Local schools to hold crucial Tuesday votes

·6 min read

May 15—In addition to proposed school budgets and school board elections, taxpayers in two local school districts will vote on proposed capital projects at the Tuesday, May 18, elections.

Laurens Central School is proposing a $3.5 million capital project that will enhance building security and safety for students, upgrade areas of the building 30 years older or more and create space for the addition of a Pre-K program.

"It has also long been a district goal to provide a quality pre-kindergarten experience for 4-year-olds," district Superintendent Bill Dorritie said. "There is abundant research to prove that children who have attended a quality pre-kindergarten program experience better academic and social outcomes as they transition into school."

The project is expected to have no local impact on taxpayers, with 86% of project costs covered by state building aid and $400,000 from a capital reserve fund that the district has been paying into for more than a decade, according to Dorritie.

Renovations will include classroom door and security upgrades, the installation of more "swipe-card" door entry systems and the addition of a secure vestibule at the school's main entrance.

Windows and doors original to the 1990 wing addition are set to be replaced, and the 1990 family and consumer sciences classroom is also slated to be upgraded. The ceilings, light fixtures and floors of the six classrooms in the 1955 section of the building will also be replaced.

The project will also add heat and insulation to the district's red barn and provide for heating, ventilation and air conditioning upgrades to the village and maintenance offices, Head Start space and the testing center. The village library will be brought into compliance with standards set by the Americans with Disabilities Act and will be fitted with a fire alarm and wifi access.

The school's baseball field will be transformed into a softball field to reflect student interests and team populations, Dorritie said.

"With declining enrollments, we will have difficulty fielding baseball teams for at least the next three years. We hope to merge with another local school like Morris or Milford for baseball and use their field during that time," he said. "Since we believe that we will have enough girls to field both modified and varsity softball we feel that converting the current baseball field to a softball field is a better use of our resources."

The district has been using a field in Mount Vision for many years, Dorritie said, "but that could end at any time, depending on approval for the construction of a new fire station at that site."

"We cannot afford to rent space in Oneonta for practices and games on a continued basis, and we would not want to ask our student athletes to play all of their games on the road," he continued.

The project will feature an upgrade to the school's 1973 lawn signage and replace the 1990 bus garage lift system, Dorritie said. The current lift passed its most recent annual state inspection, but is not expected to hold out for much longer.

Construction is scheduled to begin in summer 2022 and be completed by the 2022-2023 school year.

UNATEGO LOOKS AT BUILDING UPGRADES

Unatego Central School District taxpayers will be asked to approve a proposed $27.6 million capital project with zero impact on local tax levy.

State building aid will cover 87.5% of the costs, and the remaining cost of the project will be funded by a $1.3 million capital reserve account and $600,000 in EXCEL funds leftover from a previous project, according to district Superintendent Dave Richards.

The bulk of the work will be done on the secondary school campus and will include asbestos abatement; heating, cooling and ventilation upgrades, and new lighting, furniture, equipment and refinished floors in the classrooms and auditorium, which were built in 1967.

New lockers, showers, sinks and toilets will be installed in the locker rooms, which will also receive floor-to-ceiling upgrades and a new heating, cooling and ventilation system. The boiler room, also original in 1967, will be upgraded with new boilers to replace the fuel oil energy source and improve energy efficiency while also allowing for additional maintenance and storage space.

Lead water pipes will be replaced at the elementary school and the septic system will be brought in compliance with state Department of Environmental Conservation standards, Richards said. The clocks and communication system will also be upgraded.

MERGER TALKS LOOM OVER

Budgets proposed by Schenevus and Worcester schools both include the override of the state-mandated 2% property tax cap, and will require a 60% supermajority approval by taxpayers.

The $9,582,185 Schenevus budget features a 1.26% increase in spending over the current year budget. The district's calculated tax levy limit is -0.357%.

"While the proposal does include cost savings in several areas, including employee benefits, overall spending is up, including for technology, and services for students with disabilities," district Superintendent Theresa Carlin said. "Because the proposed spending exceeds expected revenues from state and local sources, the proposal calls for using $30,896 from fund balance."

Worcester's proposed $11,700,578 budget, a 0.7% increase over the current year, carries a 1.97% tax levy increase, slightly above the 1.2% calculated limit.

The proposal allows for "continued investment of educational programs that enhance student learning, as well as maintain our many extracurricular activities," district Superintendent Tim Gonzalez said. "The Worcester Central School District will continue to educate the 'whole child' and place a strong emphasis on the social and emotional wellbeing of our students during these continued difficult times."

The 2021-22 budget proposal is completely independent of the merger study process initiated earlier this year by both Schenevus and Worcester, according to Carlin.

A merged district would not begin operation until July 1, 2022, at the earliest, Carlin said. Regardless of whether the merger process moves forward, the district is responsible for operations throughout the entire 2021-22 school year.

"In the long term, Schenevus continues to face the rising costs and shrinking enrollment that indicate future funding challenges," Carlin said. "Even with projected increases in state aid, the district's costs are expected to continue to outpace those revenues, causing a funding gap. Raising taxes and/or using fund balance would be needed to fill the gap."

The merger study report was presented to both districts' boards of education in January 2021, and both school boards are scheduled to vote on the matter June 15.

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