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capital bonds

Earl L. Vandermeulen High School, above. File photo by Elana Glowatz

Residents of the Port Jefferson School District narrowly rejected yet another proposed capital bond during the Tuesday, May 16, school elections. Just 34 votes decided the outcome as the community voted down the district’s proposed $15.9 million capital bond by a 708 to 674 margin. 

The “no” vote comes just over six months after the community rejected a pair of capital bonds totaling nearly $25 million. The deferred investments in school infrastructure now raise questions about the school district’s long-term future.

“It’s disappointing that a small bond with critical updates failed by a small margin,” PJSD Superintendent Jessica Schmettan said in a statement. “Our community is clearly divided on how to move forward.”

Village of Port Jefferson Mayor Margot Garant has been an ardent supporter of these proposed school infrastructure improvements. In an exclusive interview, she expressed her displeasure with the outcome.

“I would have hoped that the members of the community would have a little bit more vision and understanding of the consequences of not investing in our district and our facilities,” she said. “Nevertheless, the schools remain a major selling point in this community.”

The mayor added, “We want to remain positive, support our district and all the programs, making sure the facilities remain safe for our kids. I’m sure the Board of Ed will continue to do that, although they are working with less and less resources every year.”

In preparing this year’s capital bond proposal, the school board had scaled down its financial request to the voters by about a third, eliminating the proposed artificial turf field at the high school that was part of the December proposal. 

Given the challenges of getting these bond projects approved, Garant expressed uncertainty about how the voters can ultimately pass these infrastructure projects.

“I’m not real sure,” she said. “Maybe they put it up with each budget in the years to come, one small bond initiative at a time. But then you’re not doing a long-term project plan.” 

She added, “I’m not really sure if it’s the messaging or just the community’s misunderstanding of the impacts. People [are] making large, generic statements instead of looking at this very carefully.”

The bond’s rejection resurrects long-standing questions over declining student enrollment and public revenue, with some community members beginning to advocate for a possible merger with a neighboring school district.

Garant rejected this thinking, noting the substantial costs associated with such a plan. “I think that would be this community’s gravest mistake,” the mayor said. “Their school tax dollars would immediately almost double.”

She added that there are other unsettled questions over a potential merge, including what to do with the PJSD’s existing properties and whether a neighboring district would even accept its students. “It’s a very long process, and it’s not a solution when you have the opportunity to make a long-term investment to making things better.”

Despite the outcome, Garant said the community should closely assess its priorities and begin to chart a path forward. 

“I think the [school] board is resilient, and the community is resilient,” she concluded. “We’re going to encourage them because they were very, very close, and we just have to keep trying.”

Graphic from PJSD website
By Mallie Jane Kim

Port Jefferson School District residents will have another chance to vote on a capital bond to fund school improvement projects, this time for $15.9 million. 

This vote — scheduled for Tuesday, May 16 — comes just after the community rejected a pair of proposed bonds totaling $24.9 million last December. The district’s Board of Education approved putting the bond up for community approval at a meeting Tuesday, March 14, with the support of all six members present — trustee Ravi Singh was absent.

If the current proposal passes, taxpayers will pay for the bond in installments over several years. The vote will take place alongside the vote to approve next year’s annual district budget.

School officials suggest the proposal is more modest than the pair of bonds voted down in December, making no mention of replacing the high school’s grass sports field with artificial turf, a point of contention last time. 

This bond would fund improvements to, for example, locker rooms, heating, cooling and ventilation systems, and alterations to some interior spaces. The details of this plan are on file for public review in the district clerk’s office, and the district will post more information about the new bond under the “Bond Project” tab of its website.

The board also plans to allocate more money toward capital improvement projects in the annual budget, according to Deputy Superintendent Sean Leister, which would help to pay for some facility update priorities and better plan for future needs. 

“Seeing how difficult it is to go out for a bond and how hard times are, we were talking about gradually increasing the allocation,” he said while presenting the second draft of the district’s 2023-24 budget to the board. He added that he hoped this plan would mitigate the need for additional capital bonds in the foreseeable future.

Leister explained that updates to school infrastructure, health and safety — including security — and instructional classrooms would all be considered in school budgets moving forward. 

“We thought by trying to incorporate those three things in future budgets, we can help bring up the level of our areas and the learning of our students,” he said.

Immediate plans for these funds include creating an ADA-compliant bathroom at the elementary school, installing a stop-arm security booth at car entrances to the middle school and high school, beginning a window replacement plan at the high school and refitting some classrooms. 

Leister also noted science and computer labs would be due for remodeling, adding that “all the different areas that are functional but are maybe [from] the ‘70s or ‘80s and need to be brought up to current levels.” 

Furthermore, Leister said stop-arm security booths are necessary because some GPS mapping apps list school driveways as regular roads and the administration wants to limit cut-through traffic.

The current draft version of next year’s school budget has a shortfall of $222,547. Superintendent of Schools Jessica Schmettan said this would be filled by staffing reductions to be decided before Leister presents the final budget to the board in April. 

The board plans to increase the tax levy by 1.98%, just under the 1.99% cap set for the district by state regulations

Trustee Lauren Sheprow. Photo from Port Jefferson Village website
By Lauren Sheprow

Lauren Sheprow is a Port Jefferson Village trustee.

The past two bonds put forth by the Port Jefferson School District were defeated by the taxpaying residents of Port Jefferson. The $30 million bond put forward in 2017 had significant public opposition. The vocal majority was virtually ignored, but the vote ensured their voice was heard. Fast forward to 2022 and a new $25 million bond proposal. Lesson learned? Partially.

The 2022 bond was somewhat more palatable. Those who put it forward did the right thing by separating the athletic field turf project ($1.9 million) from the HVAC projects, classroom relocations and locker room/team room facility upgrades ($23.1 million). Neither proposition passed but the administration returned to the drawing board Jan. 24 to come up with a new bond, and will once again ask Port Jefferson taxpayers to pay for capital projects that have been ignored for far too long.

I, like many in the village, am torn at the enormity of the cost estimates for these projects (and like many in the community I have spoken with, I am interested in understanding more about how the architect of record comes up with these cost proposals but that’s a conversation for another day). I wonder if we shouldn’t look at more creative, cost-effective mitigation than what was proposed in Prop 1 of the 2022 bond. I am also curious as to which projects might be able to be completed using capital reserves that the district has on hand from its annual budget process. The good news is, as we learned at the Jan. 10, 2022, Board of Education meeting, the administration was able to identify general fund balance monies to build an ADA compliant bathroom at Edna Louise Spear Elementary School (which was in Prop 1 of the 2022 bond proposal).

Putting that debate aside, I wanted to clarify something reported in the Jan. 19 edition of The Port Times Record – that at a recent meeting of the Port Jefferson Village Board of Trustees I cited a Newsday report indicating that approximately 80% of the $14 billion federal COVID-19 relief funds have yet to be spent by public schools statewide, which is accurate. What was misunderstood was that I suggested the heating and ventilation systems upgrade proposed in Prop 1 of the 2022 bond may qualify under existing COVID relief conditions. I want to clarify that I fully understand that the existing COVID relief funds for which the school district is eligible has reached its limit at $375,000 and that Port Jeff doesn’t qualify for additional relief funds due to student count, free or reduced price lunch ratio and combined wealth ratio. 

My point in this conversation was to think beyond the bond/tax increase model. As I see it, we have three tools in the toolbox that we haven’t fully investigated:

1. Explore a more strategic conversation with our state and federal elected representatives to understand if or how the funding criteria can be reevaluated so unspent funds don’t languish.

2. Resident participation: By attending BOE meetings, committee meetings — especially the finance committee and bond planning meetings — our residents have an opportunity to voice their opinions in real time and become more engaged in the BOE’s selfless and tireless efforts to make our school district the best it can be.

3. Fundraising: We need an official alumni association for Earl L. Vandermeulen High School. The purpose of such an association is to foster a spirit of loyalty and to promote the general welfare of the district. Alumni associations exist to support the parent organization’s goals, and to strengthen the ties between alumni, the community and the parent organization. It works for higher education. It can work for our alma mater. 

Our alumni infrastructure, although not organized, is very strong. Passionate residents, including Port Jeff alumni, started the still active Royal Educational Foundation in 1991 when a need was identified to fund unfunded teacher programs. Port Jeff has a hall of fame, hosts an annual homecoming parade and event, and for more than 60 years parents of graduating seniors have been raising funds for the iconic Port Jeff Senior Prom experience. And for nearly nine decades, tens of thousands of Port Jeff grads have been coming back to Port Jeff for high school reunions because of their strong connection to their alma mater.

Consider the possibilities. If we create a capital campaign for a specific project and reach out to alumni who may have a deep connection to said project, with naming rights and all bells and whistles, who knows what can be accomplished? A new instruction area for the music program? New locker room and team room facilities for our student athletes? An annual hall of fame recognition dinner?

Port Jeff alumni are some of the most talented, accomplished people in the world. Let’s engage them with their alma mater and ask for their help. Let’s find a way to support the Port Jeff School District, its students, faculty and staff by connecting the tens of thousands of alumni living among us and away from us to their alma mater through an official PJ alumni association. It will require a great deal of organization, establishing a 501(c)(3), and infrastructural support including digital assets and content curation.

Interested? Contact me at [email protected]. 

Let’s do this.

File photo by Elana Glowatz

In a public referendum held Monday, Dec. 12, Port Jefferson School District residents voted down two ballot measures totaling $25 million in school infrastructure improvements.

With nearly 1,000 district residents turning out in wintry weather, just 24 votes would separate the yeas and nays on Proposition 1, a $23.1 million infrastructure package that targeted various facilities throughout the school district. The measure failed by a narrow margin of 498-474. Proposition 2, a $1.9 million proposed artificial turf field at the high school, was defeated 734-239, a roughly 3-1 ratio against the measure.

In an email statement, district superintendent of schools, Jessica Schmettan, offered her commentary on the outcome.

“While the district is disappointed in the results of the Dec. 12 bond vote, we thank all who participated,” she said. “The small margin of defeat of Proposition 1 was particularly upsetting, as the challenges that exist with our aging building infrastructure remain a top concern for the district and, as such, will require further discussion for how best to proceed.”

‘I think it’s very shortsighted by this community.’

— Margot Garant

Mayor Margot Garant, a PJSD alum, publicly supported both measures leading up to the referendum. In an interview, she also expressed disappointment at Monday’s results.

“I don’t think that’s the Port Jeff way to let things get so deteriorated,” she said. “I think [the Board of Education] came up with a doable plan, and it was the time to do it because the community is still being subsidized by the LIPA power plant.”

The mayor added, “The schools are so important to this community. It’s what people look for when they come to live in Port Jeff. It’s one of the pillars that makes this place so special. … Just because you don’t have a child in the district doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be investing in this community.”

Leading up to the election, New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), whose district encompasses Port Jefferson, supported the infrastructure upgrades within Proposition 1. In a phone interview, he referred to Monday’s school election outcome as part of a regional electoral trend and a “reflection of the post-pandemic moment.”

“The escalating cost of food and fuel have put a lot of people on edge,” he said. “I would guess that what we’re seeing is a reflection of the general anxieties about inflation.”

Though Englebright was sorry to learn that the voters defeated the facilities improvements, he was less amenable to the artificial turf proposal. He regarded the potential risks associated with synthetic turf as an unsettled science, with crumb rubber possibly having “some contamination issues,” along with added costs for maintenance and replacement. “It’s a very expensive proposition for those reasons,” he said.

Englebright was not alone in his reservations about the turf proposal. Paul Ryan, a former BOE candidate, was a vocal opponent of Proposition 2 in the months leading up to the vote. In an email statement, Ryan said Proposition 2 likely impacted the outcome of Proposition 1.

“I was disappointed but not surprised to learn that Prop 1 failed to garner enough community support,” he said. “I believe it failed because of the inclusion of Prop 2,” adding, “I suspected that enough of the residents would be upset by the turf that they [would] vote down the whole bond.”

Monday’s negative vote has prompted questions about the long-term prospects of the school district. For Garant, residents have an active stake in maintaining school facilities, which she said closely correspond to property values.

“Your home values are in direct correlation and are so connected to the value of the schools,” she said, adding, “I think it’s very shortsighted by this community. I’m disappointed, and I want to encourage the school board to continue their efforts, go back to the grind and maybe come back again.”

Some have advocated for PJSD to merge with a neighboring district due to its declining student enrollment in recent years. Garant regarded this idea as misguided, maintaining that support for the school district is in the village’s long-term interest.

“The miscommunication that’s going out there is that we can just merge with another district,” she said. “If we did that, our taxes would double immediately. I think that’s what people don’t really understand.”

Englebright noted the important place public schools occupy within the greater community. However, he suggested residents may need to take time for the broader economic trends to settle before taking on additional expenses.

“That school district has a long and distinguished history of service,” the assemblyman said. “People in Port Jefferson are rightly proud of their schools,” but adding, “I think that we have to give it a little time.”

Ryan again took on a different tone, insisting that future referenda within the district will require closer coordination with those supporting these projects financially.

“The administration and BOE need to demonstrate that they are able to hear the residents’ concerns, prioritize only essential infrastructure and take a fiscally responsible approach to spending,” he said. “If they do not, they may find annual budget votes contentious.”

Pending approval of the Dec. 12 referendum, outdated athletic spaces would be modernized and repurposed. For example, the district intends to replace antiquated shower spaces, pictured above, with instructional areas for art and tech ed programs. Photo courtesy PJSD

Port Jefferson School District administrators led a guided tour for more than a dozen community members Tuesday, Oct. 18, showcasing some of the facilities that will be on the ballot this December.

Voters will decide Monday, Dec. 12, upon two landmark ballot initiatives, Propositions 1 and 2, totaling approximately $25 million. If approved, the district will see a significant overhaul of facilities across its three schools: Earl L. Vandermeulen High School, Port Jefferson Middle School and Edna Louise Spear Elementary.

Proposition 1 projects will target the bathrooms, heating and cooling systems, art, technology and music rooms, among other infrastructure needs throughout the district. 

Proposition 2 will feature a crumb rubber artificial turf athletic field at the high school to replace the existing grass field for outdoor athletic teams. [See story, “Capital bonds: PJSD nears historic referendum over school infrastructure,” The Port Times Record, Sept. 29, also TBR News Media website.]

‘When you see it, you can’t dispute the smells or the age or the corrosion or the dated materials that are there.’

— Jessica Schmettan

Administrators began with a detailed presentation on the heating/cooling units proposed for the elementary school, as this site was not part of the tour. Visitors then strolled through the halls and into the rooms under consideration as part of the upcoming referendum.

Several of the touring group asked questions and engaged in detailed exchanges with the district administration. Jessica Schmettan, superintendent of schools, led these discussions.

In an interview, she said the district’s goal for these tours is to give voters a window into these facilities, offering them firsthand knowledge of the items on their ballots.

“I think people are seeing some of the areas that desperately need renovation,” she said.

Students currently attend music classes in an exterior music portable, pictured above. With approval of the bond vote, the portable would be demolished and existing interior spaces would be repurposed as performance spaces. Photo courtesy PJSD

One of the core issues featured throughout the discussions pertained to the price for each improvement. Addressing these concerns, Schmettan said that how a public school district must finance renovation projects differs substantially from that of a homeowner renovating his or her home.

“Of course, as always, there’s a question of price, but school districts have to pay at prevailing wages and use the architects’ fees and projections,” which she suggests can drive up costs. The district superintendent added, “I think it’s hard for people to conceptualize that. They think about their home and what it costs to renovate. I think some of the prices are surprising, but [the architects] definitely saw the need for many of the areas.”

Throughout the tour, which lasted approximately an hour, district residents were given front-row access to these areas. Schmettan discussed the unique experience that this format can offer.

“When you see it, you can’t dispute the smells or the age or the corrosion or the dated materials that are there,” she said. “We’ve done a great job with our academics and our programs despite some of the spaces that these students are being instructed in.”

Pending approval of the referendum, 14 elementary school bathrooms would be updated. Photo courtesy PJSD

Referring to the exchanges she and other administrators shared with the residents, Schmettan added, “That in-person experience and the dialogue that we’re able to have with the community members as we’re walking and talking — that personal connection — is important for them.”

To accommodate a broad range of schedules, the administration varied its touring schedule across different times and days of the week. 

The next tour will take place Saturday, Oct. 29, at 9 a.m. The third and final one will be held Thursday, Nov. 17, at 7 p.m. The district advises if anyone plans to attend, please check in at the security vestibule in the main lobby of the high school/middle school.

To learn more about the proposed capital bond projects, visit the website: www.portjeffschools.org/bond/home.

Graphic from the district website

Port Jefferson School District residents are confronting a major public referendum on Monday, Dec. 12.

Earlier this month, the district’s board of education passed two resolutions to put the combined $25 million in capital bonds projects out for a public vote. 

Now district officials are making their pitch to the general public, with three bond tours scheduled for October and November. Approaching this weighty decision, the community is evaluating its options.



  • Capital bonds vote to be held Monday, Dec. 12
  • Proponents of Proposition 1 say facilities improvements are necessary to draw families into the district and maintain property values
  • Critics question the environmental risks and cost effectiveness of artificial turf in Proposition 2, district stands by the measure

Proposition 1

The lion’s share of the two ballot measures will go toward Proposition 1, a $23.1 million infrastructure package to modernize the district’s aging and outdated facilities. Such improvements target heating and ventilation systems, renovations to the locker rooms and team rooms, and relocation of art, technology and music rooms, among other reconfigurations.

In an email statement from Jessica Schmettan, superintendent of schools, she outlined how infrastructure improvements will help the district meet its academic standards. 

“Many of the existing items are original to the buildings, most dating back to the 1960s,” she said. “Our mission in Port Jefferson has always been focused on academic rigor and personalized instruction for all students. … In order to focus on these areas, we need to modernize and renovate aging facilities.”

Mayor Margot Garant expressed support for these investments. For her, it is prudent to invest now while district taxpayers are still subsidized by the Long Island Power Authority. 

“We are in a position right now where we have five years left on our glide path,” Garant said, referring to the gradual decline of LIPA subsidies in the coming years. “For every dollar that we spend, LIPA is still picking up 50 cents on that dollar. These facilities need to be protected, and they need to be invested in.” The mayor added, “If we don’t make those investments, that’s going to start to have impacts on property values and on whether people want to come and live here.”

New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) has followed the matter closely. In an exclusive interview, he likened investments in school facilities to an oil change on a car: Residents can either pay now or pay in the long term.

“I think the mayor is right,” Englebright said. “This is a moment. If you miss that moment, then the buildings deteriorate and they become less appropriate for the next generation of students going into them.” He added failing to recognize these needs is “short-sighted thinking.”

‘There is still an open question as to whether these artificial fields are a) without biohazards and b) cost effective.’

— Steve Englebright

Proposition 2

The second ballot measure varies widely from the first in terms of scope and cost. It has also drawn significantly more opposition from the public and even members of the Board of Education. 

Proposition 2 concerns the $1.9 million proposed crumb-rubber artificial turf field for athletic competitions. This proposal also comes with continual costs for replacement every eight-to-12 years, a sticking point for some.

Paul Ryan, a district resident and former BOE candidate in 2022, is among the most vocal opponents of this measure. “My position on Prop 2 is that it is financially irresponsible in this economic climate of high inflation,” he said. “It’s a heat sink and will fill our harbor with microplastics, less safe than grass and less enjoyable for most of our community to play on.” He added that the process to put out the turf field for public referendum was “conducted in an ethically dubious manner.”

Ryan is not the only one against the turf field proposal. During a special meeting of the BOE on Tuesday, Sept. 13, numerous other residents raised objections to Prop 2 on similar grounds.

Citing the potential for environmental or ecological harm, Englebright, a geologist by training, expressed in his interview reservations about using artificial turf.

“The underpinnings of the artificial turf is rubber, and it usually comes from waste tires,” he said. “That has proven to be a source of contamination.” The state assemblyman added, “In the universal sense — I don’t mean specifically for this school district — there is still an open question as to whether these artificial fields are a) without biohazards and b) cost effective.”

On the other hand, during the Sept. 13 meeting, many parents and students showed support for the turf proposal, contending that it would foster school pride and bolster a sense of community identity.

Regardless of the mixed reaction, the school district remains supportive of Proposition 2. “The district is equally supporting both propositions on the ballot that represent a variety of needs,” Schmettan said.

Long-term uncertainty

During this year’s trustee election for the Board of Education, candidates debated the topics of declining student enrollment and the chance that PJSD will merge with another school district in the coming years. [See “Port Jeff BOE candidates tackle the issues,” The Port Times Record, May 12.]

Though these debates remain unsettled, Schmettan holds that the capital bonds will help draw families into the district while meeting its academic aims.

“There is no doubt districts across Suffolk County are experiencing a decline in student enrollment,” she said. “However, merging with another school district erases our unique opportunities and increases school tax rates.” The superintendent concluded, “We need to improve facilities to match our outstanding academic programs and explore ways to attract families with children to the area.”

Garant spoke in similar terms. She believes Port Jefferson remains a desirable location to raise a family. However, preserving a high standard of living and quality public schools comes at a price.

“When you go for a bond initiative, it’s a project of significant proportions,” the mayor said. “I’d rather see us make an investment and secure the quality of life that we have. And that will be up to the voters.”

Graphic from PJSD website

During a Port Jefferson School District Board of Education public meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 13, the board put two ballot measures out for a public vote on Monday, Dec. 12.

The measures deal with infrastructure improvements and upgrades in elementary, middle and high schools. Proposition 1 is an estimated $23.1 million proposal focused on critical infrastructure improvements and updated facilities. 

Proposition 2 is an estimated $1.88 million proposal that would replace the existing grass field at the high school with turf. (For a detailed description of both propositions, see The Port Times Record’s Sept. 8 story, “PJSD administrators present proposed capital bond projects and cost estimates.”)

Before putting these proposals out for a public referendum, the board first conducted a state-mandated environmental review and then a vote to put the propositions on the bond referendum. 

With BOE president Ellen Boehm absent, both SEQRA reviews passed the board unanimously. Proposition 1 was also unanimously approved. Though Proposition 2 passed, trustees Rene Tidwell and Ryan Walker voted “no.”

The decision to approve these propositions did not come without public opposition. District resident Drew Biondo objected to Proposition 2 because a turf field will require continual costs for refurbishment.

“In the course of paying for a $1.8 million field, even before we’re fully paid for it, we’re paying nearly the same price again just to refurbish it,” Biondo said.

Biondo addressed the impending loss of LIPA subsidies in the coming years, commonly referred to as the glide path. While some believe the agreement with LIPA is settled, Biondo contends that the issue remains ongoing and that much uncertainty remains.

“In 2027, the power service agreement expires,” he said. “[Then] what happens? If the power is not needed, then the plant goes dark. And if the plant goes dark, what will National Grid do? They will close the plant and likely demolish it.”

Biondo believes the looming prospects of demolishing the power plant may foreshadow a significant loss of revenue from LIPA. He advised the board to be mindful of these factors and their impact on taxpayers. 

Biondo concluded his remarks by stating that small class sizes and the ability for students to get to know their teachers are an asset to the district. “I think you have to go to your strength, and our small size is a strength, and our low taxes are a strength,” he said. 

District voters will get the final word on the matter this December. In the meantime, the district will hold a series of tours and information sessions to educate residents on the issues at stake in this upcoming referendum. 

During a special meeting of the Port Jefferson School District Board of Education on Tuesday, Sept. 6, superintendent of schools Jessica Schmettan delivered a presentation on the proposed capital bond projects slated for a possible public referendum later this year.

During the upcoming meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 13, the board will vote whether to formally adopt two ballot propositions for an expected Dec. 12 vote. The special session included a lively discussion among board members and elicited significant feedback from members of the public. Village Mayor Margot Garant even made an appearance to share her own take on the proposed projects.

The meeting began with a detailed presentation of the proposed projects, followed by over an hour of deliberations during the public comments. Both ballot measures drew considerable public debate and diverse perspectives from both sides.

Above: Expected costs for Proposition 1 over the first five years, based on assessed home values throughout the district. For example, a home with an assessed value of $5,000 would spend a projected $564 during the first borrowing year, 2024-25, and $498 during the second borrowing year, 2025-26. Charts accessed through the PJSD website

Proposition 1

Proposition 1 encompasses a wide range of infrastructural improvements across buildings throughout the district. The estimated combined costs for Proposition 1 total $23.1 million.

The first item includes upgrades to heating and cooling within the high school and elementary school, upgrading the steam heating system and providing dual-use ventilators in the high school. The plans would also replace existing units in the elementary school with dual cooling units. 

“If this bond was to be approved, we could say that all three of our schools would be heated efficiently and cooled efficiently,” Schmettan said. “I know there has been some conversation about cooling and the need for that. It is a modern convenience, but it is also a comfort. … It is tiring to be in the heat that long, and our students do learn best when they are in the most comfortable conditions.”

The proposal would also renovate the existing locker room and team room facilities surrounding the high school gymnasium. These facilities are used by physical education classes from grades 6-12, supporting the nurse’s office and the well-fit rooms. 

The proposed renovation to the nurses’ office would remove an existing wall, adding a waiting area, a resting place, an ADA-compliant toilet and sink, and a resting area for the nurses. 

The ballot proposal also seeks to reconfigure the girls locker room and team rooms, repurposing some of the existing showers as additional locker room space. The proposal would link the girls locker room with the team room and an ADA-compliant bathroom. 

“Additionally, there would be access from the Wall of Fame hallway so that children could get into the team room, get into the locker room, without walking through the gymnasium when classes are in session or games are in session,” the superintendent said.

The proposal adds plans for a wellness room, which will open up storage space for the physical education department. A wellness room, according to Schmettan, would centralize equipment storage while accommodating office space for PE teachers and coaches.

“It centralizes everything,” Schmettan said. “Right now, our boys team room is upstairs and our girls are downstairs. It centralizes all our staff in one spot for supervision, which is ultra-important.”

Transitioning to the boys team room, Schmettan expressed disappointment and embarrassment at the existing facilities. She indicated that this space is “old and decrepit,” with a “long, dark hallway.” The current layout has the added disadvantage of separating the boys and girls team rooms between separate floors. 

The proposed renovations would bring the boys team room downstairs. Similar to the layout for the girls, the boys team room would conjoin the team room with the locker room while providing access from the hallway.

Currently, the school trainer uses a closet as an office space. Under the plans, the trainer would move out of this location into a repurposed and renovated well-fit room. “It has access from the hallway and can be a proper room for the students to see the athletic trainer for any of their injuries,” Schmettan said.

Another aspect of this bond proposal centers around the two areas where the students have to leave the main building to access a portable that houses art, technology and music programs. To get to the portable, students must exit the building and mount a steep set of stairs, often encountering inclement weather.

“It is a huge safety and security issue,” Schmettan said. “It also presents a problem when you’re talking about students with disabilities, or with short- or long-term injuries.”

The bond proposal would demolish the portable music room, outfitting the upstairs space that supports the boys team room with a new tech education room and music room. 

The existing band and choral room would also improve, with proposed renovations to the storage areas for equipment and musical instruments.

The final item within Proposition 1 is the renovation of approximately 14 bathrooms within the elementary school. These upgrades include tiling, plumbing, toilets, sinks and water fountains.

Above: Expected costs for Proposition 2 over the first five years, based on assessed home values throughout the district. For example, a home with an assessed value of $5,000 would spend a projected $46 during the first borrowing year, 2024-25, and $41 during the second borrowing year, 2025-26. Charts accessed through the PJSD website

Proposition 2 

The second ballot proposal, if approved, would replace the existing grass athletic field with an athletic turf field. A projected $1.88 million project, Proposition 2 would add a five-sport lined crumb rubber surface, which has an expected lifespan of eight to 12 years. 

Schmettan said a turf field would promote playability for the district’s athletic teams. She added that despite some speculation from members of the public, there are no plans for either field lights or a comfort station for the turf field. 

Proposition 2 is a contingent ballot measure, meaning it cannot pass on its own. If the first proposal were to fail come December, then the second proposal would fail automatically regardless of its vote.

Cost estimates

Joining Schmettan was deputy superintendent Sean Leister, who presented multiple financial models to prepare district residents for the expected costs for these projects. 

Leister said his estimates generally swayed on the conservative side so that he does not underrepresent the expected costs. His models assume construction will begin in 2023-24 and that the district will borrow funds from its reserves to cover the expenses for the first year of the bond. 

“We would borrow money for a 15-year bond,” he said. “Once again, that could be variable, but we’re using an estimate of 15 years. The debt service on that bond would run from 2024-25 through [2038]-39.” He added, “In my models, I also estimated that state aid would not begin until the third year. … I also estimated on the low side that 87% of the project will be eligible for state aid.”

Leister gave a detailed estimate of residents’ annual contributions to paying down the bond based on the assessed values of their homes. Since the project’s first year will be self-funded, borrowing will kick in for 2024-25. See figures above for expected costs from 2023-28.

Following the presentation, a spirited discussion ensued during the public comments when district residents, parents and students raised several arguments for and against the two ballot measures. 

To watch the public comments (starting at 46 minutes, 10 seconds), click here. 

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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.