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Opinion: Vote No on Ossining School Bond

The spokesperson for FreeOssiningTaxpayers.com explains why residents should vote down the proposed school bond issue.

As a spokesman of www.FreeOssiningTaxpayers.com I observe the upcoming school bond vote proposing a new line item of taxation through the year 2036 seems to focus on three major elements:
 
    •    Reapportioning space at Ann M. Dorner Middle School ..knocking down walls and restructuring the floor plan... spending for cafeteria expansion, air conditioning certain areas, new music rooms ($1,431,000), revised library space ($1,836,900), the consolidation of new locker rooms for classroom space ($2,478,000)...and new principal's office, reception and nurses office ($1,125,996).  No direct benefit to SAT scores here. No summer school classes needing a/c. No teachers on the budget to fill the rooms.  "Cultural fluff".  Grand Total $19,237,900.
 
    •    Rehab, rebuild and update non-essential areas of OHS that will not contribute a single point to SAT scores such as new physical ed rooms ($1,993,348), replacement of kitchen components ($1,332,000), rebuilding the auditorium ($2,554,000), installing the famous "Basement Stairway to Nowhere" ($1,016,000), annex window replacement, main administrative offices and nursing office ($1,028,959).  More "Cultural fluff".   Grand Total $19,072,000.
    •    The proposal to completely replace five boiler systems and the back-up generating systems at five schools is the third and arguably most contentious and most difficult all of the issues for the community to accurately assess. 
 
With that issue in mind, I submitted two Freedom of Information Act requests (3/2011 and 1/2012) for all of the school's Accounting Department maintenance and repair records for each boiler system for each school from the period 8/2008 through 12/2011.  I found the complete file containing routine annual maintenance and repair records from the following service providers:
 Atlas Welding $48,230, Ratrick Combustion $23,850, Peak Performance $10,319, Five Star American $12,031 and Ragno $19,989.
 
The Grand Total was $114,419   ...mainly annual cleanings and routine service part replacements...a fairly routine figure for maintenance for six schools, 3 1/2 years of service for boilers installed in the 1980's.   The carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide levels have been adjudged to be within nominal tolerances.  No Headline News was found in this document review.  $475 per month per school boiler system for maintenance and repairs.
 
A boiler or any electro-mechanical device is made up of individual parts whose individual service life is routinely evaluated in the annual cleanings. The parts for these H.B. Smith boilers Model 640 and these Weil McLain boilers (Series 94 systems) are readily available and are used across the country in thousands of installations. The annual costs of maintenance and part replacement will be almost exactly be the same for new boilers.
 
We will be spending annually for routine inspections, wear and tear of replacement parts (injection nozzles, valves and pump filters...and inspection labor) . The lack of knowledge inside the Roosevelt headquarters about mechanical things is quite evident...stating that we have to spend $12,000,000 and resorting to statements like:  "....ensuring you don't have to unexpectantly replace things already at or past their intended service life when you have no other options." ...as one blogger said yesterday.  Our options are simply to call the schools' preferred service provider in Peekskill and they come right over with a skillfully-trained individual to initiate the repair. 
 
Costs a lot less than Twelve Million Dollars of taxpayers money. 
 
Through the year 2036.
 
As Al Gore famously said about five years ago:   "They are Playing on our Fears."  They certainly are in this case.

The school administration and the school board made a deceptively-clever... or cleverly-deceptive decision based on fear and emotion....a $42,000,000 twenty-year sentence especially harsh on the 40% of Ossining residents who reside slightly above, at, or below the Federally-defined Poverty level to years of taxation through 2036 that none of us can afford in this Recession.
 
I personally heard a school administrator and a general contractor representative tell me face to face several months ago that there had been no financial study of the cost vs. payback period on the cost of these proposed capital expenditures and that no such study was contemplated.  They were hell-bent on buying 'new stuff' and in the process throwing away perfectly well-functioning boiler systems and excellent emergenccy generators sensing a weakness by the voters to understand this particular issue. 
 
With a $105,000,000 annual school budget proposed for the 2012-2013 school year, necessary upgrades can be afforded as they arise and in the process waste squeezed out of the operating budget.  This is the "New Normal" and the school board had better learn to cope with new financial realities that this decade demands.  They will be forced to one way or another.
 
For the complete dollar by dollar detail of these proposed long-term expenditures, please visit www.FreeOssiningTaxpayers.com .
 
Thank you for your time and attention to this important community issue. 
 
Vote "NO" on March 6th at the Ossining High School" 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.

Robert Little February 16, 2012 at 03:23 PM
Voters: The following direct quotation was taken from the contruction manager of the proposed Ann Dorner Middle School cafeteria expansion program...and published on February 11th by The Daily Ossining web newspaper commenting on the open house school tour afforded voters: “What’s being proposed is a better space to allow for kids to be served quicker and allow them to eat comfortably during the time they have.” Yes, it said what you thought you read: “What’s being proposed is a better space to allow for kids to be served quicker and allow them to eat comfortably during the time they have.” Vote "NO" on March 6th. Keep your million dollars back into our pockets. “What’s being proposed is a better space to allow for kids to be served quicker and allow them to eat comfortably during the time they have.” Yes, it said what you thought you read: “What’s being proposed is a better space to allow for kids to be served quicker and allow them to eat comfortably during the time they have.” Vote "NO" on March 6th.
Kevin K. February 16, 2012 at 05:53 PM
Mr. Little I always appreciate your desire to keep taxes in check. Lots of commentary here however seems slightly off the mark however and perhaps would be better broken up into several chunks, but let's discuss one of your points: <LittleSays>"The proposal to completely replace five boiler systems and the back-up generating systems at five schools is the third and arguably most contentious and most difficult all of the issues for the community to accurately assess. " </LittleSays> I believe the current bond replaces only four (4) and the 5th is funded in the administrations words " as part of Energy Performance Contract" but let's set that aside. It seems indisputable that the boilers are: 1) Old and in need of repair 2) Two run on a fuel source (#6) that is both inefficient and not very eco-friendly and which is going to become difficult to purchase in the near future (within 5 years). How would you suggest we pay for this needed upgrade? An increase in taxes to pay for one boiler would appear to be both costly and painful to the taxpayers, much less to pay for four. Not sure why you would support that but would like to know how you would suggest financing the improvement.
Andrew Kaplan February 16, 2012 at 07:36 PM
As an Ossining taxpayer, and someone who spends time at schools throughout the tri-state area for my line of work, I fully support this bond. Many of Mr. Little’s points do not present a full picture. He fails to mention the bulk of the work to be done at AMD is really part of an effort to create more classrooms to accommodate a student population that has grown substantially over the last 20 years with no signs of let up (1990:3,020; 2002:4,208; 2011:4,564) and do so without building on to the exterior (a substantially higher cost). While the population has grown, government mandates have forced restrictions on the amount of space allowable for a given number of students, creating the need for more classrooms. The cafeteria expansion, principals and nurses office and music rooms are not some frivolous effort to waste taxpayer money. Rather, they’re all part of an effort to maximize space by creating several new classrooms including ones more in line with the standards of today and the future. Which brings me to point #2. (cnt’d)....
Andrew Kaplan February 16, 2012 at 07:37 PM
He mentions nothing will be of direct benefit to SAT scores (or as he states in other forums, “students getting a job someday”). As I’m seeing on a daily basis at schools I visit, and as I would think any sane person would agree, higher SAT scores or even getting into college are great but aren’t necessarily the only indicator of success (FYI Steve Jobs was a college dropout). What IS important are good, inspiring teachers combined with (relatively) modern tools that help spur students to compete in today’s world. Does anyone think the 50 year- old science labs at AMD are adequate enough to inspire and help our children compete for jobs in a modern world dominated by science and technology driven industries like bio-pharma or Apple? One more area where he “glosses” over is in“rebuilding the OHS auditorium”. In fact, this is only a partial “rehab” to address issues such as electrical work and safety codes at an 80 year old facility which in fact has nearly caused loss of revenue in the past due to equipment failure. I would suggest that people visit another site to get a fuller picture of the bond and it’s scope (www.ossiningcfs.com). In this day and age we’re all looking to do more with less and I think if you read through enough facts you’ll see this bond is the best approach to doing so.
Robert Little February 16, 2012 at 11:41 PM
If a school building is currently using No. 6 oil, the administration can make a relatively inexpensive switch to No. 4 oil. The switch involves using up the No. 6 oil in the tank, cleaning the tank if necessary, adjusting burner settings, making some minor modifications to the oil pump and oil lines, and starting to use No. 4 oil. The Department of Environmental Protection estimates the conversion will cost approximately $10,000 per school buillding. The No. 4 oil can be used until 2030... all according to Rand Engineering, a NYC Consultant. Adjustments and repairs, as I said, shall be taken as required from the $103,000,000 school administration operating budget capital expenses line. No boiler needs to be replaced and none will be required for some time.
Robert Little February 17, 2012 at 12:02 AM
Mr. Kaplan: I would like to use the views of an Ossining Taxpayer who submitted her opinion to www.FreeOssiningTaxpayers.com website: "On other Ossining Taxpayer site a gentleman commented about wanting to go to a school with modern facilities. Sounds great, but it is a sad scenario when you suggest that going to a nicer school is a motivation for kids to do well. It's not only the building, it's fellow students, teachers and curriculum that create a good learning environment. In addition, it's important that they have support at home. Can one also assume that if the fields were nicer, the auditorium and the science lab updated, we would have more motivated athletes, scientists and actors? People have to learn to work with what they have available to them at any given time. Sure it would be nice to offer all these improvements, but in this economy we have to chose to improve those that affect safety first. If we are looking to cut, don't start with the teachers, start with the administrators who are making well over $200,000 each with benefits." Another poster added: "Can you believe that 20 Administrators of the Ossining UFSD together make $4,300,000...and you wonder why Ossining citizens will vote against the $42,000,000 Ossining proposed bond initiative?" I conclude by observing that the INTEL science kids did astoundingly well over the past few years with an excellent teaching staff and the same facilities that others have used year after year after year!
Chris Clement February 17, 2012 at 11:51 AM
If you own a home and bricks get loose, or the roof begins to leak, or the boiler isn't working properly, you fix it immediately. To wait until you have a dozen problems requiring repair is not only foolish, it's extremely costly in one lump sum. We'd probably all like to have a brand new kitchen or bathroom in our home but if we can't afford it we don't do it. Repairs should be done on an "as needed" basis, but they weren't. This situation shows mis-management of public property, and public funds, by the BOE.
Wilma Williamson February 17, 2012 at 02:25 PM
I agree that Mr. Little's attempt to keep our tax base down is a wonderful thing. After all, who wants to spend more money on unnecessary things or 'fluff'? Not me, or the many people who live in this village/town. And yes! . . economically, it seems like it's an awful time to spend, when I too, see store front after store front empty in the village. So, thank you Mr. Little. However, I also must agree, that after seeing, and hearing, and pinching the numbers, it would be worse to vote no! It's easy to say NO, and look the other way. Then in 5 years when the consequences of that <no> comes back with higher repair costs; the people will cry, "why wasn't this done years ago?" So, as a one-income, single mother of two school age children, who is also being squeezed beyond my financial limits monthly, I support this bond because it just makes good economic sense.
John February 17, 2012 at 03:53 PM
Mr. Little, You're wasting your time and effort...redirect it on finding a house in another town and another school district. Your short-sighted, biased approach has no place in our community, nor our school district.
Ratna Bindra February 17, 2012 at 04:29 PM
The reality is that our schools are in major disrepair and they simply need to be fixed. Can we quit "kicking the can down the road" and FINALLY take care of this NOW. We have a unique opportunity to do these repairs in a way that leverages state funding and doesn't raise taxes. These repairs will not simply go away and if we don't do them now under the most favorable of circumstances then I'm fairly certain we will have to do them later when it will be far more expensive for all of us. Enough already and VOTE YES on March 6th.
Andrew Kaplan February 17, 2012 at 04:55 PM
I find it ironic to see people complain about not making repairs in the past, yet choose not to support a bond that addresses the issues while not increasing the current tax levels. Here’s a simple analogy in regard to comments about extending the life of the boilers. (FYI the district did do a cost analysis and found that they could have saved 250k last year in fuel costs with the new system). Let’s say you have a ‘65 Chevy. Your monthly costs are $0 for the principal, $50 for engine parts and maintenance, $50 for gas (Total monthly costs: $100). After 45 years the original engine still works but your mechanic tells you it’s probably smart to think about replacing. He gives you 2 options. (cnt’d below)
Andrew Kaplan February 17, 2012 at 04:55 PM
1) Change some parts and try to extend the life of the engine another 10-15 years. Your new monthly costs are: $0 principal, $50 parts, $50 gas. Total/mo: $100+ initial cost of new parts. 2) Replace the engine with a newer, more efficient one: $25 month financing for the new engine (principal & interest), $40 parts and service (a newer model will require less maintenance), $25 mo. for gas (due to the efficiencies and the new option of choosing a flex fuel if/when the price is cheaper). Total/mo: $90 Let’s say you decide on option 1 rather than option 2 (which we’ve already illustrated would have been a net savings). Now you’re driving to your in-laws and the engine seizes (remember, as a unit it IS still 45 years old). Your stuck on the road paying for a tow truck ($100) plus the cost of having to buy a new engine immediately, but now in an emergency situation, you’ve got to come up with payment in full ($5,000), plus you still have to pay for a rental car while the engine is being replaced ($300) and you will still have monthly costs ($40 parts and service and $25 mo/gas). At the end of the day, though you still have to pay either way, which one is a more appealing option? (cnt’d below)
Andrew Kaplan February 17, 2012 at 04:56 PM
Furthermore. Mr. Little has mentioned in other posts that he would like to ensure the district spends its money within the USA. A quick search told me that Weil McLain has factories in Indiana and North Carolina while HB Smith is based in Massachusetts with a factory in Pennsylvania. For someone who wants to support made in the USA and putting tax dollars back into the American economy (again, at no additional costs than the current level to Ossining taxpayers), choosing to vote down this bond seems to go against that notion. Given that the Bond project is expected to last a few years, I would also think there would be a net benefit to the merchants of Ossining (and by etension our tax base) given that workers will be buying meals, and using other local services. Seems to me choosing to vote No is to choose to do “less with more” rather than “more with less”.
Andrew Kaplan February 17, 2012 at 04:59 PM
One other note. If we are looking to save costs long term the construction at AMD would result in a new air lock double door security system. This would allow for the elimination of the position of a person posted at the front door. I would think, over the long term between salary and benefits this would more be a significant savings to the district.
Kevin K. February 17, 2012 at 05:54 PM
Mr. Little -- I truly do appreciate your watch dog approach and wish it was a voice based in more facts, because I don't want to spend money unnecessarily, so I could just check in with you and make sure things were on the up and up. With respect to #4 vs #6 Oil, that may be a valid conversion. However, I would guess that with 5 boilers over their expected 'end of life,' we can safely assume one will completely fail, regardless of 'appropriate maintenance’ in the next 20 years (which would put the oldest boiler with over 50 years of service). When one (of the 5 that are planned for in this bond) does fail, the tax payers would be looking at a $MM expense that would not be budgeted for and would be paid for by a tax increase (which would be not be restricted by the 2% tax cap increase but is legally allowed). How painful would it be if 2 or more failed in the same year?
Kevin K. February 17, 2012 at 06:12 PM
One additional thought, to the whole community. Even folks supportive of the Bond may disagree on how the money should be spent on individual line items, so perhaps a step back to the bigger picture. The proposed Bond allows us to do $41M worth of 'work' and cost Ossining roughly $39.5M over 20 years. The interest on the $41M, based on our student attendance, will end up being paid for by state aid. (Skip to 5:10 to see the breakdown: http://bit.ly/ossbond39M) This would appear to be basically an interest free (actually slightly better) loan of $41M dollars, over 20 years, to allow the Ossining School district to do address issues that it appears everyone agrees needs to happen (even if there is disagreement on the proposed solutions to current infrastructure problems). It would seem most folks would not turn down an interest free loan to handle needed expenditures for their own personal well being, so why would we do something like that at the community level? If the Bond's approach is really that 'poor,' (here is IMO the best link to what is 'included': http://bit.ly/ossbonditems), I would like to see a suggested alternative proposed rather than just 'No.'
Brian A February 17, 2012 at 08:39 PM
It's not as if these items have been neglected; many repairs have been done continuously out of the capital line in the annual budget. At some point, one must ask if the community is better served continuously patching and repairing items that need frequent repair, or if the investment in replacing them, while an investment nonetheless, is one that makes more sense fiscally. I suppose a better question to ask would be, by your or Mr. Little's definition, when WOULD be an appropriate time to replace these items? Is the belief that we can and should simply repair things in perpetuity? We will have to replace these items eventually; the difference is how, and how much, we choose to pay for them. And when previous Boards of Education and the taxpayers themselves have previously said "No" to funding these projects in various ways, it seems unreasonable to suggest they've somehow let these items reach a point of neglect. We're all collectively responsible. I'm not suggesting every decision or recommendation made by the Board or District is one with which I agree, but if we're going to level criticism, we should acknowledge the steps taken on the path that got us here.
Brian A February 17, 2012 at 10:16 PM
In response to Mr. Little's reply to this post: the #6 oil is but one of several reasons to replace the units, the largest of which is overall age. Mr. Little would seem to suggest that because times are tight (aren’t they always going to be?), we should simply keep refurbishing and repairing these units ad infinitum. Every piece of infrastructure reaches a point of diminishing returns (one only needs to read all of the recent editorial regarding the Tappan Zee Bridge to become ill over how much is being spent to continuously repair that piece of infrastructure past its expected life). We risk “putting good money into bad” by converting, adapting and refurbishing units just to prolong their life by a few years (over which they’ll still be operating at efficiency standards of 30-45 years ago), at which point we’ll need to replace them anyway. This isn't being "fluffy" with our tax dollars; it's being smart.
Sharon Luby Abreau February 22, 2012 at 03:12 AM
this is directed at John who doesn't put his full name out there why don't you move away, I was born and raised in this town, how dare you tell someone to move.....I'm sure some of the people would from all the for sale signs on homes unfortunately they can't sell their homes.....your rudeness is not appreciated here I he is trying to show the waste in the bond, and you have no right to judge him or tell him to move out, Ossining would be a better place without people like you in it so why don't you take your own advice...........I'm voting no......
Kevin K. February 22, 2012 at 05:38 PM
The 'move out' comments are off topic and really don't have a place here in this discussion. @Sharon -- could you please share the top 3 'wastes' in this bond for everyone to understand better?
Steve Wardwell February 22, 2012 at 07:06 PM
(Continued from above) Even with these financial pressures, the District fulfilled its fiduciary duty to maintain buildings in these and many other ways: - Roof replacement and repair - Electric service upgrades - Backflow prevention devices - Fire alarm systems - Window replacement - Emergency generators - Masonry repairs - Univents replacement - Oil tank replacement - Paving and lockers. Each year the district determines which are the most immediate needs to be addressed in our six aging buildings.
Steve Wardwell February 22, 2012 at 07:07 PM
The District answered this question in the Just Ask section of its website. Here's a link, but I've also copied out the text of this particular issue. http://www.ossiningufsd.org/site_res_view_template.aspx?id=4e13b924-e489-46ab-ab30-b49b56dac5d5#Has any money Q: Has any money been set aside to cover the maintenance portion of the bond? A: The importance of the bond is not an issue of lack of maintenance. It is largely an issue of aging infrastructure reaching the end of its useful life. Dollars are budgeted each and every year for the maintenance of our buildings. For instance, we would not have been able to maintain our 30-year-old boilers to the very end of their useful life without constant and careful maintenance. That said, three factors have reduced the annual maintenance budget over the past several years: Knowing that a bond is the most economical and financially responsible approach to funding such expensive items as boiler and roof replacement, select maintenance items were deferred to be included in the proposed bond. Recent economic pressures required that annual budgets be kept as lean as possible, with a high priority placed on our central mission: maintaining teachers in the classrooms. A significant portion of our maintenance budgets had to be devoted to mandated work under the Americans with Disabilities Act. (Continued in next post)
Robert Little February 22, 2012 at 07:24 PM
Following a financial analysis performed on all Ossining school district maintenance and repair records for the period 2008 through 2011 (four years) gathered in response to a Freedom of Information Act request, the total cost of maintaining and upgrading all of the boilers owned and operated by the school is $475 per school boiler per month. There is nothing wrong with the boilers...all are operating at their peak designed efficiency and NONE NEED TO BE REPLACED!
Brian A February 22, 2012 at 09:23 PM
Mr. Little nails it when he suggests these units are operating at their peak designed efficiency - that of 30+ years ago. Refits and band-aids can't change that much. Newer, more efficient units will save money increasingly every year as fuel costs continue to rise. The addition alone of flex-fuel systems (allowing us to run the units on gas or oil - whichever is less expensive) would have saved over $180k last year had new systems been in place.
Brian A February 22, 2012 at 09:25 PM
Counter to Mr. Little’s point that we don’t need to replace heating systems because we can simply keep repairing them in perpetuity: When WOULD be an appropriate time to replace these items, already at or past their anticipated service life? Should we keep kicking this can down the road until we’re out of options? The investment in replacing them is one that makes more fiscal sense than continuing to throw good money after bad with band-aids. We will have to replace these items one way or another; the difference is how, and how much, we will pay. The reasons for replacing the heating systems are not limited to reduction in repair costs or efficiency, as covered separately: -Thoughtfully-planned replacement of infrastructure at or past its expected life makes more sense than waiting until things ultimately fail, at greater cost and inconvenience. -There's no better time than now. Our ability to negotiate good rates with vendors may never be better. Lending rates are at record lows. Programs in the bond are eligible for over $22 million in NYS Building Aid that may not be offered next year, though we've already paid into that "aid bucket" through our state taxes. If we don't take advantage of it, others will, but we won’t get a rebate either. -Funding these projects, this way, means there won't be an increase in taxes, as the debt from the new bond will phase in as old debt is retired.

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