Next Tuesday, Rockville Centre residents will make an important decision about the future of their schools: Do they want to improve them, and make sure they remain award-winning places of learning, or will they allow the schools to fall behind their neighboring districts and lose their luster?
Though this bond, which totals $45.9 million, is similar to one that was proposed — and rejected — a little more than three years ago, we hope that history doesn’t repeat itself, and encourage residents to vote “yes” on this referendum.
We don’t make this recommendation lightly. The district is essentially asking every home and business owner to approve a tax increase, and in these difficult times, when taxes are stretching wallets to the breaking point and incomes have stalled, that’s not an easy thing to ask people to do.
For the average Rockville Centre home, valued at $532,000, this bond will mean a tax increase of $128 a year for the 30-year term of the bond. For some, that increase is manageable. For others, it’s not.
But the fact is that this bond is not just something we want to see happen; it needs to happen. The village has some of the best schools in the country, of which every community member should be proud. The quality of the schools is also reflected in the value of your home.
Some may say that with the economy the way it is, and with many people struggling to afford basic necessities, this is the wrong time to take out a bond. They have a point — but this is also the best time to take out a bond, with interest rates at historic lows. Waiting a few years for the economy to rebound could mean higher interest rates — and that could translate to tens of millions of dollars more that district taxpayers would have to repay.
If this bond fails, our school buildings and infrastructure will deteriorate and our instruction will fall behind that of our neighbors. South Side High School is in desperate need of repair and expansion. And that is where the majority of the bond money would go: $25.5 million, or more than 55 percent of the total, would fund new construction and interior renovations at SSHS. The portable classrooms would go, replaced by a permanent addition, not only giving students the classroom space they need, but improving security — doors would no longer have to be left open all day to allow students in and out of the main building.
Another $7.4 million would be used to build additional classrooms at Watson Elementary, which has long been known by parents, teachers and students for being cramped.
The bond would cover other projects that are necessary for student safety and education: roof repairs, masonry reconstruction, building code upgrades, floor repairs, band and chorus room renovations, new security cameras, a boiler replacement and more.
In a perfect world, this measure would never have to be proposed. The district would be able to fund all of these improvements through its normal budgeting process. But that just isn’t possible.
We know times are tough. We know that the tax increase could make things even more difficult for some families. But we also know that our schools need this money. These are things we can do now to make our schools better and more competitive in the coming years. Without this bond, home values in Rockville Centre will begin to fall as the school district deteriorates.
This bond needs to pass. We hope residents understand that, and will vote in favor of it on Tuesday.