Updated June 8, 2020
What’s driving this Middletown and Newport effort to study a potential Regionalized School District? Haven't Middletown voters already voted "no" on regionalization?
Five years ago, 45% of Middletown voters and 65% of Newport voters favored Regionalization. Much has changed in the interim, making the benefits of regionalization more attractive to both communities:
What does the Town of Middletown's certification of the signatures of voters mean? What are the next steps?
The proposed ordinance, supported by 1,183 registered voters (over 10%), will now appear on the June 15th Town Council docket. The Town Council will be required to either approve, revise, or have the voters decide in the November election as to the advisability of studying the establishment of a regional school district.
If the town council or voters approve the ordinance, then what happens?
The Council President appoints two members of the Council and the Chairperson of the Middletown School Committee appoints one member of the School Committee to a newly formed "Regional School District Planning Committee" (RSDPC).
The RSDPC will then join with the City of Newport to form a Regional Planning Board (RPD) to study the advisability of establishing a regional school district and submit a report of its findings.
If Middletown Town Council or voters approve the ordinance, does that mean Regionalization is then approved?
No. The study and report flowing from the RPD are advisory and non-binding in nature. Officials and voters in both communities would then have the opportunity to review the findings and recommendations from the RPD before deciding whether regionalization benefits both communities. A majority of registered voters in each community must then approve the proposal to regionalize.
Aren't Newport voters being asked to vote for a $106 Million bond for both a new Rogers High School and an Pell Early Learning Center this November?
Yes. Pending state legislative approval, the bond request will appear on Newport's November ballot. Newport voters will decide whether to approve or reject the bond request. If rejected, Newport officials will then need to determine how best to proceed.
In either case, CESU applauds Newport officials for the substantial investments they've made over the last 20 years in closing six smaller K-4 schools, building a new Pell K-4 school and investing in a rebuilt Thompson Middle School.
PLEASE NOTE. Many of the following answers are the opinion of CESU and are indicative of why CESU has petitioned for further exploration and study. As such, they will require confirmation or revision by the Regional Planning Board (RPB) as part of the board's study and recommendations.
How would unification affect elementary and middle school students?
Unification will not alter current middle school or elementary school arrangements, if both communities wish to maintain the schools as they currently exist.
Would there be changes in the elementary or middle school curriculum?
Likely, yes. Curriculum development is a labor-intensive activity that has economies-of-scale opportunities. Our recent experience with COVID-19 distance learning has opened the door to rethinking curriculum delivery. Collaboration would take place to develop a common curriculum so that all the students entering the regionalized high school would have the same high-standards curricular preparation, fully prepared for their high school studies.
Is a new high school being proposed as part of unification?
Yes. If full district regionalization is achieved, the State would reimburse at a minimum of 35% of the construction cost of a new regional high school based on current policy.
Where would a new Regionalized High School be located?
The RPD will examine all possibilities, attempting to locate a new HS as close to the student populations as possible.The Newport demographic studies already show the majority of their students live in the Broadway-North End part of Newport.
Could the new proposed new Rogers HS serve as a Regional HS for both Newport and Middletown?
In theory, yes. But the new Rogers proposal was not designed to accommodate both student populations. Newport voters are expected to vote on the bond issue in November 2020 which, if approved, would place the new high school at its current location on the south end of the Island. Middletown voters may be unwilling to have their students travel that distance.
How would career education be enhanced?
Career and technical education (CTE) is an important opportunity that could be expanded in multiple ways. Newport Area Career and Technical Center programs would join with existing programs from Middletown and Rogers High Schools. This expansion would enhance opportunities to develop partnerships with post-secondary institutions as well as connections with regional business and industry. Students with specific career aspirations could commit to full programs while other students could explore the career field as well as participating in meaningful electives. The location of a unified school will have the advantage of being closer to CCRI, the Metropolitan Regional Career and Technical Center (The “MET”), Naval Station Newport, Naval Undersea Warfare Center, and Newport’s redeveloped North End. In parallel, there could be an opportunity to work with the state in exploring the funding and operation of a regional CTE center akin to the William M. Davies, Jr. Career & Technical High School in Lincoln, RI.
What would be the financial benefits of constructing a single regional high school?
How would a regionalized district be governed and administered?
In accordance with Rhode Island State Law, there are different ways governance could be established that the RPD would review and recommend. A Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) will probably be required between Middletown and Newport to clarify the process.
A regionalized district would have its own Superintendent and could be organized with its own Middletown-Newport school committee district with equal representation from each community. To avoid tie votes, a majority would be required to approve any Committee action.
How would a regionalized district be funded?
A regionalized district budget would be developed based on per-pupil costs as defined by the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE). The process would be based on successful financial programs developed by other Rhode Island regionalized districts. The funding from each community would follow the student.
The budget would be presented to the municipal councils using the method currently employed for municipal K-12 school districts. The councils would have bottom-line approval. As is presently the case, disagreements would be resolved by negotiations. All debt obligations would remain with Newport and Middletown as is presently the case.
How will the Special Education Needs of students be met in a regionalized system?
There are two approaches that would be considered by a regionalized school committee. Special Education services would be provided by the school district as is now the case in Newport, or; Special Education Services would be provided by Newport County Regional Special Education Services as is now the case in Middletown.
The decision of which approach to take would be based on an analysis of costs and benefits by the regionalized school committee. Costs would follow the student, that is, the residence of the student would determine which municipality would pay for the needed special education services. These costs would be included in the budgets submitted to the respective councils for approval.
Regardless of these decisions, a greater combined student population will provide for student support staff unavailable in a high school with a much smaller enrollment; e.g. nurses, ESL teachers, guidance counselors, etc.
Would there be reductions in teachers and staff?
Reductions are unlikely since programs and course offerings are expected to expand with the increased student population. It is more likely that there would be modest increases in staff and/or changes in content areas and programs that affect staff.
What would happen with employment contracts and collective bargaining agreements?
There would be negotiations involving unifying and consolidating existing contracts. Present Middletown and Newport employment contracts are similar but not identical. The differences could be reconciled with “hold harmless” provisions for existing employees. Representatives from the The RI Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals and the National Education Association Rhode Island (NEARI) would join in the RPD Study.
How would education programs be enhanced?
A larger student body would result in class enrollments that enable the offering of more electives, advanced courses, as well as career and technical education courses. The goal is to deliver a comprehensive course of studies.
How would unify the student bodies of both schools make a difference?
A student body of 1,300 (instead of 600 or 700) would support classes and programs that cannot be offered now because there are insufficient students to fill the seats.
For example, a college-prep class selected by only 6-8 students must be canceled, but it could be scheduled if 15 or more students selected the class.
How would the curriculum be enhanced?
A larger student body would enable staff to be used more efficiently within content areas enabling opportunities for curriculum expansion. As the regionalized District School Committee continues its work, it will listen to what the constituents would like for students, responding with additions to the curriculum as identified.
How would the two high schools be transitioned to one school?
A committee including stakeholders from both communities would be formed to study models of successful school unification and to develop a plan unique to the needs of the unification of Middletown and Newport Public Schools. Community, parental and student involvement are the key to successful unification.
What transition plans are under consideration for unification while a new regional high school is in the planning and development stages?
Currently, there is no transition plan. If high school regionalization is voted for, plans will be in place for a larger enrollment that would make possible the development of new courses or the restoration of opportunities that have been lost as the enrollment has declined in each of the current high schools.
How would transportation be managed?
The communities would continue to transport their students. Collaboration within each town (9-12 and PK-8) and across towns (common geographic areas) would ensure efficiency.
Extracurricular Activities and Sports: both MHS and RHS have built reputations that foster loyalty within the communities. What would make me want to change the status quo?
Many Middletown and Newport students already participate together in numerous extracurricular activities throughout the year. The goal of public education is to provide an opportunity for ALL students to reach their greatest potential. A regionalized school district would provide a greater opportunity for students to explore a variety of diverse educational, extracurricular and athletic programs that could not be supported in two schools’ districts with low enrollments. The number of athletic teams and individual sports opportunities would increase due to the number of students available to participate. Currently, insufficient student populations preclude the schools from participating in certain academic competitions, sports, and Junior Varsity programs.
Likewise, extracurricular opportunities and clubs would increase with larger instruction staffs.
On the high school level, a new loyalty will take shape based on the strong histories of both Rogers and Middletown High Schools, the support of the combined student body and the community.