Monday, December 21, 2009

kt Tobin Flusser's Comments Before Her YES! Vote on 12/16/09

When I ran for school board last May I said the following:
“I submitted my name for election to the school board because I want to focus on maintaining educational excellence despite fiscal pressures. I want to participate in the middle school renovation process, as I believe this project is an opportunity for the district to concretize its commitment to 21st century education while going green and staying fiscally sound. I want to continue to be a voice for transparency in government - we need to continue to open up the process and promote citizen involvement.”

As we sit here about to vote on the proposed Middle School Project bond date and amount I am confident that I have done what I promised to do and here's why.

Since Jan 2008 when the resolution was passed to focus on the Middle School green renovation on the current site in the village this board has met nearly 50 times for regular BOE meetings (and before I was even on the board they can all attest that I attended many of them). This project was more often than not in some way on the agenda. Also in that time period there have been two dozen Facilities Committee meetings, and since late summer our board has met as a whole numerous times as the Committee of the Whole just to discuss this topic to narrow and refine the scope. All of this equates to thousands of hours reviewing, discussing, researching, and asking hundreds of questions to get to where we are today. These were all public meetings that were filmed and televised.

I am incredibly impressed by all my colleagues’ intelligence and work ethic. We are all elected, but we are all volunteers and my experience is that this project – in addition to regular board duties – has been taken absolutely seriously and with a high degree of commitment & professionalism.

This project has gone through many phases over the past two years. It started with the selection of architects via the RFP process followed by a feasibility study which confirmed the site was viable for a revovation/combination/new construction project. There have been many configurations and iterations in the Rhinebeck proposals (and later Palumbo cost estimates). How much of the old building components would stay? What needed to go? There were extensive discussions about where to put what - shipping and receiving, the kitchen, parking, buses, the district office; what could we afford? and most importantly, what would be the best configuration for contemporary education? By this fall the results of this work was ready for presentation and evaluation through a public forum and presentation series.

Over twenty open forums and presentations were held at all of our schools and at locations across our community. Staff, faculty, PTAs, community groups, and residents of the district provided us with feedback about the proposed project. Really good questions were asked and there were great ideas offered that helped us modify this proposal in important ways, for example:
• affirmation that the community wants us to maintain full day Kindergarten
• that we needed a relocation plan and dollars in the budget for it before voting
• adjustment of the bond timeline to delay impact till 2012
• the possibility of flexible payment of taxes across the year
• removal of the amphitheater and auditorium renovations

There are some things we heard about and can't do: for example, the pool – with a $6 million price tag. Or, as express by a small handful, a postponement – but that is a price tag for students and our community and our pocketbooks that makes no sense.

$49.8m is a lot of money - there is no getting around it. I had sticker shock when I first heard this ballpark figure and since then I – along with my peers at the board table - have worked diligently to figure out why this is the amount we need to spend on this project.

We have "interrogated" our architects and construction manager for months – drilling down all the scenarios - the hows and the whys – and came to understand that this is the appropriate price tag for a capital project for a public building built properly to last a century.

We have done our due diligence to determine what constitutes the right cost for this project – and that this is the best proposal for the needs of this district and community. Our professionals - architects and builders - are basing these costs on their databases of projects done in our region. And outside of the board and district administration and consultants, well-respected community members who work in related fields like Floyd Kniffen, Kevin O'Connor, Rick Alfandre, and John McEnrue at the college have affirmed that these costs are right on target.

And while these may be the worst of times for the economy, in many ways they are also the best of times - construction costs and interest rates are at historic lows. It is very likely that the costs will never be lower than what they are now.

The condition of the building is appalling and it is reprehensible that we have neglected to act sooner. The 2005 building survey identified critical physical deterioration. The building is a fossil fuel nightmare and large portions are inaccessible to the disabled and injured. Classrooms are not configured for modern education and are on average 30% smaller than current state requirements. There’s too much heat, not enough heat, mold, air quality problems – it is a maze. It would be irresponsible to not acknowledge and act on these problems now.

I am typical New Paltz. I am a working mom in a dual earner household with three kids – my middle child will be relocated during the project. My house is assessed at just a hair above the median - and the cost for my household will be right in line with the typical New Paltzians – as I guess it will for most of us at the board table (and Dan’s parents :) ).

We are all neighbors, and we need to share this cost. At less than $5 a month for the first four years and starting in 2012 an average of $14 a month for the twenty-year loan– which by the way is the same cost of HBO on a monthly basis - we can afford this. We can do this – and if there are people who are on the precipice of losing their homes because of impacts like these we need to find better ways to identify them and help them keep their homes.

Since I graduated from SUNY New Paltz I have lived all over Ulster County, we moved back when my first child was born. New Paltz is one of the most expensive places to live in the county but I love the community and the schools are #1 in the region - as Don Kerr affectionately says - the jewel of the valley. People move here because of the schools. The price may be higher than average but the outcome is exceptionally higher than average. We have a nationally ranked high school.

Middle school is a difficult age. Schools do well at high school and elementary levels – middle school is perhaps the most challenging years and much research says these years have the most impact on eventual success – this is a critical age. Our superior staff of administrators and teachers at the middle school is successful despite the building they work in.

Think of the positive impacts for the education of our children in a contemporary, clean, green, healthy building. At a minimum, because of the new design they will get a net increase in actual instruction time. Absenteeism because of healthier conditions will decrease, and productivity for both staff and students will increase. The facility will be technologically appropriate for modern education.

I support this project for educational, health, safety, environmental, and financial reasons.

It is time for the community to vote, and I am confident in our community’s ability to evaluate this proposal. This is what it costs. This is what we need to do for our community. I will vote yes tonight and on February 9th.

kt Tobin Flusser
New Paltz

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