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Be Building

By Jeanne Sager
SULLIVAN COUNTY — March 22, 2005 – Voters made their feelings loud and clear on a proposed expansion of the BOCES Liberty campus.
Thursday, 3,221 county residents showed up at polling places in all eight county school districts to cast their ballots on a $17.2 million building project at the Liberty facility.
Of those, 2,484 checked “no” on the paper ballot.
The message was no clearer than in the Sullivan West Central School District where voters, wary of what the board of education last announced could be as much as a 23 percent tax increase, voted the BOCES project down by a 10 to 1 margin.
In the county’s newest district, 1,037 residents said no to the project, compared to 112 who said yes.
Because the vote was dependent on a majority of voters dissenting or assenting and did not require approval in each individual district, the proposal could have still been successful without the voters of Sullivan West.
But it failed to pass muster across the county – falling in all eight districts.
BOCES Superintendent Dr. Martin Handler called the numbers “pretty overwhelming.”
“Obviously, we’re very disappointed,” he said. “We thought this was a good project, but obviously the numbers are pretty overwhelming.”
Although the figures in Sullivan West could be attributed to uncertainty with the budget and frustration over merger issues, Handler said the fact is the proposal failed across the board.
“That means that clearly the folks feel they couldn’t afford it or they didn’t understand it,” he said.
Prior to Thursday’s vote, Handler had touted the project as a way to deal with the overflow of special education students – some of whom are still on waiting lists to access BOCES programming.
He’d also told members of the boards of education visited in the past few months to promote the project that it would give BOCES a chance to expand vocational programming.
Now the cooperative will be turning to its second option – leasing space around the county.
Short-term plans to rent the former White Sulphur Springs Elementary School, a few miles from the Liberty campus, will become long-term to answer the call for more special education classes – these programs are state-mandated and cannot be cut.
But the leases will likely cost more in the long run than the building project would have, Handler said.
And BOCES won’t be expanding its career and tech offerings.
“If we start a new program, it’s going to be because another program went away,” Handler said.
Asked if the proposal would be revisited, Handler again referred to the numbers.
“I think the message was clear - ‘We don’t want to do this,’” he said. “I can tell you I have no plans to bring this back.”
BOCES will be moving forward, he said, despite the setback.
“The kids have to get educated,” Handler noted. “We have to do the best we can do with what we’re given.”

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