as part of the plan (up from just 35% without it). The state would provide an additional $45 million in Housing Aid for Newport school projects already approved by voters. It would allow Middletown to build all-new schools for the same net price as health-and-safety repairs to current buildings. Middletown’s school building plan is also on the ballot in November.

4. More Free Pre-K

Both communities would be able to send more young learners to new Pre-K facilities, helping families give their children a chance to learn at the most important age in their development.

5. A Greener Island

During the 2020-2021 school year, Middletown spent $700,000 on building utilities (electricity, heat, and water). New, net-zero energy facilities would cut these costs and provide long-term savings for the new district.