Sag Harbor residents voted down the $6.7 million school bond on Tuesday. Unlike the budget vote and school board elections this spring, the bond proposition failed to garner the same voter turn out. The bond was supported by 279 residents, though 358 voted against it, with a total of 637 residents voting. Only 28 residents submitted absentee ballots. In the spring, the 2009-2010 budget received 1,221 yes votes and 599 no votes.
“I’m very surprised by the turn out,” said school board member Theresa Samot. “It’s disappointing because a lot of long range planning went into this.”
Pierson’s Long Range Planning Committee, made up of parents, board and community members, first analyzed the repairs needed at the Pierson campus to be included in the bond. The list of improvements mainly focused on bringing the school’s buildings into code and safety compliance. The bond included upgrades to the mechanical, electrical, plumbing and HVAC systems and other architectural projects.
“This was a nuts and bolts bond,” said superintendent Dr. John Gratto after the bond votes were tallied.
At a board meeting on Monday, school board member Daniel Hartnett explained that the bond is a more cost effective way of paying for these repairs compared to folding them into the annual budget. He added that the school is retiring a bond from 1997 this year, which would have lowered the net tax impact of the new bond. In previous meetings, the board has also pointed out that interest rates for bonds are extremely low and favorable for the district and construction and labor costs will likely be lower as well due to the ailing economy.
“If you had to pay for these things on an annual basis taxes would be through the roof,” chimed in business manager Len Bernard, at the meeting.
Pierson parent Chris Tice said on Monday that several school parents were conflicted about their vote. Tice reported that many said they would prefer to continue to fund educational programming and staffing. Parents at the meeting had heard that middle school guidance counselor Carl Brandl’s position would be cut. Members of the board explained that Brandl’s job was safe for this year.
“If we have to use $500,000 in one year [for some items in the bond], we would have to look at cuts. This bond spreads the cost out very evenly [over the years]. People who move into the community are going to have an equal share,” noted Hartnett.
“This is the best way we have to fund these expenditures,” added board member Ed Haye.
During meetings on the bond, the board received public criticism over the project to repave and add additional parking spaces at Pierson and the elementary school, which cost close to $1 million.
“Maybe the voters felt the money spent on parking wasn’t justifiable,” theorized Dr. Gratto on why the bond failed to pass. “I thought the vote would be closer but the economy is bad.”
Dr. Gratto also pointed out that there wasn’t a project in the bond to capture the imaginations of the voters as the bond was aimed at fixing a wide variety of facility issues, from better temperature control to replacing a portion of the roof at Pierson.
“None of these projects will heal themselves,” noted Dr. Gratto. “[But] we will have to reassess the bond.”
Once the ballots were cast and the results announced, school board president Walter Wilcoxen said the board could put the bond up to a vote again in May.
The majority of the public who voted on Tuesday at the Pierson gym failed to support this plan, but board member Mary Anne Miller believed the voter turn out showed that several key constituents in the community didn’t cast their ballot. She pointed out that there are a little over 5,000 registered voters. Miller further noted that several residents spend the winter elsewhere and young college students are also away at school.
“Sag Harbor has an uncanny spring turnout,” said Miller on the elections and budget votes held in the Spring. “A larger voter turn out better represents the community.”
According to Dr. Gratto, the future of the myriad items in the bond will most likely be discussed at a budget workshop on the buildings and grounds to be held on January 11.
Among other items, the bond would have paid for repairing and enlarging the school district”s parking lots (above).