School Excellence: Now and in Future
By Laura Slack, School Board President
The Rye City School District Board of Education has proposed a bond referendum to address two critical challenges: an urgent need for space at the Middle School/High School campus for the District’s increasing enrollment, and outdated science classrooms. As Board President, I believe strongly that it is our responsibility as a school district to provide facilities that can accommodate our students and are up to current standards. This bond will enable us to do so.
The process of developing the full bond scope was long and thorough. The Board has been paying close attention to enrollment growth and discussing the associated space issues for the past five years. We have heeded the input of consultants, residents, and staff, and worked hard to prioritize the District’s needs.
Our district is one to be proud of and our community clearly values education; many families move to Rye largely for the public schools. Rye’s property values are a reflection of the strength of our school district and the commitment of our community to the education of its children. The District’s enrollment has increased significantly over the years, with the Middle/High campus population having expanded by over 700 students since 1996. To illustrate the recent growth, there were 174 students in the graduating class of 2007, compared with the current senior class of 234 students. It is projected that we will have a graduating class of 261 students in 2017.
The Middle School/High School building is already over its functional capacity and is lacking in classrooms, as reported by Dr. Paul M. Seversky, consultant for the New York State School Boards Association. Class sizes are expected to soon reach the low 30s. Additionally, science labs that were built in the 1960s and ’70s are not equipped for today’s instruction. The bond would add 12 new science rooms, with current science labs being converted into general instruction classrooms. Four more classrooms would be recaptured in this process, creating a total of 16 additional classrooms.
The bond also calls for renovations to improve conditions of seven bathrooms and high school boys and girls locker rooms, which have not been upgraded in 30-40 years. Additionally, it includes renovations to the High School Guidance Suite and the Middle School Nurse’s Office to provide confidentiality, sufficient space, and improved access.
The $19,996,000 bond referendum’s estimated financial impact for the 2012-2013 school year is $47.17 for the average taxpayer. It would be about a $300 increase to the average tax bill in the years that follow. In addition to the enrollment growth and space constraints that required Board action, low interest rates and future debt service reductions made this the right time for the Board to propose this bond to the community.
While there are many other aspects of the building that could be upgraded we are mindful of taxpayers’ concerns, and have been careful to keep this project’s scale as low as possible, while addressing the critical needs.
We are fortunate to be part of a community that is appealing to new and prospective residents. However, we must continue to provide students with the educational experience our community has come to expect in order to continue the District’s excellence into the future.
Wait Until Next Year For a Sounder Bond
By Bertrand deFrondeville
The Rye School Board and Administration are to be congratulated for the wealth of information published on www.ryeschools.org (Capital Central). Based on this information and many years of experience following School Board affairs, I believe the proposed $20 million bond issue has been rushed and that the various matters need more careful study.
Are we sure that the most recent school enrollment forecast (Bishop, October 2011) is accurate? The average and even the low case present a significantly faster and more permanent growth than all other 2010-2011 forecasts. Yet all these forecasts show a dip in enrollment in 2012 and 2013 (smoothed out in the District’s presentation), with no need for additional classrooms until 2015/16 at the earliest. With a two-year construction time, the District has at least until next fall to calibrate these projections and confirm the enrollment bubble’s peak height and timing. Only the October 2012 enrollment may tell.
This extra year will also help optimize the Science Rooms/Labs modernization around the smarter “base case” of a cluster of new science rooms on top of new fitness and locker rooms (Facilities Committee report, June 2010). This reduces costs and soil risks, and obviates the need to house 100 pupils during the two-year construction on the current portables’ site. Some existing labs can be transformed into six to eight classrooms for only $500,000, boosting capacity by 150-200 to meet even the top projection of 1,925 pupils.
This bond would raise current district debts by 66% to over $50 million, added to $75 million in unfunded health premium liability, plus untold pension liabilities. An added $1.4 million annually would double debt service in 2019-20 and pass through the 2% cap. Fully funding health care liability would add $8 million a year and growing, not included in the District’s forecast of 5-6% annual increases, nor another $2 million per year for teachers, special aid, and teachers’ assistants in 12 rooms.
Since debt service passes through the 2% cap, only a serious Budget Analysis Committee, reopened to willing and able citizens next January to foster commensurate restraint, could make any bond next fall sustainable.
The author welcomes comments and questions at email@example.com.
Letters to the Editor
Don’t Close Read Sanctuary
Hidden deep in the budget message County Executive Robert Astorino posted online November 15, as a means of reducing expenses, is “Six nature centers will be closed.” It has since been determined that on the hit list are both Edith Read Nature Sanctuary and the Marshlands Conservancy.
“Closed” is a pretty clear term. The curator in each park will be discharged at the end of this year. In the case of Read, this means Michael Gambino, who has been singlehandedly performing his job very well. The headquarters buildings on the property, which provide nature exhibits, programs, and toilets, will be locked up.
Being a longtime member of the board of the Friends of Read, I can only begin to picture what our beloved sanctuary will look like. When you delete the curator, who manages the park, there will be no environmental or social oversight. Who will prevent vandalism, who will police against illicit drug use and dumping, and who will protect the deer and other wildlife from illegal hunting? The parks needs periodic maintenance of its trails, as well as water quality monitoring.
While no one wants to pay high taxes, a county owes its citizens certain basics. The land at Read Sanctuary was deeded as permanent parkland. It will not be when it is closed.
I hope that Rye residents and others will let the County Executive and others know that it is important to our city to have its nature centers kept operational. I also hope that the county is not successful in arguing that, oh well, local citizens can keep it running on their own.
Paul D. Rheingold
Maintain Green Space for Future Generations
As a resident of Westchester County for over 40 years I was extremely disturbed to learn that the county spending plan for 2012 proposed by County Executive Robert Astorino includes the closing of six county nature centers, among them the Edith Read Sanctuary, Marshlands Conservancy, Lenoir Preserve, Trailside Museum, Croton Point Nature Center, and Cranberry Lake Preserve. The value of these centers to Westchester is inestimable. The hands-on nature programs and lectures they offer on wildlife and science are important educational tools for children and adults. In addition, the centers serve as recreation, photography, and research sites as well as clean and beautiful refuges for all our residents.
In these difficult economic times, free or low-cost educational programs and well-maintained trails are needed more than ever.
Without curators and staff to protect wildlife and plants we can expect garbage and vandalism in the parks. There will be loss and injury to animal and plant life. Very sadly the lack of care means the loss of years of planning and research, which has gone into creating areas of biological diversity and natural growth. Westchester is blessed with beautiful beaches, woods, and open areas. For these reasons it has always been attractive to homeowners and potential homeowners. Westchester is well known as a lovely area for families.
We owe it to our children and to future generations to maintain our green spaces and our wildlife and to leave areas of beauty for them to enjoy as we enjoy them now.
Frances Ginsberg, Ph.D.
Need We Be Rushing a School Bond?
Thanks to former Board member Bob Zahm we find the School Board has amassed nearly $16,000,000 in reserves — 20% of its $70,000,000 budget — or nearly three times the percentage the City of Rye believes it needs (6.8% of the City revenues or 2012 projected general reserves of $2,000,000). On the City Council, the question of reserves always sparks a vigorous debate at budget time. Too few, and the City is at risk. Too many, and the citizens have been overtaxed. A reasonable person could suggest the School Board has dramatically overtaxed the community.
Does the School Board’s construction bond approach represent the same cavalier approach to the people’s money that it has exhibited with its reserves? It seems so. Wall Street, a Rye real estate driver, is projecting 30% bonus declines and widespread layoffs. Many economists are forecasting another recessionary dip in 2012. Our community has over $150,000,000 in funded and unfunded debt. And our School Board, having amassed nearly $16,000,000 in cash, is asking to borrow $20,000,000, which will increase our school taxes by 33% over the next five years before budgeting for staff to fill the new classrooms. What’s the emergency need, one might ask. There isn’t one. The spending is discretionary.
It is in the best interests of our City to have a great school system. But this project lacks the discipline and hard choices that current circumstances demand.
Jono Peters, past chairman of the City Finance Committee
Has Rye Reached the Tipping Point?
I’ve spent most of my life in Rye. During that time, I’ve witnessed many changes; some positive, some not so much. but throughout, Rye has always managed to retain its special character — the indefinable quality that makes our town a wonderful place to live.
But now, I wonder if, with this issue of the “$20 million school bond”, we have reached a tipping point. Is Rye going to succumb to the divide-and-conquer politics of resentment that have damaged so many other communities? Are we really going to turn our backs on our schools in the name of “keeping taxes down”?
The bond issue is about more than much-needed school improvements. It really represents a vote of confidence in what we value and what we are prepared to support in preserving Rye.
John E. Stafford
Good Government Right Here in Rye
It seems every day there is a headline reminding us that government is broken.
The Board of Education here in Rye defies that notion. They have passed a bond resolution that represents local government at its best.
As a new resident with two teen-age kids, I knew it would be hard to get to know Rye the way young families typically do, so I began listening. I attended community forums and listened to discussions about Rye Town Park and Oakland Beach, Playland, and the schools. During that time I discovered a town that is filled with citizens – old and young – who care about doing what is right for the long-term health of our community. Six of those citizens have been elected to represent us on the Board of Education.
Through last year’s budget process, with an impending 2% tax cap and this year’s facilities reviews, the Board and Administration encouraged communications and sought out and listened to public comment. They judiciously used research, data, and expert counsel to develop a master plan for our facilities needs and then carefully reworked a proposal they could, in good conscience, bring before the voters.
I fully support the Board resolution and will vote “yes” for the School Bond for the following reasons:
I want to live in a town where children have the best possible public education, and where my husband and I can live long after our children graduate. The Board recognizes these values and works to keep our escalating school costs in check.
The strength and health of our community depends on the future of our children, and as such we must respect them and their teachers enough to give them the proper educational facilities. Science labs that do not meet basic safety requirements are unacceptable. We certainly need bathrooms that have working sinks, locker rooms that meet health code standards, and a nurse’s office that is accessible to emergency personnel.
The Board is focused on making much-needed renovations to ensure we cover these basic needs.
The student enrollment for the next decade is projected to be double what it was in 1996, and the current footprint for the HS/MS campus is not big enough. We need to make additional room for all the children who will be enrolling in our schools. The Board recognizes this looming crisis and has responded.
We need to maintain the quality of teachers and level of programming that makes Rye one of the top 100 high schools in the country. The state has put a 2% tax cap on local communities without dealing with the growing burden of unfunded mandates.
In a difficult economic year, it is no surprise the bond resolution asks only for the bare minimum. Many local voices wanted more, but the resulting proposal seems a fair compromise that is both fiscally responsible and responsive to our urgent educational needs. It is a prudent solution that resulted from a participatory and informed dialogue, and a representative government that actually works.
The Rye Board of Education has given us their best. Now it is time for us to give ours in return.
A Premature Proposal
The Rye School Board has proposed a $20 million bond issue to finance an addition to the high/middle school. I encourage everyone to consider the following:
1. The project is being rushed both technically and financially. Past members of the School Board and others have suggested specific modifications in scope, size, and funding. There are better alternatives.
2. Our school taxes will explode. Five years from now, taxes will be 25% higher than today. This is based on the current projection from the School Board for the basic budget and proposed bond issue. Together they add about 5.9% to the budget each year.
3. The State Tax Cap law offers zero protection. It sets a 2% cap on budget increases (requiring a 60% citizen vote to overcome that cap), but there is an exemption for the debt service on a capital project (this bond issue) and an exemption for the rate increases on contributions to the state retirement systems.
4. The high school enrollment projections may reflect a bubble. There is currently an extra 9% to 10% of capacity at the high school level. While school population increased in recent years, and more students are passing through the middle grades, it appears that the trend may be reversing. The District employs the services of Dr. Lloyd Bishop to project enrollment. His most recent study, on the District’s website, projects a 7% drop in the student population of grades K-5 over the next five years. [A more recent study appears to present a higher growth rate in grades K-5, but there are certainly questions.]
5. A decrease in lower-grade enrollment might be reflective of the economy and home values. In the past five years, home sales in Rye have averaged 160 homes per year, versus an average of 218 per year in the prior five, a drop of 26%. The influx of new residents is a primary source of new students; it appears to be slowing down.
The economy is tough. People cannot afford to buy new houses. And Rye taxpayers cannot afford to be paying 25% more school taxes in five years.
What Would Teddy Do About the Fish Shortage in the Sound?
A quiet fall day on the Playland Boardwalk brings Sound — Long Island Sound — thoughts, past and present. All it takes is the recollection of an event in the youthful life of one of our greatest presidents. As a young man, Teddy Roosevelt rowed from his family home in Oyster Bay to Rye and back one summer day.
Of course those who know the Sound may wonder if he was helped in each direction by either the Bridgeport or East River tides. In either case, Roosevelt surely saw schools of fish, some of which today are in very short supply.
For several reasons, sport fisherman in the Sound have noticed a scarcity of striped bass, moss bunker, fluke, porgies, and mackerel, and, mostly because of the paucity of bunker, blue fish are less abundant.
If Roosevelt were rowing across today, would he be aware of the shortage of fish? Would he ask for a Congressional investigation? Would he appoint a committee for a multi-million dollar study? One thing is certain, assuming he was aware of the mid-Sound limits of the East River and Bridgeport tides, and that the fish life in the Eastern Sound has been less seriously affected by a game fish shortage than the East River tides of the Western Sound. If he did appoint a committee, it would search for questions of contamination by all potential sources currently undergoing study. Is there contamination carried up by the East River tides from New York Harbor? Is there excess drainage of shore contamination? His committee would surely seek these answers.
One certain answer is the “short stopping” of bunkers in the Carolinas and Virginia by commercial netters who used to do their work in the Long Island Sound, but now prevent the migration of bunkers northward into the Sound where sport fish could feed on them.
In his day, Roosevelt would have seen the great bunker boats in the Sound netting tons of bunker for the industrial use of their oil. Before and through his lifetime, the bunker harvest fed a very prosperous agricultural world industry for fertilizer and oil.
So what would young Teddy do today? Would he really appoint an investigating committee? Probably not. I think he would do exactly what he actually did in the years ahead, go out to the Badlands and raise cattle!
I really enjoyed your photos of Greenwood Union Cemetery (October 21, “Strolling Through History”). They brought back so many memories. As a teenager back in the 1970s, I was fortunate to work over the summer for Jim Rahman, the superintendent, along with his grandson, Jimmy Cook.
We cut the grass throughout hot, humid days, and loved reading the history on the headstones as we worked in the peaceful environment.
Since we were just teens, not members of the workers’ union (they dug the graves), Jimmy and I had another chore, besides cutting grass, perpetual care, and cleaning inside the mausoleums (where it was nice and cool), we buried the newly interned by hand shovel back then.
One day in particular I remember very well. We had five burials and it was incredibly hot and humid. It was brutal work, but we finished the burials by evening.
I’d drive to work with Mr. Rahman and Jimmy, back to the house for lunch, then back for afternoon duties. It was a great summer job with memories to cherish.
John R. Delohery
Why Ban Plastic Bags?
Rye has emerged as a potential leader in the fight to reduce harmful and unnecessary plastic bag pollution. The City Council is considering an ordinance that would ban disposable plastic bags from checkout counters throughout the city. As demonstrated at the last City Council meeting, there is strong public support.
A global trend toward reusable bags is emerging. Increased public education is leading consumers to cut down on personal plastic bag use. However, laws banning disposable bags are at the forefront of this movement and are driving this trend. The first bag legislation in Ireland led to a 94% decrease in disposable bag use within weeks, and a ban in Westport led to a remarkable 70% increase in reusable bag use. Rye now has the opportunity to be a regional leader in the Long Island Sound community. We are counting on the City Council to do the right thing, and pass this common sense law December 7.