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$87 Million School Bond Heading to Tarrytown/Sleepy Hollow Voters in December

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October 29, 2023

By Rick Pezzullo–

On Oct. 19, the Tarrytown Board of Education approved a resolution to place an $87 million bond before district voters on Dec. 12.

“This capital plan will play a crucial role in supporting our mission to create a safe, nurturing and enriching learning environment for all of our students,” said Board of Education President Michelle DeFilippis. “Our schools have been the heart of our community for generations. It is our responsibility to ensure that they continue to remain places where our children can thrive academically and emotionally.”

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The estimated total cost of all the projects planned in all district school facilities is $92.7 million, but district officials will be utilizing $6 million in savings from the current budget.  They are also stressing that about 53% of the total project costs (circa $50 million) will be reimbursed by the state’s school Building Aid fund.

Even with the substantial contribution from Albany, the impact on property taxes will be felt. Using $812,000 as the average assessed value of a home in Tarrytown, officials calculate that by 2029, the four incremental tax increases will have added $857 to that home’s annual property tax bill..

“We want the best possible educational setting for all our children,” said Superintendent of Schools Dr. Raymond Sanchez, who joined the district only in July. “This project is about building a better tomorrow.”

District officials contend many of the classrooms, averaging about 550 square feet, are too small to accommodate many of the 2,700 students. Sanchez said classrooms should be between 750 and 800 square feet.

In addition, the aging school buildings are in need of upgrades and infrastructure improvements. Winfield L. Morse Elementary School, which serves grades 1-2, and Washington Irving Elementary School, which serves grades 3-5, are slated to receive four-story additions. Washington Irving will also get 11 new classrooms.

The Morse school work is estimated at $34.6 million, while the Washington Irving school work is estimated at $39 million.

Athletic field upgrades, including a new track and bleachers, are planned on the Sleepy Hollow High School/Middle School campus at a price tag of about $9 million.

John Paulding School, which houses Pre-K and Kindergarten students, will receive $4.5 million in improvements, while the district will also be making infrastructure improvements and replacing the playground at the Tappan building, which will be used again by the district for kindergarten. That work will cost $5.5 million.

District officials will be meeting with elected officials in Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow to pitch their plans, while other community outreach is also slated, including a newsletter that will be mailed to residents. To see a video presentation of the building plans, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IkAWh6QEw0s

Polls on Dec. 12 will be open from 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Tarrytown residents will cast their votes at Washington Irving School, while Sleepy Hollow residents will go to the polls at Morse school.

TUFSD Superintendent Dr. Raymond Sanchez

“We have a responsibility to build trust in our community.”

Dr. Raymond Sanchez has been Superintendent of the Tarrytown /Sleepy Hollow Schools for only a few months, He grew up in both villages but did not attend the district’s schools as he was educated in local Catholic schools, Still, he says,“I’ve lived in every corner of both Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow. I hit my first home run as a player at the Washington Irvington School.”

Now Sanchez has the task of selling the residents of the two villages on the virtues of raising and spending $87 million on an extensive infrastructure upgrade that prominently includes the Washington Irving School. He recently sat down with The Hudson Independent’s Barrett Seaman.

THI: When you were going through the interview process, how forthcoming was the school board about the scope of this bond issue?

RS: This is a conversation that precedes me. There were a lot of conversations leading up to where we are at this point. There’s been a functioning facility committee that looked at a variety of options, which we tryto highlight in our presentations as we go around. Leading up to this I was told that there were facility needs, but there hadn’t been a final plan as of yet.

THI: It’s a big number, $87 million. The question I suspect most citizens are asking is,’What’s it going to cost me?’ It’s pretty hard to find that by looking at the plan, but from what I can see, these taxes, cumulatively would add up to almost $900 more a year by the end of the fourth year on a home valued at $812,000.

RS: You’re right. It’s on or about $200 each year for the bonding period. But in full disclosure, we’ve also tried to put on our web site what I’d refer to as a tax calculator to be as transparent (as we can be). We’ve worked hard on the finances to ensure that we reduce the impact on the local share. We anticipate that 53.6 percent of this will be paid for by the state.

THI: I realize that this is not something you are responsible for, but given what has happened with interest rates from what they were even a year ago until now, is this something that the district should have anticipated?

RS: Years ago, the community made the decision to prioritize the Middle School and the High School, and we’re thankful for that opportunity. But the needs in the other schools (Morse, Washington Irving) were there. We have water entering our buildings at Morse School—in our cafeterias, in our gymnasiums and in our bathrooms. In every heavy rainfall we’re dealing with that. We’re trying to be more energy efficient in our project, to improve the HVAC systems so we can maximize a strong learning environment for our children.

The bleachers at Washington Irving have already been shut down; if you were to walk by them they’re all roped off.

We have classrooms that are about 550 square feet. That minimizes what our teachers cn do with our kids. And then there is the ADA (Americans with Disabilities) Act) compliance. There are components of our buildings that you can’t access in a wheelchair. And we have physical education and occupational therapy taking place in a locker room. We have programs like art and music that don’t have any space.

THI:” How are you going about selling this?

RS: We’ve worked as hard as we could to get out to as many community members as we could, though we realize some are learning about it for the first time. Some folks have invited me to their neighborhoods, so I’ve presented already in homes. We’ve gone to Kendal (on-Hudson, the senior living complex). We’ve done some virtual presentations, one of which had about a hundred viewers. Newsletters will soon be going out and we’ll continue to meet with people. I plan to meet with the village boards of Sleepy Hollow and Tarrytown. We’re working hard to get out into the communities so that they understand the real needs and the fiscal components associated with it.

THI: What kinds of reactions are you getting?

RS: Every presentation has helped us in our decision-making. Every question has led us to delve deeper. By all accounts, everyone seems to understand the effort that the district went to—even the way we finance it; how we have spread out the project so that there are no spikes in the tax impact. People who have been here a long time seem to understand that these needs have been there long before now and are in some cases not as surprised.

THI: You said that at each of these meetings you’ve learned some things. Have you made some adjustments?

RS: I’ll use an example: there’s a mural in the Washington Irving Library that members of the staff have said they want to maintain that. So we’ve kept that in the plan because they valued it. We modified the bleacher recommendation at Washington Irving. Currently it (seats) a thousand. We’re modifying it to 600 based on the fact that we never really have a thousand people there. We made it 600 because there are 600 kids in the school.

We have an advisory committee comprised of 40-some individuals who volunteer of their time, and they’ve helped us tighten our plan. They’ve walked the buildings. They’ve seen it. And we want to make sure that between now and December 12 that we provide similar opportunities. This is a big decision for our community—and I recognize that, and I seek to recognize the ‘why’ behind it.

THI: Do you have any sense yet how (the vote) will go?

RS: No, I don’t want to presume anything. But the needs are there. I could see that upon entering. Our current budget for capital improvements is $750,000—for six buildings. That could be one project.

THI: Is there potentially more aid that could come from the state?

RS: Could be. That (money) could certainly increase, (but) the conservative answer is that we don’t want to overpromise. We have a responsibility to build trust in our community.

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