Earlier this year, a task force of board members, school officials, and community members met and analyzed enrollment in the Clarence Schools, as well as a wish list for the district's buildings and grounds. The task force reduced the "wish list" to a "needs list" and recommended two separate bond proposals be put forth to finance needed upgrades and repairs.
Despite a current downward trend in enrollment, new development in town as well as an aging population is going to lead to turnover and new residents. There is no guarantee that enrollment will continue to trend down, and at this time no schools are slated to be closed.
At an August meeting of the school board, Superintendent Hicks recommended that the task force's repair & maintenance piece be reduced to $30.9 million. The district would need to raise $9.3 million, and if successful, the state would fund the remaining $21.6 million.
The second bond would be for turf playing fields and other improvements at the high school. The athletic field bond would be for $5 million, including a $1.5 million town investment to leverage $3.5 million in state money.
The passage of the athletic bond is contingent on passage of the repair & maintenance bond, but not vice-versa.
Bonding and state financing such as this is only available for capital projects involving the school district's buildings & grounds. Despite the devastating losses in faculty, administration, social workers, and curriculum that the district has endured over the last few years, we cannot borrow and leverage state money for any restoration of personnel or programs. We must continue to press the board and wage that battle.
With respect to repairs, the district has waited 40 years to undertake a comprehensive program to address deteriorating schools. This is the time to do it, when we can marshal 70% of the cost from outside sources.
If we do not pass it now, we will need to pay to make the repairs and mandated upgrades out of future operating budgets, and the town will have to cover 100% of the cost, rather than 30%. Here is how the money will be spent on needed upgrades and repairs:
Here is the information on the athletic field drainage repair and upgrades:
The school board is poised to vote on these proposals at tonight's monthly meeting, and it is expected that the bonds will be put to the voters sometime in mid or late November. Although there appears to be unanimity on the repair piece, at least two board members are anticipated to be "no" votes on the athletic field proposal, arguing that turf fields are a "luxury" and not a necessity.
But something has to be done. In just the spring semester alone, over 110 events had to be canceled due to unplayable fields. If the school had turf fields with the associated drainage upgrades, the only impediment to gameplay would be lightning. Due to the evenness of the turf, you eliminate natural imperfections, leading to a reduction in injuries to players. Newer synthetics have been devised to reduce the harmful effects of "turf burn". The cost to continually maintain natural grass fields for gameplay in WNY's unpredictable climate is in the tens of thousands of dollars, and when you have a particularly wet spring such as this year's, no amount of money can bring the fields up to playable condition. With turf, the maintenance is practically non-existent by comparison. Furthermore, when it comes time to replace the turf, the cost to do so is significantly less than the initial investment to construct all of the substructure and drainage.
A study of a Michigan State University field showed that annual maintenance costs could be reduced by up to 20% over that of a natural grass field and that a savings of up to 40% can be seen in costs for maintenance equipment.
While this turf proposal will likely be spun by some as school district greed, it makes good business sense to improve civic assets such as this. These fields aren't just the school's - they belong to everybody, and the entire community has an opportunity to enjoy and use them. We should expect that our assets be - at the very least - usable, given the money spent to maintain them.
There's a petition online urging the board to adopt the task force's recommendations, and it's close to 400 signatures now. Please go sign it, attend the board meetings, and contact email@example.com to get involved in the coming campaign to fix our schools.