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Submitted by DavidE on Sat, 12/08/2012 - 10:30am
I can't decide whether to be snarky about this or not. I'd like to believe that this time the Carmel Central School District is planning to play straight with the public, but after the shenanigans with the bond vote in October it's kind of hard not to be suspicious about what the Board of Education and the Administration might be up to here. According to an extremely short LoHud article, the school district is forming a Capital Projects Advisory Committee and is soliciting for members. The article doesn't provide details about how the members will be selected, what the committee's mission is, how much time would be involved, or, well, much of anything. About all it says is:
To be considered for the Capital Project Advisory Committee write to Dr. James Ryan, Superintendent of Schools, Carmel Central School District, P.O. Box 296, Patterson, N.Y. 12563; fax to 845-878-4337 or email to email@example.com. Deadline is Jan. 4.
Perhaps this is an honest attempt to engage the public in deciding how to proceed after the failed bond vote. Perhaps it's not. Either way, if you have an interest in our community and the success of our schools, this committee is definitely worth volunteering for. If it's a real attempt to reach out you'll have the opportunity to help shape how our tax dollars are spent. If it's another ham-handed attempt at following a recipe from The Prince, you'll know for sure it's time to get new people in charge. Either way you have the opportunity to make our community a better place.
Submitted by DavidE on Sat, 10/20/2012 - 11:43am
On Thursday, October 18 Kent Fiscal Watch hosted a public meeting at which our new Deputy County Executive, Bruce Walker, presented the proposed 2013 Putnam County budget and answered questions from an audience of about twenty residents. Having lived in New York State for nine years now and having been many times to budget presentations for the Town, the County and the Carmel Central School District, I was not expecting much.
I was surprised. Bruce didn't present the typical semi-coherent, obfuscated explanation of why it is absolutely imperative for taxes to go up much faster than inflation and for the most popular services to be cut. Instead we heard a tight, well reasoned and detailed proposal that has as its base the idea that the purpose of county government is to deliver necessary services affordably. Additionally, Mr. Walker was more on top of his subject than anyone I've ever heard from any governmental organization in New York — local, county or state.
His answers to the many audience questions showed more than just familiarity with the proposed budget and its direction. He demonstrated a real desire and ability to explain what's going on in county government (including the heavy burden of unfunded mandates), why he thinks parts of it need to change first (the parts that are under local control) and how he wants to change them (start with the many opportunities to cut spending without cutting necessary services). At the same time he came across as a sensible person who knows he has limited knowledge and insight who can learn from others, not some "kill government" zealot with simple answers to hard problems.
I think he recognizes that his approach is so foreign to "business as usual" that many long-time players in county government will find changes of the sort he advocates existentially threatening. I foresee an extraordinarily bumpy ride ahead. I just hope it's not also a dangerous one.
Submitted by DavidE on Sat, 10/13/2012 - 11:06am
On Friday, October 12 voters in the Carmel Central School District voted down a proposed bond package of nearly $5 million. In the aftermath, I see two crucial questions facing the community: First, what lessons should the community and the District learn from this? Second, what are we — the community and the District — going to do next?
It will be both interesting and telling to see how these questions are answered in the days ahead. Here is my two-cents worth.
In my view, the chief lesson here is that there is a limit to the public's tolerance for the sort of manipulative, election-bending tactics the Board and the District attempted to use during this referendum. They packaged an extravagant "fitness center," mostly intended to benefit the football team, together with a much larger package of repairs and upgrades at the high school. They closed down all of the polling places except the high school. They moved the date for the vote to a Friday when there was a home football game. And they extended the hours for the vote to ensure the polls were open when the football game finished. When questioned about this at a recent public information session, the District's Mr. Stark basically told the audience none of it was accidental.
From the result, the District and the Board should learn that treating the voters with disdain bordering on contempt is not a wise tactic. Notwithstanding the lesson from chapter XVIII of The Prince, people are not always so simple and inclined to immediate needs as the prince might think. As for the public, the chief lesson, I hope, is that voting actually matters. By voting we hold local officials to account for what they propose to spend tax money on. We do so even when those very officials try to rig the system to prevent just such a result.
With those lessons learned, the fact remains that many parts of the proposed bond are actually necessary. We all live here together. We have to decide how we move forward for our mutual benefit. Our schools are a critical service for our community. We need them to be successful. That means we need those who we have chosen to manage our schools to be good stewards of our money, and we need to provide the necessary funds when the Board and the District come to us with a clear, transparent, and honest need.
There are many items in the failed bond proposal that are probably necessary. I am convinced we need to replace the ancient boiler, for example. We don't want its failure to impact the operation of the high school. So, the community needs the Board and the District to prepare another bond proposal. The new proposal needs to be everything the last one wasn't: It has to be needs-justified, free from padding, and beneficial to all of the students at the high school. The Board and the District need to rebuild the public's confidence in the system. They need to restore closed polling places and put the vote back on traditional days and hours. They need to clearly and publicly abandon schemes to use school activities to try to manipulate how school votes come out. The public, for its part, needs to support a clear and necessary bond proposal when one is presented.
Submitted by DavidE on Tue, 10/09/2012 - 9:24pm
Kent Fiscal Watch will hold a general meeting on Thursday, October 18 from 7:30 to 9:00 PM in the Kent Firehouse at 2490 Route 301 in Kent Cliffs. The public is cordially invited.
At the meeting KFW will welcome Deputy County Executive, Bruce J. Walker. Mr. Walker will share information about the recently completed county budget for 2013 and the savings generated by consolidation of services. He will also be available for questions from the audience. Light refreshments will be served.
KFW is dedicated to fiscal restraint and transparency in government at all levels. Membership is open to all residents of Putnam County.
Submitted by DavidE on Sat, 09/29/2012 - 2:03pm
The week of September 17, an interesting letter from Stefanie Mount appeared in the Putnam County Press/Times in which she points out that on October 12 the CCSD is holding a referendum asking voters to approve bonds in the amount of $3,827,674 to finance $4,977,674 in capital improvements to the high school. (To get from the bonded amount to the $5 million, the Board will use a million from the fund balance and a grant of $150,000.)
The projects to be funded by the bond money include things like boilers, ventelation, renovation and expansion of the fitness center, and other recommended upgrades to the high school. Also included is a rework of the football field, including replacement of the turf and repair or replacement of the home bleachers. The Schoolhouse News description may be found here.
Stefanie raises serveral good questions in her letter that really need to be answered before anyone should even consider voting "Yes" for this project. Chief among them is, why are we using 15-year bonds for football field turf that is expected to last only eight to ten years? You might be able to find out if you attend the capital project public presentation on Tuesday, October 2, 2012 at the high school library at 7:30 p.m.
Whatever you think about this, you need to make your voice heard by voting on October 12. And you'll have to do it at the high school since the Board voted to make that the only polling place for CCSD votes, starting with this one.
Submitted by DavidE on Tue, 09/18/2012 - 3:19pm
In the 2007-2008 school year the Carmel Central School District had an enrollment of about 4700. As of June 2012 it serves about 4500. Yet, despite declining enrollment, the district's costs climb year after year in good times and bad. Increases in budgets and taxes, it seems, are just how things are. But does it have to be that way?
Kent Fiscal Watch Board member George Baum recently wrote to the CCSD Board suggesting that it doesn't. He makes suggestions for actually decreasing the cost of providing a quality education. See his letter here.
What do you think? Is it inevitable that costs continue to climb even as enrollment declines or is should the community expect costs to decline as enrollment declines?
Submitted by DavidE on Tue, 09/11/2012 - 3:20pm
On June 30 KFW wrote a letter to the Supervisor of the Town of Kent congratulating the Town on its decision to publish the Town Board meeting agendas and minutes online. In the letter we also suggested two simple improvements to the process that, we believe, would substantially improve its usefulness to the public:
- Include a link to the agendas in the Town Board meeting notices the Town sends to subscribers; and
- Publish the agendas as soon as they are made available to Town Board members
Making these changes would allow members of the public to arrange to attend the meetings based on the topics to be discussed. Currently this is difficult because agendas are published just a few hours before the start of the meeting.
KFW asked the Supervisor to let us know if and when these suggestions could be implemented. After a month it looks like we have the answer: We have received no response and the September 4 meeting agenda was published at 4:30PM. The meeting started just two and a half hours later.