NORTH SHORE SCHOOL DISTRICT HOLDS BOND INFORMATIONAL SESSION
October 5 -- At a Tuesday, October 1 meeting in the high school library, North Shore Schools Superintendent Dr. Edward Melnick presented information to residents concerning the $19.6 million dollar bond that will be put up for a public vote on Tuesday, Dec. 3.
Assistant Superintendent for Business Olivia Buatsi, Stuart Schiller of Construction Program Solutions, Steve Spangler of Savin Engineering, and Joe Rettig of BBS Architecture were also available to answer questions about the projects and the financing. In addition, School Board President Herman Berliner, and Trustees Amy Beyer, Sarah Jones, Toni Labatte and Maryanne Russo were on hand to offer their thoughts.
After introductions, Dr. Melnick explained to the audience the reasoning behind putting up the bond at this particular time and gave an overview of the process used by the district for determining what projects would be included in the proposal.
The projects, he said, are all infrastructure improvements, and the School Board's decision to go forward with the bond came about as a result of a long process. The genesis of the proposal developed out of a Building Conditions Survey that is conducted every five years, and an Annual Visual Inspection conducted by Savin Engineering in 2012. Based on its findings, Savin advised the district on what improvements and repairs were likely to be needed over the next 5 to 10 years. The total anticipated cost for the projects was more than $30 million.
Committees were then formed in the five school buildings and charged with developing their own set of proposed improvements. Each building committee included the principal, head custodian, PTA Presidents, faculty members, and interested parents. With their input, Dr. Melnick said the proposals, which now included both "necessities" and "nice to do" items, amounted to approximately $110 million. That number was whittled back down to about $30 million by Dr. Melnick, Ms. Buatsi, and John Hall, Director of Buildings and Grounds.
Next, a district-wide bond committee, that included dozens of residents, was formed to offer advice on which of those projects the district should pursue. At the end of that stage, a survey was distributed to committee members, and based on that feedback, the Board and Superintendent decided on the projects that would be included in the bond, with the total cost estimated to be $19.6 million.
The Board chose to remove from the original $30 million proposal traffic improvement projects at the Middle School and High School, and a parking lot at Glen Head Elementary School. Board President Herman Berliner stated at Tuesday's meeting that "the only projects we recommended were things we considered to be absolutely necessary."
Regardless of whether or not the bond is approved, Dr. Melnick said, the projects included in the proposal would have to be done in the next five to ten years. There are, he maintained, several advantages to financing the work through a bond rather than putting each project into future budgets. The cost, he said, would be spread out over a longer period of time and among both current and future taxpayers; residents would be less likely to see spikes in the tax levy that would occur if the projects were included in the regular budget, which, although exempt from the levy limit as capital expenditures, could lead to cuts to programs in an effort to minimize the size of those spikes; interest rates are at historically low levels and the district has an outstanding bond rating; and lastly, because the current district debt service will be declining significantly over the next couple of years, taxpayers will not see any rise in the portion of their taxes that goes toward that budget line, since the bond will be phased into the current debt service. He added that the formula that is used to determine the tax levy limit penalizes districts that pay down their debt, as was the case with Manhasset this past budget season.
If the referendum passes, the Superintendent said, the District would issue bonds in two parts - $7 million in 2014 and an additional $9.6 million in 2015.
After Dr. Melnick spoke, residents offered comments and questions concerning the bond and other issues.
When a resident commented about the high price tag of the projects, the Superintendent replied that the Wicks law and other state regulations impose requirements on districts that greatly escalate costs.
Another resident asked whether projects other than those explicitly stated could be done if the projects identified in the proposal came in under budget. The Superintendent replied that all projects had to be identified in the bond resolution. However, $675,000 of supplementary projects, would be included in the resolution in case other projects ended up costing less than what was anticipated.
Glen Head resident, Larry Ruisi, stated that he believed it was a "no-brainer to do the bond now if it is for must-do projects - considering the current finance interest rate environment." He also stated that costs are significantly higher for schools, than for doing improvements on one's home.
Sea Cliff resident Anthony Losquadro questioned whether a bond should be put up at this time when the "LIPA issue is going to hit us with a 19% tax increase." He described some of the projects as "over-kill." In particular, he questioned whether it was necessary to build a retaining wall at the Sea Cliff School playground and to install air conditioning in the high school weight room.
With regard to the retaining wall, Mr. Schilling of Construction Projects Solutions stated that the costs did not just include the wall, but, among other things, removing what is currently there, including the sidewalk, and then replacing that sidewalk, and installing moorings.
Dr. Melnick added, "the health and safety of our children and staff is paramount and, to me, worth $118,000." With regard to the weight room, he said that the basement room does not meet the state minimum air ventilation standard, and that since the air-conditioning is "minimally more expensive" than a standard ventilation system, it makes sense to install the air conditioning since that would enable residents to use the weight room during the summer.
Mr Losquadro asked whether the state said the District "must do it" - to which Dr. Melnick responded that "we're under an obligation to do it." A few minutes later, President Berliner added that "it is our kids who are in a facility that is not properly ventilated. I do not need a letter from the state. If we are not doing what is right for the kids, then we should correct it."
Mr. Losquadro then stated, "it worked for the last 100 years."
Dr. Berliner replied, "a lot of things we did 100 years ago we know were not the best thing."
"Ten years ago it was fine," Mr. Losquadro said.
"If it's not what it should be, then it's not really good for our kids," responded Dr. Berliner.
"My gym has no ventilation," continued Mr. Losquadro.
"I don't care about your gym. I care about our kids," Dr. Berliner replied.
With regard to the tax shift resulting from the LIPA decommissioning, Dr. Melnick said that at this time "we don't know that it is going to be a 19% shift," and that the state legislature had given the District $2.5 million to lessen the financial impact of the plant's decommissioning on residents. In addition, he said and that the District is "working with the governor's office, LIPA, and the assessor's office and looking at every available option."
Dr. Melnick, then explained that since the district consolidated in 1955, the Glenwood Landing Power Plant's tax payments have made up a significant part of the school system's revenue and "that residents have grown accustomed to an educational system that is well-beyond what typical homeowners are paying for." He said that the tax rate for the North Shore School District is currently 44th lowest among Nassau County's 56 districts.
"This community has a question it has to address," he said. "Do we want to continue to function at this level and pay for the full value of what we're getting? Do we want something less, and what does something less look like? Or, do we want something drastically less and the Board has to have that discussion." "We can't let our buildings crumble," he continued. "Do you want class-sizes of 30 or 50? Do you want electives at the High School or no electives?"
Picking up on the class-size remark, another resident said that he read in Newsday that North Shore has among the smallest class sizes in Nassau. Dr. Melnick replied that "Newsday was wrong," and that class sizes have gone up tremendously this year, with Kindergarten classes of 24 at Glen Head School when the county average is 22, and Middle School and High School class sizes of 27 and 28. He continued that over the last five years the district has eliminated three administrative positions, eight teaching positions, five secretarial positions, and three custodial positions, and that administrative positions would be reduced further.
The discussion then moved back toward the meeting topic, and the resident asked whether the district would be hiring an independent inspector to make sure the work is done properly. Dr. Melnick responded that that was the job of the construction management company, and that "they are inspecting the work every step of the way." Trustee Maryanne Russo added that all district contractors are bonded so "that if the work is not done properly, we call the bonding company to bring in a replacement contractor to complete the work."
As the discussion continued, questions were raised concerning warranties on materials and workmanship, and whether the roofs at Sea Cliff and Glen Head ought to be replaced when they hit the end of their warranties, or their lives prolonged with repairs.
While it was clear there was both support and some skepticism of the bond proposal during the meeting, at least one person's mind was changed Tuesday night.
Sea Cliff resident and Bond Committee member Ann DiPietro said the next day that, "as a member of the committee reviewing the bond, I was uncomfortable with its original size and scope. However, the information distributed last night made clear that passing the revised bond is really the only prudent thing to do and I am now in full support."
There will be an opportunity for residents to learn more about the bond proposal on Tuesday, October 28th at 5 pm at Glenwood Landing School. At that meeting, residents will be taken on a tour of some of the sites where the proposed work will be done should the referendum be approved.