Remsenburg Speonk taxpayers reject $14.9 million project


On Friday, voters in the Remsenburg/Speonk School District overwhelmingly rejected the district’s proposed $14.9 million expansion project, an addition that would have doubled the size of the Mill Road elementary school.

The $14.7 million bond that would have financed the project was rejected by a margin of 711-116, with almost 86 percent of district taxpayers opposing the proposed work. An extra $300,000 remaining from the school’s parking lot expansion project, completed earlier this year, would have been used to help finance the addition.

School Board members are not expected to discuss their options until after the holidays, according to longtime School Board member Thomas Kerr. While pitching their plan this fall, board members stated that they do not have a concrete backup plan should taxpayers reject their expansion proposal.

“We will have to abide by their decision,” Mr. Kerr said of the taxpayers. “The public spoke … and we’re okay with it.

“I have no idea about what will be different with the next plan,” he continued. “I was disappointed. I was hoping that it would go through, but I’m a realist.”

School Board President Jeremiah Collins did not return phone calls this week.

In a prepared statement, Remsenburg/Speonk Superintendent Katherine Salomone stated that she and the board “thank the community for participating in the building expansion vote and … look forward to coming together to create a plan that the community can support.”

She also noted in the statement that the next meeting of the Remsenburg/Speonk School Board will be held on Monday, January 12, at 8 p.m. The board’s next regularly scheduled work session is set for Monday, December 22, at 7 p.m.

The expansion, if it had passed, would have been completed by the 2011-12 school year and would have doubled the size of the elementary school to 60,000 square feet. The project would have added five new classrooms, a new cafeteria, a library/media center, a language lab and a music area onto the Mill Road school.

The school would have been able to accommodate as many as 400 students with the renovations; about 185 students now attend the elementary school.

If approved, the work would have increased taxes in the Remsenburg/Speonk School District—which runs as far south as West Hampton Dunes Village and as far north as County Road 51 in Speonk—by 53 cents of assessed valuation for the life of the 20-year bond. For the life of the bond, beginning in the 2011-12 school year, taxes on a $1 million home would have increased by $529.92 per year.

That same year, school property taxes would have increased another 20 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation to cover the operating expenses associated with the expansion. Those operating expenses would have covered the hiring of new teachers and a projected 75 percent increase in utility costs.

School Board official Brenda Petrolito on Monday noted that at least 
triple the number of voters turned out to cast their ballots on Friday as compared to other board referendums. Sixty-five voters cast ballots in March and approved the district’s $715,000 parking lot expansion project, while approximately 270 taxpayers approved the school’s $11.3 operating budget in May.

According to Ms. Petrolito, 718 district taxpayers voted in person on the expansion project, while another 110 cast their votes using absentee ballots. One person who voted failed to cast a valid ballot, Ms. Petrolito noted.

The projected financial impact of the project spurred the creation of Citizens Advocating Responsible Expansion, a group vehemently opposed to the renovation project. CARE held a meeting that was attended by about 50 people, including Mr. Collins, the School Board president, just three days before Friday’s bond vote.

Carol Huber, an outspoken member of CARE, said Monday that the School Board needs to carefully devise an alternative plan for any other planned expansion if they expect the public to support it.

“It’s time to sit down and go back to square one; The School Board should not hastily go back to an alternative plan,” Ms. Huber said. “The numbers showed that, obviously, even the parents of the kids in the school were against the proposal.”

On the day of the vote, at least four people who were casting their votes stated that they intended on voting in favor of the project.

“We thought it was important for the community and for our children’s education,” said Walter Dunn of Remsenburg on Friday, as he was leaving the school after voting. He noted that Friday was also parent-teacher conference day at the elementary school.

“There’s overcrowding in the school, even in our son’s classroom,” added Mr. Dunn’s wife, Barbara. “The teachers have very little room to walk around their desks.

“We need a 21st-century school, not a 20th-century school,” Ms. Dunn added. “It’s a global society and our students are competing with students from other countries.”

Other district residents said the proposed work came with too high a price tag.

“I came out to vote because I do not want to see our taxes increase,” said Phil Tortorice of Speonk while standing in the school parking lot before heading in to vote on Friday. “I don’t believe we need to double our size.”

Bill Andrews of Speonk cried out “I’m all for it” as he was walking into the school to vote, while another woman, Sandy Andreoli of Remsenburg, went into more detail about why she supported the bond.

“I came out to vote because education is important,” Ms. Andreoli said, later adding, “This community has a history of doing things for the kids.”

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