A grass roots group has formed—Citizens for School Management—that has set up a website and is collecting donations to use towards measures like advertisements, fliers and generally publicizing its position against the $69.9 million bond proposal the school board will vote on Jan. 13.
James Ansel, head of the group, said, “The school board is perpetrating distortions on the community to justify the bond.”
The board is saying there is not enough space, when that is “uncertain,” infrastructure and facilities—like classrooms and bathrooms—are said to be failing and modular buildings are being called unsafe, Ansel said. These measures make up 80 percent of the bond and “are gross exaggerations,” he said.
Citizens for School Management feels, after studying the proposal, a very small portion will be spent to benefit students, while the rest “is unnecessary and excessive,” like covering natural grass athletic fields with synthetic turf and creating larger band instrument storage rooms.
“They are attempting to steal from us,” said Joel Katz, a member of the group. “But the bond will probably pass. The school district calls up all the mothers (in school-related organizations) and coerces them by saying, ‘This is going to do wonderful things for your child.’”
Katz said added in addition to the $69.9 million bond, interest on it will be “at least $30 million over it 20-year term.” In other words, Port Washington is looking at about a $100 million dollar debt, he said.
Frank Russo Jr., who served on the committee the school board appointed to look into repairs and renovations for the district in anticipation of the outlay, came away from the experience against the bond. “Most of the needed repairs are not that urgent; they can be done over the next half a dozen years and included in our regular budget,” he said.
By voting for the bond, “We would be agreeing to increase the taxes paid by the average Port homeowner by $8,000 over 20 years,” Russo said. His assessment is based on taking 80 percent of the total bond, plus interest, and dividing it by the 9,000 residential taxpayers in Port Washington. Not included is the break homeowners would have seen from the maturity of about $40 million of already-outstanding bonds in roughly eight years, he said.
In response, Board of Education President Karen Sloan said the board and school administration “worked very hard to be as open as possible throughout the entire process leading to a bond resolution and public vote.”
The board formed a community committee made up of representatives from all areas of the community, Sloan said. “We held facilities tours at each one of our buildings, with dates and times posted, that were open to the entire community. We held countless open meetings reviewing the repairs needed and costs, that were very specific and comprehensive.”
The board received “a great deal of feedback and many changes were made to our plans along the way due to that community input and that has led us to the place we are at today. At no point has there been a campaign to scare, deceive or “coerce” any members of the community into believing these repairs and renovations were necessary,” Sloan said.
The bond has been in response to “the outcry from our community that out facilities are not in a good state of repair, the space is not sufficient for our students and it was time for our community to have the opportunity to address those needs and do something about it,” said Sloan. The board of education, “all seven of whom are taxpayers in Port Washington, has done its due diligence in every possible manner, communicated and listened to the community and the recommendations of the administration and will therefore be putting forth a resolution on Jan. 13 at our public meeting, Sloan said.