BCS Bond: Déjà Vu All Over Again
by David Flint
Bond authorization for the Capital Project approved by Berlin School District voters in December came up once again at the School Board meeting on Tuesday and once again failed to get the required super-majority fifth vote. Board Members Gina Goodermote, Frank Zwack, Rachel Finney and James Willis voted in favor of proceeding with authorizing the bond, but Beverly Stewart and John Nash could not be moved. Board Member Alan Webster Jr. was absent.
[private]Board President Goodermote expressed exasperation that a “really good package” that she believed would have no impact on the taxpayers yet would take care of needed repairs at the elementary school and the middle school/high school, could not be moved forward. It would free the Board, she said, to attend to other important things they need to do. “The people voted,” she said, “and now they don’t understand why they even bothered to go vote when nobody’s listening to them.” Goodermote said she believed that there were personal reasons for voting no.
Nash felt it was Goodermote who was not listening. If she did not understand why he was opposing the authorization, he said, then it was clear she had not been listening since he had provided a litany of reasons. And there were more, he said, which he did not want to get in to at this time. Nash said he knew that Grafton and Stephentown would never be re-opened – his vote had nothing to do with that – and he knew that work needs to be done at Berlin Elementary, but an effective leader looks for compromise and there had been no attempt to do so. When Finney asked whether they were objecting to the project itself or to “the way it was done,” Nash responded that she, too, had not been listening.
Stewart perceived that the way Goodermote spoke about how “I put a great package together” was indicative of the problem. “I, I, I, I, I – We are a Board of seven,” she said, and each Member deserves respect and to have his or her say and to be listened to. She objected to the fact that a major project had been put together “behind closed doors.” To get out of this impasse, Stewart urged that the Board have a special meeting on the issue with someone more objective presiding where “we can all sit together, hash it out and see where we land…I want the facilities fixed but I want us to be a Board of seven.” Stewart recalled that the Board had earlier worked together on other things such as the lead problem and the Superintendent search and she had ensured that everything was transparent, but now, she said, “I feel like it’s a dictatorship.”
Where’s The Efficiency Report?
Nash asked when they could discuss the Efficiency and Effectiveness report for which the District had paid $30,000 to the Capital Area School Development Association (CASDA). A draft has circulated among Board Members, but discussion has not been held pending the final draft. Schools Superintendent Dr. Stephen Young said that the report is not finalized yet as they are still working on some financial data. Nash persisted that the Board was supposed to have it to help with developing the budget and now the Board is asked to make another important financial decision and still no report. He urged that pressure be applied to CASDA because he believed the report would have significant information to facilitate due diligence in decision making. Stewart agreed saying the public deserves to know what they were getting for $30,000.
Where Are The School Building Appraisals?
Nash also wanted to know what happened to the real estate appraisals for the school properties in Grafton and Stephentown. The Board recently paid $3,200 to have them made. The taxpayers, he said, will be asked next month to vote whether to give away two buildings and they don’t even know how much they are worth. That information, he urged, needs to be given to the public as soon as possible so people can make an informed decision. Goodermote agreed with that one, urging, too, that the information be posted as soon as possible. Dr. Young said that in his last contact with the appraisal company they were in the process of writing it. He asked Business Manager William Burke to call and check on it in the morning.
The Board awarded a bid to provide lawn services to Robert’s Professional Services of Stephentown. The contract includes mowing and trimming of grass at the Stephentown Elementary School at $110 per mow, the Berlin Elementary School at $175 per mow and the Berlin Middle School/High School at $370 per mow. The vote was 4-1 with Willis abstaining and Stewart voting no. Stewart saw no reason to include Stephentown since the intent was to save on maintenance by offering the property to the Town. Also, she said she has asked in the past for discussion as to the feasibility and economics of the District doing its own mowing rather than contracting it but that has never happened.
Dr. Young had some good things to report about what’s going on in the schools:
• The High School Masterminds Team ended up second out of 26 teams in the Capital District, defeating Averill Park and Columbia in the finals and losing only to Guilderland. Young thanked the Board for reinstating funds for this team earlier in the year.
• The Middle School Student Council has been recognized by WGY News Talk Radio and by 99.5 The River for the fund raising it has done for worthy causes. Recipients of the fund raising in the past have included Children’s Hospital, the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, the Muscular Dystrophy Association and the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Council officers will interviewed on air on either May 3 or May 4.
• An Envirothon team sponsored by Dr. Young and Audrey Vanderhoef will compete against other Capital District schools on May 10. The team, which is a new endeavor in the District, will demonstrate its knowledge of environmental science and natural resources management in five areas – aquatic ecology, forestry, wildlife, soils and non-point source pollution.
• The District will receive a bequest of $100,000 from the Margaret J. Kinn Trust for a $1,000 scholarship in Margaret Kinn’s name for a student planning to attend college for four years.
• Dr. Young will work with staff to establish policy and procedures for enhancing the revenue stream from excess and surplus inventories, from facility utilization fees, from FOIL charges and from public auction of large items and vehicles.
• Unused snow days will result in school closing on May 11, May 24 and May 25.
Budget Public Hearing
There will be a public hearing on the budget at the Middle School/High School on Tuesday, May 8, at 7:15 pm. The vote on the budget and the election of School Board members will be held at the Berlin Elementary School on May 15 from noon to 9 pm. The next regular meeting of the School Board will follow the vote, but the date has not been determined yet.[/private]