Why is the district proposing the referendum vote in December?
The proposed capital project is the result of a nearly two-year long process in which the facilities committee, administrators and the board of education members conducted and reviewed a building conditions study, identified areas in need of repairs, and investigated the best and most cost-effective options to address those repairs. Once the project scope had been determined, the board decided to move forward with the vote in December in the hopes that repairs on some of the more serious issues, such as the Transportation Building 100 roof, could begin as early as spring 2017.
How will the proposed central offices at the high school help make the building more secure?
Currently visitors are buzzed through one locked door that immediately opens into a main student hallway. In the proposed new office space, visitors would enter a vestibule where a security guard would then buzz them into the central offices. The office area would house the principals, guidance, social worker, psychologist, school nurse, and the technology department. The vast majority of visitors would not have to leave the central office to complete their business. If anyone would need access to the high school beyond the office, the visitor would have to pass the security guard again to be buzzed through a second locked door.
Why is a Learning Commons included in the project?
When reconfiguring the current library to house the central offices, there was enough space in the area to create a Learning Commons, which is a modern, more-college-like learning space that can serve multiple purposes. This versatile space can be used for small group instruction, student group project work, presentations, individual student studying, etc. The glass windows will provide areas in which students and teachers could write with dry erase markers. A large television will allow for computer projection. The groupings of furniture are conducive to small group work or discussions. The Learning Commons would provide additional instruction space as well as an alternative student work area throughout the school day.
Couldn’t the Transportation Building 100 roof be patched instead of replaced?
The estimated cost of repairing the roof, which is not considered “aidable” by the state, meaning the cost would be fully absorbed by the district, is nearly identical to the cost of replacing the roof. In addition, a patch repair job would still lead to a roof replacement at some point in the future. The board felt it made more sense to do the replacement now to save on future costs.
How will this affect my taxes?
Residents’ individual tax bills are determined by tax rates, which are based on the tax levy, and several factors beyond the control of the district. These include assessment levels and equalization rates, as well as individual property owners’ exemptions, such as the state’s STAR program. However, based on current 2016 estimates, the tax bill for a home assessed at $100,000 within the Town of Rotterdam, for example, would increase by $2.31 if voters approve the proposition. This is only an estimate and subject to change.
What if I am out of town Dec. 14?
You can apply for an absentee ballot. Applications are available on the district website or by contacting the district clerk at 355-9200, x4002. Applications can also be picked up in the district office. An absentee ballot application must be submitted at least seven days before the budget vote. The absentee ballot must be received by the district clerk by 5 p.m. on the day of the capital project vote: Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2016.
What is the next step?
If the project is approved, the full details of the project will be submitted to the State Education Department for approval. Once SED approves the project, the district can begin the bidding process to start the project.
Why is the district applying $1.5 million in fund balance from 2016-17 to reduce the cost of the proposed capital project instead of saving it to apply as revenue in the 2017-18 school budget?
As a school district, it is our responsibility to provide both a quality education and a sound educational environment.
The annual school budget is how the district funds the cost of that education (e.g., for salaries and benefits) and the educational environment (e.g., expenses and debt service related to school facilities).
When a district spends less than it had budgeted for during a school year, the state mandates how those funds may be used. For example, some funds may be appropriated for a specific use, some may be placed in reserves for anticipated future expenses, and an amount equal to as much as 4 percent of the following year’s school budget may be set aside for unforeseen expenses and emergencies.
This year, the Schalmont Board of Education unanimously voted at its Sept. 26, 2016 meeting to use $1.5 million in fund balance from 2016-17 toward the proposed capital project. These funds were the result of tax certiorari coming in at a lower-than-anticipated amount. As this was a one-time source of money, the Board decided that it was best used for a one-time project and voted to apply it toward the capital project. By applying this money to the capital project, the board was able to reduce the cost of vital infrastructure work for our school facilities and minimize the tax impact of proposed capital project. Using the fund balance, coupled with debt from previous projects coming to an end, allowed the Board to put up a referendum with a minimal tax levy increase.
This capital project is the result of nearly two years of studying facility needs for the district, which included getting feedback from the facilities committee, reviewing reports, completing the required Building Conditions Survey, gathering information, and weighing options. During the process, the public was welcome to give feedback at any point, including facilities committee and board meetings.
Some of the areas of concern to be addressed in this project include heating and plumbing systems that have reached the end of their useful life; cracks and damage to walls, floors, tiles, and facades; and creating a more secure entrance to the high school.
This financial strategy for investing in school infrastructure:
• Reduces the future financial impact of the capital project on taxpayers while allowing the district to move forward with recommended repairs.
• Allows the district to use state building aid to accomplish more work sooner than it could afford to do otherwise as part of its regular operating budget.
This strategy also prevents the district from exceeding the state’s 4 percent guidelines for undesignated fund balance. Holding an additional $1.5 million in undesignated fund balance to apply toward the 2017-18 school budget would place the district in violation with the state comptroller.
We are mindful of the need to effectively deal with any projected budget deficit for 2017-18 while still maintaining our ability to provide a quality education. But we believe this goal can be achieved while also maintaining a sound educational environment.
With that in mind, our school board, district leaders, school administrators, staff members and wider community will continue to work collaboratively during the 2017-18 school budget development process.
If the proposition passes, when will residents see the increase in their taxes?
If the project is approved, the district must submit the plans for
final approval to NYSED. After that, the district must go through a
bidding process for the work. Because of this timeline, actual
construction might not start until 18-24 months after the vote. The
bond will not go into effect until the work actually begins. It is
only after the district assumes the bond debt that it will show up on
residents’ tax bills, which would most likely be in 2019.