It’s been two months since the Port Chester Board of Education
voted to accept the Bond Advisory Committee’s $78.66 million bond
recommendation, and the only thing that has changed about the proposed plan is
its price tag. Due to a more concrete estimate, the once $78.66 million project
has been jacked up to $79.95 million.
The following costs are still estimates put forward by the Board
of Education: Port Chester High School will cost about $49.9M, John F. Kennedy
Magnet School is at $15.4M, King Street School will cost $11.6M, Park Avenue
School will cost $2.67M and Thomas A. Edison School will cost $291,636.
During the board’s Tuesday, Jan. 11 meeting, Taxpayer Alliance Group
Co-Chairman Tom Ceruzzi expressed his distaste for Board of Education President
Jim Dreves’ reasoning for hiring the public relations firm Focus Media, Inc.
“I kind of resent the word ‘educate’ the taxpayer. We don’t need
to be educated,” Ceruzzi said. He added that when you put an $80M bond in front
of the public, they will understand the number.
“We’re going to be running a $100 million school project soon and
that’s unacceptable,” he concluded.
TAG member Dan Telep echoed Ceruzzi’s disdain for the proposed bond.
“The Board of Education and Board of Trustees are out of control,
plain and simple,” Telep said vehemently. “As far as the Taxpayer Alliance
Group is concerned, an $80 million bond won’t happen.”
“I no longer have a child who attends the school district. Why am
I paying $7,000 a year while other kids get freebies? I’m not paying for it,”
“If you want to put an $80 million bond in front of the
taxpayers, we’re going to be a huge roadblock for you. And when that $80
million bond fails, you all should resign,” he concluded. He quickly amended his
statement to say that board member Anne Capeci should stay in her position
because she “knows right from wrong.”
But not every member of the public shared their view on the project’s
“People keep talking about affording this,” said King Street
School parent Noah Geller. “Historically, right now, interest rates are just
starting to creep back up. Interest rates are lower than they have ever been.
An $80 million bond might be $100 million sometime in the future. If we borrow
at a cheaper rate, we’re going to pay less.”
His statement was echoed by numerous former BAC members, but it
was Capeci and Dreves who stole the spotlight when they commented on Telep’s
Capeci spoke about how many people approached her and asked what
the board was thinking by proposing something so expensive, but she also said that
she hasn’t heard a single person complain about paying for someone else’s child
to attend school.
For the first time on this issue, the board was in unanimous
agreement on the fact that all of their kids, whether they are currently in the
district or have graduated, benefitted from other people paying for their
education and that they have no issue returning the favor for future
“The bottom line is we all have an obligation to take care of our
kids,” Dreves said.
If anyone disagrees with this responsibility, board member Bob
Johnson had a few choice words.
“You made a choice to live here,” Johnson said. “It’s time to
make an investment in your community. You can’t walk away, you have to be
committed. And as a taxpayer here for 30 years, without a child in the system
for 15 of them, I feel that I’ve made an investment in this community and I
think many people would join me when I say ‘yes’ to this investment.”
But the white flag of peace didn’t fly for long. Capeci dominated
the rest of the discussion. She moved to table the resolution in front of the
board that called for authorization of Hawkins Delafield and Wood as the
district-appointed counsel to prepare a resolution for a bond referendum. The school
board veteran hoped that holding off the aforementioned resolution would give
enough time for the BAC to be reinstated and for them to meet with board to
discuss what to cut from their recommendation in order to make the cost a
little easier to swallow and to ensure that everything on the future ballot
would be exactly what the community wanted.
This comment had a couple of former BAC members in the audience ask:
“So, we’re not the community?” Anyone in the Port Chester School District could
have applied to be on the BAC and all of the members were residents of the
district and either have kids in the schools, had them enrolled previously or
attended the schools themselves.
Board of Education Vice President Christopher Wolff intervened
and spoke directly to Capeci. He told her that he knows her heart is in the
right place in that she wants to put up a plan that can pass, but the two
disagreed on if the bond in front of them has a chance when it’s put in front
of voters in the spring.
“I believe that $80 million can pass,” Wolff said. He went on to
say that this bond isn’t perfect – he would have liked to see an auditorium in
Park Avenue School, but he needed to curb his desires and accept that he wasn’t
getting everything he wanted in this bond. However, that doesn’t mean Wolff
believes this bond is the wrong solution.
“I look at it from the standpoint of getting this done versus not
getting this done,” the board’s vice president continued. “The message that it
sends to the community by not getting this $80 million bond done, not an agreed
lesser value or a middle of the road, the cost of not getting this done is too
great for me to vote to table this, to vote to do something differently. The
cost of not getting this $80 million sends the wrong message to the community,
to new homebuyers, to the people that have students in the schools currently. I
can’t support that.”
Despite Capeci’s effort, the rest of the board was in agreement –
they couldn’t spare the time to create a new plan if they wanted to get shovels
in the ground in the summer. Her motion was turned down 4-1.
As to approving Hawkins Delafield and Wood, the board voted 4-1
in favor with Capeci dissenting.
To view the bond presentation Joe Fuller of Fuller &
D'Angelo, P.C. Architects and Planners put together, go to the Board of
Education's website: www.portchesterschools.org/board_of_education.
The school board will be holding a special meeting in the Port
Chester High School auditorium on Tuesday, Jan. 31 at 7 p.m. in room 229 to take further
required actions related to the bond referendum.