Ed board mulls projects, bond referendum budget

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Though Roslyn School District trustees on Thursday said they would support proposed capital projects to improve infrastructure work and build a parking garage for buses, they did not reach a consensus on a bond proposal they would feel comfortable requesting voters to approve in a referendum.

The discussion served as a continuation of hearings the board of education has held since early September to reach agreement on a bond referendum by the end of the calendar year that would be put to a public vote in May.  

Trustees agreed that the new bus garage, repairs to the playing fields at Harbor Hill Elementary School and districtwide infrastructure renovations – which includes the repaving of curbs and roads as well as the replacement of lighting, doors, tiles and various electrical equipment – were among the line items initially proposed by KG&D Architects because they presented health risks if not addressed immediately.

Superintendent of Schools Dan Brenner said proposed projects the board agreed to would cost between $10 million and 15 million, the lowest of three budget ranges that he outlined.

“There’s no magic in these numbers except to give you some parameters and it allows us to be able to say what you think the tolerance is for the community and where do you want to be as it applies to that,” Brenner said. “We have to get our hands around how big [the budget] and what do we need.”

Trustees Bruce Valauri, Steven Litvack and David Dubner each said they would support a bond referendum in the $20 million to 40 million range, the second of Brenner’s potential budgets.

But Dubner said he does not want the Roslyn community to think the board would spend referendum money irresponsibly.

“My concern is I don’t want to at all create the impression that we’re creating a blank check for items that have yet to be determined,” Dubner said.

Brenner also continued the board’s discussion about the installation of air conditioning to the cafeteria, library and second-floor classrooms at Harbor Hill and East Hills elementary schools, as well as in the second-floor classrooms at Heights Elementary School and Roslyn High School – a $4.5 million project not included within the $10 million to 15 million figure the board has agreed upon so far or the projects proposed by KG&D.

Brenner said that in further conversations with parents, teachers and students, air conditioning seemed to be among their top priorities for school improvement. 

Trustees agreed that air conditioning would be a significant upgrade that would improve the quality of education the district provides, but Dubner and Trustee Adam Haber each said there may be a contingent of Roslyn residents who would view air conditioning as a luxury – and therefore, unnecessary – item.

“I can just see the headlines now,” Dubner said. “Kids with iPads need air-conditioning.” 

Though Haber was in support of the project items the board suggested were of top priority, he said he did not think residents would support a potential $50 million bond referendum due to recent increases in school taxes and rhetoric that school districts already spend too much money too frequently.

Haber said he was also uncomfortable with a $30 million total if the board did not exhaust all options to inform the community of the proposed plans, convince residents of how the projects would improve the district and their property values, and find more creative ways to raise funds in addition to bonding.

“We have to go the extra mile, and I’m not saying having more hearings,” Haber said. “I’m saying use another medium to engage members of the community, not just seniors, but all folks. I’ve found that in any relationship, whether it’s personal or professional, communication is crucial to success, and I just don’t think we’re doing it the right way.”

Haber suggested alternative financing options for the project like reaching out to United States Rep. Steve Israel – whom Haber met during his run for Nassau County Executive – for federal funding to make Roslyn a model school for environmental initiatives Israel has said he wants to implement to cut down on school costs.

“It may be worth a phone call,” Haber said.

Haber also suggested contacting state Sen. Jack Martins about possible state grants and, if the referendum on gambling in New York state passes, to use revenues from gaming toward the district’s capital fund.  

Haber also suggested the district float a $25 million bond referendum on its most significant projects to gauge the community’s support and in a few years attempt a second referendum to cover the rest of the proposed district improvements.

Though Assistant Superintendent for Business Joseph Dragone said the community would likely not support two bond referendums in such a short time, Brenner said the potential $48 million capital plan total may only require a $36 million bond, as the district will retire $6 million in debt by 2016, utilize $4 million from its reserve fund and potentially save $2 million from an energy-performance contract that would limit the cost of certain infrastructure items if the district could prove how they would decrease its use of energy.

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