Citing an acute need for additional classroom space, the Rye City Board of Education voted to put a bond resolution of more than $19.9 million on the ballot for Tuesday, December 13.
, members of the board decided there might be a perception by the community the expansion project was a wish list rather than set of definite needs.
"This is not about making classes smaller, this is about having enough space for all the children who are and will continue to come to this building," said board member Edward Fox. "If we ask for too much and don't get approval, the results will be devastating."
At the board's request, Superintendent Dr. Edward Shine presented a refined version of the previously discussed capital improvement plan that includes the following:
- 12 new classrooms with connecting hallways
- removal of portable classrooms
- conversion of existing science classes to regular class space
- mechanical system and plumbing upgrades; sump pump replacement
- renovation of 7 toilet rooms
- renovation of high school locker rooms
- traffic flow and parking improvements
Fearing Rye voters "may not have the appetite" for the cost of the previous version of the plan, President Laura Slack said the board could not risk the failure of a bond the public might perceive as too expensive. Slack said the board was aware there have been 5 bonds in the past 12 years and did not want to "make community to think we are over reaching."
She cited the same rationale in not presenting 2 different resolutions–both the previously discussed proposal and the pared down version– for the public to consider, though that option was discussed during the meeting. Slack
Justifying her decision, board member Karen Belanger said, "Although I personally believe in the arts and athletics…my concern is about the success of the bond if extras like arts or athletics are attached." Belanger continued, "The priority is to make sure all our students have adequate class room space. Reluctantly, I think we have to delay to so-called extras for another day."
Slack said the certain increase of students entering the middle and high schools required prioritizing a plan that focused on additional classrooms. Based on an enrollment study conducted by Dr. Lloyd Bishop, the number of students in the middle and high school building has increased from 972 in 1996 to approximately 1,681 to date. The study also projects as many as 1,923 students will utilize the building by 2021.
Several items including art rooms, performing space, and cafeteria were excluded from the bond proposal introduced in late August.
According to material describing the redefined scope of the project, "the field house and the renovation of the upper field remain on the table to be considered at a later date." The costs of these items are estimated at $2.3 million and $839,734 respectively.
The district could still take up the excluded projects if funds became available. All were included in the required SEQRA review that discloses potential environmental impacts.
The completion of that state-mandated SEQRA review was thrown into jeopardy .
In a statement posted on Patch October 17, Mayor Doug French said the intent and timing of the letter was not to delay the closure of SEQRA review. Since the October 11 school board meeting, both sides have apparently found common ground and plan to work together to address the traffic issues and other items mentioned in the letter. The Board did affirm the required "negative declaration" that states the project will not have a "significant effect on the environment," a move that would not be legally possible if there were any known, unaddressed environmental issues.
The Board chose unanimously chose Tuesday, December 13 for the ballot. While there was some concern the date–a half day of attendance for parent teacher conferences–would confuse voters, board member Josh Nathan said the scheduling might work out in favor of the referendum's passage.
"People will be home for those conferences, I think it will aid turnout," Nathan said. "It's also fair to community. They will expect a Tuesday voting day."
Vice President Ray Schmitt said he hoped voters would consider submitting absentee ballots.
While the scheduling of the vote was of one accord, board member Kendall Egan cast the lone dissenting vote to the resolution itself. Egan said her no vote was not based on opposition to the proposal, but on a concern that the discussion process had been rushed to make a December voting date.
President Slack said the timing and the compromised resolution were crucial in making the resolution palatable to Rye voters. "We couldn’t take risk of not meeting classroom needs for the upcoming number of students."
Given the current economic terrain, Slack said she hoped the pared-down resolution balanced the list of facilities needs and currently low cost of borrowing with the community's concern about an increased tax burden.
Copies of all the resolutions and the enrollment study are attached as PDFs to this article.