Catching Up with Garrison School Board

Budget prep, teacher pay, non-resident tuition

By Chip Rowe

The Garrison school board is busy preparing its budget for the 2019-20 school year to present to voters on May 21.

The estimated state tax cap for the district is 2.08 percent, which allows an increase to the budget of about $189,000, to $11.1 million. Workshops will be held at the school on March 9 and March 14 before the numbers are finalized.

Garrison is expected to receive about $914,000 in state aid, or $25,000 less than last year. The budget also will likely include about $20,000 for a school van to replace one that has reached 175,000 miles.

Kris Lanchantin, the district’s lawyer, advised against a plan to include two propositions on the May 21 ballot — one for a traditional heating system and a second for a more expensive geothermal system — and Board President Ray O’Rourke said the district’s bond counsel had the same reaction.

Jill Lake, a board member, said the Facilities Committee recommended accepting the advice of the attorneys and presenting only a single proposition, which the board agreed would be to fund a high-efficiency hot water heating system plus air conditioning in elementary and middle school classrooms. As of last fall it was estimated to cost $7.6 million.

Two seats on the seven-member board — held by Lake and Derek DuBois — will be on the ballot, as well. Lake plans to run for her second, three-year term; DuBois did not immediately respond to an email asking about his plans. Nominating petitions are due April 22.

Teacher pay

A three-year agreement that the board approved in January increased the annual raises provided to Garrison’s teachers by 1 percent. Under the contract, the entry-level salary for 2018-19 is $57,848; for a teacher who has been with the district for at least 16 years and has a master’s degree, it is $112,323. At top of the scale, a teacher who has a master’s degree and has taught for at least 30 years at the school will earn $115,873 this year.

Teachers with at least 16 years of service will receive an additional $1,000 in the current and each of the next two school years, down from $1,250 annually in the previous contract. The contract also increased one-time longevity payments for teachers by $150 to $2,150 at 18 years, $2,650 at 21 years and $3,150 at 24 years, and added a payment of $4,000 for teachers who reach 27 years.

At the same time, teachers will be required to pay more of their health insurance premiums. The size of their contribution has increased annually — it was 12 percent in 2015 and will be 13.5 percent in 2020.

Non-resident tuition

Eric Arnold, a Garrison resident who resides in the Lakeland Central School District, in December asked the board to consider a policy that would allow students who live in Philipstown but are not residents of the district to attend the school if their families pay tuition. He noted that Haldane allows this. (It does not require students to live in Philipstown.)

Tuition rates are set by the state and have been since 1949 with a formula that is roughly the amount of its expenditures divided by the number of students (see chart, below). While the state also calculates the annual cost for students with learning disabilities, districts cannot charge any student more than the standard tuition.

The board has taken no action on Arnold’s request, although O’Rourke said it had received a note from one parent who was strongly opposed to the idea. “Our focus has instead been on advancing the capital construction project, preparing the budget and finalizing the agreement with the Garrison Teachers’ Association,” he said. 

In other business …

The board approved a three-year contract with BestWeb Corp. for internet and phone services for $1,745 monthly, with 50 percent of that cost reimbursed by the federal government. It also approved a $62,000 contract with EduTek to consolidate the school’s piecemeal wireless system. About half of that cost will be covered by state and federal grants.

The district has drafted an agreement with two Boy Scouts who would like to renovate a cabin in the Garrison School Forest for use by Scouts and the community. The cost for materials, which would be raised by the Scouts, would be $3,800.

One thought on “Catching Up with Garrison School Board

  1. I was disappointed to hear that geothermal would not be included on the bond vote and will instead go with an oil-dependent heating system. I feel like the voters should have been given a choice to vote for geothermal.

    U.S. schools K-12 spend more than $8 billion each year on energy -– more than they spend on computers and textbooks combined. Most schools, like Garrison, occupy older buildings that often have poor operational performance.

    At the end of the day, geothermal lost to conventional heating system not because it can’t be done — our neighboring school in Putnam Valley is a great example — but most likely due to perceived risk of uncertain return on investment and the upfront costs.

    But what about the risks of locking the school into oil for 30 years? That brings us to the year 2050, when carbon emissions should have long ago stopped. To quote James Hartford, from River Architects “Locking into fossil fuels will cut off options down the road to decarbonize and can result in stranded assets if the costs of carbon are actually brought into responsible government strategies.”

    The problem with the oil-dependent systems is the appearance that it is the cheaper solution and of course neglects the cost of putting carbon pollution into the air. It would be shortsighted to not consider a tax or fee will be placed on carbon in the near future. Because climate change is not going away, and as we kick the can further down the road, the solutions will only have to be more drastic.

    Lastly, there are other options to oil, and geothermal, though I still believe geothermal is the right choice, we could use instead air-source heat pumps. These options need to be further investigated. A major capital improvement like this happens rarely, we will not get this chance again for a long time. What message are we sending to our children? We know climate change is real and it’s a threat to your future, but we are not willing to take the steps to mitigate it? Is that our legacy?

    As a taxpayer and a parent, I want our children to spend their day in a safe environment conducive to learning, but I also want it done in a way that doesn’t harm the environment or impact my wallet.

    The good news is saving energy equals saving money. I think that is something we can all get behind.