$69.9 million bond approved

By Seth Barshay, Madeline Fagen, Maddie Lane, and Delia Rush. Graphics by Diego Espinoza.

On March 10, the proposed $69.9 million bond for various district-wide renovations was passed, leaving the Board of Education, and many students, parents, and teachers of Port Washington, satisfied. However, the vote was far from unanimous; it was approved by a very slim margin of 239 votes.

The bond’s funds will go toward a wide range of renovations and improvements throughout all the schools in Port Washington: the five elementary schools, Weber, and of course, Schreiber.

At Schreiber specifically, there will be upgrades and renovations to the science labs, which haven’t been upgraded since the 1970s.  Here, students will be able to conduct research and participate in advanced STEM programs.

As for the elementary schools, one science lab will be constructed at each school. Classroom windows and ceilings will be replaced as needed.   Bathrooms throughout the district will also be renovated.

“It is extremely important to maintain the buildings,” said science teacher Ms. Marla Ezratty.  “Unfortunately, it’s too little, too late. Waiting until the buildings are falling apart and are in serious need of repair is not the smartest way to handle maintenance of a building. The buildings are old. They need to be constantly maintained. It’s better to keep up with it than to wait until the roofs are falling, water is dripping, and smells are spreading. I am very glad it passed so these necessary upgrades can be addressed.”

Within the arts department, music rooms throughout the district will be refurbished.

The auditoriums at Schreiber, Weber and Sousa will all be getting a makeover: new seats, a new projector and screen, new lights and new sound systems.

The locker rooms will get new lockers and will be reconfigured for handicapped access. Locker rooms will also receive door and window replacements as well as improved ventilation.   The bond will also fund much needed athletic fields—two new multi-purpose fields will be created.

The Schreiber cafeteria will be expanded, and at all seven schools, all modular classrooms, also known as portables, will be removed and replaced with permanent classrooms.

There will also be repairs to the exterior of Schreiber, specifically—repaired sidewalks, fresh asphalt paving, new curbs, and an extended rear driveway.   The main entryway will get a facelift: the original hollow metal doors and frames will be replaced. The main entryway will get wider doors to be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.   Similar renovations will be made at the elementary schools and Weber as well.

In addition, some less visible aspects of Schreiber will be renovated, such as upgraded hot water and air conditioning systems. Throughout the whole Port Washington school district, technology will be improved. School security enhancements will take place as well: sensors will be installed at each exterior door, and security cameras will be mounted.

The bond will be funded by an increase in school taxes over a multi-year period.  In anticipation of this, a total cost limit for the bond has been set at $69,877,198.

The final cost had been set by the Board of Education during its January meeting.

This tax period will extend through 2023, a seven year period, with the average homeowner in Port Washington paying around $106 in taxes each year going toward the bond at a rate of around $8.83 a month.

After 2023, there will be no bond-related school taxes.  In addition, New York State Building Aid will cover roughly 18.5 percent of the cost of the bond.

“This seems like a small price to pay for our students’ well being,” said junior Ben Hayt.  “It would have been an atrocity if anything had otherwise happened in the vote.”

One reason for the bond is that according to a demographer’s presentation at a recent Board of Education meeting, the enrollment of Schreiber is expected to undergo a 4.6 percent rise in the next five years.  This adds to an already large student body, potentially leading to even larger overcrowding in classrooms.  Over half of the money coming from the bond is expected to go toward expansions to adjust to this burgeoning student population in the district.

“The school is extremely crowded, and the number of students is likely to only increase in future years.  The current cafeteria can hardly fit all of our students, and many have to resort to sitting in the hallways for lunch.  Hopefully the bond will resolve these issues,” said junior Carolyn Blumberg.

Around $50 million of the $16.9 million is allocated toward major construction and renovations to facilities like the science labs, which were built decades ago.

“I completely supported the bond,” said HSA co-President and PWEF Vice President Ms. Mara Silverstein. “Along with many other things, I feel that it will allow the district to fix things in all of the schools that have been in disrepair for a very long time.  It will allow us to have the space that is needed to comfortably house the growing population of children that we have coming to our schools and giving them an environment to support the leaning that is taking place.”

Prior to and after the bond vote, information on the bond was made available on multiple platforms. The Port Washington School District’s website has an entire Bond Information File Library, including a guide for bond voters, individual information sheets for each of the schools, and a summary of the final bond proposed.

There is also a video, which highlights the district’s needs through photographs, video footage, and brief statements from members of the Board of Education and the Community Facilities Advisory Committee.

Information regarding the details of the bond was also posted at the Port Washington Public Library, in the Port Washington News, and in the Port Washington Patch.

In addition, the Board of Education sent out several emails to the entire community.

“We tried to be as open and informative as possible, but the school district and Board of Education are not allowed to promote people voting one way or another,” said Ms. Karen Sloan, president of the Board of Education.

In addition to the information provided by the school district, many community members decided to independently spread word of the bond.

“I feel that our Board of Education and our administration worked diligently to create a plan that was thoughtful and responsible and with the best of intentions to support our students and better our community,” said Ms. Silverstein.

Students encouraged people to vote in favor of the bond at the Port Washington train station, parents held “Vote Yes” signs near near Schreiber and Weber, and notices to vote in favor of the bond were posted at various points throughout Port Washington.

However, there was also a campaign against the bond.

A group called Citizens for School Management took various measures to promote their stance.

They set up a website with a mission statement: “To Advocate for Efficient School Management In Port Washington, NY. To Promote Educationally Sound and Cost Effective Policies.”

The webpage had a large section titled “Port Washington School Bond Deception,” where it explained why each sector of the bond is misleading.

They also requested donations to put towards publicizing their stance against the bond. They distributed flyers at the Port Washington train station, which encouraged people to “Vote No.”

Ms. Beth Weisburd, co-president of the Weber Middle School Home and School Association (HSA) and member of the Community Facilities Advisory Committee, told Port Washington News that over 20 “Vote Yes” signs were stolen off of private property as well, but there is no evidence that the Citizens for School Management was responsible for this.

With much campaigning both for and against the bond, it is no surprise that the results of the vote were so close. 2,294 people voted “Yes” and 2,055 voted “No.”

While this means about half of the voters were left unhappy, many other members of the Port Washington School District and the Board of Education considered this a victory.

“I was hopeful that the community would support the bond, and from all the feedback we received along the way it did seem that the majority of the community was in favor. But, you never know until the votes are counted,” said Ms. Sloan.

Many students seemed to reach a general consensus on their views of the bond.  Out of the 102 students surveyed, 85% believe that the bond was a necessary addition.

“I think they put too many unnecessary things on the bond which increased the cost and made it come close to not passing. However, I support the bond, and I am happy it passed,” said sophomore Madeline Lavin.

Participants in the poll had several bond improvements in particular that they believe will help them the most.  42% believe this will be the expanded cafeteria, 22% believe it is the addition of air conditioning, and 15% believe that the renovations to the bathrooms and locker rooms will factor in the most.

Other factors those surveyed voted on were improvements to athletic facilities, renovations to science rooms, and a renovated auditorium.

Current students are excited by the planned improvements from the bond, even though they do not directly affect them.

“Although I am happy that the bond passed, I wish it was implemented earlier so I could reap the benefits while I was still a student,” said junior Emma Feldman. “I know the improvements will be extremely beneficial for future students and staff of the district.”