Dutchess Schools to Ask Voters for $37 Million

Capital project would be first in 50 years

By Jeff Simms

The Dutchess County Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES), which offers vocational services and runs an alternative high school and special education programs for its 13 member districts, including Beacon, will ask voters on Dec. 11 to approve a $36.8 million proposal to renovate and relocate its facilities.

The funds would be used to upgrade the BOCES Career and Technical Institute (CTI) in Poughkeepsie for high school students and the adjacent Salt Point Center for elementary and middle school students receiving special education services. They also would fund moving the Alternative High School, which is now in a Poughkeepsie industrial park, to the CTI site.

The agency said the plan is its first capital undertaking since the 1960s. Dutchess voters defeated a similar $29.7 million proposal in 2009.

The BOCES system was created in New York in 1948 to offer career and technical training, as well as specialized educational environments, and the Dutchess BOCES was organized in 1957. Its budget is about $46 million annually, with districts paying tuition. BOCES also provides training for teachers and staff, as well as an Adult Learning Institute.

A rendering of the proposed upgrades to the Dutchess BOCES campus in Poughkeepsie, with additions in white (BOCES)

“It would be prohibitively expensive for districts to offer these programs on their own, especially upstate, where there are so many small school districts,” explained Matt Landahl, superintendent of the Beacon City School District. “BOCES is a way of joining forces to offer high-quality programming.”

Putnam and Westchester County share a BOCES agency that serves the Haldane and Garrison school districts. There are 37 of the agencies statewide.

The cost of the Dutchess proposal, if approved, would be spread among the 13 districts. Beacon, which accounts for about 7 percent of the students in Dutchess County, would be responsible for $2.6 million, 53 percent of which would be eligible for reimbursement by the state.

The cost absorbed by the school system would be roughly the same as if the district added a second school bus proposition (last year’s increased the schools’ tax levy by $75,000) to its annual budget proposal, said Beacon’s deputy superintendent, Ann Marie Quartironi. The added cost would come out of the district’s overall tax levy, not as an addition to it, she said.

A Beacon homeowner whose property is valued at $275,000 (the county average) would likely see a $6 to $8 increase in annual property taxes, Richard Hooley, superintendent of the Dutchess BOCES, told the Beacon school board on Monday (Oct. 22). Elsewhere in the county, taxes could increase up to $14 annually for the average homeowner, he said.

Hooley said he expects the upgrades to pay for themselves over the next 20 years by reducing rent, maintenance, transportation and utility costs.

The proposal would create a 60,000-square-foot annex onto the CTI site that would include the Alternative High School as well as a newly constructed conference center for staff training and community use. The proposal differs from the 2009 plan because it’s an addition to the CTI rather than a standalone building, said Russ Davidson, a project architect.

The Alternative High School has been located for the past 29 years in a leased warehouse in a Poughkeepsie industrial park about 4 miles from the CTI. The site has been plagued in recent years with flooding and maintenance and safety issues, Hooley said.

Culinary students from the Dutchess BOCES Career & Technical Institute

“None of those people in the [nearby] warehouses are fingerprinted,” he noted. “It’s just not the place you would want kids to be if you had any control over it.”

The expanded facility would allow the technical programs and the Alternative High School to share a secure entrance while reducing student travel time and encouraging interaction between disciplines, Hooley said.

“The next big thing in career and tech is for students who have expertise in a particular field to work with students in different backgrounds to solve problems,” he said. “It’s project-based learning at its best.”

Additionally, capacity would be increased at the Salt Point Center to meet a growing demand for instruction for Dutchess students with disabilities, and classroom and lab space at the CTI would be renovated.

The Beacon district has 59 students who attend the CTI, plus five who are students at the Alternative High School and seven who attend Salt Point Center. The number of Beacon students using the CTI has increased over the last five years while enrollment at the Salt Point Center and Alternative High School has dropped by about half. That could be due to more specialized classes being offered at the students’ home schools, Hooley said.

Polls will be open from noon to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 11, with the closest site for  Beacon area residents at the school district office at 10 Education Drive. The vote will be on paper ballots placed into secure boxes built by CTI students. If approved, construction would begin in 2020 and take about two years.

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