WESTERLY — Three hundred and fifty residents could soon receive a phone call from a survey company hired by the School Committee to gather information on why voters rejected a proposed school building project in October.
The School Committee voted 6-1 Thursday to complete the survey questions and to include both residents who voted in the Oct. 10 referendum and those who did not vote. The $71.4 million bond proposal qualified for at least 35% reimbursement, including interest on borrowing, from the state and up to 50%. In addition to gaining an understanding of why residents voted the way they did, the School Committee also hopes to discern the type of project likely to gain approval.
Results of the survey are expected in early February. In the meantime the School Committee has asked its Building Committee to develop a pared down project that focuses solely on the district's elementary schools. The elementary schools were the primary focus of the project rejected in October but that project also involved about $15 million for Babcock and Ward Halls at Westerly High School and other districtwide improvements. If the survey results show voters are not likely to support an elementary school project, then the Building Committee will be asked to suspend its work, School Committee members have said.
A letter of intent showing both the School Committee and the Town Council's desire to re-engage in the Rhode Island Department of Education's Necessity of School Construction process was supposed to be given to the department on Wednesday. A Stage I application, which must include a general overview of the new proposed project's goals and demographic study, needs to be submitted to RIDE by Feb. 17.
The School Committee's procedure for voting to move forward with the survey came into question when committee member Rebecca Greene noted that the committee had previously voted to only survey residents who voted in the last referendum. "Are we allowed to change a vote two weeks later?" she asked.
William Nardone, the committee's lawyer, said the vote taken Wednesday was permissible since the committee was expanding the pool of residents who would be included in the survey. If the committee had sought to rescind its previous vote, the vote to rescind would have to be placed on an committee's next meeting agenda, Nardone said.
Diane Chiaradio Bowdy, School Committee chairwoman, said that following the committee's previous vote some committee members "changed their minds and wanted to" survey both those who voted and those who had not voted in the referendum.
Greene was the only committee member to vote against a motion to survey both voters and non-voters. The committee then voted to move forward with the survey. Committee member Marianne Nardone voted against the motion. Greene, Chiaradio Bowdy and committee members Tim Killam, Christine Cooke, Mary Adams and Kristen Sweeney voted in favor of the motion.
Probolsky Research, a California- based company, was hired to conduct the survey.
In other business, the committee voted 7-0 to add Peter Maneri, an experienced certified public accountant, to the Building Committee. Chiaradio Bowdy said Maneri would bring additional "independent" financial expertise to the committee. "A lot of the consternation during the last bond was about the money. I think if this committee turns down this offer ... it would be a poor reflection on us," Chiaradio Bowdy said.