Why I can’t vote yes for the Nyack School District Bond.
By Bryan Burrell
I can’t vote yes on the 26 million dollar Nyack School district bond. The vote will occur on October 29th and I encourage everyone to come out and cast their ballot. I am a pro public education proponent that has served on the Nyack Board of Education. Additionally, while I served as the Executive Director of the Rockland County School Boards Association, I fought tirelessly for students and public education. It may therefore be surprising to some that I am not supporting the Nyack School District’s proposed 26 million dollar bond. I have my reasons and share them with you.
I can’t vote yes because the bond abandons historic MacCalman Field. The first night football game in Rockland County was held on this hallowed ground on the evening of October 26, 1944. Generations of athletes have created a proud history that has been part of our community’s legacy. The named field is strewn with memories, victories and the blood sweat and tears of countless of Nyack’s best athletes. Thousands of students, including 5 of my own have graduated under the lights of that same lit field. It is a proud tradition that, in my view, should continue. I will vote no because of my commitment to Nyack’s proud history and lasting legacy.
I can’t vote yes because I do not believe that this proposal is the best investment this generation can provide to the next. The last bond of this size was approved by the last generation. The 42 million dollar bond built the new high school, created the current middle school and provided building improvements and additions to each of our elementary buildings. I see that investment as both wise and prudent. It is an investment that will continue to serve future generations. It is a gift that keeps on giving. This bond however does not meet that same generational test. Neither the 8 million dollar proposed new sports complex nor the nearly one million dollar air condition project represent, in my view, generational investments. I know that many in our community will sincerely disagree with me. I would argue that the proposal before the voters is not in the same league as the last major bond that gave us beautiful state of the art buildings.
This will likely be the only bond of this size that our district will consider in the next decade or two. Field improvements are needed but so are unaddressed infrastructure needs that will become critical over the next two decades. I favor safe fields but not a sports complex. I strongly support the visual and performing arts but do not support a million dollar expenditure to air condition the Divinci Center and the auditorium. I will vote no because this bond does not meet the generational test that our last major bond did with flying colors.
I can’t vote yes because I believe the tax impact is too great. While interest rates and retiring bond debt make an increase in taxes unlikely if this bond passes, there is nothing wrong with providing taxpayers with a future debt load less than what we are currently carrying. If we continue to add to the property tax burden, many of our children will no longer be able to live in this community or make use of these improvements. A balance is needed and I do not believe that balance is achieved by replacing a mortgage of the past with a new mortgage of a similar amount for the future. Most homeowners are elated when they pay off their 30 year mortgage. They typically to not seek to replace it with another mortgage of the same or similar amount.
Similarly, most credit card holders to not make the last payment on a car or a credit card and then either get a new car or re-charge their credit card back to the max. I will vote no because the tax impact of this bond is too great.
I can’t vote yes because I understand the impact of the 2% property levy cap. Because of this cap, the Nyack school district may, at some point in the near future, be unable to provide a free and appropriate education to all of the students entrusted to its care. More and more school districts in New York State are approaching bankruptcy because of the impact this cap is having on the educational program. Districts across the state have cut back or eliminated their athletic and arts programs. They have not done this because they wanted to; they did so because they had no choice. One defeated budget in the Nyack School District would decimate our entire educational program. I believe that the approval of this bond could place our regular budget and our current educational program in jeopardy. I would rather use our retiring bond debt to fund critical educational programs through the regular school budget. The 2% levy cap will leave many of the students of New York State behind. A supermajority is required for any district to exceed the cap. Many would disagree that any district should propose a budget above the levy cap. I disagree. If the district can give additional support to the educational program without a tax increase, because of retiring debt, it will be more likely, in my view to garner support and save that educational program. If we lose the ability to pay for the district’s core educational program, all of the improvements this bond supports will have been in vain. Kids must come first and all of our choices should be filtered through that lens.
The district has urged voters to support this proposal because of millions of dollars in critical infrastructure improvements. My analysis allows me a short term alternative proposal that will address many of these current and critical needs. I do not believe that very many in the community would oppose these projects.
My proposal to address these critical needs uses the 5 million dollars the district has wisely placed in its capital reserve fund. My proposal then factors in an additional 2 million dollars in state aid that would be generated by the expenditure of the 5 million. This produces a 7 million dollar set of projects.
For these 7 million dollars the district could do the following from its list:
1. Pay for all of the fire safety and emergency lighting projects at a cost 1.2 million dollars.
2. Replace all of the boilers in the district at a cost of 2 million dollars.
3. Replace the roof at the High School and the Middle School at a cost of 2 million dollars.
4. Make all electrical upgrades at a cost of almost half a million dollars.
5. Make all the technology upgrades at a cost of half a million dollars.
I think that this set of projects clearly shows that the district can make substantial infrastructure improvements just with our current assets. If the district were to only do these projects there would be no tax impact at all. Other proposals in the bond including some field improvements are worthy of investment as well. This bond should not be seen as the only way to deal with the infrastructure needs facing the district. If this proposal is rejected, I would support the creation of an alternative proposal. The district can address significant aspects of its critical infrastructure needs without spending 26 million dollars.