Potential Draconian Decrease in Bowline Taxes Discussed at North Rockland School Board Meeting

BY MICHAEL CAHILL

The North Rockland Central School District School Board, met for their regularly scheduled meeting Tuesday evening in the auditorium of North Rockland High School. The board also met last week for a committee of the whole meeting, where items were discussed, but no action was taken.

The big question of the night came during public comments from local resident Mel Post. Mr. Post asked how the district plans to deal with a hypothetical outcome of litigation with GenOn, concerning the property tax allocation for Bowline Power Plant. GenOn is looking for a reduction of 97 percent of its taxes at its Bowline plant. The Town of Haverstraw is hoping for a settlement with GenOn to keep the case out of court.

The power company is also be seeking to have those lower rates enacted retroactively for the three years past. The original settlement between the town and then-Mirant alloted a grace period during which the tax appraisal could not be reduced. Note, GenOn is in the process of being sold to energy giant NRG.

Post wanted to know how prepared the district was for the possible hit to the tax base that such a reduction would cause. He also asked about the state of the district’s reserve funds. Going further, Post also asked what the district was doing with those funds, and why they could not be spent to reduce the tax burden on local residents.

District Assistant Superintendant James Johnston responded by saying the board had money in the reserves for the eventuality that GenOn gets the reduction they are looking for. Johnston emphasized that he hopes the town is able to workout a settlement instead of the litigation, but the district is holding onto those reserves just in case.

In terms of reserves Johnston did not have the exact number amounts, but promised to get the actual numbers to Mr. Post. Johnston also said that the board has been using those reserves since the settlement with GenOn, formerly Mirant, to keep taxes lows. Johnston reiterated the extraordinary circumstances that the district has gone through with the Mirant settlement costing $224 million. In a sentiment echoed by Superintendent Ileana Eckert, he said considering everything that the district has been though it is doing the best that it can.

During the scheduled agenda at this week’s meeting it was announced that the district will be participating again in the New York State Contract for Excellent Program. The program aims to help underachieving students and mandates the use of state aid for specific problem areas.

In previous years funding for the program was as high as $3.9 million. This year the funding has been cut slightly and the district will only receive $3 million. That money will be used towards improvement in the program designated areas of, “Time on Task,” “Teacher and Principal Quality Initiatives,” “Middle School and High School Restructuring,” and “Limited English Proficiency.” With the schools in greatest need being Haverstraw Elementary School, and West Haverstraw Elementary School.

The board voted to pass the proposed contact. There will however be a 30-day comment period where the public can write in with concerns and suggestions before the district’s sends the proposal to the state for approval.

For those wishing to view the presentation from last night’s board meeting, visit the district website at nrcsd.org and click on BoardDocs.

Also the board recognized the key contributors who, with their input, helped make the district’s transformation project possible. The board awarded each member with a certificate and a Red Raider baseball cap.

During the public participation portion of the meeting, a representative from the local Rotary Club announced that the club will be donating 1,000 dictionaries to the local fifth grade classes. The club will also be providing the district with 200 Spanish to English dictionaries.

The president of the North Rockland Teachers Association, Robin Brennan, also spoke briefly during the public participation. Brennan asked the board for an update about problems that teachers are running into with blocked websites.

Brennan said that while the block is working against illegal or inappropriate websites, it is also blocking certain educational websites. Superintendent of Schools Ileana Eckert said that the issue had been referred to the district’s technology committee, and was awaiting a decision/solution.

All agenda items were passed unanimously with the exception of item 17E and 17F which were tabled to be voted on when the board returned from executive session. To view the full agenda from the meeting, visit the district website www.nrcsd.org and click on BoardDocs.

The board will meet again on Tuesday October 16 at 7:30 p.m. in the administration building.