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East Rockaway school officials prep for Thursday's $27.7M bond vote

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The East Rockaway Board of Education met on Oct. 23 for the last time before the public will vote on a $27.7 million bond referendum to fund re-pairs and upgrades at the district’s three schools on Nov. 14.

The board unanimously voted to adopt the bond referendum at its Sept. 17 meeting. If passed, the bond would cover several projects at Rhame Avenue and Centre Avenue elementary schools and East Rockaway Junior-Senior High School. The district would use $6.2 million in capital reserves to offset the cost of the work.

“With the potential for a zero tax impact, I hope the community considers all the projects proposed in this bond and exercises their right to vote on Nov. 14,” district Superintendent Lisa Ruiz said.

Jacqueline Scrio, the district’s assistant superintendent of finance and operations, said last month that the cost of the bond for a homeowner with an average assessed home value would be $251 a year. “This calculation is strictly for the projects that will be included in the 2019 bond, and does not take into account the debt service that is retiring,” Scrio said. If the bond were to fail, the average homeowner would see a tax decrease of $140 annually beginning in 2021-22, and $71 in 2023-24, after the old bond was retired. 

School officials originally discussed a $30.5 million bond, but then scaled it back by reducing money for certain projects. A portion of the $18.7 million bond that voters approved in 2005 is set to expire in 2021-22, and would fully roll off in 2023-24.

If voters approve the bond, plans will be submitted for review to the State Education Department sometime before next June. The bid and award phase is tentatively planned for April 2020 through March 2021, and construction is set for July 2020 through September 2022, pending state approval and weather conditions.

The bond’s financial impact on taxpayers would depend, in part, on the potential financial help the district will receive from the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery for the Living with the Bay initiative. LWTB is a state project, undertaken after Hurricane Sandy, to improve storm resiliency along Mill River, which runs from Hempstead Lake south to Hewlett Bay.

In the project at East Rockaway High, a bulkhead would be constructed on school property where it meets Mill River, along with drainage pipes that would run under the athletic fields. The bulkhead, officials said, would reduce flooding at the school.

GOSR is considering whether to pay for the Living with the Bay portion of the bonded project, which would cover the bulkheading and drainage pipes under the playing field. If the state were to provide the $2.6 million for that part of the project, local taxpayers would pay nothing additional. If it did not, however, the cost for the average home would be $41 per year.

Thehbia Hiwot, executive drector of NY Rising Housing Recovery, Buyout and Acquisition Programs, told the Herald on Tuesday that "GOSR is working closely with the school district to finalize an adjusted scope of work and project management agreement.”

A facilities committee generated consensus recommendations for long-term improvements to the facilities, while emphasizing educational benefits, security, financial feasibility and community values. The committee comprised community members, Board of Education trustees, teachers, administrators and district architect John Grillo, who presented plans at the Sept. 17 school board meeting, while Rick Ganci, the executive vice president and principal of Capital Markets Advisors, discussed the project’s financing.

The committee took part in a building conditions study, walked through each facility, reviewed options for renovations and upgrades, and compiled a list of potential projects and their costs. It met six times between February and June 2018, hosted a series of public work sessions with the community to discuss potential projects and then entered a review period before approving them.

“We are excited to present this to you,” Board of Education President Keith Gamache said when the bond proposal was set in September. “We will work as closely as we possibly can with GOSR and Living with the Bay for as long as we possibly can to try and get that additional funding.”