FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Q: What are the three propositions on the ballot?
PROPOSITION 1: Critical Infrastructure Repairs and Improvements
Capital renovations to bring all 5 District schools up to building, health, accessibility, and safety codes, create secure vestibule entrances at all schools, replace the deteriorating end-of-life turf field and track at the High School/Middle School, and build permanent, secure classroom structures connected to the main buildings to replace end of life portable trailers at Midland and Osborn. Renovate antiquated libraries at all schools, includes enclosing an existing courtyard with an atrium roof to address the severely overcrowded library at RHS/RMS. Elementary auditorium renovations to address space deficiency at Midland and Osborn. Renovate offices into Special Education Service Center at Milton. Renovate classrooms into RHS/RMS Art, Design and Engineering Center, and renovate select RMS classrooms into re-designed collaborative educational space for current learning needs. Selective air conditioning in common test-taking areas at RMS/RHS and gyms and auditoriums at Midland and Osborn elementary schools.
PROPOSITION 2: Educational Improvements
Capital improvements to all 5 District schools to enhance the quality of student education: Instructional upgrades for elementary school libraries and Rye School of Leadership (alternative High School at 324 Midland Avenue); Phase II of RHS/RMS Art, Design and Engineering Center, renovates RHS classrooms into re-designed collaborative educational space. RHS/RMS Performing Arts Center renovation.
PROPOSITION 3: Establish Capital Reserve Fund - Tax Neutral
Allows the District to establish a Capital Reserve fund to dedicate surplus funds to address future facilities needs at no additional cost to taxpayers. The District cannot reserve for capital needs with any of its current reserve funds. This is a tax neutral proposition.
Q: What are the real facilities needs of the school district?
The Buildings Condition Survey of 2015 identified $68 million worth of real needs in the District. Since that time, additional priorities have been identified, primarily more secure building entrances with double-layer vestibules as recommended by law enforcement. A new urgent need is to replace the turf field and track which are now at end of life, used daily by 2,000 students for gym classes, and non-stop on weekends by community groups including Rye Youth Soccer and Rye Youth Lacrosse. The turf field must be replaced or will be closed due to safety concerns (anticipated closure: June 2020). The portable classroom trailers at Osborn and Midland are close to end of life and are becoming extremely expensive to continually repair, plus they pose a security risk in that they are not connected to the main school buildings.
The Buildings Condition Survey identified facilities needs including: fresh air ventilation, asbestos abatement, heating, plumbing, electrical and other structural items, including deteriorating curtain walls, windows, facades and masonry, drainage and paving and ADA compliance renovations including accessible bathrooms and elevators, all of which are necessary to bring the District’s buildings up to health and safety code.
Q: Why can’t we fund these facilities repairs through the regular school district budget?
The NY State tax cap law severely limits annual school district budget increases. The RCSD could not raise taxes enough to cover the cost of these repairs. Nowadays, school districts commonly bond for capital repairs: Mamaroneck passed a $49 million bond this year; Scarsdale passed an almost $65 million bond in 2018, Rye Neck passed a $28 million bond in 2018, Port Chester passed an $80 million bond in 2017, Harrison an almost $47 million in 2016.
Q: Why couldn’t the District break the bond up into smaller bonds and vote on those over time?
Doing that would cost the District, and ultimately the taxpayer, a lot more money! The District’s bond advisors calculated the cost of asking the public once for approval to bond, with staged borrowing over time. They found that savings are gained by approving one bond proposal and by doing all the work in a planned sequence. Multiple bond votes and project development cycles cost the taxpayer more. Construction becomes more expensive as more facilities fail over time. Homeowners doing renovations don’t open the walls twice - you do the ventilation, plumbing and renovate the space at the same time.
Q: Why are we bonding for 30 years when the assets won’t last that long?
All the assets in both Propositions 1 and 2 are expected to last 30 years or more, with the exception of the turf field, which has a predicted lifespan of 12 years. The current windows, ventilation, etc. date back to the original buildings (HS `31, Osborn and Midland Schools 1950s).
Q: Will the bond create an overly large debt burden on the District?
The District’s municipal bond advisors, Financial Advisors, Inc. have stated that they do not believe bonds of $70-80 million will in any way impact the District’s Aaa Moody’s rating. In fact, the financial strength of the district actually means it could borrow more money without impacting its credit rating. The District currently carries a very small debt load. When looking at other school districts in the state, RCSD debt service as a percentage of annual budget is 4.93% versus the state weighted average of 6.92%. The addition of the full capital bond proposed debt only raises our total debt service to 6.26% of budget, still below the state average.
Q: I’ve heard that the bond will cost more than $80m? Is that true?
The District has a Aaa bond rating and is able to borrow in the municipal bond market which has extremely low rates of interest. Much like when a homeowner takes out a home improvement loan or mortgage, payments are a combination of principal and interest.
Q: Has the District tried to fundraise to repair these facilities?
Yes, the District continually tried to raise monies to repair the facilities and has never turned down a donation. The District solicits contributions through the Rye Fund for Education, which has raised monies to repair the RMS/RHS Band Room and Fitness Center, completed the Science Wing Courtyard, and provides funding for faculty professional development programs. The individual school parent organizations also solicit donations that are used for field trips, playgrounds, classroom libraries, technology, classroom furniture, and other school and student enrichment programs. In addition, the District applies for any possible grant opportunities.
Q: Have other Districts passed capital improvement bonds recently?
Many of our neighbors have passed bonds recently: Mamaroneck passed a $49 million bond this year; Scarsdale passed an almost $65 million bond in 2018, Rye Neck passed a $28 million bond in 2018, Port Chester passed an $80 million bond in 2017, Harrison an almost $47 million in 2016.
Q: Why are you including old debt in the tax calculations related to the new debt?
We include this information because the annual school district budget already has a line item for debt service. The RCSD, like many school districts and municipalities, routinely carries debt on its balance sheet to pay off old projects. As that debt rolls off our balance sheet (is paid off), it creates room for new debt service in the budget. It’s important for taxpayers to know that there is already capacity to pay debt, and to understand that we are layering debt thoughtfully to minimally impact taxpayers.
For example, if the existing debt obligation in 2019/2020 is $3,800,000 and decreases due to payment of $800,000 in 2020/2021 to $3,000,000, and the new debt obligation in 2020/2021 is $1,000,000, resulting in a total debt obligation for 2020/2021 of $4,000,000. ($3,800,000 - $800,000 + $1,000,000) or (Existing Debt - Payment of Existing Debt + New Debt).
Q: Why couldn’t the bond vote be the same day as the budget vote?
New York State Election law prevents the District from holding a second bond vote until after June 10, 90 days after the first bond vote failed to pass.
Q: Why does the school district not schedule votes in November when we are already voting?
The School District rents voting machines from the Westchester County Board of Elections. There are not enough machines available for the District to hold a vote on the November election day. We are not legally allowed to add our election or bond ballot information to other election ballots. The annual budget vote and Board of Education trustee election must by law be held on a day selected by the NY State Education Department; generally the third Tuesday in May.
Q: What happens if the bond fails to pass a second time?
If the bond fails to pass on June 11, the District cannot by law hold another bond vote until 2020. That would push any construction start dates back by another school year and risks adding new costs as buildings continue to deteriorate, and may even result in a disruption due to a failed system (ventilation, plumbing, electrical, etc.) in a building.
THE TURF FIELD
Q: I’ve heard the turf field must be replaced or the field may be closed - is that true?
The Superintendent has said publicly that the turf field and track will likely need to be closed at the conclusion of the 2019-20 school year (end of June) if it is not replaced as it is beyond end of life and will pose a safety risk.
Q: Has anyone offered to donate significant money to repair or replace the Nugent Stadium turf field?
No. A donor did approach the District several years ago about helping to fund a new field house, but ultimately, the offer did not materialize.
Q: If projections are showing a decline in enrollment, why replace the trailers with permanent classroom buildings?
The enrollment projections have consistently been inaccurately lower than actual enrollment figures. The trailers are being used at full capacity each year, and Midland and Osborn Schools need the classroom space they provide immediately.
Q: Can the trailer classrooms continue to be used for the next 5-10 years?
The 2015 Building Condition Survey found that the trailers are at end of life. The trailers are deteriorating rapidly and the District has had to use funds in its operating budget to continually repair them. For example, the flooring in trailers at both Midland and Osborn have already required replacement.
In addition, and arguably more pressing, the trailer classrooms present a security hazard. In the event of an emergency, teachers and students in the trailers are separated from the safety of the main school buildings.
Q: How can you suggest there won’t be the need for another bond in 5 years as we have had bonds in 2012 and 2016?
The Building Condition Survey in 2015 evaluated all the repair work that needed to be done for the District’s five buildings then, and projected out for the next 15 years. By strategically looking at all the infrastructure needs of our district as a whole, and not just by building, the District is able to address the required work systemically and more efficiently and more cost effectively. The Capital Reserve Fund (Proposition 3) will allow the District to create a savings account to help fund future repairs at no cost to taxpayers.
Q: Does this bond tie the hands of future boards?
On the contrary, the Capital Bond Proposal is a means by which the Board is proactively taking care of a lot of physical facility issues that would have to be taken care of by future boards and most likely on an emergency and more costly basis.
Q: Does the District have a community committee that reviews capital projects or District spending?
The District has several committees that community members serve on, including curriculum council, technology, audit and facilities committees. These are open to all members of the community. The last two are germane to the capital bond proposal.
The Facilities Committee extensively reviewed the 2015 Buildings Condition Survey to evaluate the recommendations and ensure that the repairs were true needs. The Audit Committee annually reviews the District’s internal and external audit reports and report to the Board on the fiscal management of the District.
Q: Is the District capable of handling a capital repairs project of this size?
The District’s two most recent capital bond projects, the construction of the RHS Science Wing and Osborn School furnace replacement, were substantially finished on time and under budget.
Although the Capital Bond Proposal contains several projects, they are phased over time. The District, like all school districts, hires construction project managers who phase, plan and manage the day-to-day construction details reporting into the District Business Office. The Assistant Superintendent, reporting into the Superintendent and the Board, carefully tracks project cost and progress to completion. The District’s municipal bond advisors are responsible for undertaking the staggered bond financing (and potential opportunities to refinance and take advantage of lower rates) that will fund the facilities repairs.
Q: Is the District designing the open classrooms of the 1970s that were failures?
The District has no intention of revisiting the failed open classroom design of the 1970s. The planned classroom additions at Osborn and Midland will contain traditional classrooms with a shared common space. The renovations at the High School/Middle School will combine some classrooms into an art, design and engineering center, but this too will contain traditional classroom spaces, as will the planned Innovation Labs at the High School and Middle School.