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North Shore School District eyes $39.9M bond

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Over the next two and a half months, the North Shore School District will host 10 community forums and school tours to educate the public about a proposed $39.9 million bond proposal to repair and upgrade the district’s buildings.

Superintendent Dr. Peter Giarrizzo said he wants the community to be informed about the planned bond before its Dec. 10 referendum.

The bond is broken into five categories — instruction, infrastructure, safety and security, air conditioning and site work. Instructional needs — which include new science labs and corridors — and infrastructure account for most of the spending, totaling $19.3 million and $13.6 million, respectively.

Security additions, such as vestibules at all schools and door replacements, would cost $4 million, and air conditioning would add another $2.7 million. The remaining $291,555 would go toward site work, including bringing the entrance to Sea Cliff Elementary School into compliance with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and replacing the high school’s press box.

With past bonds set to retire within the next few years, the district was able to move $800,000 in remaining debt toward funding facilities. As debt service is decreasing, the district calculated a borrowing power of $40 million, so that a $39.9 million bond would not come at any additional cost to taxpayers, according to officials.

If the bond were to fail, Giarrizzo said, taxpayers would not necessarily see an increase or decrease in their taxes. A reduction would come only if the district were to lower the tax levy in following years’ budgets, which would require cuts to staff or programs. In that instance, the owner of a $750,000 home would get back $136 a year in tax dollars, which is roughly what homeowners are paying for the current bonds.

Additionally, Giarrizzo explained that the bond’s failure would likely result in budget increases in the future, because projects would have to be funded through district spending, which would cause taxes to rise on their own. He said the proposed bond would prevent that from happening.

Parents have raised the issue of air conditioning several times in recent years. The high school and middle school have window units, and only a few rooms in the elementary schools have air conditioning. Giarrizzo said the district would work with energy company Ecosystem on an energy performance contract, which would reduce the cost of installing air conditioning throughout the district.

The contract dictates that air conditioning must pay for itself over 18 years through various savings. The district would, example, cut costs by installing central air conditioning in the middle and high schools and moving the window units to the elementary schools. In doing so, Giarrizzo said, the district would spend $2.7 million on a project that would have been more than $7 million without the energy performance contract. Ways in which the district plans on saving money through energy efficiencies include the installation of solar panels in each school, LED lighting and heating network upgrades.

Giarrizzo said air conditioning is one of the bond’s key components because it plays a large role in student learning. Without air conditioning, “the air doesn’t move, [and] they’re not capable of doing their best work,” he said. “They’re not thinking at their highest levels. The teachers are not working at their highest levels.”

Giarrizzo said school officials emphasized the need to make sure that the bond would not cost residents any more than what they are paying in property taxes now.

The bond is about the future, said Dave Ludmar, North Shore Board of Education vice president. “For me, it’s very important to find a balance of taking care of things we need in the here and now,” he said, “but also looking forward to where the district will be and its future needs.”

The bond, he added, “shows the district’s commitment to ensuring that our facilities and our educational spaces don’t get ignored, that they don’t get run down, and that we’re committed to continuous improvement.”

Sea Cliff resident James Versocki, whose son, Jonathan, is a sixth-grader at North Shore Middle School, said he trusts the board and administration to do what is best for the district and its students and faculty. He said he believes the only way to address the district’s facility needs is through a bond.

“If it’s neutral to the taxpayers and it’s investing in the school district,” said Versocki, “I think it’s money well spent.”