Voters in the Westbury Union Free School District will be asked to decide on a bond referendum in the amount of $172.6 million for new construction to replace the aging and physically deteriorated school buildings and to meet enrollment growth projections. The school board contends that this problem is well overdue for attention, as compliance with current ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) and health and safety concerns for students, staff and the general public are at stake. It further contends that the time is opportune for such a move, as the state reimbursement incentive of 76.6 percent couldn’t be better when compared to what it was five years ago, and as recent as last year; 55.7 and 67 percent respectively.
The last time a bond of this magnitude was floated in this district, was the $79 million life and health safety improvement bond in February 2003, which was defeated. The original proposal was for $163 million, but this did not sit well with the taxpayers hence the scaled down version. Moreover, the state reimbursement incentive at the time was only 47 percent. It was replaced with a $28 million federally supported interest-free Qualified Zone Academy Bond (QZAB) which voters approved in October of that year. But QZAB money could not be used for new construction, it was designed to help financially disadvantaged school districts save money and finance renovation and repair projects.
Although things have gotten considerably worse since then, in terms of enrollment growth and therefore the need for additional instructional support space, not everyone agrees that there is sufficient justification for this sum of money to be approved by a community that considers itself overtaxed and not getting commensurate bang for the buck. My good friend Greg Lewis for example, I believe echoes the feeling of many in his interesting and compelling piece in last week’s Westbury Times in which he opines on the illegal housing issue—particularly in the New Cassel section of the district, the out of district attendees in the schools, and “the district’s abysmal [academic] performance” Mr. Lewis suggested that new buildings are no guarantee that academic performance will be improved, and referenced the Roosevelt School District as an example in making the case that voters should reject the bond.
Whether or not you agree with Lewis’ assertion, perception can indeed be reality at times, which is why the board has an up-hill task in selling this idea to a skeptical public in such a short period of time. It is therefore incumbent on everyone to arm yourselves with the facts that you deem important to you by attending the up-coming school board meetings (second and third Thursdays of the month at Westbury High School), call the school district (516-876-5006) and find out about the next public presentation on the matter, and make certain that you are sufficiently equipped to make an informed and considered decision at the polls on Nov. 17.