By Susan Monteleone
ELDRED December 20, 2005 The Eldred Central Junior/Senior High School is in need of repairs but just how long can the district wait and what price tag will it hold for Eldred Central School taxpayers?
It has been stated that the electrical wiring in the school has to be updated, certain architectural areas need to be worked on and the building needs to be updated in general. The building is 60 years old.
However, the price tag of the needed repairs could reach as high as $10 million and would have to be put up to the voters of the district as a referendum.
It would consist of a 20 year bond, with annual payments of $750,000. District officials are concerned that such a referendum might not pass.
The proposed possible referendum would effect the 2006-07 budget and would increase it from $12,452,853 to $14,320,780 which would be a 15 percent increase over last years budget.
In order to make the annual bond payment, there would have to be a reduction of $750,000 to the current proposed budget.
To reduce the budget by $750,000 to make a bond payment, 20 positions would have to be cut, programs would be limited, the buying of textbooks, classroom equipment and all other necessary items would not be able to be ordered.
With the reductions, the building would remain open for the students as the repair work is completed.
Another option is being considered.
That would be to tuition students out of the district. If students in grades 7 through 12 are to be tuitioned out to neighboring schools, it would cost roughly $4,909,305 to send them to Port Jervis, to send the students to Monticello would cost about $5,866,709, and the figure to send students to Sullivan West would be $5,132,550.
Those prices do not take into account special education costs or the costs of closing the current Eldred Central Junior/Senior High School.
All figures are rough estimates and nothing has been agreed upon by the district.
Superintendent Ivan Katz recently responded to the facts presented at the Eldred Central School Board meeting, saying he hoped that some issues will be cleared up in regards to the fate of the school.
"I gave a presentation at the last school board meeting regarding the building project concerns, the tuitioning of students in grades 7 through 12 and the potential impact on future budgets that will be caused by a building project, Katz said. The direction of the presentation came from the board of education.
Katz went on to note that Vincent Zike, the president of the board, feels that the future of the districts children lies with our ability to maintain an educated population in a safe setting.
On the local level , we have a significant fixed income community who are concerned about the rising tax burden that is being heaped on them, Katz said. Mr. Zike feels that if they had the resources, they would give the district and the community whatever they asked for.
The fact is, they are just trying to maintain their living standard as they struggle through retirement. We also have a significant community of folks that want a local school, with all that comes with the community identity. The need is real and must be recognized."
Katz said he feels Zike's primary concern with the junior/senior high school building is the safety of the students.
Katz added, "Ignorance is not an acceptable reason to allow a condition to exist, so we are pursuing each aspect of the structure to make sure it is safe.
The junior/senior high school has known problems that are either close to becoming a safety issue, or will sometime in the future, Katz continued. Mr. Zike would like the focus to identifying those issues and fixing them. before the school district is faced with a crisis."
Katz said the future of the building is a topic that has been discussed for several years.
The high school was built in 1941 and was built to code including the electrical codes for that time period. Then, in 2005, Katz noted that the power demands on the high school with the advances in technology were much greater than in earlier years.
The capital project that the board is considering will encompass the fixing of the junior/senior high school and the elementary school, Katz said.
The junior/senior high school has a laundry list of items that need to be fixed and or updated including, but not limited to, total roof replacement, upgrading of the electrical system, paving all parking lots, window replacements, masonry restoration of exterior walls, communication systems upgrades, bleacher replacements and kitchen upgrades," he said.
At the elementary school, outstanding work to be done includes the upgrading/replacement of a gymnasium wall and floor tile replacement. These items were left over from a previous capital project because the cost of completing that project suppressed expected costs by more than a half million dollars. Rising construction costs are a serious condition for the school district as planning continues.
"A building project translates to rising costs on future school budgets, Katz continued. Rising costs on school budgets have implications on future tax levies, and future tax levies have implications on future tax rates.
Katz is hoping the board can come up with a way to save the building that is acceptable to the voters.
"We do have some possible outcomes to the issue one outcome would be to approve a referendum for a new building project that goes out for a public vote and that vote passes. In that case, issues at the junior-senior high school and the elementary school would be addressed, he said.
A second possible outcome is that the board approves a referendum for a new building project that goes to the public vote and that vote fails. In that case, issues at both schools would still have to be addressed, and the outcome of future budgets also play an integral part of future consideration.
If future budgets pass, then the school district continues to run programs and facilities as planned for. If future budgets fail, then contingency budgets will require the kind of expense cutting that will have long term effects on the programs and facilities beyond the contingent budget years," stated Katz.
But Katz said the idea of tuitioning out Eldreds students to other districts is not an answer.
"I have reviewed the issue of the potential tuitioning costs for the three school districts that border Eldred with our Business Manager Dan Grecco, and the numbers are just estimates and only this years rate.
But, Katz continued, to send our students elsewhere would be more money then repairing the school," stated Katz.
Beyond the tuition costs themselves, Katz said there are transportation costs to consider.
"To transport students to Port Jervis, there would be an estimated increase of $54,000 miles and would affect the transportation department in the amount of $129,635, he said.
Katz estimated the Port Jervis bus runs could almost be two and a half hours long. If the students were sent to the Monticello school district, there would be a mileage increase of 48,000 and the transportation department would absorb a cost of $115,000 with those trips being almost two and a half hours long.
Finally, if the students went to Sullivan West there would be an increase of 99,000 miles, and the transportation department would absorb an increased cost of $239,464 and that would give students a possible three-hour bus run, stated Katz.
Katz stated that if this scenario were to occur, 50 positions at the school would be cut including teachers, teacher assistants, civil service positions, para-professionals, secretarial staff and administration.
We have worked out only a guesstimated scenario of what would happen if a referendum for a capital project failed. These numbers are only guesstimates and until we know what we are dealing with we can not have concrete numbers."
Katz noted that he looked at the current 2005-06 budget which is $12,452,853 and then he added a conservative 15 percent increase to that current budget to come up with a $14,320,780 budget for 2006-07.
The increase of 15 percent means a budget to budget increase of $1,867,927 over the 2005-06 school year.
Katz also noted that he has spoken with the school districts architectural firm.
"We are looking at all possible solutions to the issue of the junior senior high school, and I know that the board will do what is in the best interest of the students as well as the taxpayers," stated Katz.