Chariho School Parents’ Forum

January 19, 2007

Omnibus meeting

Filed under: Budget,Chariho — Editor @ 4:58 pm

The Westerly Sun reports on the Omnibus meeting (“Chariho towns eye equalized costs“). As the title indicates, equalized costs were a key topic.   There are a few issues to iron out –  Will the equalized payments cover all expenses? Capital? Maintenance? Operating? Bonds? Warrants? The town councils will iron out a proposal and the voters will decide.   

An issue I am still concerned with is the building committee. 

(from the WS) The request comes as a district building committee is set to discuss and priori­tize up to $30 million in ren­ovations at the district’s main campus. Expected to begin next week, the com­mittee’s work is geared to alleviate Chariho’s reliance on portable classroom trail­ers – and could include the construction of a new Reaching Youth through Support and Education (RYSE) School for special ­needs students. 

I certainly agree that repairs and upgrades are needed.  I also recognize the need to eliminate the temporary classrooms.  Furthermore, with the tax cap of 5.25%, we couldn’t afford to put much in the budget.  Don’t forget, the towns’ budget goes up too.

The proposed budget has very few capital expenditures ($942,000 of a $51M budget) and is an increase of 3.06%.  This figure includes the application of a $1.2M surplus.   So if we do anything beyond basic contractual obligations ($47.6M of the budget is Instruction, Special Services, General Support, Administration and Fixed Charges), it’s got to be with a bond.    

My questions on the project are more pragmatic, or you can even say simplistic.  What exactly are our needs? 

Look at it this way – if a manufacturing company went to it’s stock holders (that would be the voters in our case) and said they needed to build more space, the first questions would be,,,, “at what capacity are we currently operating?”  and ““what are the trends – our future needs?” 

We know enrolment is dropping  and a private school has just moved to Richmond?

Furthermore, there is a lot of chatter about bringing 5th and 6th graders back to the elementary level.  (Personally I think we should bring back K-8 to the local level but lets not get ahead of ourselves)

Is this drop in population figured into the building proposal? 

The current space efficiency is another question.  How efficiently are we using the space we have?

I have read the last two building committee reports and these questions are not addressed.  

[update] Labeling all the reports “building committee report” may not be accurate.  One is, the other is from a town.  I have finished a third (from a town).  Still no evaluation of our “space efficiency.”

We know the student:teacher ratio, or at least the student to “full time employee” ratio (which includes administration, support staff, etc).  The budget lists 342.2 FTE’s to 3827 students for an 11.2:1 ratio.  The US Dept of Education National Center for Education Statistics reports 11.3:1.   However, this does not directly address “space” usage, which can be vastly different.  But without a formal review, our space efficiency is an unknown commodity.

There is a sense of urgency to get this proposal to the State House very quickly and have a vote in November.   I would like to see these issues addressed.

[NOTE] I seem to be having some technical difficulties, so I will post a response to the comments here.


“Space Efficiency” is an evaluation of one’s space needs.  So yes, with limited budgets, using space efficiently could be described as “how few classrooms to educate “x” students.”


On a simplistic level, we know how many students we have, how many students each teacher can have in each classroom, what the support staff space needs are (admin, nurse, etc), and how many rooms are in the building. 


Things such as Career Tech, RYSE, Lead Teacher FTE’s, population trends, and other factors can complicate the formula but the engineers could get input from administration.


I don’t know if other districts do it each time additions/expansions are proposed.  I would assume, at least at it’s genesis, every district must have done some sort of space need evaluation.




The best clue we on what the building committee will recommend comes from the Charlestown School Options Study Committee, 10/2/06.


$2.7M for renovations at Middle School

$5.7M to renovate High School (library, admin space, expand band room, renovate classrooms, change lockers, widen corridors)

$3.5M to “upgrade utilities”

$1.9M for new space at Middle School to replace trailers (8000 sq ft x $235/sq ft)

$7M for new space at High School (new media center and computer labs – 30,000 sq ft x same cost)

$2.1M new RYSE building to replace trailers (9,000 sq ft)

$1.25M new agricultural building

$5.4M  – $1.8M each (7.5%) for 1) architect fees, 2) furnishings and 3) contingencies

Total – $29.5M


You mention the fact that children are being “shipped out of their local area.”  If that practice ended (at least for 5th and 6th graders), it is possible items 4, 5 & 6 may be eliminated (also reducing the cost of item 8).


A thorough evaluation of our needs will impact items 1, 2, 3 & 7.

“Why school buildings cost so darn much” is a matter (hopefully) for the open market.  If we are receiving competitive bids, then the cost is what it is. 



  1. What is “space efficiency” — is this some measure of how few classrooms you can use to educate “x” children? Do other school districts measure this?

    Comment by David — January 21, 2007 @ 10:39 am | Reply

  2. I simply don’t understand why school buildings cost so darned much? In Hopkinton, $300,000 could buy you a 1500 sq. ft. home on 2 acres of land. A 1500 sq. ft. home can comfortably house a family of five. So theoretically, spending $30,000,000 on buildings is the equilavent of purchasing 100 homes as described.

    The 100 homes would house 500 people on 200 acres of land. What will the Building Committee possibly propose that will bring us $30,000,000 (or $20,000,000) in value? Silly as it sounds, even for me, maybe we should build 100 homes instead of a few soon to be unnecessary school buildings?

    There is something off about this whole thing. We have young children being shipped out of their local area and into a huge school complex, in all likelihood to their educational detriment, and we have school administrators pushing to continue this policy. None of it makes sense, yet no one seems to have any desire to look at alternatives. Who benefits from all this? It’s not the students. It’s not the taxpayers. Tell me who has something to gain from even more money being spent at the Chariho complex and that will tell me why this is happening when it seems to make no sense.

    Comment by Curious Resident — January 21, 2007 @ 12:03 pm | Reply

  3. It’s sad that we’re back in the “same old” Chariho building cycle so soon.

    Everybody agrees that new facilities are needed, but the “local school” people will fight to the end against the “least cost” advocates. Then the general distrust among the three town, and the envy of Richmond and Hopkinton toward Charlestown’s relative affluence in terms of taxable property, contributes to a poisonous atmosphere that guarantees some party will be alienated enough to produce a “no” vote in one of the three towns.

    How does this cycle get broken?

    Comment by David — January 22, 2007 @ 12:20 pm | Reply

  4. I’m not so sure “everyone” agrees new facilities are needed? I look around Hopkinton and see numerous old homes that were build 50 years ago and longer. I rarely hear of people demolishing old homes to build new homes unless they have money to burn. Unless I am missing something, it seems clear that refurbishing and maintaining structures is less expensive than building new structures.

    With a declining student population, I fail to understand why new facilities are needed? I also can’t seem to grasp why we are rushing to spend money at the Chariho complex when 5th and 6th (and probably 7th) graders are better served in less intimidating environments closer to their homes? If there is legitimate justification for new buildings, then I’d prefer to see them be located away from the Chariho complex and strategically placed where they would best serve our elementary students.

    At this point, without convincing evidence that throwing more money into the Chariho complex is in the best interest of children, I will be contributing to the “poisonous atmosphere” and praying that one town votes no.

    Comment by Curious Resident — January 22, 2007 @ 7:02 pm | Reply

  5. Sorry to extend this thread, but I don’t see anybody proposing to demolish anything; certainly the list of projects above did not.

    By “new facilities” I was not proposing replacing anything; just adding on.

    Comment by David — January 23, 2007 @ 7:07 pm | Reply

  6. Hopefully we are hear to extend the discussion so we don’t spend our money foolishly.

    Seems you missed my point. I simply meant that with a declining student population, why would we need to build additional facilities? The buildings which exist now, including the old Ashaway school, should be functional at much less expense to the taxpayers.

    I also suggested that adding more building to the Chariho complex, assuming that there is some unexplained reason for additional buildings, might not be best for the area’s children. If, and a big if, more buildings are really needed, why are we rushing to add them to the Chariho complex when many studies indicate that pre-teen children are better served closer to home?

    Comment by Curious Resident — January 23, 2007 @ 7:39 pm | Reply

  7. Didn’t we, just a couple of years ago, have a building committee try to provide for improved elementary schools? Having just failed at that task, I completely understand if they do’nt want to try that again.

    The “move grades 5/6… back to elementary” option clearly requires new buildings, since the elementary schools are pretty much full; some with portables already. That will cost more than the plan listed above.

    IN any case, my opinion is that the single biggest need in the district is to improve the high school. Nothing but adding space will help. I’d be interested in how many 1200 student high schools around the state have just one gym, no proper music space, library space unimproved for forty-something years and lunch area originally designed for many fewer students…

    Comment by David — January 23, 2007 @ 9:40 pm | Reply

  8. David…have you been to the Chariho complex? There are two very nice gyms. One at the Middle School and one at the High School. There are also gyms in each elementary school. How many gyms to you think are needed?

    When I was at Chariho we only had one gym for 7th through 12th grade. Many more than 1200 students used the gym and the lunch/study area. I don’t recall having only one gym being a problem…although the lunch/study hall was often very crowded. Since I was in high school, the facility has grown substantially, yet the student population is pretty similar.

    As I’ve said, I don’t know what is happening at Chariho that makes more buildings necessary? Perhaps students are fatter and take up more space? Maybe we shrunk class size down so much that we are teaching 15 students in a classroom designed to hold 20? I don’t know…but until someone provides a reasonable explanation of why we need more buildings for a declining student population, I won’t support any more tax money being spent on new buildings.

    As for the failure of past building committees, I’m not familiar with their proposals. I understand that there was a $90,000,000 proposal that was rejected by voters, but I have trouble believing that proposal was limited to expanding elementary schools? As Mr. Felkner notes, the current plan is to spend $11,000,000 on new building at the Chariho complex. Tiverton recently took bids on building a new elementary school and received bids ranging from $9,625,000 to 10,100,000.

    I also question the past practice of building schools with sophisticated designs. Chariho Middle School is full of nooks and crannies, and I’ve been told the roof design, while aethetically pleasing to some, has created problems with the life span of the roof. I recent was at Westerly’s new middle school, and I can only imagine how much the taxpayers paid for such a fancy two-toned structure with hallways running in all directions. You need a map to get around the place.

    Sorry kiddies, but I live in plain rectangular home and taxpayers should not be financing buildings that cost above and beyond simply because they look nice. In the article on Tiverton’s elementary school project, it was noted that they could knock down the cost by designing a traditional roof…why taxpayers tolerate such nonsense is beyond me…school buildings, built with other people’s money, should do nothing more then provide adequate facilities for educating students. Perhaps the money we save can be put to fancying up our own homes if that is what we value.

    The other item in Mr. Felkner’s breakdown that is of interest to me is the $5.4 – $1.8 million which includes “architect fees”. How much are architect fees? Wouldn’t it be just as easy and less expensive to find a school somewhere in the country that was built recently and buy the architectural plans? If we keep in mind that we are spending other people’s money, then we should recognize the need for smart shopping. I’m thinking a brick, rectangular school would do just fine. Or better yet, fix up the existing structures and put all our kids on diets.

    Comment by Curious Resident — January 23, 2007 @ 11:33 pm | Reply

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