Voters To Decide On Elmsford Schools' Capital Plan

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Elmsford Mayor Robert Williams, left, talks about the school district's capital plan Tuesday night with Board of Education President Matthew Evans.
Elmsford Mayor Robert Williams, left, talks about the school district's capital plan Tuesday night with Board of Education President Matthew Evans. Photo Credit: Samantha Kramer

ELMSFORD, N.Y. — The fate of the Elmsford school district's capital plan that would remove the Carl L. Dixson building from the school system is now up to the public.

After being approved by the Elmsford Board of Education on Oct. 18, the  $21 million renovation plan will be voted on in a school district referendum Dec. 12 at the Alice E. Grady Elementary School Music Room. The project will include selling Dixson and transferring its students into an expanded and renovated Grady.

The project would cost village taxpayers on average about $340 a year, according to the board's presentation. Though the board is awaiting a preliminary appraisal, the district could be reimbursed by an estimated $2.6 million in state aid. The project will be a relief in the long run because the cost of running an extra building will no longer be a burden, Mayor Robert Williams said at a Board of Education meeting Tuesday night.

"We spend a little today, we save money tomorrow," he said. "The kids get a better education, and we're doing it the most cost-efficient way."

Besides adding a wing of classrooms and facilities to Grady, upgrades to Grady and Alexander Hamilton High School would include more parking, wireless Internet access, ventilation repairs and floor replacements. Superintendent Barbara Peters said unifying the campuses would save class time that students lose by moving between campuses throughout the day.

The expansion also would add much-needed facilities that the current Dixson lacks, said Madeline Paneto-Gonzalez, principal of Dixson and Grady.

"Our library is a music room with books on a shelf somewhere," Paneto-Gonzalez said. "This is where we instill that love of reading, and we don't even have a library."

If the referendum is approved, the village plans to buy the Dixson property to create a new village hall, police station and senior community center — reimbursing the school district and making money by selling the current Village Hall at 15 S. Stone Ave.

But residents like Justin Datino voiced their concerns about raising taxes for a project they said wasn't necessary.

"The idea of students having a better facility is a good thing, but do we want to pay for a building that's going to take 20 years to pay off?" Datino said. "There's a lot of stuff here that's cosmetic. The village is not in financial shape to take on this burden."

If the board receives the public's vote and approval from the New York State Education Department, construction would begin next November and be completed by the spring of 2015 at the latest.

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I'm excited to see this issue is covered by the Greenburgh Daily Voice. It’s important to disseminate facts to the public, hopefully people know about this website.

Some points to mention: it is not a onetime $340.00, this cost is annual and will be compounded by future tax rate increases to cover mandated costs. Furthermore, the $21 million project is more like a $40 million project when you consider the costs of the proposed addition, other capital needs of Grady & Hamilton and the Village cost of constructing the new Village Hall/ Police Department / Community Center ($5-8 million ballpark). The Sale of Dixon may bring at best $1million or so $s.

It was explained that the district has no debt, yet we have one of the highest costs per pupil in the County. The burdensome cost of running a District in which its performance does not translate into home value in Elmsford is impossible for property owners to sustain.

To put this into context Elmsford property owners pay some of the highest taxes in the County as a percentage of home value and receive far fewer Educational services than other Westchester Communities. A home in Elmsford worth $400,000 may pay between $9-11k in annual property tax and a home in Briarcliff worth $1.2 million may pay between $26-33k, but look at what you get in Briarcliff just in the school district, let alone recreation programs and faciliites. Elmsford pays a smaller amount but a larger percentage as compared to value, and receives far less in return.

The school district needs improvements but to spend $21 million for a new wing for grades K & 1 is flat out wrong.

Potential areas for focus: first and foremost - engaging parents in the education of their children; continue to modify and develop educational programs to have a greater impact on the students; run the District more efficiently (reduce the top heavy administration and add more teachers into the classrooms) District administration personnel have doubled since 2002; extend the time students are in the classroom not reduce it (Eliminate superintendent Monday’s and have the facility and staff engage in professional development when the students are on breaks and vacation), lower the transportation costs in the district,... a few ideas to begin the process of developing the district.

Stop this proposal now, the project is not going to provide nearly the "bang for the buck" that other measures may provide. Clean Dixon up, look at alternatives but do not continue to fleece the Elmsford taxpayers with this plan. If your only tool is a hammer, the only way to fix things will be to beat them. If you only solution is money, you can only throw money at problems. The School Board must expand its tool box and demand more from the administration.

Thanks to everyone involved in this process. Despite your particular view I believe that people generally have Elmsford’s best interest in mind.

-Justin Datino