Until a couple of months ago I had been enjoying the sleep of someone no longer on the school board--no four-hour meetings, no 20-hour work weeks with no compensation, no late-night calls from parents, and a blood pressure that had dropped 40 points. (I served from 2007 to 2012.)
Then I saw the words “capital project” in a headline and the education alarm bells went off. Nothing like a little $20 million spending proposal to wake one up. Didn’t the Hudson City School District just go through a $35 million renovation and new construction at the high school?
Déjà vu all over again?
I heated up the midnight oils and started reading (the four-page information sheet that came in the mail, the HCSD website, local papers, and blogs), talking to teachers and parents, emailing friends, attending one of the three District-sponsored public “conversations” at John L. Edwards School, and sending my own set of questions to Superintendent Maria Suttmeier, School Board President Maria McLaughlin, and board member Sage Carter. (Contact me if you would like to see a copy of the Q&A.)
Déjà vu all over again? The answer, I’m happy to report, is absolutely not.
Not only does the proposal finish many of the needed improvements that didn’t make it into the last construction effort, the $19.9 million that voters are being asked to approve offers enhancements much more closely targeted to benefit our students and the taxpayer: notably, new facilities for PreK-2 students at the Intermediate school (that lovely WPA building that I think of as our shining city on the hill) and track and field facilities that will finally give our kids a level playing field.
Most importantly, however, is the District’s willingness to engage the community in this project--and listen! It was not only with the well-attended community conversations, but when the South Bay Task Force raised questions about the environmental impact of the building proposed for the north side of the Intermediate School, Dr. Suttmeier immediately arranged for a tour of the Underhill Pond area with several conservationists and board members and concluded that the District would not only provide appropriate drainage measures to prevent further erosion of Underhill, but endeavor to partner with the City of Hudson to provide educational and recreational programs for students and adults alike. She also reached out to--and addressed--Hudson’s Common Council.
Perhaps the most controversial part of the February 9 spending proposition is not on the ballot: the closing of JLE. For Hudson, of course, this is a community treasure, with many memories for many residents. The problem is that neither the taxpayers nor the students can afford it. HCSD enrollment has dropped by nearly 25 percent in the last 10 years--we now have under 1,800 students sloshing around in buildings capable of accommodating 2,400. This is an amazing waste of space, one that will be solved, with great financial savings to taxpayers, with the new plan.
More importantly, from my point of view, is that putting the PreK-2 kids under one roof, with 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders, will finally solve the “silo” problem: moving kids from one school to another, especially at this age, is simply not an academically sound policy.
Dr. Suttmeier assured JLE staff that there will be no cutbacks in staffing except that which comes from normal attrition. And, as to transportation to the new school, it must be noted that most JLE students already take a bus to school. It could also be a great opportunity to revisit the “walking school bus” idea that was discussed when I was on the board--as well as sidewalks, which Dr. Suttmeier noted would be part of the ongoing discussion.
Finally, it cannot be emphasized enough that local taxpayers are being asked to contribute less than 25 percent of the total cost of the project. Because of New York State building aid rules and the structuring of the District’s existing debt, the State pays $14.2 million of the total! If your house is worth $300,000, your HCSD taxes go up roughly $38 per year. And, thanks to income from the sale of the Claverack school (the first proposition voters are being asked to approve next Tuesday) and savings of over $100,000 in operating expenses from closing John L. Edwards and selling the Claverack building, taxpayers may even see more savings.
The February 9 proposal is a win-win, for taxpayers and children. Please Vote YES next Tuesday.The polling place for Hudson residents is John L. Edwards Primary School, 360 State Street. The polls are open from noon until 9 p.m.
COPYRIGHT 2016 CAROLE OSTERINK