The school board meeting on March 25 drew a larger crowd than usual, much appreciated by the board and administration, as that evening they sought input from the community. Back in May 2006, voters authorized the establishment of a Capital Reserve Fund for the purpose of funding future districtwide improvements. District architect John Grillo, at that time, drew up a facilities capital improvement plan and rated projects as to urgency. Priority improvements were made, others put off. In the ensuing years postponed projects have only grown worse.
No one questions that the bleachers, and middle school and high school locker rooms are greatly in need of repair. Marie Horowitz exclaimed they are the very same bleachers she used when she was a MHS student. Tours were given of the disgusting and unsafe area years ago and it has only gotten worse. Tom Byrnes commented that five or six years ago he was on the CAC for Finance and they sorely needed an upgrade then. "I'm for it," he said. Carolyn Kenlon agreed, "The locker room renovation was necessary three years ago when I took the tour. The conditions are scary."
The bulk of the money is in the Capital Reserve Fund. The concern was in these troubled economic times should the district approve a proposition to be placed before the voters on May 19, designating the funds for the renovation/repairs of the bleachers and lockers? As school board member Pat Aitken stated, "Our responsibility is to put something before the community that will pass."
Will it pass? That's what they wanted to know. All present wishing to speak did so, and issues were covered repeatedly. As to whether the funds can be used to pay down the budget, they cannot if the original need for capital improvements still exists, which it does.
In the end the Manhasset Board of Education unanimously approved a proposition to be placed before the voters on May 19, designating the funds currently in the capital reserve fund for locker room renovation and the installation of new bleachers at the middle and/or the high school. If approved by the voters, the projects would be completed in the summer of 2010.
The issue in greater detail follows.
A Capital Reserve Fund exists for the purpose of funding future districtwide improvements including, but not limited to, construction and/or replacement of districtwide facilities and property, capital improvements related to future growth needs, other infrastructure improvements and similar projects.
The district's architect, John Grillo, has estimated the cost of this project at $3,582,126. The funding would come from the capital reserve fund balance, currently at $3,310,434, plus future interest earnings, and an amount not to exceed $271,692 applied from unreserved, undesignated fund balance to cover the remainder of the costs, if the architect's estimates hold.
The breakdown of the costs: bleachers ($286,740); middle school locker room renovation ($1,261,715); and high school locker room renovation/expansion ($2,033,671).
Mike Pecorino commented, "No new money has to be raised, as the money has already been allocated. This does not represent an increase to the budget. It is important to get the project done now, or it will never get done. The middle school boys' locker room gives me nightmares. This project has been delayed for years."
As discussion continued it was noted the locker rooms are to be renovated, and the high school locker room is to be expanded to accommodate anticipated increased enrollment, which is expected to continue to increase from 1,347 current grade 7-12 enrollment, to projected enrollment of 1,519 in 2011-12, and to projected enrollment of 1,634 in 2015-16.
Dr. Melinda McVicar, a 45-year resident of Manhasset, cautioned the board not to spend money just because they have it. Dr. McVicar also asked about alternative uses of the funds in the capital reserve. Board President Cindy Cardinal responded that, "This is not pork barrel spending. The money is in the capital reserve fund specifically targeted for this purpose. These are projects that need to be done."
In response to the question on alternative uses for the capital reserve fund, district's counsel, Jim Pyun, quoted from school law as follows:
"Funds may be liquidated if voters determine that the original purpose for which the fund was established is no longer needed. The proceeds must be applied first to any outstanding bonded indebtedness, with the remaining balance, if any, applied to reduce the annual tax levy subject to certain annual limitations set forth by statute."
The health and safety issues and increased enrollment support the need for the expenditure from the capital reserve fund.
Paul Baumgarten commented, "The short answer is that the money can only be spent for capital improvements and cannot be used for anything else, so since there is a substantial need for these renovations, there seems to be no point in waiting."