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Still Wondering How to Vote on the Bond? Read this.

GreenacresAerialViewAs we come to the finish line of years of debate about the proposed $65 million bond for the Scarsdale Schools, those who have not followed the discussions may be wondering which way to vote on Thursday.

Many of you have historically voted "Yes" for investments in the Scarsdale Schools ... but you're wondering if that's the right thing to do now.

As the publisher of Scarsdale10583, I have followed every meeting and forum and even served on one of the many building committees. I no longer have a personal stake in the issues but I have sought to marshal the facts to present to the community. Though some have called me biased, I'd say I am informed.

Here is how I see it:

What was the bond supposed to accomplish?

Though the district never clearly articulated their goals for Greenacres School, most agree that the school had been neglected and was inadequate for 21st century learning.

Why?

The classrooms, built in 1916, 1920 and 1929, are cramped and stuffy. The foundation and dirt crawl spaces underneath the school have chronic problems with water infiltration resulting in mildew and mold that the district had tried unsuccessfully to remediate for years. 

More multi-purpose space for lunch, music and programming is needed. However, we were told that the building site was maxed out on the footprint and no further expansion was possible.

The kindergarten playground in back of the school is on top of a steep hill where there have been accidents. Though it was suggested that the playground be re-graded and leveled this work is not included in the bond.

The main playground is across the street from the school, requiring traffic monitors and aids at the school all day.

The lack of a driveway or pick-up area makes access to the school for drop-off and pick up dangerous.

So, does the proposed plan address these issues? You decide:

Classroom Size: Classrooms for grades K-3 will remain as is – too small, too cramped and too hot.classroom sizes No walls will be moved to make more spacious classrooms. Current national standards call for 45 square feet per student, meaning that a classroom for 22 children should be 990 square feet and the current classrooms are around 700 square feet. The district claims that removing casework and purchasing modular furniture will help, but I visited one such classroom that already has the new furniture --- and four children are sharing the teacher's desk.

Mold and Air Quality: The district does not seem to know what to do about the chronic water and mold problems, proposing to install stronger dehumidifiers and move kids out of the basement. Furthermore, after public pressure, when the district finally did air quality testing in October 2017 they found mold on all three levels of the school. In fact, the humidity level on the lower level of the school ranged from 63% to 71% and the humidity in the gym on the first floor measured 65%. According to the report, "Humidity levels greater than 30% increase the potential for mold growth and high humidity, 60% or greater can cause biological contamination." 

To make matters worse, the large windows in the gym (which also serves as the school's auditorium) will be covered up by the new construction, and no air conditioning will be installed. What will be the humidity level after the construction?

Lead: Also revealed during the process was the fact that the school has lead in the pipes and that filters are required on drinking fountains and sinks. The filters need to be changed every six months, which is expensive, and if not properly monitored, the lead poses health risks to the staff and children. These pipes, which are presumably over 100 years old, will remain in the building. How much longer can they last? 

Parents are also concerned that during construction the lead and asbestos in the walls will be disturbed and exposed. Testing did find the presence of lead in the walls, and this can be very harmful to children.

Playground Access: The large playground across the street will be even more difficult to access during construction, because students will have to walk around the construction site to get to the field. One of the architects even suggested that kids would be walking under "swinging steel." After construction, the main entrance to the school will be a three-story stair tower, which may make access to the school even more challenging.

Parking and Traffic: No parking or traffic solutions have been included in the bond. Plans call for the school to actually lose a few of the existing parking spaces and the building will extend so close to the curb that there will be little space for kids to congregate outside. A plan to build a second row of parking along Montrose Road was requested by the building committee and approved by the Village. However, it was shelved by the school administration.

The superintendent has called this a "health and safety bond," and excuses all the shortcomings of the plan by saying that other district schools have some of these same issues. Is this a valid excuse? For $35 million, isn't it possible to get a safe, healthy, sustainable space that meets current building code? In fact, district architects BBS did a gut renovation and expansion of a school in Hempstead for 600 students for just $18 million, so why can't they do the same in Scarsdale? 

In short, does the plan address the key issues at Greenacres? Sadly no. And I am not the only one with serious reservations about this proposal – read what the League of Women of Scarsdale and the Greenacres Task Force have to say.

To those who say this is Greenacres last chance, and that if the bond goes down Greenacres will get nothing, here is my response.

The district is required to provide adequate educational facilities for the children. If this bond fails, the district and administration will need to come up with a plan that achieves their goals and wins the consensus of the community. Until that's accomplished, the $5 million in debt service that is now in the budget can be carried forward and used for infrastructure repairs and improvements. This was suggested by Assistant Superintendent Stuart Mattey at a Board of Education meeting on September 12, 2016.

We came here because of the excellence of the Scarsdale Schools. Even those who are backing this plan admit it is mediocre at best and qualify their decision by saying, "this is the best we can do."

In my view, we're a community of achievers and believers who earn "A's", not "F's" Let's use our critical and design thinking skills to come up with a plan that's in keeping with the 21st rather than the 19th century. I'm voting "no" this time in the hope that we can work together to identify a plan that will makes us all proud to say we live in Scarsdale and continue to draw young parents here for decades in the future.

This is the opinion of site founder Joanne Wallenstein.

Comments   

#40 Good turnouot 2018-02-08 21:45
School bond passed. 1253 YES votes to 667 NO votes.

Quoting All about turnout now:
I'm looking forward to seeing the turnout this year. Here's historical turnout for comparison:

Scarsdale school budgets:
2013-14 defeated 1,502 to 1,720 (required 60% approval). Later approved by 2,465 to 454.
2014-15 approved 777 to 220.
2015-16 approved 616 to 98.
2016-17 approved 448 to 105.
2017-18 approved 384 to 89

Scarsdale school bond:
2014 approved 805 to 176
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#39 All about turnout now 2018-02-07 16:27
I'm looking forward to seeing the turnout this year. Here's historical turnout for comparison:

Scarsdale school budgets:
2013-14 defeated 1,502 to 1,720 (required 60% approval). Later approved by 2,465 to 454.
2014-15 approved 777 to 220.
2015-16 approved 616 to 98.
2016-17 approved 448 to 105.
2017-18 approved 384 to 89

Scarsdale school bond:
2014 approved 805 to 176
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#38 Resident 2018-02-07 15:14
The Vote Yes group is struggling to win support on the merits, so they resort to a ridiculous email blast filled with personal attacks.

Don’t let them win this way! Stand up for Scarsdale’s values and VOTE NO tomorrow - like the League of Women Voters recommends.

And when you see the Vote Yes crew around town, tell them what you really think of their desperate personal attacks. They really need to learn the lesson that this is not behavior that the community at large will tolerate.
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#37 Even if passed bond has failed 2018-02-07 14:55
Quoting Doubts:
I would like to see a large part of this community committed to the BOND. That is clearly not the case. In the long run, it will be better to vote this down and get another version, even a smaller one, that EVERYONE or most everyone supports. This is too much money to spend out of fear that it won't be there to spend it in the future. That is a crazy way to spend tax dollars. This is a thoughtful community and if a large portion disagrees, there are likely legitimate issues to be addressed.


Agree with "Doubts". Additionally, this has been a damaging process. Even if this bond passes it has failed to bring the community together. In fact, the process has been divisive and the school leaders have appeared way too tolerant of personal attacks on individuals and groups who raise valid arguments against the bond. No matter the outcome of the bond referendum the school leaders have a long way to go to regain community trust and bring the community together.
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#36 What Is Up? 2018-02-07 14:51
What is up with the super-aggressiv e tactics with the Vote Yes campaign? I just received an anonymous email this morning with literal ad hominen attacks on groups who oppose the bond. These "Vote Yes" people have run a campaign run on threats and fear, and when presented with facts they disagree with, they make personal attacks, falsely accuse opponents of having their improperly placed yard signs taken down by the police, falsely accusing groups of editing excerpted videos.

They say they have worked so hard on behalf of the community—to do what, to push your agenda to save the field? If it were so obvious, you wouldn't have to be so aggressive. The problem is that it's a flawed plan and that's why there is disagreement in the community. Of course they are citing the School District for info. They're the ones trying to sell you the bond they’ve proposed! So the PT Council agrees with them, as do the 8 members of the Greenacres PTA Executive Committee (but not the body of the Greenacres PTA since they were never polled.)

You have to wonder why these people are pushing so hard for this bond to pass? It’s not the end of the world if this bond doesn’t pass. Just get it right next time. Taxes aren’t going to be raised or go down. This is too much to screw up and not get the whole community behind it.

I will vote no just because this is a terrible plan that is a waste of our taxpayer’s money. But I can’t believe that people in this community would stoop so low, and I am flatly disgusted with this kind of rhetoric and behavior. People who have closely followed this issue and actively participated in the process can validly disagree. You have to wonder why these people are so being so aggressive.
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#35 Resident 2018-02-07 14:37
I agree with the League of Women Voters of Scarsdale, who have today reiterated their opposition to this bond. Their conclusion is the result of careful study over many months. Please see their latest statement on this site.
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#34 Important numbers 2018-02-07 14:31
Here are some important numbers that everyone should understand before voting.

First of all, if this bond proposition is voted down, property taxes will NOT increase. Here are the facts:

The Scarsdale school district has 2 series of bonds ($19.495 million issued 11/4/2010, and $10.825 million issued 6/12/2012) which will be fully paid in 2019. The school district also has 2 other series of bonds ($8.515 million issued 5/4/2014, and $14.8 million issued 4/13/2017) which won't be fully paid until 2026/27.

The Scarsdale school district spends $7.6 million every year servicing all of that debt, which you will see on page 18 (and in Appendix J) of the 2017-18 budget.

Once those first 2 debts (totaling $30 million) are fully paid in 2019, the annual debt service will shrink from $7.6 million to $2.5 million for a savings of $5.1 million per year. If the bond proposition fails, then the school district can either spend that $5.1 million on something else every year, or the annual budget can be reduced (which would lower property taxes). Or a little bit of both.

However, if the bond proposition passes, then we would replace a $30 million debt with a $65 million debt. Interest rates today are roughly the same as they were on 11/4/2010, and interest rates are actually higher than they were on 6/12/2012. So how do you replace a $30.2 million debt with a $65 million debt and achieve tax neutrality? Well, you pay it off slower. The first 2 bonds (totaling $30 million) were paid over 9-10 years. Well, we would need to pay our brand new $65 million debt over approximately 30 years. That's how you achieve tax neutrality. Has anybody been discussing that? Nope.

And where would that leave us? We would then finish paying the $23 million debt in 2026/27, and finish paying the $65 million debt in 2047.

With no more debt rolling off until 2026/27, that basically means that we can't borrow any more money for another 10 years without raising taxes. Well, I suppose we could refinance that remaining $23 million and pay that off over 30 years too. But at that point folks, we'd be tapped out, and the only way to raise more money would be to raise taxes.

So doesn't it seem like the administration should have done its homework and provided projections of how much more money we will (or hopefully won't) need to borrow in the next 10 years?

Unfortunately that long term fiscal plan doesn't exist. Dr Hagerman himself has admitted it.

Vote NO!

And then demand a long term fiscal plan.
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#33 Resident 2018-02-07 14:13
So by now most of Scarsdale has received a “Say Yes” email that is filled with personal attacks. I am sick of this type of discourse.

If you are as disgusted as I am, VOTE NO tomorrow and send your message loud and clear.
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#32 Bob Selvaggio 2018-02-07 12:38
I am supporting the school bond initiative as an individual who has enough courage to publish his name -- someone else is hiding behind the "Voters Choice Party" nom de plume, not me. I'm not representing VCP here. Does my volunteering to run for Village Board indicate to you that I know nothing about schools -- hey I did earn a PhD in economics from a decent university and I'm paying a bundle for medical and graduate schools for my kids. Why engage in ad hominem attacks ("distaste for these folks"?) when I express an opinion on a matter that makes a difference to our community and about which we are somewhat divided? How unkind, and frankly, cowardly to attack me personally for weighing in about an important vote without even signing your real name. Thankfully your behavior is well out of the mainstream amongst our highly educated, intelligent and engaged citizenry.
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#31 LWVS fan 2018-02-07 12:34
Couldn’t agree more re Voters Choice Party.
The tone with which they express their views does their cause no favors.
I wonder, are they responsible for the email blast with unkind, ad hominem attacks against thoughtful, upstanding community members that landed in my inbox last night?
There was no signature or sponsoring group identified.
Disturbing to feel that this Bond is being supported by $18K of PR services paid by district and unattributed emails of this kind.
If that’s what it takes, there is something wrong.
Myself, I come down, very reluctantly, on the no side, but I do respect my friends and neighbors who have, thoughtfully and in good faith, reached a different conclusion. And will do so as long as they accord me the same civility.
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