Nearly 3,000 voters take part in controversial balloting
Caption for attached photo: A school bond supporter takes a photo of the vote tallies at the Nyack school board meeting room just after results were announced for the voting on the $26.4 million bond issue – which was approved by voters.
By Bill Demarest
NYACK – In close balloting that was decided by just 94 votes, residents of the Nyack school district on Tuesday approved a $26.4 million bond issue designed to pay for a major repair program and improvements to schools throughout the district.
The voting ended nearly two months of heated debate in the community and on social networks on how the bond issue would affect the community, and whether artificial turf should be installed at fields at Nyack High School in Upper Nyack.
Heavy voting in favor of the bond issue in the Valley Cottage area carried the proposal to victory, 1,508 to 1,414, according to tentative results Tuesday’s voting. In Valley Cottage, the package won by a margin of 731 to 586. The Nyack school district includes the villages of Nyack, Upper Nyack, South Nyack, as well as the hamlets of Central Nyack and Valley Cottage.
Schools Superintendent James Montesano said there are 20 ballots that need to be reviewed because of challenges that were filed, but he said that based on the tentative results the ballot review would not affect the outcome of the overall vote.
Although the school board certified the tentative results in a brief meeting after the ballots were counted, board members will still have to formally ratify the results after the challenges are reviewed.
What’s next? Montesano and school board members said the district now has to decide what to tackle first to begin implementation of the proposals approved by the voters.
The bond vote, which saw very active lobbying for and against, was filled with drama right up until the very end.
Soon after polls closed at 9 p.m., school officials knew the voting was close. However, a glitch with the voting machine at Valley Cottage Elementary School delayed the tally of votes from that location – which saw the heaviest voting of the four polling places in the election.
Montesano said the district needed assistance from the Rockland County Board of Elections to unlock all the numbers from the voting. By 10:30 p.m., the results were obtained from the voting machine and the tallies were announced by Montesano.
About a dozen district residents gathered at the former Hilltop School in Central Nyack, the district’s administrative headquarters, to hear the election results. With the delay in results because of the glitch with the Valley Cottage voting machine, the residents were clearly anxious – with opponents of the bond issue and supporters of the proposal all hoping that their side would have sent a clear message to the school board about the bond issue.
As the Valley Cottage results became clear, a clash erupted between an opponent and a supporter. However, the verbal back-and-forth was a brief one.
The bond voting was preceded by a weekend in which supporters and opponents waged publicity campaigns throughout the district in-person, by telephone and on social media.
School board member Dan Juechter, after the voting was tallied, said the experience leading up to the bond vote was exhausting.
“The people have spoken,” he said.
The bond issue was proposed by the school board after a review of the district’s facilities. The plan calls for using a $5 million fund already compiled by the district and floating bonds to raise and additional $21.4 million over a period of six years. The funds would be used to make repairs on schools – including roofs, boilers, and other mechanical systems – as well upgrading technology and security systems. Nyack High School would receive air condition for its music room and auditorium, and the school’s playing fields would be revamped.
The portion covering the playing fields became the focal point of opposition to the bond proposal. The district plans to convert existing grass fields at Nyack High School into artificial turf fields, with the school’s football field expanded to include new bleachers and building to house a concession stand, bathrooms and announcer’s booth. The high school would also get a new, dirt and grass softball field next to the existing field house.
Although the voting cleared the way for $26.4 million in spending, school officials contend the spending will not increase school taxes. Instead, the combination of old bonds expiring, nearly 40 percent in state aid, low interest rates and spreading the new bonds out over six years, is expected to prevent the work from increasing taxes. This issue, however, was among those targeted by opponents, who refused to believe the district could spend that much money without raising taxes.
Montesano said the school board decided to go with the bond issue because the district’s schools need more work than could be funded through the normal budget process. Among the projects in the bond issue would be the creation of new classrooms at Nyack High School and Nyack Middle School for special education students who currently must go out of the district to receive the life-skills education they need.
Montesano said the new classrooms will improve the education of these students, and cut costs for the district. The bond issue would also upgrade the district’s computer network to allow for greater wireless use of computers by students and staff in the schools.
The bond issue would also continue security improvements at all the Nyack schools that were designed in the wake of the slayings last year at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT.