BOE CONSIDERS TIMELINE FOR INFRASTRUCTURE BOND ISSUE
At its Thursday September 14 meeting, the North Shore Board of Education outlined a number of possibilities for putting before voters sometime next year a bond proposal that would fund infrastructure improvements and possibly educational enhancements. The borrowing could total anywhere from $19.6 million to as much as $41 million, said district officials, with a public vote on the bond issue taking place in May, October or December of 2018.
Previously, this past July, the board had indicated that it would hold two separate bond votes over the next year, what it called a “bifurcated approach” - one this coming December for $19.6 million worth of “necessary” infrastructure improvements, and a second in 2018 for $10 million that would go towards instructional enhancements.
However district officials put the brakes on that proposal at a meeting this past August, citing the desire to have more community involvement in the process and to give the new Superintendent Peter Giarrizzo, who officially took the district’s reins late last month, the opportunity to give his input.
Dr. Giarrizzo stated at the September 14 BOE meeting that a large portion of the district’s current debt service will be phasing out between the end of this year and the 2025/26 school year, and that up to $41 million could be borrowed over that time with the impact on residents’ pocketbooks still being “tax neutral.” In other words, the district would be able to phase in new debt service at the same cost to taxpayers as the retiring debt payments.
If the district were to put up a bond issue referendum this May at budget time, he advised that the amount of borrowing be equal to that which was originally proposed, $19.6 million, with the community given the opportunity to offer its input on what combination of infrastructure improvements and educational, athletic or arts enhancements ought to be prioritized.
The vote could be delayed until October or December, the Superintendent continued, which would allow for the district and community to consider more projects.
Although there had been concerns expressed at the previous meeting that delaying the vote to the fall of 2018 would make it virtually impossible to get through the log jam of project applications at the New York State Education Department in time to begin construction by the summer of 2019, Dr. Giarrizzo said that the approval time for certain types of projects is “only” 12 to 17 weeks, thus allowing for work to begin that summer.
Ultimately, “the most important step,” he said, “is determining what we need,” and “how to pay for it,” whether it is through a bond issue, through capital reserve fund, or through capital lines in the annual budget.
Trustee Marianne Russo, who in August had said she supported the “bifurcated” approach with an infrastructure bond vote being held this coming December, as passage would ensure that work could begin by the summer of 2018, again expressed her view that it was in the districts’ and residents’ financial interests to have a bond vote sooner, in May, rather than later in the fall of 2018.
“The more you put it off, the more costs will increase,” she asserted, explaining that not only would interest rates likely rise likely rise, but also construction costs. “If we are serious about doing this in a fiscally responsible manner, every year you put off construction, there are significant cost escalations.”
As for the projects under consideration, the district’s Construction Steering Committee, which includes Trustee Russo and Trustee David Ludmar as well as Director of Buildings and Grounds John Hall, Assistant Superintendent for Business Olivia Buatsi, and other district officials, has over the past year identified several “necessary” infrastructure improvements - among them security enhancements and upgrades to bathrooms and locker rooms.
Trustee Herman Berliner said that he believed academic priorities should drive decision-making on what projects to tackle and suggested the district consider upgrades to its science research capabilities.
“Districts are noticed by the number of intel semifinalists they have,” he said. “We need space for students to do independent research.”
Trustee David Ludmar stated that it was important to have “a full process of engaging the community.”
The board then agreed to send out requests for proposals (RFPs) to firms to assist the district in pre-bond planning.
Under New York State law, school districts and library districts, unlike municipalities, must receive community approval to go into long term debt. Debt service is exempt from the New York State property tax cap.