For the second time in less than a year, Chappaqua's school board has rejected a capital plan for Putnam/Northern Westchester BOCES to renovate its facilities.
The board voted against at a special meeting on Tuesday morning, the district announced. The vote was unanimous, District Clerk Theresa Markley confirmed.
The initial iteration, which cost $19,050,000, was voted down by six out of 18 component districts, including Chappaqua. The voting then took place from late 2011 to early 2012. Unanimous passage from all 18 school boards, in both cases, was needed for BOCES to vote the process forward.
In response to the first rejection, BOCES came back with a slimmed-downed plan costing $16,944,701, which was presented to the Chappaqua school board at a late September meeting. The second plan had a range of cost cuts, such as replacing a therapy pool with two smaller units, changing to a 60 mil. rubber membrane roof for work and using a smaller HVAC unit in one of the buildings.
BOCES maintains that the changes are necessary to keep its infrastructure up to date.
In its statement announcing the rejection, the school board blasted the process, particularly because BOCES plans to move forward with the work regardless of the outcome of the second voting round. This would involve hiking the annual capital contribution amount demanded from school districts, funding that BOCES states it would drop temporarily during the course of the project if the boards were to approve it. That argument from BOCES did not sit well with the board because there's no guarantee that it won't return in the coming years.
"The proposal is presented in the form of a vote for or against the project," the board's statement reads. "In reality, there is no opportunity for a meaningful vote. We have been informed of the PNWBOCES Board’s unilateral decision to override its component districts and carry out the project through large increases to capital charges in the event of a “no” vote. This prospect may compel some districts to agree to the project under duress. The current process introduces a significant unanticipated expense into local school budgets while bypassing the checks and balances of a meaningful vote by local School Boards and their taxpayers."
The statement notes that Chappaqua's share under the plan would be $1,282,316, or roughly 8.3 percent. The share was decided based on a 50-50 formula that takes into account a mix of property values and enrollment in BOCES programs, something that the board has complained about.
The board calls for BOCES to change its current process for attaining the capital fixes and to come up with a plan that is more modest. Additionally, the board gave several "areas of concern," asking that BOCES have facilities committee representation from each of its 18 districts, having a "clear and firm committment" to districts' annnual capital fund contributions, a look into selling property and looking into a merger with Southern Westchester BOCES.
Below is the district's full statement (italics added for visual differentiation from the story):
At a special meeting of the Chappaqua Central School District Board of Education convened on October 9, 2012 by order and authority of Putnam/Northern Westchester BOCES (“PNWBOCES”) under applicable law, the Chappaqua School Board voted against a Resolution to enter into a Joint Agreement with PNWBOCES for a $17 million proposed Capital Project plan.
School districts are facing an unprecedented financial crisis. Developing school budgets under a 2% tax levy cap without meaningful mandate relief coupled with decreasing state aid has led to cuts in school programs, massive staff layoffs, and the looming prospect of insolvency.
According to the “Lower Hudson Council of Superintendents Position Paper – Recommendations for Mandate Relief” (December 2011), thirty LHCSS districts have cut almost $179 million in programs and eliminated 1,559 staff positions. LHCSS districts lost over $300 million dollars in state and federal aid. To meet the tax cap threshold, a sample of 32 LHCSS districts have projected the need to close budget gaps by almost $78 million for the 2012-13 budget year. In Westchester County alone, there have been 776 FTE reductions in past 3 years (77 FTE in the Chappaqua School District).
According to the New York State School Boards Association, school districts will face a breaking point under the current structure. In its Testimony to the Joint Legislative Fiscal Committees on the 2012-2013 Executive Budget, NYSSBA stated: “Many districts have closed schools altogether. Reserve funds are depleted. Most school districts have laid off important staff that provide needed programs and services to students. Class sizes have escalated rapidly kindergarten is threatened, let alone pre-kindergarten programs. Sports, music and art are being slashed to weather the fiscal storm that has lasted for over four years now. In short, the very things that make kids want to go to school are gone. … Extraordinary times call for extraordinary leadership. And such times also provide rich opportunities for systemic improvement. “
In such times, the role of BOCES is at its most critical. BOCES is a shared services model designed to help school districts achieve efficiencies to alleviate financial burdens by finding cost-effective and innovative approaches to address educational needs while promoting financial stability.
Despite the difficult economic climate, PNWBOCES has presented its 18 component districts with a $17million Capital Project plan for building repairs and renovations (reduced from $19 million). PNWBOCES anticipates that districts would use available funds or issue a bond resolution voted on by a majority of each School Board (not by their taxpayers as is typical for a bond issuance).
Chappaqua Central School District’s allocated cost is in the amount of $1,282,316. The allocation method is not based on either a pro rated usage fee or a simple 1/18th amount allocated to each of the 18 districts that comprise the PNWBOCES. It is based on a 50-50 split between property values and enrollment numbers within each individual district. CCSD’s allocation percentage under this method is 8.30%. Were there an equal split among the member districts, CCSD’s allocation would be 5.56%. Among the 18 districts, CCSD bears the third highest percentage allocation, the highest being 11.03% and the lowest being 1.08%.
The proposal is presented in the form of a vote for or against the project. In reality, there is no opportunity for a meaningful vote. We have been informed of the PNWBOCES Board’s unilateral decision to override its component districts and carry out the project through large increases to capital charges in the event of a “no” vote. This prospect may compel some districts to agree to the project under duress. The current process introduces a significant unanticipated expense into local school budgets while bypassing the checks and balances of a meaningful vote by local School Boards and their taxpayers.
The current course is not inevitable. It is the result of a voluntary decision taken by the BOCES Board that remains within their control. We request that PNWBOCES reconsider the current process and instead, work with its 18 component districts to establish a plan that is responsive to our needs. A more modest and longer-term capital projects plan, with exploration of alternative solutions, would be in keeping with the mission and purpose of the BOCES model to serve the needs of its component districts. We continue to look forward to working with PNWBOCES and our fellow component districts in a collaborative, constructive and forward-looking way.
Areas of Concern Moving Forward:
1. Firm commitment to long-term maintenance plan that includes a facilities committee with representation from each district.
2. Clear and firm commitment on each district’s capital fund contribution (no assurances of amount at this time; proposed elimination of current capital charge is not guaranteed).
3. Exploring sale of property (last attempt made in 2005).
4. Exploring alternative uses of space in a 240-acre campus with 330,000 square footage of space spread over 12 buildings.
5. Pool: What does Southern Westchester BOCES do for pool therapy? How many of the 18 component districts have students using the pool? Can pool therapy be done off-site? Proposed Hydrotherapy pool has many moving parts and will require a lot of maintenance. What is budget for pool maintenance and repair plan?
6. Roof: Proposed 60mil EPDM rubber roof is very thin, requires a lot of maintenance and is prone to splits and leaks. Roof leaks should have been addressed by regular maintenance, as they occurred – standard procedure is to patch a leak to prevent it from spreading water into the building. Sealing seam leaks and preventive maintenance should be done through a yearly maintenance contract.
7. Exclusion of certain items from a Capital Project plan, i.e., PA system should be in the O&M budget, not in the capital project; locker room renovations should be done by in-house maintenance with help from students in vocational school classes.
8. Commit to a plan to evaluate a PNWBOCES and Southern Westchester BOCES consolidation and/or look to make it a pay to play environment where BOCES can compete for services in the marketplace, giving component districts vetted pricing and potentially creating a profit center in BOCES.
Chappaqua Board of Education