Wednesday, February 17, 2010

I voted no once, too

I'm not always as supportive of capital projects as I was of the Middle School renovation. I was part of a large majority of people that opposed a massive expansion in the district of my youth. Curious?

The district I attended was much larger than this one, having three elementary and two secondary schools, with three of the five buildings occupying adjacent land. (My best friend's middle and high schools were actually physically connected by a corridor, and our experiences completely discounted in my mind the argument that it wouldn't be safe to build a Middle School next to the New Paltz High School, but I see a lot less danger in the world for kids today than many parents do anyway.) Student populations rise and fall, and when I was quite young they decided to close the smallest elementary school and lease the building to BOCES.

After that lease expired they had a different situation on their hands: the high school was jam-packed! The Board of Ed, knowing that it's tough to float a bond, came up with an innovative solution. They would sell the old elementary school to a condo developer to finance the two extra wings they needed for the high school. The project wouldn't have cost that much in dollars, but it would have added 70-80 homes to a community that was simultaneously losing a lot of potential classroom capacity. It went down in flames.

So yes, I understand that there are two sides to every school finance vote, and in this case the side I didn't support won. Frankly, the way our system is designed it's easier to be on the winning side when you're voting no. But what's done is done, and let's move on. The school district's press release said it best:
While we are obviously disappointed in the defeat of the referendum, we will waste no time in setting the outcome aside in order to work towards finding another solution to address our Middle School’s needs. Throughout the entire multi-year planning and discussion about this referendum, people on both sides of the issue were in agreement that there were severe issues at the Middle School that needed to be dealt with. That fact gives us common ground to work on, and we will gather there--on that common ground--to push ahead and seek a solution that the majority of the community can support. We must waste no time in moving forward in order to get our Middle School out of the horrible state of deterioration it faces and ensure that further, more costly issues are not created. The longer we wait, the more will be needed and the costlier the solution will be.
There's a time for fighting and there's a time for fixing. We need to fix things now. New Paltz is a community with such a diverse set of well-considered ideas that sometimes, particularly in a place like this blog where we can hide behind our keyboards, things get pretty heated. But this isn't just an internet forum - we are neighbors and, for the most part, we all like living here.

Shall we shelve the rhetoric and work towards finding a way to say yes? The problems at the school aren't going away and no one has said they want to stop educating our kids. How about we step outside, take a breath of fresh air, and have a cup of coffee with someone that didn't agree so we can find that common ground? I hear The Bakery is a great place for a lively debate.


John Bligh said...

But why have a lively debate in person when you can post anonymous, nasty comments right here?

Terence said...

It's a valid question, John, and I've posted a new survey along the same lines. I'd like to ensure that our most, um, passionate commenters aren't making others less willing to play.

Martin McPhillips said...

I haven't gone over to the school district website to read all of that release, but the part you quote shows an attitude, if I may resort to my native ice hockey jargon, of getting ready to "rush the puck" again. That will bring on more aggressive backchecking from opponents, who will, with the scent of a massive victory still in their nostrils, start taking the school district more forcefully into the boards. (End of ice hockey metaphors.)

If there is something pressing right now at the Middle School (like the roof), it should be taken care of. Anything else that presents itself as "severe" should be listed in order of priority. Then there can be a discussion about the best way to proceed. For instance, I have some doubt that re-doing the heating system will cost $7 million. Since that is the really big item, I would like to see it examined more closely for less expensive solutions.

As to the urgency of these matters, they are entirely secondary to the budget for this coming year. That's the budget that will have to contend with a nearly bankrupt State of New York and cuts in aid to school districts statewide, which could be worse than anticipated. That will all also be befogged by this very political year, i.e., no one will be telling the truth.

My opinion is that the school district should write its budget to conform with the cuts and not shift the burden of lost aid onto taxpayers. After that process is done, and voters have had their say on whether they can live with it or not, then the Middle School repair/upgrade can be looked at through a clearer fiscal window.

The budget is the top priority.

Maria said...

Yes, what's done is done. I hope the townspeople can let go of the battle that was, and press on to do the band-aid renovations that they signed up for! After all, it's all about what's best for the kids, right? right!?

My biggest fear is that the yes and the no were so rowdy, so bullying, so mean to one another, that this place is going to become "a town divided", and we are never going to get ANYTHING accomplished. I hope everyone can put their pettiness aside and "do work" for New Paltz! It's not personal grudges that matter; it's the progression of New Paltz that matters.