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A View from Eastchester: Bonding for Bathrooms

The writer is chair of the Eastchester Town Conservative Committee

On Wednesday, October 12th, Eastchester’s taxpayers will be asked to vote in favor of a Middle School Bond referendum for $12,797,372. It’s not an expensive bond, as bonds go, but what is it paying for?Eastchester gets a new music suite, a bigger cafeteria, five new bathrooms, three new science labs and 13 classrooms.

It’s hard to imagine that these repairs, upgrades and renovations couldn’t have been budgeted over the past ten years. The school board had no qualms giving out five year teacher contracts with salary increases of 3.5-5% a year. The money was always there. It was misspent.

Two prior double-digit bond initiatives over the past 20 years have failed to reconfigure the high school/middle school plant. Space was occupied with a new media room and what was supposed to be a bigger high school (and a better middle school). One only has to look up at the old gym with its bare roof to be reminded that prior school administrators left things a bit unfinished. The Waverly project was more upbeat, finally completed after an additional bond referendum and numerous cost overruns.

Eastchester’s school taxes have doubled over the past ten years. Last year’s average 7.74% tax rate increase was primarily the result of increases in salaries and benefits, not added school programs. The school district has also focused on expensive technology rather than traditional classroom space. Now they need classrooms. The punch line is that they will need more teachers to fill those classrooms – with money they won’t ever see in the current economic climate.

Eastchester could have built a full wing of classrooms but kept floating $20 million-plus bonds for far less bricks and mortar (art rooms, new gym lockers, music rooms, more labs and even roof repairs). Nearby Pelham comfortably expanded their school plant during the same time frame with two large wings of classrooms for only $9 million.

It is unfair how the annual bond/budget votes are framed by school district insiders as a competition between concerned taxpayers and concerned parents. Let’s not forget that these parents are also struggling taxpayers. Those with older children grapple with college bills of $20,000 to $50,000, per child, per year. Also lost on those lobbying for higher teacher salaries has been the plight of seniors and retirees on fixed income. The older taxpayers are being driven out ofEastchesterby ever-increasing taxes.

Meanwhile, pity the school board faced with the unenviable task of raising class sizes beyond 20-25 per classroom. But it is worse (and intellectually dishonest) for any schools superintendent to spin that money exists to maintain such class sizes – or that it will be there over the next 5-10 years. There are many other options.

Maybe this $12.8 building initiative fixes some past damage but a 2% tax cap should finally stop these financial benders (unless enough residents vote to allow the school board to spend more money).

Wednesday’s vote on the Middle School Bond Referendum is a referendum on a school administration that has been reduced to bonding for bathrooms.

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Bob Fois is the former editor of Empire State Report magazine, where he covered local governments across New York State. He was also news director at WVOX and has written extensively on municipal reform, most recently serving on the board of Rethinking Westchester Government. A lifetime North End resident, Bob also serves as chair of the Eastchester Town Conservative Committee.

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