With Goal of Passing a Bond, School Board Considers Cuts
By Robin Jovanovich
Two weeks after the proposed $79.9 million bond failed to pass by a mere ten votes, the Board of Education encouraged the public to attend and speak about the bond vote results and next steps at their regularly scheduled March 26 meeting.
Residents, primarily parents of children in the City School District, packed the Rye Middle School Multipurpose Room that night. After expressing their great disappointment in the failure of the passage of the bond, a number dressed down the “No” voters, and The Rye Record for providing space for citizen groups opposing the bond.
After a speaker questioned his commitment to the education of the children of Rye, former Rye Mayor and City Councilman Ted Dunn, who had a long career in finance and was a managing director at Morgan Stanley, left the meeting.
The atmosphere was noxious for those residents who weren’t wholly in favor of the bond and had questions about its scope and whether any of the projects could be funded later or otherwise. There was no otherwise.
Regrettably, no one on the School Board gaveled down the incivility. At one point, a speaker asked the audience to stand if they supported the bond as proposed. Few were left sitting.
But a week later, at the special School Board meeting April 5, the tenor and tone were markedly improved. Dr. Byrne went line by line through the capital project budgeting estimates for all five schools, answering a lot of questions for voters. He followed that presentation with a summary of potential cost-cutting measures.
After the March 12 vote, the School Board asked the Superintendent and Gabby O’Connor, Assistant Superintendent for Business, to review the projects at every school and find savings wherever possible. Dr. Byrne outlined savings that would result in a $73.3 million bond.
The Board listened to suggestions from the floor before discussing and wrestling with each reduction. These include cutting back on the size of the new classrooms at Osborn and Midland (which will replace the trailers); making fewer improvements to the libraries at all three elementary schools; and trimming $2.33 million from the High School/Middle School Art, Design & Engineering Center improvements.
Two big projects at the High School, the renovation of the Performing Arts Center ($2,970,520), and the new Turf Field, tarp, and Track ($3,774,435) were not on the cutting board. The Board went back and forth on whether it was ready to defer one or more Innovation Labs at the High and Middle schools, flexible spaces for collaborative learning.
The consensus of the Board, after an hour of thoughtful discussion, is that going back to voters with the same $80 million proposal, as many parents attending the last two School Board meetings have urged, is not the right path.
“I was heartbroken on March 12,” said President Karen Belanger, “but I think we need to reduce the size and scope where we can.” Former Board president Katy Keohane Glassberg recommended that they find savings “where they hurt the least.”
Chris Repetto believes that if the Board does a better job explaining the components of the bond in the coming weeks that it will pass the next time around.
Dr. Byrne noted that a few of the proposed projects could be candidates for public/private partnerships or be funded out of capital reserves.
At the April 9 School Board Meeting, it is expected that the Board will determine the amount of a new bond and vote on a resolution for a June 11 vote.