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BOCES capital project approved

After going back to member districts for a third time, Putnam/Northern Westchester Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) was able to get its last three holdout districts — Brewster, Chappaqua and Mahopac — to approve its capital projects plan. The plan focuses predominantly on repairs, aiming to tackle eight failing roofs, antiquated heating and cooling systems and replacement of a swimming facility with two therapy pools.

“We’re grateful for the support and partnership of our component districts in recognizing the need for the proposed work,” said BOCES Superintendent James Langlois in a statement. “We look forward to providing our staff and our students with a better working and learning environment as the result of this project.”

According to the Katonah-Lewisboro administration, about 75 students in the district use BOCES facilities on a regular basis. BOCES offers services and programs that range from technical courses like masonry to special education classes.

The compromise was largely fueled by the creation of two new committees comprised of both BOCES and member district representatives that will have greater participation for the current capital plans project and the future of BOCES, said John McCarthy, assistant superintendent for administration for BOCES. The project will proceed at an estimate of $16.9 million. Work will begin during the 2013-14 school year and span three years, ending in the 2015-16 academic year.

“We are glad that all the member districts agreed that this work needed to be done if BOCES was going to continue to serve our students the way we would want them to be served,” Katonah-Lewisboro school board President Mark Lipton said this week. “The BOCES classrooms and facilities are an extension of our own and they give us a less expensive alternative to meeting the needs of those students that we may not otherwise be able to meet on our own campuses. Passing the capital project in this way rather than having to do much of this work on an emergency basis will help all the member districts with their budgeting as well.”

Revisiting vetoes

Brewster, Chappaqua and Mahopac were the only school districts of the 18 member districts of BOCES to vote the project down in early October. Taking into account four years of difficult economic climate, Chappaqua cited a number of concerns after its rejection of the original plan, including concerns with the formula that BOCES used to calculate each district’s contribution, insufficient maintenance and a lack of a meaningful vote.

“The proposal is presented in the form of a vote for or against the project,” Chappaqua had said in a statement. “In reality, there is no opportunity for a meaningful vote.”

BOCES had told districts that should the capital project not receive the unanimous approval it required to pass, the projects would proceed as planned because they are necessary for the facilities to function. Funding would have been provided from increases to the capital contributions member districts make annually.

“The timing is never good for these projects, so they needed to understand the project and how we got to where we were,” Mr. McCarthy said.

More district involvement

The driving force of the compromise was the creation of two advisory committees to keep communications open between BOCES and its component districts, Mr. McCarthy said.

“I think they still had some questions and some processes that they wanted us to answer and work through before they went back to vote with their boards,” he said. “The big thing was they wanted to make sure that we had some systems in place here to allow component districts to be involved in our facilities and moving forward with BOCES.”

The Component District Facilities Advisory Committee includes all 18 member districts and will meet with BOCES and help look at the current project, as well as long-term planning, Mr. McCarthy said. In addition, a BOCES task force committee will begin meeting in January to look at the future of BOCES.

“It is tough to build consensus on every issue, but at the end of the day people walked away satisfied,” Mr. McCarthy said. “While not everybody’s ideal choice of how things should get done, but for the better good they think it is the best way to go.”

Funding

With school districts throughout the county and state burdened with unfunded mandates, rising health care costs and tough budget decisions, the question of who pays what and how was important to districts before making their decision. The portion of a district’s contribution is determined by a formula BOCES uses that combines an even split between a district’s property values and enrollment numbers.

Bedford has the largest share with 11.03%. Lakeland and Katonah-Lewisboro rank third and fourth with 9.55% and 8.01%, respectively.

KLSD will pay its $1.2-million portion over three years, with the first payment of $430,538 due July 1, 2013. Subsequent payments will be due on the first of July until 2015. How KLSD will pay for the capital plan will depend on how revenues and expenses for the 2012-13 year end up, said Mike Jumper, KLSD assistant superintendent for business.

“We may borrow the funds and pay our share,” he said. “We may do a hybrid of both methods and couple the different funding methods with the due dates of the funds.”

Out of a long and embattled approval process, BOCES takes lessons with it as it prepares to begin the 2013-14 portions of the capital plan that will focus on the roofs in greatest need, heating and cooling systems and new therapy pools.

“We have learned through this process we need to do a better job of communicating, and the committees will provide opportunities for the 18 districts to look at what we are doing, give us feedback and provide suggestions,” Mr. McCarthy said.

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