City of Poughkeepsie residents will soon cast votes that will impact the future for themselves and their children.
Soon after, residents around the country will head to the polls for the general election.
The Poughkeepsie City School District is holding a bond vote on Oct. 20, two weeks before the presidential election, asking residents to approve one of two capital improvement plans, which would cost roughly $48 million or $98 million, depending on the option favored.
The propositions were originally planned to be included in the spring’s school budget votes, but the district removed them from the ballot amid the uncertainty surrounding the initial months of the COVID-19 pandemic, in which all budget votes were postponed from May to June.
Superintendent Eric Rosser acknowledged that rescheduling the proposition vote so close to the general election could impact voter turnout, but he called the improvements detailed in the project critical for the district to “meet state regulations that protect staff and student safety.”
Restoring or replacing roofs, installing new boilers and upgrading the HVAC systems in various buildings are among the items for which the district is in “dire need,” Rosser said.
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Proposition One, a $48.25 million plan, focuses on building infrastructure upgrades for safety and security. Proposition Two, at $98.79 million, which would require a supermajority to pass, includes all of the first proposition’s plans, as well as major structural remodeling for multiple schools and an overhaul of instructional programs.
The price tags associated with the propositions have divided parents in the district, as well as residents in general.
However, Rosser called the improvements “overdue,” noting facilities have been “neglected” and at times have “failed community standard.” They are so urgently needed, he said, that if neither proposition passes some of the projects would have to be covered in the annual budget process.
“Through this project, we seek to deliver on our commitment to our students and teachers by providing them with modern spaces for learning and instruction and uphold our commitment to our community,” he said. “The propositions will support us in delivering on this goal.”
Despite the timing of the vote, Rosser noted the district has been conducting informational sessions to educate voters and sending pamphlets to residents regarding the project. Presentations and details are available on the district’s website in both English and Spanish. There was a presentation at Wednesday night’s school board meeting, and a virtual town hall with residents is set for Oct. 14 at 4:30 p.m.
Three polling places will be available on Oct. 20, and safety measures will be taken, Rosser said. Absentee voting is available, though the deadline for delivering an application to do so is quickly approaching on Oct. 13, and the deadline to register to vote in general is Friday.
The district encompasses nearly 4,200 students and 550 staff members, spanning seven schools, according to state data.
The full scope of the improvements would span more than a decade, with construction covered in the first proposition scheduled to begin next spring during what is expected to be an 18- to 24-month planning period.
What are the propositions?
Proposition One includes new security entrances, bathroom replacements, boiler replacements and roof restorations at each building. Other fixes include heating system repairs at Morse Elementary, ceiling repairs at Krieger Elementary, plumbing fixes at Poughkeepsie Middle School, and locker room renovations at the high school. It would cost $48,250,000, with 95% of the project qualifying for state aid.
Proposition Two would, among other projects, include a complete renovation to the interior and exterior of Warring Elementary School, new cafeterias at Poughkeepsie Middle School and Smith Early Learning Center, and instructional and technological improvements. It would cost $98,791,306 with 91.2% covered by state aid.
Using a home valued at $100,000 as a basis, the average homeowner would likely pay an extra $15 a year when factoring in the STAR tax exemption or $24 a year without it under the first proposition; they would likely pay an extra $56 a year with a STAR exemption or $88 without it under the second proposition, according to the district.
HVAC improvements are a major part of both plans. The system would be upgraded in Poughkeepsie High School in the first proposition; and in Smith Early Learning Center, Clinton Elementary and Warring Elementary schools in the second proposition.
Rosser said the district’s current HVAC systems meet the state Department of Health’s COVID-19 requirements. He said the project would “update and upgrade” the systems.
Other aspects of Proposition Two at each school include:
Smith Early Learning Center: Replacing fountains, cafeteria renovations, ADA upgrades.
Clinton Elementary School: Replace ceilings, replace fuel storage tank, reconstruct walls and flooring, upgraded HVAC, ADA upgrades.
Krieger Elementary School: Gym floor restoration, ADA upgrades.
Morse Elementary School: Replace windows and ceilings; create art studio space, a “maker” space and labs.
Warring Elementary School: Gut and renovate entire school with new HVAC, relocate playground, add health labs.
Poughkeepsie Middle School: New cafeteria, auditorium seating replacement and flooring restoration, new ceilings, ADA upgrades, parking lot repaving.
Poughkeepsie High School: Create collaborative lobby space, auditorium flooring restoration, ceiling renovations, parking lot repaving.
For each school, the plans in Proposition Two call for reconstructing learning spaces and implementing new instruction.
“As part of the PCSD’s district-wide transformation, the instructional program is currently being strengthened to provide all PCSD students with multiple pathways to maximize their potential so that they can find success in school and upon graduation,” Rosser said. “The instructional pathways outline in the capital improvement project are for conversational purposes to provide illustration of what the instructional program at each school would look like.”
He added that the district plans to get feedback from the schools and the community to identify the best way to move forward.
Feedback from some residents has been split.
Tamoya Norwood, a mother of two, said she has been aware of the project for months and plans to vote in favor of Proposition Two.
“I think we do need updates at these schools. This is something that needs to be addressed,” Norwood said. She noted as the second proposition includes programming. “If it’s better for our children I am absolutely in favor. We just need to makes sure that we know where the money is going and that its reflected in the schools.”
Tareebia Walkey, also a mother of two, said she is voting against the project. She said she plans to listen to the district’s town hall to learn more about the proposal but would prefer money to be put into instructional programs rather than school buildings.
“That’s wasted money for buildings we’re not using at the moment,” Walkey said. “I’m going to hear them out, but right now I plan to vote no. They need books, laptops, and to improve their special education programs. They should be trying to meet the needs of the students, not the buildings.”
How to vote
Residents can visit their polling sites between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. on Oct. 20.
Residents in Wards 1, 3, and 5 will vote at Warring Elementary School at 283 Mansion St.; Wards 2 and 4 will vote at Clinton School at 100 Montgomery Street. Ward 6 and 7 will vote at Poughkeepsie Middle School at 55 College Avenue. Ward 8 will vote at Krieger Elementary School at 265 Hooker Ave. The board of education decided to expanding polling sites at its meeting on Wednesday night.
Residents can visit the district website to print an absentee ballot application. However, those must be received by the district clerk by Tuesday in order to be accepted. Absentee ballots themselves must either be delivered in person to the district by Oct. 19 or delivered by mail by 5 p.m. Oct. 20.
Katelyn Cordero: [email protected]; 845-437-4870; Twitter: @KatelynCordero.
This article originally appeared on Poughkeepsie Journal: Poughkeepsie voters to decide on $98M schools project before general election