Greenport superintendent: Oysterponds may not face tuition hike

10/27/2010 3:34 PM |

Oysterponds Board of Education members may have been wrong when they told their constituents to expect a tuition hike for the students they send to Greenport.
If Greenport voters approve two building bonds on Dec. 7 to renovate the Greenport school building, the cost will be shared with outlying districts that rely on Greenport for secondary schooling, according to those Oysterponds officials.
But hold on, Greenport’s school superintendent said last week. He isn’t so sure there will be any significant impact beyond his own school district boundaries.
The so-called “Seneca Falls” formula that establishes the tuition rate for outlying districts is very complicated and there are costs that legally can be factored in while others can’t, said Superintendent Michael Comanda said at an Oct. 20 school district meeting.
“Will it definitely raise your tuition? It could,” Mr. Comanda told Oysterponds board member Krista De Kerillis, who attended the Greenport meeting on behalf of the Oysterponds board. But the increase might not be significant, he said.
Students will be “dryer and warmer,” said Greenport board member Dan Creedon, when the renovation work is complete.
Lisa DeLuca of East Marion, who has one child in Oysterponds and another in Greenport, told him that conversations she’s hearing among the Oysterponds community are that “it’s a crime” that the building is in this state. But both she and Ms. De Kerillis said they think Greenport School District taxpayers understand the need for the building bonds.
It’s the same kind of feedback Mr. Comanda is hearing as he talks to Greenporters about the critical condition of the building, he said.
“People are saying they know it’s costly, but they know it’s necessary,” he said.
The board made a decision to divide the bond into two separate propositions. Proposition A for $7.4 million would pay for a new roof, new boilers, windows and other repairs necessary to protect the integrity of the building. A second proposition, for $1.27 million, would fund solar panels on part of the roof and some wind turbines on the north side of the school’s ballfield.
The average Greenport taxpayer would have to pay about $185 a year for 20 years to support the main bond and about $20 a year to support the solar and wind power initiative, which is expected to save the district enough money in power costs to pay for itself over 15 years.
Board member Heather Wolf said Floyd Memorial Library director Lisa Richland told her taxpayers could afford the hike if they cancel their Netflix subscriptions and instead borrow DVDs free from the library.
Would the school have to close down if the main bond fails?
No, Mr. Comanda said. Some roof repairs have bought a little time. But it’s costing money and custodial staff time to keep making repairs and he would be forced to keep presenting bond proposals until he could get the funds for a long-term solution.
In the meantime, students and staff would continue to have to work in rooms with serious leaks and he’d have to keep worrying that the 38-year-old boilers could go at any moment.
Mr. Comanda has said previously that water pouring through some light fixtures “keeps me up at night.” Borrowing costs, he has argued, are still low as are costs for materials and labor. As the economy improves, costs will escalate and the project would cost more, he has said.
When Mr. Creedon suggested delaying a final decision on whether or not to present the $1.27 million “green” part of the project to voters, Mr. Comanda warned that doing so now would force a delay in the Dec. 7 referendum.
A delay would mean that window replacements would have to be done in the winter next year, instead of during the 2011 summer vacation. Other board members pointed out that the reasons for splitting the bond into two separate propositions was to give voters a choice about whether or not to include the solar and wind projects without jeopardizing the rest of the project.
Board members got a clean bill of health from Charles Scheid of R.S. Abrams, the district’s external auditor.
“You have a healthy balance sheet,” Mr. Scheid said. The company made only minor recommendations for changes, such as increased security for computers.
“You guys are very lean in your budget,” Mr. Scheid said. “I’ve never seen any district as lean.”
That’s something Mr. Comanda said he and the board worked hard on this year, knowing the bond issue was coming in December. The board and administration will continue working hard to stay lean in future years, he said, understanding the burden the bond would put on taxpayers.
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