School Board Drops the Ball on Turf Fields

For some time now I have kept a close watch on the Tarrytowns’ Board of Education and continue to be extremely frustrated with their insular tactics, that show little regard for the tax payers who have to foot the bill each and every year for their lofty goals and aspirations.

It was this same Board that told us that the GM property would be developed and generating tax revenue for the district by this past January to help offset the costs to be incurred by the middle/high school renovation. This was built into their assumptions which were published in the interview that appeared in a daily paper where the district made the assertion that this school renovation would not cause additional costs to the tax payer. As we see from the recent developments down on the riverfront, their projection was not even close to being accurate, as it may take many years for that project to come to fruition. In reality, if we haven’t already, we will very soon begin to assume the full debt service associated with the school construction, and probably will for many, many years to come.

In line with this, I was also disappointed with the way the BOE handled the turf referendum. I attended the public hearing that was held at Washington Irving School shortly before the turf proposition was put up for a vote. Given their past track record, I was not very optimistic that any comments I would make would actually have any impact on the final decision made by any of the Board of Education members; however, since I was afforded the opportunity to be heard, I felt it was my civic duty to appear and at least let my fellow citizens know my thoughts.

I opened my remarks by imploring the Board to reconsider the scope and size of the turf proposition. I used the defeat of the Irvington sports facilities upgrade referendum as an example of what happens when a School Board is out of touch with their constituency and is insensitive to the financial challenges met each day by the taxpayers in their district. Irvington happens to be a very affluent community that, like our district, had recently passed a major school renovation referendum. While their sports facilities, like those in the Tarrytowns, were in need of improvement, the School Board made the mistake of trying to pass the sports facilities proposal too close to the passing of the major renovation referendum. The community was still trying to absorb the tax increases associated with this major school infrastructure upgrade. In addition, the School Board tried to go for the home run by putting before the voters a complete list of sports facilities that needed improvement. The vote came in very close; but the outcome was a defeat for the School Board, the administration and the students. Had the Board been more selective in coming up with a short list of those improvements that were most needed, rather than a full laundry list, there probably could have been a different outcome.

While in the Tarrytowns, our financial profile is much different, our School Board seems to be following the same path as their peers in Irvington and many other school districts around Westchester County. I suggested the Board propose resurfacing Rasbeck field and upgrading that facility to a best of breed venue with proper lighting, concession stand, restrooms, etc. If this project were to be done well, the entire community would rally around it and feel good about a tangible improvement to our sports facilities that would be enjoyed for many years to come, and be more open to future athletic improvements in the future. Instead, in line with the glossy brochures that were prepared for the proposed referendum prior to the public hearing, the Board chose to take the risk of the sticker shock associated with the prospect of resurfacing 3 fields, on the heels of the major $70+ million referendum that was just passed by the community not long ago.

As a result, instead of having secured the approval for the one field to be upgraded, and work having begun, the community is just that much more polarized away from the individuals who supposedly represent them on the Board of Education. Isn’t it interesting that this Board has once again proposed a school improvement referendum without giving any serious consideration to the property owned by the district at Peabody Field. Why not level and resurface that large tract of land with proper lighting, parking, and adequate seating for spectators? Once again this Board has imposed its will, and the will of certain special interest groups that it continues to align itself with, at the expense of the community at large. This Board needs to be more sensitive to the financial challenges being faced by their entire constituency and, along with the other districts in Westchester County, find more creative ways to provide a superior comprehensive educational product at an affordable cost.

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