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School Bond Referendum: Pros and Cons

NyackHighSchool201206On Tuesday, October 29, The Nyack Board of Education is asking voters to approve a $26.4 million dollar bond referendum.

Here are two statements supporting and two statements opposing  the bond.

In support:

  • David MacCartney
  • Dr. Don Hammond and Michael Lagana

In opposition:

  • Bryan Burrell
  • Rick Tannenbaum



In Opposition to the Bond

Why I can’t vote yes for the Nyack School District Bond

by Bryan Burrell

I can’t vote yes on the 26 million dollar Nyack School district bond.  The vote will occur on October 29th and I encourage everyone to come out and cast their ballot. I am a pro public education proponent that has served on the Nyack Board of Education.

Additionally, while I served as the Executive Director of the Rockland County School Boards Association, I fought tirelessly for students and public education.  It may therefore be surprising to some that I am not supporting the Nyack School District’s proposed 26 million dollar bond.  I have my reasons and share them with you.

I can’t vote yes because the bond abandons historic McCallman Field.  The first night football game in Rockland County was held on this hallowed ground on the evening of October 26, 1944.  Generations of athletes have created a proud history that has been part of our community’s legacy.  The named field is strewn with memories, victories and the blood sweat and tears of countless of Nyack’s best athletes.  Thousands of students, including 5 of my own have graduated under the lights of that same lit field.  It is a proud tradition that, in my view, should continue. I will vote no because of my commitment to Nyack’s proud history and lasting legacy.

I can’t vote yes because I do not believe that this proposal is the best investment this generation can provide to the next.  The last bond of this size was approved by the last generation.  The 42 million dollar bond built the new high school, created the current middle school and provided building improvements and additions to each of our elementary buildings.

I see that investment as both wise and prudent.  It is an investment that will continue to serve future generations.  It is a gift that keeps on giving. This bond however does not meet that same generational test.  Neither the 8 million dollar proposed new sports complex nor the nearly one million dollar air condition project represent, in my view, generational investments.  I know that many in our community will sincerely disagree with me.  I would argue that the proposal before the voters is not in the same league as the last major bond that gave us beautiful state of the art buildings.

This will likely be the only bond of this size that our district will consider in the next decade or two.  Field improvements are needed but so are unaddressed infrastructure needs that will become critical over the next two decades. I favor safe fields but not a sports complex. I strongly support the visual and performing arts but do not support a million dollar expenditure to air condition the Divinci Center and the auditorium.  I will vote no because this bond does not meet the generational test that our last major bond did with flying colors.

I can’t vote yes because I believe the tax impact is too great.  While interest rates and retiring bond debt make an increase in taxes unlikely if this bond passes, there is nothing wrong with providing taxpayers with a future debt load less than what we are currently carrying.  If we continue to add to the property tax burden, many of our children will no longer be able to live in this community or make use of these improvements.  A balance is needed and I do not believe that balance is achieved by replacing a mortgage of the past with a new mortgage of a similar amount for the future. Most homeowners are elated when they pay off their 30 year mortgage.  They typically to not seek to replace it with another mortgage of the same or similar amount.

Similarly, most credit card holders to not make the last payment on a car or a credit card and then either get a new car or re-charge their credit card back to the max.  I will vote no because the tax impact of this bond is too great.

I can’t vote yes because I understand the impact of the 2% property levy cap.  Because of this cap, the Nyack school district may, at some point in the near future, be unable to provide a free and appropriate education to all of the students entrusted to its care. More and more school districts in New York State are approaching bankruptcy because of the impact this cap is having on the educational program.  Districts across the state have cut back or eliminated their athletic and arts programs.  They have not done this because they wanted to; they did so because they had no choice.  One defeated budget in the Nyack School District would decimate our entire educational program.  I believe that the approval of this bond could place our regular budget and our current educational program in jeopardy.

I would rather use our retiring bond debt to fund critical educational programs through the regular school budget.  The 2% levy cap will leave many of the students of New York State behind.  A supermajority is required for any district to exceed the cap.  Many would disagree that any district should propose a budget above the levy cap.  I disagree.  If the district can give additional support to the educational program without a tax increase, because of retiring debt, it will be more likely, in my view to garner support and save that educational program.  If we lose the ability to pay for the district’s core educational program, all of the improvements this bond supports will have been in vain. Kids must come first and all of our choices should be filtered through that lens. The district has urged voters to support this proposal because of millions of dollars in critical infrastructure improvements.  My analysis allows me a short term alternative proposal that will address many of these current and critical needs.  I do not believe that very many in the community would oppose these projects.

Go to the districts website at and carefully examine the projects that are planned.   They can be found here:  Nyack School District Proposed Bond Projects

My proposal to address these critical needs uses the 5 million dollars the district has wisely placed in its capital reserve fund.  My proposal then factors in an additional 2 million dollars in state aid that would be
generated by the expenditure of the 5 million.  This produces a 7 million dollar set of projects.

For these 7 million dollars the district could do the following from its

  1. Pay for all of the fire safety and emergency lighting projects at a cost 1.2 million dollars.
  2. Replace all of the boilers in the district at a cost of 2 million dollars.
  3. Replace the roof at the High School and the Middle School at a cost of 2 million dollars.
  4. Make all electrical upgrades at a cost of almost half a million dollars.
  5. Make all the technology upgrades at a cost of half a million dollars.

I think that this set of projects clearly shows that the district can make substantial infrastructure improvements just with our current assets.  If the district were to only do these projects there would be no tax impact at all.  Other proposals in the bond including some field improvements are worthy of investment as well.  This bond should not be seen as the only way to deal with the infrastructure needs facing the district.  If this proposal is rejected, I would support the creation of an alternative proposal.   The district can address significant aspects of its critical infrastructure needs without spending 26 million dollars.

Bryan Burrell
Served on the Nyack Board of Education for 15 years and served as Executive Director of Rockland County School Boards Association.

Artificial Turf Stadium is a Bad Idea

by Rick Tannenbaum

On October 29, 2013, voters in the Nyack School District will have to decide once again whether or not to permit the school district to borrow money to build an artificial turf stadium at the Nyack High School. The resolution, if passed, will permit the district to issue bonds and borrow and spend $26.4 million dollars on building improvements throughout the district, including almost $8 million dollars on a new artificial turf stadium at the high school, complete with 2000 stadium seats, a state-of-the-art press box, new lighting and concession buildings. Voters should reject the resolution and vote NO on October 29th.

The district already has a 1700 seat natural grass stadium a few blocks away at McCalman Field. The district has been neglecting the grass there, spending only a portion of its allocated budget on field maintenance. In the last few reported years, the district has been allocating $45,000 per year for field maintenance and only spending a small fraction of that amount, sometimes less than 15% of the allocation. If the district maintained the grass fields properly, it would have no need to install artificial turf or build a new stadium. And, the existing field is right in the heart of Nyack with many attendees walking to the games or parking on neighborhood streets. There is not enough parking at the high school for 2000 guests, the players, the staff, and the visiting team.

The district is finally poised to pay off all its existing debt in the next year or two, and should not immediately plunge taxpayers back into 15 more years of payments. Estimates of the cost to repay the principal and interest on the new debt exceed $2,000,000 per year for the next 15 years, and may be more if interest rates rise before the district borrows the money. The old debt should be retired and new debt rejected. Taxpayers can use a break on their school taxes, especially as town and county taxes skyrocket. And, even if the district does not give taxpayers relief when the old debt is retired, that $2,000,000 per year in savings can help re-hire fired teachers and staff or enhance the academic programs in the district. Why are we considering an artificial turf stadium when we are still laying off teachers?

Five years ago, voters in Nyack agreed to establish a capital improvement fund and we now have over $5,000,000 saved for necessary improvements and safety enhancements. The district has structured the bond resolution so as to prevent the community from using that money unless and until the voters agree to a new artificial turf stadium. This is neither reasonable nor fair. Safety improvements should not be held hostage to artificial turf. Whose interest does the district serve when it says we can only be safe in our elementary and middle schools if the high schoolers get to play sports on artificial turf?

When the voters say NO on October 29th, the district will come around and make the improvements and upgrades that are actually necessary. We have the money in our capital fund to fix our schools. That is what happened when Nyack voters rejected artificial turf six years ago. The district’s threats that students would go without if the bond failed were just empty threats. Nyack voters rejected an unnecessary bond and an unnecessary turf field six years ago when the economy was strong. They should do so again, especially when we are just at the beginning of a fragile and uncertain economic recovery. This is not the time to take on excessive debt. This is not the time to raise taxes. And, it is certainly not the time to consider artificial turf.
Rick Tannenbaum is a parent of a middle-schooler and a resident of Valley Cottage.

In Support of the Bond

Vote Yes on October 29th

by David MacCartney

As a parent of three children in the Nyack School District, as a homeowner and taxpayer in the District for the past 15 years, as one who was born and raised in Nyack by parents who were also both born and raised here, and as a Nyack High School graduate, I feel compelled to publicly express my views in favor of the Nyack Schools Bond Referendum scheduled for a public vote on October 29.

This bond referendum provides our community with $26.4 million worth of essential projects for an actual local budget debt of about $12.4 million ($9 million of the total project cost will be paid by the State and $5 million will come from the Capital Reserve Fund), at a time when interest rates are at or near their historic lows, all with no tax increase at all.  It is a home run for all of us.

I encourage all those who are not personally familiar with all the facts to use the resources available to permit a reasoned personal decision based on those facts. I also urge all those who support the referendum, as I do, to not become part of a complacent “silent majority” and instead to implement your support with a positive vote on October 29.

The Facts

The Bond Referendum is the culmination of a seven-month process through which approximately 40 diverse community members and staff volunteers serving on a Citizens Advisory Committee thoroughly assessed the District’s facilities’ needs and the feasibility of necessary improvements. These committee members and the School Board did not arrive at some hasty decision to waste our money and damage the environment, as the vocal opponents have been insinuating.  No, this dedicated and diverse group of fellow residents and taxpayers did their homework, and then some.  The District web site contains the straightforward, content-neutral facts and research underlying the proposal (, including a written list of the projects, a comprehensive Q&A on all issues, etc.

Why Do I Support the Referendum?

1. The capital projects proposed to be funded are fundamentally necessary.  They include improvements to the fire safety and emergency lighting systems, HVAC systems, technology and security systems, electrical and plumbing systems, roofing, windows, doors, drainage, flooring, and athletic fields.  We cannot wait any longer to undertake these projects.
2. The proposal completes all these projects, but remarkably will not result in any tax levy increase at all.  This is an amazing achievement which will likely never be possible again in the future if we wait.
3.  The improvements will have the added benefit to all taxpayers of maintaining or increasing our property values.  Put another way, permitting the continued degradation of school infrastructure is a sure way to increase future maintenance, repair, and replacement costs while also decreasing our property values by making the District simply undesirable.
4. Once completed, these capital projects are expected to eliminate millions of dollars of ongoing repair and maintenance costs.  This savings directly benefits the annual operating budgets and so frees up that money for future tax relief, educational programming, etc.

How Can There be No Tax Increase and Why is Now the Time for This Project?

Contrary to the innuendo disseminated by the vocal opponents of the bond, the fact is that the bond will simply not result in any tax levy increase.  In fact, not passing this bond referendum could very well end up raising our taxes in the short term, as the costs to repair and replace individual projects this bond will pay for would instead have to be paid from the operating budget and, in an emergency situation, will surely cost more.

One might reasonably ask, “How can there be no tax increase?”  The “fiscal stars” are aligned for this project right now.  If we wait, this opportunity to complete these projects with no tax levy increase will likely be gone forever, particularly given the 2% tax levy cap.   Here’s why:
1.  Existing bonds from years ago are being retired over the next few years and the money being spent on the new projects is coordinated to replace that debt as it is retired, so there is no increase in existing debt service.  It’s like signing a lease on a new car after the old lease expires, only here, you get to drive a new car for the same price as the old one.
2. The District has already responsibly put aside $5 million in the capital reserve fund for this exact purpose.  This is not some contingency or emergency fund not meant to be touched.  It is money saved for this purpose precisely.  So, $5 million of the $26.4 million budget has already been saved and is ready for this very project right now.
3. The State will pay 37.6% of allowable costs.  So, about $9 million of the $26.4 million budget is being paid from Albany.  There is no guarantee this money will be available in the future.  We need to secure that massive benefit while we can.

4. Interest rates are still at or near their historic lows.  While the district has conservatively illustrated the interest rates on these bonds at 4.5%, current bond rates are actually around 3%-3.5% and most bond experts do not forecast bond rates to rise very quickly.  Accordingly, the actual costs to borrow on our bonds will likely be even lower than the District has estimated.

Why Do I Support the Upgrade to Turf Fields

The vast majority of the Bond Referendum is addressed to funding many necessary capital projects, yet the vocal opponents focus on the singular issue of the artificial turf.  Accordingly, even though it is only one part of the Referendum, I will address it directly.

There is one thing the vocal opponents cannot reasonably dispute: our fields are a mess and require replacement one way or the other.  Our children are forced onto poor, hard, uneven, dangerous surfaces which cause injuries and provide limited availability with increased maintenance costs.  So, the choice is between grass or turf.  Grass costs only about $900,000 less than turf, but turf provides 2,000-3,000 hours of playability per year while grass provides only between 300 and 816 hours.  Think about that for a second – the difference is enormous, and all those drastically increased hours of playability would all be on a pristine turf field without bare spots laced with pebbles, mud puddles, or “ankle breakers” (small hidden holes in the grass).

What About Safety and the Environment?

I encourage anyone with questions about safety or the environment to simply go to the Q&A posted on the District web site, read all the scientific articles cited, and make up your own mind based on the facts. I know I am fully satisfied by what I have read.  I have three children, ages 12, 9 and 5 and trust me when I say I would not support something I believed even for a second to be unsafe for my own children, let alone others.

Further, although I am admittedly not an engineer or scientist, I am an environmental attorney. This proposed project was thoroughly reviewed under the rigorous requirements of the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”).  By law, the School Board members were compelled to thoroughly examine all of the potential adverse environmental impacts of the project.  The District received detailed input and involvement from other involved municipalities (including the Village of Upper Nyack whose Board members and engineer participated significantly in the SEQRA process).  Our diverse collection of elected School Board members did their jobs: they reviewed the research, took the required hard look at the environmental issues, and unanimously determined that there would be no significant negative impact on the environment.

The Board we have all elected is a truly diverse group in just about every sense, coming from a wide variety of backgrounds and different ends of the political spectrum.  Despite all their differences, they have one thing in common:  they care deeply about our children and our community.  They unanimously agreed on this project, which should speak volumes to all of us as to its merits.

I believe the time is now for this project and I hope you agree, but please don’t take my word for it, or the word of others.  Read the objective, non-biased facts and make up your own minds.

by David MacCartney, who graduated from Nyack High School, is a parent of three children in the Nyack School District.

In Support of the Nyack Bond Referendum

by Dr. Don Hammond and Michael Lagana

We stand in strong support of the Nyack Board of Education and the current bond referendum.  Please take a moment to read our thoughts and reasons for supporting this effort.  We each served as President of the Board of Education and have a unique understanding of what this bond represents to the students of our district.

The plan was developed by a committee of community residents.  This committee used architectural engineers and relied on experts in energy savings and environmental reviews to conduct a full audit of our facilities.  They developed a list of issues that need to be addressed, then prioritized the needs to fit within a financial plan that responds to critical repairs and renovations while investing in items that will save money and enhance our educational programs and strategies.

This is a solid financial plan for our future and does not increase the tax levy.  The 2% tax cap rules restrict a districts ability to fund significant capital expenditures without a bond or long term debt.  If we let the current debt expire, we will not be able to meet our long term capital needs.  Roofs, windows, doors, fire alarms, electrical systems and athletic fields require proper maintenance and ultimately replacement.

We have exceeded the usable lifespan of many of these systems and spend significant dollars every year “patching” things that are well past their useable life.  This is not an effective use of taxpayer money and costs the district millions each year.

Taking a larger “market view” of the bond in question, the timing and market forces are now optimal for borrowing and buying.  Interest rates on bonds are near historical lows.

As an entity looking to spend $26MM we will be highly desirable customer in a buyers market.  Our dollars will go further.  For example, the costs for the last few capital projects (window replacement at Valley Cottage Elementary and roof replacement at Liberty Elementary) came in significantly under budget.  The district was able to do more with less in these ultra-competitive market conditions.

Best of all, by using the $5MM set aside in the capital fund; NY State Aid matching over 37% of approved expenses; and replacing the current expiring debt the bond is tax neutral.

The expenditures will impact every aspect of our educational strategies and many of our operational obligations.  Security upgrades to keep our children safe; technology upgrades to give every student better access to new teaching methodologies and information; air conditioning for our Arts, Music and Technology Programs; improvements in our athletic facilities that provide safe fields for all of our high school students and community athletes of all ages.

Building upgrades in technology infrastructure, boiler repairs, window replacements and new roofs address issues that cannot be ignored.

We have all experienced flooding and drainage problems in our community.  The school is not immune to those same flooding issues.  Part of the bond will address flooding issues that plague the High School, Upper Nyack Elementary School and the properties that are down stream from those facilities.

Many of our students with special needs must receive services from other districts because we do not have the facilities to address their needs.  This is very costly and does not provide the best experience for our students.  During the interview process before we hired Dr. Montesano, he described the life skills facilities that were created to support students in Paramus.  We visited the buildings, spoke with students and teachers who were using the facilities and became familiar with what was accomplished.   It was an impressive operation that helped reduce costs and provided more effective services to students.  It is something we should bring to Nyack.

The proposed turf fields have raised significant discussions in the community.  In our view, the turf fields are necessary.  We do not have enough fields to properly support our physical education programs, our sports teams, and other community activities.  The fields cannot recover fast enough from the use in every season.  The current condition of the fields robs our children of the opportunity to achieve.

The bond will allow us to centralize our athletic programs and give our student athletes the opportunity to showcase their talents.

For some students, the ability to compete on a team is what keeps them in school.  Student athletes are inspired and encouraged by coaches to press on and not give up on their education. Investing in our sports facilities demonstrates that our community values teaching students to compete and not give up on their own future.

The timing is right; the market is favorable; the needs are significant; and the plans are sound.  Now is the time for us to make this investment in our future.  We applaud this well thought out plan and encourage our community to support the bond on Tuesday October 29th.

Dr. Don Hammond
Nyack BOE Trustee 1998-2004, 2010
Board President 2002/2004

Michael Lagana
Nyack BOE Trustee 2006-2012
Board President 2010/2011

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