This letter was submitted by Robert J. Berg of Tisdale Road in Scarsdale:
An Open Letter to Scarsdale Taxpayers – Just Vote "No" on May 21 and Defeat the Bloated Proposed $145.3 Million School Budget which Defies the New York State Tax Cap and Raises your School Taxes by 3.93%.
- The proposed budget will increase your school property taxes by 3.93%, and will blow through the State tax cap by $701,267, while spending $1 million on building the empty shell of an ill-defined "Wellness" Center.
- 57% of households in Scarsdale have no children in the school system, but pay most of the cost of educating other people's children.
- Less than 1 out of every 10 registered voters in Scarsdale ACTUALLY votes on the school budget most years. This means a small minority dictates the outcome of the vote and your tax burden.
- Empty nesters have the power to limit their tax burden, BUT ONLY IF YOU COME OUT AND VOTE "NO" ON MAY 21. Don't complain about your property taxes – do something about them this time!
I have two children who currently attend the High School. I will vote "NO" on May 21 anyway. Here are some of the "facts" as I see them that lead me to my "NO" vote.
1. The $1 million taxpayers are being asked to dole out this year for the proposed High School Wellness Center is "a pig in a poke." Instead of funding a complete, fully outfitted, state of the art fitness center, filled with high tech gadgets, all the $1 million buys is the construction of the walls, ceilings, ventilation system, and electrical system in a pancake-like sprawling 4,500 square foot space with severe height constraints. So far unsaid is how this Wellness Center will be equipped, who will pay for the brand-new elliptical cross trainers, stationary bicycles, treadmills, free weights, and strength and conditioning circuit machines sufficient to allow an entire physical education class or two to work out simultaneously, and who will staff the Center. During the tour I took last week of the facilities, the gym teacher told me that preliminary cost estimates for the equipment range up to about $200,000 and that the old equipment in the current fitness center will not be used in the new Wellness Center, but will be disposed of. And don't forget, the $1 million won't cover the glass-walled central core classroom/laboratory that is supposed to be the hallmark of this facility. So don't believe the "spin" of the Administration and the Board of Education that the Wellness Center is just a $1 million line item in a $145 million budget. It's going to cost a lot more than that for Scarsdale taxpayers. Further, the taxpaying public will not be permitted to use the facility – it is only for student and staff use.
2. More fundamentally, in a time of continued economic stress, the "fact" is that Scarsdale High School already has more than ample physical fitness facilities, and they have not been put to the most effective use. There are, astonishingly, three full-size gymnasiums in the high school plus a large multi-purpose room, as well as the existing fitness center. Of course, outside, the high school has a beautiful track, an artificial turf field (that is expected to need replacement in the next few years for an estimated cost of $800,000), many tennis courts, platform tennis courts, and a baseball diamond. Even assuming that the current fitness center should be moved, why not use the existing, spacious, high-ceiling multi-purpose room immediately adjacent to the massive new gymnasium for the Wellness Center? That multi-purpose room is already very well-lit, has modern ventilation, lots of windows, and is conveniently located right above the locker rooms. That solution immediately saves taxpayers $1 million and new equipment could be moved right in this summer.
3. The Administration's contention that moving the fitness center from its current, out-of-the-way location down dimly lit, unattractive corridors will somehow then free up that "prime real estate" smacks of internal inconsistency. How can that space be considered prime real estate? More significantly, when I toured the space last week with Principal Bonamo, I noticed that the corridor walls appeared to be structural, load bearing walls that likely would not be able to be blown out to open up this "prime real estate." Principal Bonamo said that, to his knowledge, no one has yet determined whether or not these are structural walls. So no one really knows how or if this supposedly dingy, cramped, remote fitness center and adjacent no-longer-in-use bathrooms, locker rooms, and offices can miraculously be transformed into "prime real estate" and at what astronomical cost.
4. Empty nesters, in particular, should ask themselves: "How long will I be able to afford to stay in my home in Scarsdale where I have lived for 20, 30, 40 years or more if my property taxes keep soaring?" Unless we are fortunate enough to be multi-millionaires, sadly, for most of us, we will come to the only rational economic decision – we'll have to move away because of the excessive property tax burden, which is predominantly driven by the school budget. Forcing our empty nesters to leave town because of uncontrolled school spending is wrong on so many levels and is destructive to the very fabric of the community and to the many community organizations that depend heavily on the extraordinary time and talents provided by empty nesters. Scarsdale is not just a way station for people to leave after they have had their children educated in our schools – an education which empty nesters subsidize by more than half. Empty nesters – this is your community – you need to come out and vote "NO" and protect your financial ability to remain here.
5. The District is presently negotiating with the teachers' union for a new contract. The current teachers' contract expires on June 30 of this year. The School Board has, for several decades, followed an avowed policy of paying teachers at the absolute highest compensation levels in the entire State. This practice has, unsurprisingly, created a dramatic gap between teacher compensation in Scarsdale and in our peer school districts like Bronxville, Chappaqua, Edgemont, and Rye City. The School Board and Administration have publicly expressed that they will seek to reduce the salary gap. How can they convince the teachers that tough economic times warrant a contraction in the salary gap in the face of a spendthrift budget?
6. Only four school districts in the lower Hudson Valley, including Scarsdale, are proposing budgets which exceed their State-adjusted tax caps. All of our peer school districts, however, have proposed school budgets that fall within their State-adjusted tax caps and some of which are more than $1 million below their allowable tax caps. These peer districts include: Bronxville, which for the past four years had come in with no growth budgets, and whose budget this year will be $300,000 below the tax cap of 3.24%; Edgemont, with a projected tax increase of only 2%, and a budget which provides for no staffing cuts and no increase in average class size; Mamaroneck, with a projected tax increase of 2.73% and a budget that comes in $1,158,027 below the tax cap; Katonah-Lewisboro, with a projected tax increase of only 1.34% and a budget $192,257 below the tax cap; Rye Neck, with a budget $1,618,988 below the tax cap; Pelham, with a projected tax increase of 3.25% and a budget $403,402 below the tax cap; and Harrison, with a budget $749,608 below the tax cap. The Scarsdale School Board, however, slaps taxpayers in the face, crashing through the tax cap with another huge 3.93% spike in school property taxes and a $1 million expenditure on a subterranean shell.
This year, you have the chance to send a strong message to the School Board and Administration – Stop the spending madness and stop it NOW! Please come out to vote on May 21, and vote "NO." I assure you that Armageddon will not be at hand – You'll get a chance to vote "YES" a month later when the Board presents us with a budget that eliminates the $1 million down payment on the ill-planned Wellness Center and comes within the tax cap by drawing down $700,000 from our more than ample reserves. Thank you, and I look forward to seeing you at the polls.
Very truly yours,
Robert J. Berg