Raimondo: $10M available for school security upgrades

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo announced Wednesday she is reprioritizing existing state funds for school repairs to focus on “relatively low-cost, high impact” security upgrades.

During a press conference at Asa Messer Elementary School in Providence, Raimondo said the budget for the current fiscal year includes $10 million for the Rhode Island School Building Authority Capital Fund, a program she created in 2016 to address schools with immediate repair needs.

Raimondo said communities will still be allowed to apply for funding for non-security upgrades, but she urged districts to consider focusing on safety. She said the money can be used for new locks, cameras and intercom systems, but metal detectors will not be funded.

“I worry about my kids’ safety every time I send them off to school, particularly in light of the tragedies we’ve seen recently,” Raimondo said. “No parent should have to worry that their child’s school doesn’t have the proper safeguards in place, and schools shouldn’t have to wait to make simple upgrades. This funding will help ensure that our school buildings are secure and safe, while remaining welcoming learning environments.”

Districts can apply for the funds until Sept. 18.

The program makes funds available to school districts on a “pay-as-you go” basis, and reimburses cities and towns for a portion of each project. The reimbursement rate varies from community to community, from 96.7% in Central Falls to 35% in several affluent towns. Providence, the largest district, is reimbursed for 83% of its school infrastructure expenses.

The state typically sets aside $80 million a year to reimburse cities and towns for school repairs they have already completed, essentially to cover debt service. When communities do not use all of the $80 million, the remaining funds go to the capital fund.

The capital fund has sent $42.8 million for immediate-need school repairs over the last three years, but very little has been used for security upgrades. In 2016, Pawtucket and Foster-Glocester reported using some of their allocations for security purposes.

Raimondo and state Treasurer Seth Magaziner used Wednesday’s press conference to advocate for Rhode Island voters to approve a $250-million bond that will be devoted to school repairs. A report released by the state last year showed communities needed $627 million is needed to keep all of the state’s public schools “warm, safe and dry.” To bring all schools into good condition, the cost would be $2.2 billion.

“Every child deserves to go to a school where they are safe and no parent should be afraid when they put their child on the bus in the morning,” Magaziner said. “As we plan to make a once-in-a-generation long-term investment to public schools throughout the state, the role of the Capital Fund, which is designed to address immediate repairs and school safety needs, remains vital to keeping our students warm, safe and dry.”

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Dan McGowan (dmcgowan@wpri.com) covers politics and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Twitter: @danmcgowan