Briarcliff Votes 'Yes,' But BOCES Bond Proposal Fails Again

Needing unanimous acceptance, even a scaled-down renovation plan falls three districts short.

A scaled-back, $16.9 million plan to renovate Putnam/Northern Westchester BOCES facilities failed again last Tuesday to obtain the required unanimous approval of its 18 member school districts.

Negative votes by school boards in Chappaqua, Mahopac and Brewster effectively scuttled a proposed bond issue. But it did not necessarily kill the construction and repairs that the bond was meant to finance on BOCES’ Yorktown campus. BOCES Superintendent James Langlois is expected to soon with officials of the education cooperative to discuss their alternatives.

Three of the four present board members at Tuesday's board of education meeting in Briarcliff Manor voted to approve the plan. Jonathan Satran abstained and President Sal Maglietta was not present.

Satran asked whether it would be possible for the board to postpone the vote while waiting for answers to questions posed by another BOCES district. He also inquired as to whether the vote mattered since other districts already voted 'no.'

Superintendent Neal Miller replied that the board had waited until the last day to make a vote and said, "Dr. Langlois is adamant that districts still need to vote...All 18 votes are important."

Board Vice President Jennifer Rosen said she felt BOCES' updated proposal addressed concerns raised by boards in the first round, such as maintenance costs for the pool.

"I think that in order for them to feel that this is something that they should purchase [the therapy pool], that they have done their homework," she said, adding she believes BOCES likely thinks "this is the most economical or best solution they feel they have for the program they are currently offering."

The setback was the second for the proposal, which had been cut by more than $2 million from a plan rejected earlier this year by six of the 18 districts that jointly own the Board of Cooperative Educational Services. Despite the multiple defeats, BOCES’ Assistant Superintendent John McCarthy said Wednesday he did not rule out trying to change some minds in the three districts that had rejected the plan this week. Twice that number had refused to support the earlier, $19.5 million plan.

“We’re going to be meeting with out board next Tuesday night,” said McCarthy, who was “disappointed” the latest measure had failed to secure a unanimous approval.

The options going forward are limited. They include changing:

  • MINDS in the districts that rejected the plan, an outcome McCarthy acknowledged was “slim;”
  • THE PROJECT itself, though McCarthy, saying “time is of the essence,” saw limited opportunity to get that done; or,
  • THE FINANCING, shifting from the long-term bond to short-term tapping of BOCES’ capital fund, into which the districts are already paying.

That last option would mean spreading out the project for a number of years and hiking the size of local districts’ contributions to the capital fund. “It’s more money than we currently bring in,” he said, noting, “It would obviously increase the amount districts would have to pay into the capital account.”

In response to a question, McCarthy said that while local districts vote on BOCES borrowing, like the failed bond, as well as its administrative budget, they do not have a voice in setting allocations to the capital fund. “We’ve been able to do a lot of work just based on that fund,” he said.

In a statement, officials of the Chappaqua Central School District, on the hook for almost $1.3 million under the bond proposal, anticipated the capital-fund alternative. It termed the action a “unilateral decision” by the BOCES board “to override its component districts and carry out the project through large increases to capital charges in the event of a ‘no’ vote.”

“The current process introduces a significant unanticipated expense into local school budgets,” the statement continued, “while bypassing the checks and balances of a meaningful vote by local school boards and their taxpayers.”

McCarthy called the changes necessary to keep BOCES’ infrastructure up to date, adding, “We do need to repair our roofs and our HVAC (heating, ventilation and air-conditioning) systems, because they are failing.”

He said BOCES had cut back its original bond proposal by more than 11 percent, savings outlined  by officials in a number of areas:

Therapy Pool: Most of the cost-cutting—more than $1 million—was realized by scrapping plans to refurbish an existing therapy pool. Instead, two 8-by-12-foot therapy pools will be installed in the larger pool. The self-contained units eliminate the need to replace filtration, chlorination and heating systems for the larger pool. Other extensive renovations would have been required by the Department of Health if BOCES had maintained the current pool facility.

Roofs: The cost of roof repairs and replacements were trimmed by reducing the original plan’s specifications. While those specs called for installing 90-mil rubber membranes on nine roofs, the revised project will employ 60-mil membranes and replace only eight roofs. One roof will be recoated, not replaced.

HVAC: BOCES made “significant reductions” in HVAC costs by using existing ductwork in the Tech Center and lowering some ceilings elsewhere. The latter move allows BOCES to buy smaller HVAC units. It will also remove but not replace ceiling tiles in some shop areas and the gymnasium.

Superintendent for Business and Technology Stuart Mattey told the Briarcliff Manor school board that the BOCES costs would not be exempt from the tax cap restrictions, though there would be a modest amount of money returned to the district. His recommended payment plan to the board would spread out payments over 10 years.

Upon abstaining from Tuesday's vote, Satran explained, "I just want more information."

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