The Port Jefferson School District has been asking the community to weigh in on a $30 million bond proposal to complete a litany of districtwide projects, and Monday night village leadership spoke out.
The Port Jefferson Village Board, which includes several members who previously served on the Port Jeff board of education, collectively took the position during a meeting Sept. 18 that now is not the time for the district to be asking taxpayers for permission to borrow millions for upgrades and repairs. Village Mayor Margot Garant and other board trustees cited the unclear financial future of the village and district due to pending litigation against the Long Island Power Authority.
•$7.6M to construct a three-story addition at PJHS
•$2.3M to construct new music room and instrumental practice room at PJHS
•$2.2M to build addition to PJHS cafeteria and renovate kitchen space
•$1.2M to replace windows at PJHS
•$2.5M to construct two additional classrooms at elementary school
•$1.7M for locker room renovations at PJHS
•$1.6M for installation of stadium lighting at Scraggy Hill fields
•$1.4M for a new synthetic turf football field at PJHS
•$3.7M to convert tech ed building to new administration headquarters
•$1.6M to install drainage walls at north side of middle school building
“I’m going to strongly encourage the board of education, respectfully, to postpone this until a resolution is reached with LIPA,” Garant said in a phone interview after the meeting. “I want to commend them for looking at investing in the school system to improve the quality of education. We really want to resolve this issue so this community can stop putting off the plans to invest in our facilities and education.”
The village has no official jurisdiction over the district, though a vast majority of the village’s taxpayers also pay school taxes to the Port Jefferson School District. Both entities stand to potentially lose substantial tax revenue in the coming years should a settlement or decision in the LIPA case be reached, as LIPA has contended it pays too much in property taxes to operate the Port Jefferson Power Station, now that sweeping energy-efficiency upgrades have drastically reduced the regular need for the plant.
“We have deep respect for our mayor’s viewpoints as well as the various opinions of our residents,” district Superintendent Paul Casciano and board President Kathleen Brennan said in a joint statement via email in response to the village’s position. “Our board of education and district administration have been conducting public meetings and seeking feedback through multiple venues. Our goal is to develop a final proposal for our residents’ consideration that meets our responsibility to educate our community’s children in a safe, secure and welcoming learning environment.”
Garant suggested the village board is in a uniquely qualified position to comment on the district’s proposal given each of the individual members backgrounds prior to serving the village. Trustees Bruce Miller and Larry LaPointe were previously on the board of education, Trustee Stan Loucks is a former school district athletic director and Trustee Bruce D’Abramo is a former school district facilities manager.
“I think if they’re going to ask for these things they ought to ask the public to vote on them in discrete segments so that the public has the chance to say, ‘Yes, we want this but we don’t want that,’” LaPointe said during the meeting. “I hesitate to criticize another board, I know they’re trying to do what’s best for everybody. It’s just an awfully big nut.”
LaPointe’s position was similar to several community members, who during a Sept. 12 board of education meeting suggested voting on the bond proposal as an all-or-nothing referendum, rather than in smaller pieces, would make it less palatable for many taxpayers.
“I haven’t made a decision, but one of the things that will probably sway me is if this is an all-or-nothing,” resident Drew Biondo said during the board of education meeting. “If it’s all or nothing, I don’t know which way I’ll go.”
District administration presented the $30 million capital bond proposal to the board of education and the public during the Sept. 12 meeting, featuring a three-story addition to a wing of the high school, additional classrooms at the high school and elementary school, a turf football field at the high school, lights for the elementary school field and many more improvements. The district’s total budget for the 2017-18 school year is about $43 million. If approved by the community with a vote tentatively scheduled for Dec. 5, construction would begin in 2019 and payments would be made annually beginning at about $1.5 million and concluding with a final $2.5 million installment in the 2033-34 fiscal year. The district would accrue nearly $10 million in interest over the life of the 15-year payment plan.
“Regardless of what happens with LIPA, we need to take care of the schools,” Casciano said during the last board of education meeting.
The village has reached out to set up a meeting to discuss the proposal with the district in the coming weeks. A survey soliciting public input on the proposal will remain accessible on the district website until Oct. 9.