Full Court Press… School Board of The Tarrytowns’ $10,000,000 Proposition

John Staiger, Jr., Asst. Supt. of Business Christopher Clouet, SuperintendentThe term “Full Court Press,” according to Webster’s New World Dictionary, is derived from the sport of basketball and is simply “the tactic of putting on pressure…” Off the court it also means “a strong diversified effort,” and that sums up the efforts of new Superintendent of Schools Christopher Clouet, Assistant Superintendent for Business, John Staiger, Jr., and the entire School Board.

At right, L to R John Staiger, Jr., Asst. Supt. of Business and Christopher Clouet, Superintendent

On Tuesday, December 10th registered voters in Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow will have the opportunity to either approve or reject a nearly $10,000,000 proposition for artificial turf fields at the High School and Washington Irving, as well as a multitude of other services to include an elevator at the Morse Elementary School and upgraded lighting for the new Middle School, which was officially
dedicated in 2008.

Unlike Hastings on Hudson where months of conflicting opinions between residents, the School Superintendent and Board members created an air of contention, the Tarrytowns’ proposition
appears to have gone unscathed and unnoticed. In Hastings, it was reported that there was an intense level of public involvement  with strong opinions raised on both sides of the issue. The Hastings proposition for $8,000,000 was defeated on October 22, and by all accounts, sports-related issues of renovations and artificial turf costs created the greatest controversy. 1,595 “No” votes to 1,060 “Yes” votes defeated the Hastings School Board proposition.

With the intent to present the clearest picture of what new Superintendent Clouet and Tarrytowns’ School Board propose, this publication met with Clouet (a second time) and John Staiger, Jr., the Assistant Superintendent of Business. That interview will appear in an additional article entitled, “Conversing… School District Capital Improvements” [page 16] within this issue.

The scope of what follows in this article presents valid questions and responses from people who work or have worked in the school system as teachers and former teachers, local business owners and professionals who know the tax base makeup in both Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow.

An Elevator for the Morse School

According to Supertintendent Clouet there are currently no disabled or wheelchair-bound students in the School District. A teacher with whom we spoke in the District (who requested anonymity) confirmed that the educational needs of many wheelchair-bound students dictate that they go outside of the District for those needs to be met.

At Morse there is a ramp for wheelchair accessibility and the District had at one time considered reconfiguring the 1st floor classrooms for educating any wheelchair-bound student. The proposed cost for the elevator ranges from $550,000-750,000 and the dollar amount has fluctuated during 2012 & 2013. For Superintendent Clouet the proposed elevator at the Morse School is “an ethical issue.”

Additions to the Newly Constructed High School & Middle School

Built at a cost exceeding $72,000,000 and with taxpayers paying $90,000,000 when bonds are fully repaid (River Journal’s article, Summer 2006), the Schools were dedicated in 2008. Absent in the 2013 report of the Board’s “Bond Budget Tabulation,” is upgraded lighting in the Middle School. Upgraded lighting is, however, listed on the Assistant Superintendent’s report. (This publication has found several instances where different figures are given for the same item and in other cases items are listed on one report and not on another.) New lighting in the Middle School begs the question of its necessity with the building being about 5 years old. In addition $1,000,000 for a “new storage/concession/transportation facility” at the High School also raises the question of previous planning and preparedness by the Board when the High School was being built.

The Tax Burden on Local Businesses

River Journal spoke with two local merchants, one of whom lives in Tarrytown. We were presented with documentation of real estate tax escalations that clearly show a 150% increase in taxes that these merchants have paid over a 10-year period. One particular business occupies less than 800 square feet; it will be paying $20,500 in taxes this year which includes school tax. Another business owner has seen his property taxes rise (school tax included) to over $23,000 on his home in Tarrytown. Six years ago his taxes were $13,500 and the roughly $10,000 tax increase has prompted him to hire an attorney. “This is ridiculous. People can only pay so much. If I didn’t have my business I would lose my house,” he said emphatically. “We spend so much money on education and where do we rank worldwide? We just keep throwing money at things and where’s the accountability?” [The United States places 17th in the developed world for education, according to a global report by the education firm, Pearson.] “It’s so easy to spend money that’s not yours,” he concluded.

It should be noted that neither merchants nor landlords can vote on the School Budget or Propositions unless they are a resident of the Tarrytowns School District.

Tax Base Makeup in the Tarrytowns

River Journal personally met with both the assessor for Tarrytown and the Town of Mount Pleasant (responsible for Sleepy Hollow). One fact prevailed, and that is that single-family homeowners are “hit the hardest” by any tax increase. Condominium/Co-Op owners pay approximately 25% less in taxes than single-family homeowners even though condominiums can have larger square footage than single-family homes. Another fact is that there is a disparity in property taxation between inner-Village homes to the west of Broadway (where taxes are lower) compared to other similar homes throughout the two Villages.

In Sleepy Hollow there are fewer single family homes than in Tarrytown. However there are more two, three and four (or more) family homes in Sleepy Hollow than in Tarrytown. Multi-family owners pay around 20% more in taxes because of their increased need for municipal services, however they do not pay anywhere near a one-to-one basis when compared to a single-family house. Simply put (as an example), if a one-family house is paying $1,000 in taxes, a three-family house is not paying $3000 in taxes.

Tarrytown has 1,349 single-family homes. Sleepy Hollow has 834 single-family homes [515 less]. Tarrytown has 186 two-family homes. Sleepy Hollow has 321 two-family homes [135 more]. Tarrytown has 65 three-family homes. Sleepy Hollow has 100 three-family homes [35 more]. Tarrytown has 62 buildings with four plus apartments. Sleepy Hollow has 102 [40 more]. Tarrytown has 1191 Condo /Co-Op units. Sleepy Hollow has 62 Condo/Co-Op units. [1129 less]. (All pay an average of 25% less in property taxes than single-family homes.)

Taxing Taxation

With the notoriety that Westchester receives for the highest taxation of its property owners in the United States and with the campaign run by the newly re-elected County Executive on lowering that onerous taxation burden, voters who receive tax bills from their Villages, Towns and County have every right to demand their tax dollars be well spent.

In the last issue of this publication we ran a story entitled “What’s Necessary vs. What Would Be Nice” with regard to the December 10th Proposition. We leave the answer to the Proposition’s acceptance or defeat in the hands of the voting public. To ready those casting ballots at Washington Irving School in Tarrytown or Morse School in Sleepy Hollow we present the proposition at the end of this article.
Superintendent Clouet has said that State reimbursement/funding may change in 2014, hence, the need for the December 10th vote this year. To date no concrete information substantiates that State funding will not be available in 2014. In addition, on November 7th an estimate for the School Budget of 2014-15 has come in at $70,054,434 [last year it was $66,827,609]. This is a preliminary number and does not take into account teacher’s pensions and other benefits, according to the Administration.

With the prospect of over $80,000,000 in school-related expenses [proposition/school budget]  “What’s Important vs. What Would Be Nice” is an appropriate question. In other words… “Death and taxes may be certain, but we don’t have to die every year.” – Unknown


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About the Author: Robert Bonvento