When Saugerties voters head to the polls on Tuesday, May 16, they’ll have their say on a $62-million school spending plan, three seats on the school board, and a pair of propositions school officials say will come from outside sources and have no impact on school taxes.
The first proposition would authorize the district to go ahead with plans to construct a greenhouse as part of its Saugerties GROWS (Graduation Requirements through Occupational Work Study), which gives high-school students a wide range of opportunities to fulfill CDOS (Career Development and Occupational Studies) requirements. The proposition seeks voter approval to authorize the construction of a greenhouse on the campus of the high school, plus related site improvements and the purchase of equipment, furnishings, equipment and other expenses related to the project. The estimated maximum cost of $540,000 would be paid from unappropriated and unassigned general fund balance and federal grant money.
“The proposition is required because the estimated cost of construction exceeds the state threshold for construction,” said Lissa Jilek, the district’s business manager. “We need to ask for voter approval because the state is treating this like a capital project, which it is. There was money that the district received through a federal grant. However, in order to actually use the money we have to have voter approval.”
The other proposition authorizes the school board to establish a capital reserve fund. New York State Education law allows school districts to establish such funds to use on specific facilities projects for a specified period of time. The school board is seeking approval to create a fund that would be built up on an annual basis from funds exceeding the general-fund balance limit of four percent. The district’s probable term for the fund is ten years, with an amount not to exceed $10 million.
The greenhouse grant, awarded in January 2016, was for $744,520. It was intended to give students with mild to moderate disabilities the chance to earn CDOS credentials while working in a hands-on environment, covering areas like environmental science, technology, family and consumer science, economics, web development, advertising and art, and other academic disciplines.
Shortly after the district learned it would receive the grant, the New York State Education Department expanded the CDOS credential to include all students. Earning a CDOS credit can replace a Regents’ exam. Rather than sitting for five different tests, a student participating in Saugerties GROWS can instead take just four Regents’ exams. School officials realized they could expand the program’s reach to other students, many of whom were already working on projects that align with Saugerties GROWS.
A farmstand at the edge of the high school campus will be stocked and run by students at Saugerties High as part of Saugerties GROWS, and school officials said the greenhouse will help provide a wealth of educational opportunities as well.
While the benefits to students in the district are apparent, Jilek said, taxpayers may not realize that voting in favor of the proposition isn’t going to raise their local school taxes. “We’re concerned folks don’t know enough about it and will just go in and vote no, they’ll think their property taxes will go up and that’s not the case whatsoever,” she said. “It’s going to be coming from the federal grant and the fund balance, but we can’t build it until we have voter approval. It’s that simple.”
Jilek stressed that the capital reserve fund was not related to the greenhouse project, except that because of the legalese the district was concerned that voters might not be aware that approval would not impact their local school taxes.
“The proposition again is very wordy,” she said. “Basically it has to spell out what we’re going to use the money for, how long we keep the money, what is the total amount of money that we’re looking to reserve, and where does that money come from. It’s basically a who, what, where, when, why. It does not impact school taxes.”
The capital reserve fund is similar to a savings account for specific facilities needs, Jilek said. “It’s just a vehicle to save money,” she said. “Do we have $10 million floating around? No, we don’t, but we hope that over ten years we can grow up to $10 million. This is just to establish a capital reserve, a bank account basically. And in order to establish a bank account, the state says we need voter approval.”
Jilek added that voters would also have a voice in how the capital reserve money is spent. “When we do want to use it, it would again require voter approval,” she said.
Polls will be open in all four of the district’s elementary schools on Tuesday, May 16 from 6 a.m. until 9 p.m.
Saugerties Times will publish a 2017-18 budget proposal primer in next week’s paper.