Asking for money is uncomfortable. In our daily lives, needing to borrow some cash here or there isn’t a request that rolls off the tongue easily for most.
Since New York State implemented a 2 percent property tax levy cap in June 2011, school districts have been asking taxpayers to consider a referendum for additional spending cash more and more frequently. Boards of education have been required to get creative in trying to get done essential facility improvements to keep buildings and programs vibrant, and to engender high level academics, athletics and artistic performances for as many students as possible.
It’s admittedly not an easy job keeping a school district flourishing while being required to raise tax revenue by no more than 2 percent from year to year, especially in cases where contractual raises or benefit cost increases blow past the cap to begin with. If asking to borrow a couple of dollars here and there from friends or family is an awkward task requiring tact and humility, school districts should be approaching it the same way.
A common thread for bonds voted down by taxpayers in our coverage area in recent years has been a cry for more transparency and community involvement in every step of the process, from compiling lists of projects to be addressed to trimming that list down to the actual appearance of a bond on a ballot.
We found it refreshing to sit in Feb. 12 on the public bond presentation of Comsewogue School District, based in Port Jefferson Station. Although it hadn’t been decided if a proposition will ultimately end up on the ballot in May, making it impossible to know if its strategy will be effective in getting a bond referendum passed at this time, what we do know is that a lack of community involvement or input will never be a charge hurled at Comsewogue.
Since early January, the district’s facilities committee, a group made up of professionals from a wide cross section of the community, has been meeting and deliberating about what projects it would ultimately recommend the board of education considers, including in a bond proposal. If the board goes forward with holding a referendum, members of the board have asked the committee, which includes engineers, architects and civic association leaders, remain involved in every step of the process going forward. John Swenning, board president, said it wouldn’t make sense for the board to ignore the expertise, passion and smarts that could be offered by each of the committee members throughout the process. This is how asking for money should be handled.
It seems like in many cases capital bond propositions are assembled and presented to the community in that order, and public hearings and discussions that follow are just a formality — being held only to meet state-mandated requirements.
District’s seeking permission from communities to borrow large sums of money over long periods of time should approach the ask by doing just that, informing residents on ways their moneys need to be expended, and asking them how in other ways they’d like to see their dollars spent.