WPCNR AFTERNOON TRIBUNE, by John F. Bailey. April 2, 2002, 3 PM EST: The School Board adopted a $126.9MM budget for the 2002-03 school year, and voted to bring a $3.6MM referendum before the city residents for the repair and renovation of the district’s aging schools on May 21, the day of the School District Election.
At the annual public hearing on the school budget Monday evening, held before three citizens attending, the Board of Education unanimously passed the budget which results in an 8.6% increase in the tax rate, which means an extra $337 a year ($3,348) for the average homeowner, less than a dollar a day more in taxes for the average homeowner (average assessment $15,000).
Aching boilers need repair
In a separate funding request, the Board voted unanimously to hold a referendum on the same ballot as the May 21 budget vote. The referendum authorizing the district to bond $3.6 Million dollars is needed to execute physical improvements at six schools.
The improvements will be executed over the next two and a half years with the bonding not taking place until May 2003, allowing the school district to delay payment on the debt service until 2004.
The Referendum Details
According to Assistant Superintendent for Business, Richard Lasselle, the proposed bonded funds will be targeted for replacement boilers at Eastview School, Post Road School, Highlands Middle School and Ridgeway School.
A portion of the money is also earmarked for a new bus loop and parking renovations at Church Street and repair of a roof section at Ridgeway School. Another portion will replace the original lockerooms and their bathrooms at Highlands School (which date from 1930 )will be modernized. At the high school, Pool Building windows will be replaced, lockers renovated, and a video surveillance system installed. The high school baseball field is planned to be raised and drainage improved.
McLaughlin, Schere, Kirkpatrick balk at $3.9 million request
School Board President Donna McLaughlin, and Board Members Dorothy Schere and Susan Kirkpatrick were uncomfortable with Mr. Lasselle’s request to raise the referendum amount requested to $3.9 million.
Lasselle advised that estimates received just Monday from heating and air conditioning engineers indicated that the first estimates for boiler repairs were falling far short of what the boiler repairs would cost. Eastview boiler replacement is now estimated to be $750,000 dollars instead of $450,000 as originally estimated. Lasselle wanted to referendum for an extra $300,000 just to be on the safe side.
Kirkpatrick was troubled that the costs of the physical improvements continued to rise (“creep up” were her words), from when the board first considered it. (In early February, the referendum was described as a $2.5MM referendum.)
Dorothy Schere felt that because the financial circumstances surrounding the money from the high school bonding were not clear yet that the district should hold the line at just $3.6MM for the referendum amount.
Donna McLaughlin, Board President agreed, saying she felt $3.9 million was psychologically more troubling than $3.6MM. “Id rather be conservative,” she said.
Lasselle reasoned to the Board that the debt service was very low and that the district “could handle “ the extra $300,000 in bonding without a problem at this time.
Larry Geiger and Stephen Sules were very supportive of going for the $3.9 MM now, since in their opinions, it would not make a great deal of difference in the debt service.
The board voted 4 to 3 with McLaughlin, Schere, and Kirkpatrick voting against the $3.9 figure, and Mr. Sules, Mr. Geiger, Richard Bernstein, and Michelle Trataros voting for the $3.9MM level of bonding.
This is the only public meeting this year that this reporter has seen the Board split on an issue.
Not good enough, Lasselle says.
Mr. Lasselle pointed out that the Board needed to be more behind the referendum, because the state statutes require a 3/5 voting majority behind a referendum.
Mr. Sules attempted to reason with the three dissenters, who were in favor of bonding but not in favor of adding the extra $300,000 bringing the bonding request to $3.9MM.
Mr. Lasselle advised that perhaps some monies would be left over from the high school bond to make up the short fall, but he could not tell at this time what would be left over after the high school is finally finished.
Still McLaughlin and Schere held firm.
Schere said, “3.6MM is a better fit. We have more flexibility. There’s enough ambiguity at the moment about our capital plans to support it. We should play on the ambiguity of the moment. I don’t think this is the time to do it at all. It’s not appropriate to ask for even more money.”
McLaughlin held the line, too: “No doubt. I don’t think it’s necessary to go to the $3.9MM. I think we can get it done for $3.6MM.”
At this point, seeing he was not going to change their minds, Sules introduced a resolution to lower the referendum to $3.6MM, which passed unanimously, 7-0.
The referendum will appear in three parts on the May 21 School District Budget Election, and details on it will appear along with the school budget in a forthcoming newsletter.
Mr. Lasselle, commenting on the budget noted that the district is assuming the same state aid as last year. He said that any additional state aid would most likely be targeted to“needy” school districts, so he was not expecting any additional state largesse for White Plains.
He stated that the final city assessment roll came to $320,598, 834, and that “we’re already receiving all kinds of petitions regarding tax certioraris.”
No one commented during open forum.
The School Board made no statements on either the status of the superintendent search, the White Plains High School Principal search, or the release of the District 2001 test scores by the Department of Education.
City Tax Increase and School Tax Increase Combined:$419
In a related development, City Budget Director Eileen Earl is calling for a city tax increase of 6% in her new 2002-03 city budget just released.
Ms. Earl is reported to peg the cost to the average White Plains homeowner as an extra $82.80 for a home assessed at $15,000. Add this to the property tax increase of $337 projected by the school budget increase, and the average homeowner will pay a combined increase of $410.80 in 02-03.