Now that the New Paltz Central School District has seen another defeat of a school bond proposal — its second in four years — what’s next?
“Time is not on our side,” said New Paltz Board of Education member Dominick Profaci at the board’s recent regular meeting on Wednesday, November 5. “We have aging infrastructure; problems that will not go away unless we address them in the very near future.”
“We need to do something, and we need to do something quickly,” said Ruth Quinn, the board’s vice president.
In the course of discussing how to proceed with addressing the deficiencies of the school facilities, however, board members were reluctant to commit to a further course of action until they hear more feedback from voters as to why the bond issue proposal failed at the polls on October 28.
So they’re asking the New Paltz community to share their ideas and opinions — by November 17, if possible — and by the next board meeting on November 19, they anticipate coming back to the table able to make a better informed decision going forward.
Several avenues for providing feedback have been established.
A capital project hotline has been set up at (845) 256-4019 where residents can leave a two-minute message about the capital project proposal, including any recommendations for further consideration. Callers are asked to provide their names and town of residency for verification.
Letters may be mailed to the Board of Education c/o New Paltz Central School District, 196 Main Street, New Paltz NY 12561.
The board anticipates setting a direction by their next meeting on November 19. “We need to move soon because there are several building needs that cannot be delayed for long without risking system or equipment failure, which would then need to be addressed as an emergency to be paid for out of the existing operating budget, without the benefit of State aid reimbursement,” explained board president Brian Cournoyer in a press release.
The public board meeting will be held on Wednesday, November 19 at 6:30 p.m. in the district office conference room at Lenape Elementary School.
State law requires that the district wait a minimum of 90 days before putting another capital improvement project up for a vote.
Exit poll results
The New Paltz BOE heard from four students of the high school’s “PIGLETS” class (Participation in Government, Literature and Economics for Today’s Students) who conducted exit polls on the day of the vote and spoke at Wednesday’s board meeting along with their instructor, Joe Dolan, to discuss their findings. The polls were taken throughout the day, from noon to 9 p.m. The students collected 952 polls using tablets and paper copies. Thirty-six percent of voters completed an exit poll out of a total of 2,610 voters. Of the 952 polls taken, 76 percent said they voted in favor of the bond, while the actual vote was less than 50 percent. “People who voted ‘yes’ were more likely to take our poll,” one student said, “so our information could be a little skewed.”
Still, the results are worth considering. The exit polls show that 77 percent of those who voted ‘no’ said that the project costs and tax impact as well as the district’s current budget, were “very important” in their decision. And indeed, in nearby Highland, voters last December rejected a $25 million bond proposal to address their three schools’ aging infrastructure, but voted in a slimmed-down project on October 28 that came in at $17.5 million. Was $52.9 million simply too big a pill for New Paltz taxpayers to swallow?
The board’s proposal for the $52.9 million project would have resulted in an increase of $20 per $100,000 of assessed value annually for the average taxpayer in the district. The project was estimated to be eligible for State aid for approximately 50 percent of the costs.
Before the vote, board member Profaci told New Paltz Times that the $52.9 million project was approved to come up for a vote after other options were considered, including a $24.3 million proposal to just tackle the infrastructure problems and several options that would have involved consolidation of facilities, closing one or more of the district’s four schools. The consolidations would have amounted to a greater increase in the tax levy, said Profaci — as much as six percent more, rather than the one percent in the approved proposal — and in the end, using the Comprehensive Facilities Master Plan developed in February of this year as a guide, the $52.9 million project was deemed to be the least costly to taxpayers while meeting the educational needs of district students.
The students who conducted the exit polls said that of those who voted in favor of the bond, 88 percent said they did so because they found health and safety at the schools to be the most important issue. Secondary in importance was the need to bring the facilities into the 21st-century in terms of educational capabilities (cited by 78 percent as important) and only 41 percent said costs were a determining factor.
The polls also looked at how the voters obtained their information. The newspaper was cited as the primary source of information for both ‘yes’ and ‘no’ voters. More ‘yes’ voters said they also used the district website and toured the buildings to get their information, while ‘no’ voters said they were more influenced by mailings and flyers.
The age of voters was taken into account by the polls, as well. The majority who took the exit polls were between the ages of 30 and 50 years old. Of that age group, 89 percent voted ‘yes’ and eleven percent ‘no.’ Out of that group, 87 percent said they had children attending schools in the district. Those 51-65 years old were the largest group that voted ‘no,’ but 66 percent of voters over the age of 65 voted ‘yes.’
During the public comment portion of the meeting, New Paltz resident Cathy Sanchez spoke to some of what the exit polls revealed. Noting that the “PIGLETS” pollsters had found that 77 percent of voters said that the costs of the project were a major reason they voted ‘no,’ she told the board that they need to consider that. “We all know that these buildings can’t wait, so if we’re running on such a short time frame, it would behoove you to have an alternate plan with some significant cut to address those people who are not going to pass a number in the 50-millions.”
Sanchez also said that in talking to a lot of other parents, there was a feeling that the voting hours should have been extended to include morning hours. “I think you would get a lot more working community members who would be more likely to show up before work than leave their house after dinner to vote. It’s simply how we live our lives; once you’re in the car, going to work, you would stop and vote, but coming home it’s a different deal. I think we could pick up our numbers, and I don’t care if they’re ‘yes’ or ‘no’ votes, I think we want to make voting as easy as possible for everybody.”
The bond issue failed by just 150 votes.