Written by Rich Forestano Wednesday, 02 April 2014 00:00
The Sewanhaka Central High School District will have another bond referendum vote on May 20, the same day as the school budget, to save on voting costs.
The school board selected a $86.61 million bond proposal last week. If upheld by voters next month, the plan will contribute significant upgrades and renovations to the district’s five schools and two vocational buildings. The plan is a slightly smaller version of
the proposal residents voted down last December.
If the bond were to fail again, district officials say, Sewanhaka would face possible program and staff cuts. Important capital projects would need to be put into the operating budget.
“In a tax levy cap world, you’re already facing possible cuts,” board president Dave Fowler said. “In my view, it’s part of the educational cannibalism going on. We’re feeding on ourselves and [with the tax levy] this is a reality we face.”
Athletic field work for the entire district totals about $16 million, according to district officials. The proposal reduces gym additions at all the schools except Elmont Memorial High School, which is set to receive a $2 million upgrade. The proposal pares down field work at New Hyde Park Memorial High School, but will still include synthetic turf for football and field hockey fields.
“Athletic facilities will still be sodded and irrigated appropriately throughout the district,” District Superintendent Ralph Ferrie said. “There are three tracks that have to be patched, fields leveled and tennis courts repaired. The New Hyde
Park gym ceiling project will be completed within the capital projects of next year’s budget, not in the bond.”
All auditoriums will receive upgrades but not air conditioning. The outside seating areas at H. Frank Carey High School originally proposed were eliminated and a new elevator will be included. Sewanhaka will still receive a new, albeit smaller, cafeteria addition, saving the district $2.3 million.
“The time is now,” said Fowler. “[We need] to get as much of our capital needs meet as possible.”
Fowler said the upgrades are necessary for the health and welfare of students. “We just simply can’t keep with the things that are necessary for them,” he said. “
New Hyde Park resident Christine Grincato was concerned by the interest that will accrue on the bond and potential tax increases that will take effect if it’s approved. The December bond would have raised taxes $144.26 per household.
“We need to see the numbers [for the new bond],” said Grincato. “I want to know how much this is going to cost.”
The previous bond’s interest rate was 3.25 percent, with a .25 percent escalation each year, according to Ferrie. He did not know the possible tax increase as of last week.
“All of the money could not be borrowed the first year [with the last bond],” said Ferrie. “In New York, you can’t borrow money until you’re prepared to do the work.”
The projects would be carried out over a period of three to four years. About 47 percent of the debt issued would be paid through New York State building aid.
But some residents have philosophical objections to parts of the spending plan, even if state money pays for a portion of it.
“If this bond issue is about repair to the buildings, why does the school board continue to include massive amounts of money for athletics facilities and the remodeling of school auditoriums, plus many unnecessary renovations?” said Floral Park resident Milton Brush.
“The option [selected] goes beyond the means taxpayers can afford.”
For additional cost mitigation, Sewanhaka has solicited proposals for performance energy contracts, which would let service providers evaluate building lighting, windows, roofs, heating, ventilating and air condition systems, etc. for renovation. Any savings would decrease any bond option’s amount by an estimated $10 million, according to the district, and increase building aid from the state.
The district is currently reviewing bids for those contracts.