CLARKSTOWN -- As is often the case, dissension over a proposed school bond could boil down to which of two dueling Facebook groups is more successful at getting people out to vote.
On Tuesday, Dec. 10, Clarkstown residents will have the opportunity to vote on whether to authorize $36.2 million in bonds to repair schools. It's one of the largest bonds issued by a school district in county history.
Those who oppose the spending plan have joined the closed Facebook page CCSD Parents Concerned For The Future, which has more than 1,300 members. They are doing battle with Clarkstown Parents To Save Our Schools, also a closed group, with over 1,900 members. Some members are on both sites.
Facebook showdowns like this often seem like scenes out of old westerns. Some of the dialogue is polite and civilized. Some isn't. Posters hope their comments are both illuminating and persuasive. There's a fair amount of cross-pollination, not to mention posts that seem to completely veer off course.
According to school officials, many of Clarkstown's buildings - including 10 elementary schools, one middle school and two high-schools - haven't been upgraded in decades. Now they're in need of a host of fixes and improvements that range from leaky roofs and aging boilers to outdated electrical systems.
"Our buildings have really fallen into disrepair," trustee David Gosman said during an Oct. 8 meeting.
A detailed look at Clarkstown infrastructure lists deficiencies at every school.
Two of the most expensive fixes are recommended for the district's high schools: $6.2 million for Clarkstown North and $6.9 million for Clarkstown South. Felix Festa Middle School is listed as needing $6.8 million in repairs. Even some of the smaller K-5 campuses, like Little Tor Elementary, require more than $1 million each in repairs and upgrades.
School officials are billing the project as "budget neutral." They maintain the district will receive $18.9 million in state aid for the project, or 55 percent of the project's total cost. Many on CCSD say that's untruthful, that the district is simply making false promises.
The remaining debt will be paid by diverting $1.5 million spent annually on capital improvement projects, they say.
But proponents counter the schools are in such bad shape that waiting would be disastrous.
"These buildings are not only an investment but house our children," Matthew Ian posted on Facebook. "They need to be fixed to be safe. Vote YES."
In 2009, voters rejected a $187 million capital bond to repair the district's aging facilities over fears that it would raise taxes too much in a time of economic stress. But concerns over the buildings remain for parents who worry about their childrens' safety.
In 2014, voters approved borrowing up to $6.5 million to repair and re-open Congers Elementary — one of the oldest buildings in the district, situated in the heart of hamlet. In a controversial move, however, the district decided to close and re-purpose the school, citing shifting student trends.
Clarkstown has been losing students over the last decade, from 9,473 students in 2006 to about 8,400 today. According to a 2014 study, enrollment is going to continue to decline.
If passed, the district says, work will start in 2017 and be completed before the start of the 2019 school year.
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