Tuesday, September 23, 2014
Clarence Schools Bond Proposal Passes: Real Work Begins
If you care about Clarence schools, you'll be joining the effort to pass the two bond resolutions to finance 30% of critically needed repairs and upgrades to the district's buildings & grounds; the remaining 70% will be covered by the state.
Monday night, the school board voted 6-1 to bring the resolutions to the voters in a special referendum on November 18th. Roger Showalter was the sole "no"vote.
There appears to be no debate over that portion of this capital project that deals with repairs and mandated upgrades to the school buildings and bus garage. Roofs are in critical need of repair, many buildings need asbestos abatement, and other items relating to health and safety need immediate attention. These are problems that have, in some cases, not been addressed in generations.
There was, however, some concern-trolling from Mssrs. Showalter and Lahti over the proposal to replace some high school playing fields with modern artificial turf and a new scoreboard, and it's easy to dismiss this part of the project as optional or frivolous.
Well, it would be, except for the fact that sports are mostly played on these fields during the Fall and Spring - seasons not known for their dry predictability in western New York. In the Spring of 2014 alone, over 110 events had to be canceled because of wet, muddy, and unplayable conditions on the playing fields. If the district invested in turf and drainage upgrades, conditions would be playable in any weather except lightning.
Trustee Matt Stock argued that the tipping point for him was the fact that the fields are a school and town asset, and that turf would enable them to be utilized more often, and the money to maintain them would be better spent. It hardly makes sense to pay desperately to try and make fields playable if the weather won't cooperate.
Think of it this way: if you're a sports family, you have pride in your school community and you don't only want your physical education infrastructure to be excellent, but you recognize that it's in the civic interest to ensure that all of the school's programs are top-notch. By the same token, even if your family isn't involved in sports, it's in everyone's broad interest to ensure that the sports programs have modern fields that cost less to maintain and result in fewer injuries to players.
The meeting itself was unusually well-attended, with many parents speaking in favor of the one point of contention - the turf fields. They spoke of how embarrassed the district should be over the dilapidated conditions of the high school field infrastructure. Just last Friday, a part of the bleachers broke during a varsity football game. (The bleachers are covered by the repair part of the capital project).
There was some debate and disagreement initiated by Trustee Roger Showalter over the actual board resolution about the two capital projects. He objected to there being only one resolution, because he wanted to vote for the repair piece and against the turf piece. There was some clumsy fumfering over Robert's Rules of Procedure, and the district's lawyer explained that any last-minute effort to strike and amend the board's resolution would result in the contingency being omitted.
As it currently stands, the passage of the repair bond is contingent in part on the passage of the turf bond. Specifically, if the turf project is contingent on the passage of the repair project - it is impossible to pass only the turf. (It is, however, possible to vote in favor of, or against, both. It is also possible to vote for the repairs and against the turf, but not vice-versa).
Showalter and Trustee Jason Lahti complained that they were "concerned" about public sentiment over the turf. It should be noted that not one person rose to spoke against the turf at any recent school board meeting. They suggested that there might be an effort to defeat the turf proposal that might spill over and cause the repair piece to fail.
Trustee Susan Altman noted - correctly - that the board's resolution was simply to present these items to the voters, and that this wasn't technically an opportunity for the board members to voice their specific support or objection for the underlying substance of the capital projects.
The effort to strike and amend the board's resolution failed 5 - 2. The board then voted on the existing agenda item, and it passed 6 - 1 with only Showalter dissenting.
Over the next 7 weeks, expect thousands of dollars in mailers, ads, and signs to pop up throughout the town to reject the whole capital project. Expect numerous Bee Heards and letters to the Bee's editor to relentlessly attack parents, students, and the board for allegedly "disrespecting the taxpayers". Why?
Because the board voted to pass a resolution to make repairs and needed upgrades to assets that the taxpayers own and use.
So, over the next 7 weeks students, parents, teachers, and alumni will need to coalesce and fight hard to get the vote out and energize the apathetic. We will need to set the tone, agenda, and message before the other guys do. We will need to get the parents who don't bother and don't pay attention to wake up.
The next 7 weeks will be tough and possibly as hard-fought as the 2013 budget. This time, we need to be ready.
If you want to help, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Don't wait for someone else to do it - we need people to put out signs, make calls, canvass, write letters to the editor, do Bee Heards, and leaflet at sporting events. It's up to you.