Thursday, January 21, 2010

What the Middle School opposition is saying

I'm trying to read between the lines of the message being sent by those who are opposed to renovating the Middle School.
  • It's going to cost us far too much money, they say. They say it with full-page ads in the New Paltz Times (which run $800, I've heard), and they say it with mass-produced lawn signs. The supporters are sticking to writing letters and repainting their old signs.
  • They say it with a lot of landlords, who are paying taxes that will not directly benefit them or their children. Many of the supporters have children in the school system (although some of us are supporting it because it benefits the community, which we see as a home, not a revenue source).
  • They never say they don't want to support education, even though some of them probably do. People get emotional about children (some love them, some hate them) and it's probably for the best to leave emotions out of the discussion because they just cloud the issue.
  • They find interesting ways to frame their arguments. This week's paper has several folks pointing to the gym roof collapse is proof that this renovation isn't necessary. I'm intrigued - wouldn't a freshly-renovated building require less maintenance and be less likely to have problems?
  • They never refute the claims that construction costs are lower now than they will be in the future, which lowers the project costs.
  • They complain about the lack of community involvement in the process, which has been ongoing for three years and has included articles, blog posts, superintendent coffees in the morning, informational meetings with discussions at night, and two full election cycles that saw two outspoken supporters of the project win seats of the Board of Education. I think everyone has the right to air their views, but please don't insult my intelligence by suggesting that lack of interest on doing so somehow taints the process. Should Maria Rice have offered wine and cheese to entice you, or would that just raise your tax-dollar-wasting hackles a bit more?
Lagusta Yearwood said that those in opposition can simply be ignored, and I wish I could agree. However, the people who complain about lack of community involvement are feeding inaccurate and incomplete information to people who are equally inattentive, and who might just cast an uninformed vote. I won't try to change somebody's mind but I sure as hell will make sure I correct any mistakes they are basing that decision on. The worst thing we can do for New Paltz education is allow ignorance to cast a vote.


John Bligh said...

This is the best pro-renovation argument I've read on this subject. It should be published in the NP Times. Good job.

Martin McPhillips said...

As much as I would like to agree with John Bligh that Terence has made a good argument...

Well, let's put it this way, there has been forensic insufficiency on both sides.

My views on what should happen to the Middle School are...ah, not practical, for the purposes of this debate.

But this is why I think the project is drawing so much opposition, regardless of how well made the arguments are:

People tend to spend their own money very carefully. People in a position to spend other people's money are much less careful. And in an economic time like this one, those two tendencies are destined to have a head-on collision.

When you tell people "it will only cost you X dollars more per year," and those people are saying, often only to themselves, "I can't pay what it's costing me already," that's not a matter of short-sightedness.

A lot of people are looking at conditions day-to-day, and wondering if there is any way these taxes can go down. So telling them it will only cost them this much more is not a winning argument.

Terence said...

Martin, the arguments posed aren't directly complaining about the cost, because they don't believe that will defeat the bond. They attack the process, dissect the details, or propose things that have been beaten to death as a means to put off until tomorrow what should have been done yesterday. Sure it's expensive and I would rather not spend it, but it will COST MORE EVERY DAY and HAS TO BE DONE. What other options are there?

rachel lagodka said...

It's all about the money. The bottom line is where, as a community, do we invest our money? The landlords and homeowners are investing money in a smear campaign against the project so they won't have a tax increase now. That is a short term goal with limited return. Defeating the bond won't decrease their taxes. Spending money to defeat the bond turns out not to be a wise investment because the project, though it involves an initial increase in taxes, will actually cost less than continuous repairs on an inefficient building, or building later when the prices for fuel and labor and supplies are just going up. My suggestion would be to vote "yes" for the bond, and then make sure the project is as efficient and effective in the long run as possible, and watch every bit of the construction process to make sure there is no waste. Make sure they hire local people. Check up on the pricing and sourcing of all the material they get. Try to help them do the best job possible by bringing their attention to local resources and expertise.
If the project comes in under budget, the money would go back to the taxpayers. If it ends up costing all that money, the community still gets the high performance building. The children have a wise investment in a healthy school that does not depend on fossil fuels.
There probably are ways that taxes can go down without depriving the students. At least the tax burden could be distributed more fairly. The problem in New Paltz is that your property gets taxed instead of your income and many of us here bought houses when they were cheap, still live in the same houses and make the same incomes, but have to pay double and sometimes triple the taxes as we did 10 years ago. That is not a reason to refuse to pay for the middle school. That is a reason to restructure the taxation.


Martin McPhillips said...

There are long and short arguments both ways, Rachel. But I'll stick with the short analysis here at Gadfly:

People are simply tapped out. So now is not a good time to ask them for more.

If that's not accurate, then the renovation will probably be approved.

If it is accurate, the renovation will be defeated.

I'll add that if the school district was being funded to the extremely generous amount of, say, $16,000 per student, instead of the app. $23,000 per student level that it has managed to reach, then voters might not find this such a difficult choice, even now.

Martin McPhillips said...

Terence asks: "What other options are there?"

Well, how about a $20 million dollar renovation?

The Middle School is not structurally unsound. You repair it like the Ford that it is and don't try to transform it into a Rolls Royce.

Brittany Turner said...

Hmm... I'm opposed to the project, and I don't think I've made any of those arguments.

Rick said...

And I'm a homeowner who does support it, so please don't lump me together with blood sucking landlords, OK Rachel?

Anonymous said...

No one has been honest thus far with the numbers. That is part of the problem. There's some hokus pokus going on with the use of school board reserve funds (that should be used other building repairs and needs) to offset some initial year payments. All resources seem to be thrown at the middle school, until the next need comes up. I have heard that the real cost of property tax increases after year four due to the project will be $500 more a year per $300k home. Why doesn't some accountant due a true financial analysis and publish it in the newspaper. I am tired of all these vague statements by both sides in the letters to the editor. These are huge dollars, people, we deserve better public info.

Anonymous said...

To Anonymous- See web address below -Here is my understanding- In 2015 the net monthly increase relative to today reaches about +$17.86/month. After this, the increase relative to today's tax rate declines. Note the increased number over 20 years is $13.56 (less than $17.56). I believe that the decrease after 2015 comes about because debt we already have is paid and some of that money goes to the middle school debt.

To martin
You said "Well, how about a $20 million dollar renovation?"

So you are saying that people can afford a peak of $8/month, but not a peak of $18/month. Both of these numbers are a small fraction of the total school budget.

Martin McPhillips said...

What I'm saying is that doing what is necessary to upgrade the Middle School vs. what is optimum will strike voters as more reasonable in the current economic context.

Given the way voters have consistently passed the annual school budgets, if we were still in a boom period this project would sail right through.

The real issue beneath the money issue, I think, is the hubris of the school district.

Brittany Turner said...

Martin, well said.

Anonymous said...

And I am sure you have all paid your taxes on time, right? Are any of you on the delinquent payers list?