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State Official Adamant: No Aid For Congers Elementary Repairs

Congers Elementary School
Congers Elementary School

UPDATED 7:15 p.m. with comments.

A top ranking State Education Department (SED) official refused to consider the Clarkstown School District’s appeal for state aid because the district has excess classrooms.  Carl Thurnau, director of SED’s Office of Facilities Planning, told district officials and board members Monday night that the school system has more than 60 excess classrooms according to state calculations. 

The district applied for state funding equal to 51 percent of the $6.5 million cost to repair Congers Elementary, which was closed in August. After SED rejected the application in early January, state legislators intervened to organize a meeting. 

School Superintendent Dr. J. Thomas Morton said Thurnau was adamant that the district was not eligible for aid. Thurnau explained state statutes count only interchangeable classrooms where students are taught a variety of subjects. It does not include in that number rooms used for computer, language or music labs or gym. 

The state calculated that the district has about 80 excess classrooms. Board members disputed that and said the district has seven or eight unused classrooms. State regulations permit 23 students in kindergarten through second grade classes and 27 students in third through fifth grade classes. The district’s classes are smaller than those sizes. 

Thurnau gave Morton a letter with the state’s position. 

“(It’s) basically saying we have two close two other (schools) if we want to keep Congers online,” said Morton. “That’s pretty straightforward what he said.” 

Thurnau’s letter described the district’s options. 

“The Department recommends that the district conduct a demographics and space analysis to inform how to utilize existing space in the most efficient manner. If the district determines that Congers should remain a viable instructional facility in the future, renovations could be eligible for aid if other schools were taken off line to align enrollment with available space.”

School Board President Mike Aglialoro and board members Joe Malgieri and Chris Conti attended the two-hour-long meeting. Aglialoro said Thurnau's response was disappointing to hear but if the bond passes, the board will take further action and decide how to appeal.

A public vote on a $6.5 million bond for the repair of Congers Elementary will be held from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 4. As of Monday, more than 140 applications for absentee ballots had been submitted. 

Editor's Note: The letter is attached to the article and is online at the district's website.

Kevin Roy February 01, 2014 at 01:21 PM
Mr. Leiter, the scenario you describe and the bond approval conflicts with the FAQ document and the quote from Mr. Aglialoro. Both indicate that if the bond passes, Congers gets fixed.
Kevin Roy February 01, 2014 at 01:30 PM
"About the bond..." Not "and the bond". Clarkstown Dad, your point about future aid is a huge concern of mine. I asked about this and they included it in the FAQ, but for others, here's my question and the response: If (the) Congers Bond passes, is CCSD at risk of being ineligible for future aid to renovate or repair other elementary schools in the District if we do not close another school? Answer: Anytime state aid is requested, the state agents will consider the concept of capacity. Depending on the project, excess capacity may be factor.
Clarkstown Dad February 01, 2014 at 03:21 PM
Thanks Kevin ..... and think about how much $ we are potentially talking about in potential future aid. Now if only you weren't a Patriots fan ... :)
Hilary Jordan Kunz February 01, 2014 at 04:24 PM
Overtaxed, I did not conveniently disappear...I do have other resposibilities/ interests (work, family, etc) that require my attention. In regards to wrongly attributing the statement that was made by another individual to you, I do apologize. Unfortunately, I made a mistake as to which alias I associated that statement. I was wrong. Phil Leiter, thank you for once again, speaking out in favor of this bond and for doing in in such a calm, fair way. I do not believe Congers residents, families and their supporters are asking for any more or less than they would be willing to do for any other school within this district. I ask that everyone just consider voting "yes" in order to give Congers Elementary a chance at remaining part of our district.
Overtaxed February 01, 2014 at 04:44 PM
Thank you Hilary
One love February 01, 2014 at 08:22 PM
Hilary the aliases do get confusing!
Robert Ward Kurkela February 01, 2014 at 08:54 PM
One love! You're back! Sorry I didn't blog much today. My daughter had a soccer tourney at RCC. But I'm back, ready to kick the ball back and forth. Ready to play?
One love February 02, 2014 at 09:34 AM
Ready! Go. I heard you know who One love is!! So proud of you RWK...it only took you 3 months.
Hilary Jordan Kunz February 02, 2014 at 09:39 AM
Bob, I just watched a portion of the video from the most recent board meeting. What is your feeling about Dr Morton sharing conversations which occurred in executive session? I know you have taken issue with this type of behavior from specific board members.
Kevin Roy February 02, 2014 at 02:54 PM
Can someone point me to any comments from Dr. Morton or any Board member that indicates that a YES vote doesn't result in them moving forward with the repairs?
Overtaxed February 02, 2014 at 03:53 PM
You won't see that Kevin because it's once again misinformation. They will fix the school if the bond passes. Do not let anyone tell you otherwise
Speaking Out February 02, 2014 at 06:17 PM
@Kevin Roy...wouldn't that be the most ridiculous thing this Board could ever do...put up a bond and it passes and then say to the community...No we now decided to close your building and not fix it. Why on earth would any Board member think that way? That would just be so irresponsible of our elected officials...I have seen some people posting and stating that, so that leads me to think, people are trying to do anything they can to confuse the community about this vote. My opinion, pure and simple...taxes will increase by $26/year if your house is assessed at $140k..many houses are assessed higher than that, so your increase can be more than the $26/year, there is enough room in our other buildings to house these children, who still will be getting a Clarkstown Education, savings of 1.25mm per year, can affect future aid to other buildings since capacity is a factor in aid from the state...my vote pure and simple is NO based on the facts I have just listed. I can no longer afford these type of increases to our school buildings when there are bigger issues that should be addressed.
ADK February 02, 2014 at 07:11 PM
Actually, this is a non issue...it is illegal to use bond money for anything other than the intended purpose...there are also strict parameters about changing the scope of the project as well as the timeframe for which to complete the work. You may remember that the prior administration was caught "parking" unspent bond money in different codes and it caused a huge firestorm.
Speaking Out February 02, 2014 at 08:03 PM
@ADK...I don't believe anyone said use the bond money for something else...rather people are trying to say...pass the bond and let the money sit there as a just in case. That this Board does not have to fix the building at all...though I am trying to find a reason to vote yes I just can't. Makes no sense whats so ever to fix this building when we all know enrollment has decreased, they can fit into the other buildings, we risk future aid due to capacity, savings and increased taxes. I will be voting NO as I have repeatedly stated due to those FACTS
Kevin Roy February 02, 2014 at 08:30 PM
Overtaxed, Speaking Out, and ADK, I agree and the silence from others speaks volumes. I watched the November board meeting again which only strengthened my decision to vote NO. This vote is before us not because of Dr. Morton or Mr. Malgieri. We're voting on Tuesday at the request of few who asked to give Congers "a shot" with a Congers-only bond. The misinformation and use of fear to manipulate those that may not have the time do their own research is NOT reflective of a community and can only be described as self-serving.
Phil Leiter February 02, 2014 at 11:17 PM
Exactly right, ADK, and that's the point. The bond authorization cannot be spent on anything except its stated purpose. It cannot be used for something else, and it must be spent within a certain time period, or it is not spent. Further, it does NOT compel the District to spend the money on the project. That's a fact. Purely as a hypothetical, if the building did collapse then the repairs would be moot and the money would not be spent. Under normal circumstances, one would expect the repairs to be done with the bond's approval. These are not normal circumstances. Since the state sees the need for the District to come up with a much more comprehensive plan, if and when the District develops that plan it would supersede the individual bond. A "no" vote does nothing except exclude Congers from the development of that plan. As to the District's misinformation, I will offer one example: because many people believed from the FAQ that closing Congers would end any further redistricting, it has issued a clarification that the future plans described in its FAQ are an outline for the only next 1-2 years. There's some certainty for the future, eh?
Clarkstown Dad February 03, 2014 at 07:49 AM
Phil ..... misinformation again from the Congers supports. Show me where the State ever said they required a more comprehensive plan. You make it sound like if that existed then we would get State Aid. That ship has sailed for Aid on this project according to the State. Clarkstown has excess capacity and as a result we will NOT be getting aid. Using that logic moving forward at least in the short term, this means by opening Congers no aid would be given for the same reason. Imagine, the district trying to do (let's say) $30 Mill in needed repairs is giving up $16+ Mill. Talk about being short sighted and just throwing money away. Also .... really coming from you ..... if the Bond passes it doesn't mean we have to spend it. I'd love to hear what you, Malgeri and the rest would say to that should it happen.
Clarkstown Dad February 03, 2014 at 07:59 AM
Let's go to another point people have been making and an argument they have played. Point from Congers point ..... we want to work together, it shouldn't be a Congers versus the rest situation, we are one district. Argument from them ...... let's get a complete plan, i.e. the Demographer's report (that who voted against, oh yeah Malgeri/Conti). Now why do they want this??? They want it in the hopes it says to close another school instead .... this is the only reason. So Congers is pitting themselves against the others. The building is the oldest, has highest required repair costs, with the lowest student population (2% of our student population). Only reason to vote yes is due to emotion ..... we have plenty of facts at hand to justify what is being done and to vote no.
Phil Leiter February 03, 2014 at 08:29 AM
I've noticed that you've resorted to trying to color my remarks as a Congers-only view. My views on the District and my efforts towards a districtwide discussion on the schools are long known, so whatever. Give me a plan where the closing of Congers makes sense, and you would indeed hear what I have to say. The state's intent was pretty clear in their letter: no aid is forthcoming regardless of the outcome in Congers without far more work from the Board and many more changes for the District. I don't know what your problem is with Mr. Malgieri, but the demographer's work would only be a component of any plan, not a plan in itself. At any rate, it doesn't appear there is any more I need to say on this thread.
Clarkstown Dad February 03, 2014 at 04:20 PM
"Resorted" really Phil .... fine but it is clear that you are a proponent of this bond so is it unfair to say you have a Conger-only view? Now on to the comment about the State's intent in its letter ..... YOU COULD NOT BE MORE WRONG ... misdirection and misinformation AGAIN from the pro-Congers side. No reasonable person can take what the State said in that letter to say "without a plan". The letter clearly said the aid was denied since "significant excess capacity within the district's reaming elementary schools" exists. That is the sole reason given for the denial .... nothing else. The only reference to a plan, and that word is not used, is to utilize existing space in the most efficient manner .... i.e. without Congers. The letter goes on to say that if the District decides to keep Congers open the District may be eligible for aid in thr future if we close other schoolSSSS (plural). Very surprised here Phil ..... I really need to pay more attention now with what you write in the future.
Phil Leiter February 03, 2014 at 04:31 PM
I will let our posts speak for themselves. Thanks for the exchange.
Clarkstown Dad February 03, 2014 at 05:12 PM
I laughed out loud and woke up the dog ..... thank you. This will be a classic.
Taxestoohigh February 03, 2014 at 05:28 PM
I don't understand something. I saw signs up today in Congers. If what they claim is true, that this is about all of our schools, why do their signs say save our community? If they really cared about the rest of us, shouldn't it be save the Clarkstown community?
Overtaxed February 03, 2014 at 07:01 PM
Great point taxes. I hear the same thing but have not seen one person in front of shop rite passing out info or one flyer emailed to me. They have kept things in their own community, had Facebook groups that only cater to congers but call themselves Clarkstown... I'm convinced some people really don't want clarkstowm to get out there and vote. If congers has a large turnout, which I am sure they will, and can limit other areas, they have a better chance of the bond passing
Taxestoohigh February 04, 2014 at 11:48 AM
Overtaxed, what's your take on how Congers reacts if this passes or fails?
Overtaxed February 04, 2014 at 11:53 AM
I've already seen comments that if the bond fails, its not over. Due to the recent statements by people who say that the board does not have to follow Morton's recommendations, which is technically true, I believe they will use that as a catalyst to go at the board and say just because Morton says to close the School, the BOE does not have to. I think that argument will fall on deaf ears.
Taxestoohigh February 04, 2014 at 12:02 PM
I don't understand why these people ran a negative campaign to save Congers. Wouldn't it have been better to rally people outside of Congers to vote Yes by being positive?
Overtaxed February 04, 2014 at 12:07 PM
Taxes... that has been my point all along. I think that they had a very valid argument without misinformation. I did not think it was necessary to put out all the BS. From your home values going down 29%, to the vast conspiracy to close the school, kids being on the bus unsafe distances, etc. I dont understand why they only put flyers in Congers and closed facebook groups. I truly believe they hurt their cause. But I guess time will tell.
Taxestoohigh February 04, 2014 at 12:23 PM
They can't control themselves it seems. A woman posted in the Congers Elementary School Facebook group that the district changed locations for the bond vote. It's been posted for weeks that Congers residents vote at Lakewood Elementary. Where did she expect to vote, at Congers? I am laughing at these posts.
One love February 06, 2014 at 06:00 PM
@both Taxestoohigh and Overtaxed...guess time told. It seems that we didn't hurt our cause right? It passed. I'm sorry to disappoint. And the best part? The rest of Clarkstown (not just congers) pushed it to a victory. I pray that I can be involved in the next bond vote. It will be epic.

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