There are always two sides to everything. In terms of the proposed $79.95 million bond, the Port Chester Board of Education must listen to the pros and cons and decide whether or not that bond can pass. 
Casey Watts|Westmore News
There are always two sides to everything. In terms of the proposed $79.95 million bond, the Port Chester Board of Education must listen to the pros and cons and decide whether or not that bond can pass. Casey Watts|Westmore News

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,” he continued.

“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 price tag.

“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 statement.

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 generations.

“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.