Spending Plan in Proposed School Bond Is Flawed
The Rye City School Board is asking voters to sign an $80 million check for a long – but vague – list of structural, spatial, and design improvements to our educational infrastructure. What the Board is not doing is being fully transparent to taxpayers.
The timing of the election seems opportunistic at best. The special election is scheduled for March 12, just 34 days before most Rye residents will feel the sting of newly-limited deductibility of state and local taxes (SALT) on our federal income tax returns. Further, we know that the City of Rye has infrastructure needs with likely bond requirements of $10 to $20 million, and Westchester County will be next in line with increases in sales tax and perhaps another infrastructure bond.
I believe that providing quality education is a moral imperative and the hallmark of strong communities. The public education system in this country was developed with the goal of educating children to become productive members of their communities and society as a whole. I choose to live in a town which supports strong civic institutions, including good schools. But the spending plan that the Board has proposed is flawed.
First, a key principal of finance is that the life of the debt should not exceed the life of the asset. The School Board proposes to borrow money for 30 years for many assets with useful lives that are much shorter. If they succeed, we’ll be paying for these “improvements” long after they have been retired or replaced. Turf fields will not last 30 years. Classroom designs will inevitably be adjusted when new pedagogic methods are implemented.
Second, the Board indicates that the cost of the bond is just a few dollars a month per household. In fact, if we add the $80 million borrowed and cumulative interest, the total expense is closer to $120 million, or $24,000 per average household, assuming 5,000 homes. The debt burden will limit the flexibility of future school boards to address and adapt to inevitable changes in educational priorities.
Last year, Mayor Cohn tasked a newly-appointed Finance Committee to review all of Rye City’s income and expenditures, including pending capital needs. The committee developed a comprehensive list of needs and wants, and prioritized programs that addressed safety, security and utility. The School Board seems to have taken the opposite tack in eliminating its finance committee, relying instead – per The Rye Record – on its Audit committee. Really?
I urge my fellow residents to vote “No” on the bond March 12. When, as and if the Board provides a detailed spending plan for the highest priority projects, taking into consideration competing demands on taxpayers, we can reconsider.
— Susan V. Watson