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Survey: Majority Favors Bedford Schools Bond

Questions in newly released phone survey point to a largely favorable picture for the bond, along with trust in the school district.

Although the final scope and price tag of the Bedford Central School District's capital plan bond has not been decided yet, a new survey shows that an early iteration has majority backing.

The November phone survey, presented by Dr. Rod Wright of UNICOM•ARC at Wednesday's school board meeting and included 500 participants, shows that 51.6 percent favor a package that could cost roughly $75 million. It is an early figure given by the district that does not include further refinement or possible scaling down of the package. That figure stayed constant when the topic was addressed twice in the survey: once near the start and again near the end.

Meanwhile, the survey shows 40.1 percent opposed when the question was first asked, then increasing to 43.9 percent when it was posed again.

The main reasons for opposing the bond are fiscal in nature. A plurality, at 34.5 percent, answered that they can't afford higher taxes that could come with it, while 15.3 percent felt the dollar amount was too high.

Voters also agreed with the district on priorities for the biggest-scale proposals in the capital plan, which could include a major renovation for West Patent Elementary School, new science labs and cafeteria space at Fox Lane Middle School, a turf and track replacement for Fox Lane High School, and roof and internal infrastructure work at several schools.

The question posed for renovating West Patent, including flexible class space and fixing a groundwater problem, garnered 52.2 percent who felt it was a "High Priority," 17.2 percent who said it was a "Top Priority" and just 22.7 percent who saw it as a "Low Priority."

Questions posed for middle school science lab work, a middle school cafeteria addition and roof replacements also had strong support for prioritization, scoring at respective numbers of 64.8 percent, 57.9 percent and 65 percent as high priorities. 

Possible bond items that garnered the weakest support in the High Priority category included a remodeling of the middle school's main entrance and office (33.6 percent), working on the ageing turf field and track (38.7 percent) and installing air conditioning in the 3-story sections of the high school (47.6 percent).

West Patent, which could potentially include more than $30 million worth of improvements, had several specific questions devoted to its future for priorities. Scoring the strongest in the High Priority category were eliminating water problems in the building with a series of measures including a roof replacement and exterior items (75.3 percent), replacing the older heating, electrical and plumbing systems (69.2 percent) and renovating classroom space (54.3 percent). 

Possible items for West Patent that did not score as well in the High Priority category were adding space for relocating the school district's preschool program (37.9 percent) and expanding the library and cafeteria (44.3 percent).

Voters were also asked about support for an alternative scenario for West Patent: replacing it with a new building that could house 700 students, and in the process, allowing for closure of another school. Just 41.8 percent of respondants agreed, while 48 percent disagreed.

Christina Dochtermann, a district parent who chairs the Community Investment Program (CIP), a group charged with getting word out about the bond, felt that the feedback given is good. She also felt that, based on general feedback from the community, people are already informed about what's going on and what's being considered.

The phone survey, Dochtermann said, includes a mix of people with kids in the schools and adults who do not. She also said that an Internet survey that was taken and concluded on Monday, will not be available until next week. However, she said, referencing an explanation at the board meeting, that it has even more favorable feedback for the district. That survey tends to skew more towards parents taking it, she said.

The district's timeline, which leads up to a possible March 12 bond vote, will be changed slightly. Dochtermann explained that at the board's Dec. 19 meeting, which was intended for presenting a recommended bond package, will instead focus on regrouping possible items for it by categories and orders of priority. The alteration, determined by a technical committee and in response to feedback, will group the items based on topics such as health and safety, instructional and maintenance. It will also separate possible items into priority categories ranging from what must be done to would people would like to be done.

Then, at the board's Jan. 9 meeting, Dochtermann said that a recommended pacakage will be presented by the administration for the board. The package, she said, will be released before then, which will give people time to review it. Following that, then goal is for the board to vote, at its Jan. 23 meeting, on putting the bond up for a referendum.

As the district moves closer in its timetable, the bond is attracting more community interest.

Video of the school board's Wednesday meeting shows several interested residents turning out to speak, ranging from West Patent parents making the case for the school's overhaul to folks concerned about the tax impact.

Howland Robinson, a Bedford Hills resident and member of the fiscal watchdog group Best4NY, said that the referendum date should be moved to May, “or sometime thereafter" so it can coincide with the vote on the annual operating budget. By doing so, he was recorded as explaining, it could help look at the district's overall fiscal picture.

Ronbinson was also concerned about the the $75 million projection, worrying that, in the age of the annual tax levy cap, it could result in future budgets far exceeding it.

“It's just a huge number," he said in the video.

When asked about the cost, Dochtermann noted that it will be reviewed, including by a construction manager. She felt that the price tag will improve once it's examined and economies of scale are applied as a cost assumption.

In the video, one West Patent parent felt that the current layout, including a longer kids bathroom journey, is inadequate and she had concerns about its safety. She also described the current cafetorium, which is being considered for an expansion, as already above capacity.

A full copy of the survey results is attached as a PDF file.

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