Garrison School Will Try Again

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6.6% tax increase on ballot for second budget vote

Following the rejection by voters of its $12.36 million spending request, and a 9.18 percent tax increase, the Garrison school board on Wednesday (May 25) decided to try again.

The board approved a budget that includes $12.1 million in spending for 2022-23 and a 6.6 percent tax increase. A vote has been scheduled for June 21 on the revised numbers, as well as a measure that will allow the district to enter into a multi-year agreement with Haldane for high-school tuition.

Like the first budget, the revised spending plan exceeds the district’s state-mandated tax cap of 2.2 percent, meaning it must be adopted by at least 60 percent of voters. The first budget failed on May 17 on a 314-314 vote, with 30 percent voter turnout.

A public hearing on the budget has been scheduled for June 14. If the revised spending plan is rejected, the district must adopt a contingency budget, meaning that the budget is frozen at the 2021-22 level with no tax increase.

Of 17 districts that attempted overrides of their tax caps this year, only two failed, in Garrison and Newfield, near Ithaca, according to the Association of School Business Officials of New York. Newfield had asked for a 14 percent increase, or 8.85 percent over its cap; the vote was 154-134, which did not reach the threshold.

Statewide, the average increase in school taxes was 3.2 percent, according to the Empire Center for Public Policy. The tax cap was implemented in 2012 and Garrison was the first local district to attempt an override.

On Wednesday, Joseph Jimick, the district’s business administrator, explained how he and Superintendent Carl Albano had cut the district’s initial budget by $258,000. 

Salaries

Teacher would not receive raises in 2022-23, which would save $70,000. Lauren Johnson, co-president of the Garrison Teachers’ Association, said the teachers voted Wednesday afternoon to forgo a salary increase. “We do this to further help support the children of Garrison,” she said. A freeze on administrators’ salaries would save another $20,000.

High-school tuition

The district would save $107,513 under a tentative, multiyear agreement with the Haldane school district for high-school tuition costs. Garrison educates children in kindergarten through the eighth grade; those who choose public schools can attend Haldane High School or O’Neill High School in Highlands Falls. 

Haldane had proposed charging Garrison $21,473 per student in 2022-23, using a formula devised by the state. Instead, it will charge $16,500 per student, Jimick said. “Haldane made a significant concession,” said Albano. “They’re also protecting us with a multiyear deal.”

If the four-year agreement is finalized, tuition increases will be capped at 2 percent annually or the rate of inflation, whichever is less, Jimick said. Garrison residents will vote June 21 on whether to permit the district to enter into the agreement with Haldane. A similar agreement with the Highland Falls-Fort Montgomery district was approved by Garrison voters on May 17.

In a statement, Haldane Superintendent Philip Benante said: “We are committed to ensuring that all students who have committed to Haldane have an uninterrupted educational experience and have informed Garrison that we will honor a tuition structure that allows these students to attend Haldane High School.

“We also stand behind the value of the Haldane experience and our responsibility to the taxpayers of our community. We will seek to work with Garrison to establish a tuition rate structure that reflects the commitment that our residents have made to support our schools.”

If tuition deals are ratified by all parties, they should put to rest concerns about the loss of high school choice, Jimick said.

Garrison school board President Sarah Tormey said that the revised budget saves money while maintaining the quality of the school. “We have listened to the ‘no’ votes in the Garrison community,” she said.

What Could Go?   

At the Wednesday (May 25) meeting of the Garrison school board, Business Administrator Joseph Jimick said that if voters reject a revised budget on June 21 that includes a 6.6 percent tax increase, the district would need to reduce spending for 2022-23 by $642,355. He provided the board with a list of potential cuts that could achieve that.

■ Sports
■Arts programs, including fine arts, band, chorus and theater. Students would instead attend monitored study halls.
■Transportation within 2 miles of the school, which would impact 70 families. Other students would have longer bus rides.
■ One elementary teacher
■ The school psychologist
■ The dialectical behavioral therapist, a consultant who helps with student’s social and emotional needs
■ The environmental science teacher
■ The director of technology

Program cuts

The budget eliminates a part-time music teacher position to save $48,865; reduces the field-trip budget by $15,000 (parents will pay the full costs, Albano said); cuts a startup lunch program to save $10,000 (students will continue to bring their own lunches); and eliminates a Land to Learn program to save $20,000.

Tormey said the cuts will get far more severe if the budget fails again. “This isn’t a scare tactic,” she said. “A contingency budget will gut the quality of this school to a point at which it will take years to recover.”

If 60 percent of voters don’t approve the second budget, Jimick said the district would need to find another $642,355 in reductions and outlined some ways that could be done (see left).

Among them, instead of arts and environmental classes, students would attend study halls, which “is unacceptable by any educational standard,” said Albano. “To my knowledge it exists in no other K-8 programs throughout our region.”

If the override is approved on June 21, the tax levy would rise to $10.39 per $1,000 of full value. That means that a home valued at $500,000 would see an increase of $322 per year.

That would still be the lowest property tax rate in the county by far. Haldane’s tax rate is $17.01 and Brewster homeowners pay $27.74. In other areas of the state, the rates get much higher. For example, property owners in the Levittown Union Free School District on Long Island pay $42.52. 

Garrison’s budget crisis is the result of several factors. With inflation up more than 8 percent last month, the district is facing rising costs for health care (14 percent) and transportation (12 percent). 

As a relatively wealthy district, Garrison raises over 80 percent of its budget from its tax levy. By contrast, districts statewide on average receive 58 percent of their funding from local taxes, according to the Association of School Business Officials of New York. The remainder comes from state and federal aid; Garrison’s state aid for 2022-23 is nearly $100,000 less than this year, although it did get a one-time injection of money last month after lobbying Albany.

21 thoughts on “Garrison School Will Try Again

  1. On June 21, Garrison voters will be asked once more to approve a school budget, this time at a 6.6% tax increase. This comes a month after residents voted down a 9% bump. Now is the time for the community to come together with one voice and support the school with a unanimous, loud and clear “yes” vote.

    Prior to last month’s vote on a 9% increase, I failed to understand why some parents wouldn’t support all Garrison teachers keeping their jobs, or why some community members wouldn’t vote to protect their ever-increasing property values. But I realize, now, that those were the wrong questions to ask. What everyone—in favor or opposed—should have asked ourselves was, “Do we truly know what’s at stake?”

    The answer: our entire community.

    Everything we love about living in Garrison starts with the school, and our ability to develop kids into compassionate, kind and analytical thinkers who are curious about the world around them. Yes, they need to know reading, writing and arithmetic. But they also need to learn how to ask challenging questions and find creative solutions to complex problems. When they grow into adults and, if we’re lucky, settle in Garrison, they contribute to this thriving community because we supported them in their most formative years.

    The school board knows this, which is why it’s taken some incredibly imaginative steps over the past few years to decrease budgets in the face of soaring health care, pension, tuition and transportation costs, and still improve the educational experience. While some in the community have expressed concern over administrative bloat, I have learned that there’s little, if any—our school’s administrators are wearing several hats to provide for students and teachers alike.

    Our skilled superintendent could make a significantly higher salary elsewhere, yet he’s come here and attracted top teaching talent into positions that were vacant for years. Our principal is behind her desk as often as she is in the classrooms, working directly with special-needs kids (in lieu of us hiring additional expensive resources). Our art teachers are “in residence,” meaning they don’t draw a salary, health care, benefits or pensions. Our business administrator, hired to crunch the numbers, often can be seen in his jacket and tie, salting the icy front steps or inspecting the ancient roof for leaks. Our head of technology has made parent communications seamless and ensures every device at the school works as intended; previously, we paid consultants thousands per day to do the bare minimum. With this kind of creativity and ingenuity, the Garrison school has never been better — or been run more efficiently.

    The board and administration will have to continue doing more with less, and have made some difficult choices at a 6.6% tax increase. But that’s better than having no choices at all — because that’s what will happen if we fail on the vote again.

    We must vote “yes” or, by law, we lose local control of the school. The state takes over and we’ll cut as many as 10 teachers, the school psychologist, every program and every bus. The kids will be taught reading, writing and arithmetic—poorly. They’ll have more unstructured time than structured. It’ll basically be a building with kids, the lights on and not much else. It’ll be a shell of what it once was, and so will our town. The school is the beating heart of the Garrison community, whether or not you have kids there. Across America, where there’s a great school, there’s a great town. Where there’s a failing school, there’s a failing town.

    It’s also important to remember that this is a teaching moment for our kids as much as it is for us. We can’t divide ourselves into “yes” or “no” camps; we must be one, single Garrison camp. That means engaging as much with the people we disagree with as the ones we agree with, and truly listening to each other very closely, keeping conversations open, honest and productive. Both we and our kids will learn valuable, lifelong lessons from these interactions.

    As we have those conversations, let there be no ambiguity this time about what’s at stake: It’s a great school or no school. That’s it. We must vote “yes.”

  2. In 1908, the Cold Spring Recorder published a celebratory account of the dedication ceremony for the Garrison Union Free School District’s new stone school building. The District was the successor to a free school originally started on the grounds of St. Philip’s Church in 1793. The 1908 dedication was a community-wide, joyous occasion, with speeches from school board trustees (including Hamilton Fish) emphasizing the importance of a high quality education for a civil society. A musical concert by the 64 students honored the principal and teachers for their dedication and caring.

    This strong tradition of the residents of Garrison coming together to support a school of quality is one that has continued for more than 200 years to the present day — at least until this May 17. The excellence of the school has been a hallmark of our hamlet and a source of pride for students, graduates and neighbors. Over the years, there have been times when the taxes needed to support this K-8 school have had to increase by an amount that seems onerous — but the benefits to the community from a high-achieving educational institution available to all our households outweigh the costs. And we have benefitted from the tax cap that has been in place for the past 11 years.

    Please vote yes on Tuesday, June 21 when the Garrison budget is presented again to voters with a 6.6 percent tax increase. And thank you for voting.

    Prentice is a former Garrison school board trustee and president.

  3. Last week the Garrison School held its spring concert, featuring two bands and a trio of choruses performing a total of 20 songs. It was outstanding, with the sounds of voices, trumpets, keyboards, violins and drums resonating through the school gym, parents cheering all the way. It was a gleaming example of public education at its best. And it shows what our kids stand to lose if we don’t vote yes for the budget on June 21.

    If the budget fails to pass, the district will have to enact a “contingency budget,” which would require the elimination of eight positions (including six teachers), after-school sports, and the arts—music included. In their place: supervised study hall. We can avoid that fate by voting yes on June 21. Board of Education members listened to the community last month and made some difficult decisions to present a new budget with a lower, 6.6-percent increase in the tax levy. They reached that figure with concessions from Haldane and help from teachers and administrators, who all agreed to freeze their salaries, forgoing raises and cost-of-living increases. The people who work in the school clearly recognize what’s at stake. I hope you do, too. Under the proposed budget, taxes on a house assessed at $500,000 would go up by $322 for the year. Less than a dollar a day.

    No doubt these are trying times for many Garrison residents. Costs are rising at home and at school. But voting down the proposed budget in favor of a contingency plan will only make it worse. A school in distress is no good for property values. (And try to imagine what next year’s budget process would look like.)

    In a few short weeks, we’ll have a clear choice. A vote for the budget is a vote in support of the school, its students, and the community. A vote against the budget is a vote for contingency—staffing cuts, study halls, and all. Let’s vote yes on June 21.

    Rauch is president of the Garrison School PTA.

  4. Many of us have heard the saying that a successful compromise means that neither side is happy. For the Garrison School budget vote on June 21, I am imploring every resident to vote yes for the scaled-back proposal, even if you are not completely comfortable with the 6.6 percent increase. The alternative is too grim. This vote will reflect our community’s character; let’s show that we are a place that trusts our local institutions, prioritizes our youngest generation and can lock arms to do the right thing when called upon.

    The May 27 issue of The Current enumerated what we would lose by voting “no” this time around. Among the most jarring cuts: art class, music class, modified sports and the school psychologist. This is not hyperbole — it is what the school and the school board have carefully and reluctantly decided to cut if more than 40 percent of us vote no. Despite some confusion, this is not a question of rampant administrative bloat. If you’re still asking why the school couldn’t have just stayed within the 2.2 percent, state-mandated cap for this revised budget, consider which of those aforementioned cuts you would deem acceptable to achieve that percentage.

    School-related expenses are not exempt from the inflation gripping our country. Across our economy, the day-to-day things we buy cost 8.3 percent more than they did last year; with the proposed budget, the district will barely keep up. This fact is underscored by the pay freeze to which the Garrison teachers agreed after the initial 9.2 percent proposal was rejected. We should all keep in mind that those teachers’ gas, electricity and grocery bills have also increased 8.3 percent over the past year, just like the rest of ours.

    As we suffer these inexorable cost increases, it may be tempting to try to fight the inflationary tide in one of the only areas we feel we can control: the amount of school taxes we pay. But just because we can do that does not mean we should. Like so many of the choices with which we are faced, this is a question of choosing the hard right over the easy wrong. The school, Garrison’s kids, and the faculty and staff are at our mercy. We cannot let them down by letting the budget fall to the 0 percent-increase contingency, which is what automatically happens if we do not vote yes.

    One caveat: I am not minimizing the pain that some will feel by paying an extra $1 a day in taxes ($1 represents the approximate increase for the median Garrison homeowner should the proposed budget pass). I cannot possibly speculate on how that increase will affect some of our community members. If you, in good faith, believe this “no” vote is crucial to ensuring your basic quality of life, it would be unethical and callous for anyone to criticize that decision. However, if you haven’t substantially altered your life when gas prices rose from $4 to $4.50 or occasionally eat out at a restaurant without much concern, there is really no choice but to vote yes on June 21.

  5. The Garrison School community will have an opportunity to re-vote on the 2022-2023 school budget on Tuesday, June 21. This new proposal from the school district includes significant reductions compared to the previous proposal which was voted down by the community on May 17.

    With the financial circumstances as they are, the members of the Garrison Teachers’ Association voted to do our part and forego a cost-of-living salary increase for next year.

    These are the very staff who have helped to keep the doors open, to keep kids safe every day, and help students learn and thrive here at the Garrison School through a pandemic. We also understand the financial needs of our community. We do this to further help support the children of Garrison and reduce the financial burden on working families and seniors.

    If a contingency budget comes to pass, the loss to the students will be tremendous. If the community votes down the proposed budget on June 21st, the students are going to suffer. Garrison School will not be the same. If we go to contingency, there will be no art class, no music class, no band, no chorus, no STEAM instruction, no psychologist available to support students, no instructional technology support, no transportation for approximately 70 students. No sports.

    What does a school look like with no arts for students to explore? What does a child do when they need support for their social emotional well-being and there is no one there to talk to? What happens when a child can’t access learning all day since their technology device does not work and no one can help? What does a child who can’t afford private sports teams do when there are no sports teams for them to join? What happens when a family doesn’t have transportation to get their children to school? What does a student’s future look like when they move on from Garrison and have never had these experiences like their peers in other districts?

    Please consider what children will be losing if the Garrison School Budget vote fails on June 21. The Garrison Teachers’ Association has considered it, and we voted to support the children of Garrison. Now we ask the community to do the same.

    Say yes and stand behind children. Say yes and stand behind education.

    The writers are co-presidents of the Garrison Teachers’ Association.

  6. It’s shameful that the Garrison School budget failed; it reflects poorly on residents. There’s no better place to spend money than on schools — a community has a responsibility to provide for its children, and the district does this to a very high standard that warrants support. [via Facebook]

  7. Please try not to make assumptions or listen to sources that do not have a deep understanding of the financial crisis the Garrison School is experiencing. As with businesses and households, costs have increased dramatically and there are some things that cannot be cut in order to cover those higher costs. The cuts the school will endure if this budget doesn’t pass will be truly devastating. There is no reason children’s educations should suffer even further than they have these past couple of years because of the pandemic. [via Facebook]

  8. I know the Garrison School has typically had small classes. A teacher making more than $100,000 a year, with over 10 years’ experience, should certainly be capable of teaching classes with 25 or more students.

    Is it ideal? No. The smaller the class, the easier it is, and the less after-school work there is for the teacher. But with that salary, I expect the teacher to be able to handle it well. If the school wants to keep the classes small, perhaps it should have considered the high cost of doing so. Most of the budget goes to teacher salaries and benefits. The more teachers, the higher the cost, and each year the cost grows.

    Many people in Garrison are well-off financially. An increase in their school taxes of several hundred dollars a year, or even more, doesn’t present a burden. But some of us are being taxed out of our homes.

    If the district can’t provide a good education for the children with the budget it has, they aren’t very good teachers, administrators or managers of finances.

    We are all seeing the increase in the cost of living, and we all have to sacrifice some of the things we like and enjoy, and even some of the things we need. The Garrison School should do the same. Don’t use scare tactics claiming the kids are going to suffer because of necessary cuts. The kids will be fine. The taxpayers are already suffering. We make do. The school can do the same. [via Facebook]

    • Garrison typically has one class per grade. On May 4, the district projected that class sizes in 2022-23 will be kindergarten (14), 1st (18), 2nd (23), 3rd (21), 4th (21), 5th (23), 6th (24), 7th (25) and 8th (27).

  9. To say that the kids aren’t going to suffer is not true. Right now our students receive gym, music, art and theater instruction. They have access to one school psychologist who is highly qualified in many programs to help support their mental health.

    If we go to a contingency budget, students will, in a six-day cycle, have two gym classes and study halls for the other four classes. No band, chorus or music instruction. No art. Have you ever heard of a school without art? And no psychologist? We are going to have to pay BOCES to do student evaluations, and those in crisis won’t have a trained professional to help them.

    I don’t know how anyone could say that’s not going to hurt our students. [via Facebook]

    Earle is a teacher at the Garrison School.

  10. Anyone who thinks a $100,000 salary for a person responsible for shaping the minds of children is excessive and can’t swing another $350 a year to contribute, maybe it’s time to sell that $700,000 house and head south.

  11. As a single, working mother and small business owner in Garrison battling Stage 4 Breast Cancer, I rely heavily on the support of the Garrison School. Since we arrived in the district, my children have reaped enormous benefits from the programs at GUFS, especially the school psychologist. She has been there for us during some very tough times, when we didn’t have a lot of support. I know firsthand how essential mental health care is at school.

    I live beyond my means to keep my children in this school and will continue to work non-stop so that we can stay here. To think that others in our community would not approve a tax increase to keep vital programs at GUFS for our children is unthinkable.

    In a day and age, where mass shootings are a regular occurrence and the entire country is reeling from a global pandemic, our children should not be without a school psychologist. Art and music programs are essential for learning and the building blocks for so much of what creates a well-rounded education, and what we have at GUFS is top notch. I feel so lucky every day that we are in this district. But without these programs, this school will suffer, the kids will suffer, and so will the property value of our homes and the allure of our lovely town. This school is our rock and foundation.

    Please consider my children and all of the children here in Garrison. I cannot afford a tax increase, but I am voting yes and will do whatever I can for the sake of my community and my children.

  12. Although we are retired public school educators, my wife and I voted against the Garrison School budget on May 17. It was the first time we had ever voted down a school budget, something that was unthinkable to us in the past. We viewed the 9.18 percent increase as excessive, and felt that more should be done to rein in administrative costs. In short, we wanted to send the school board a message that they do not have a blank check.

    In light of the new budget numbers, we both will vote in favor of the revised school budget on June 21. 6.6 percent is a far more reasonable increase, especially when one considers the national rate of inflation. In addition, when schools operate on a contingency budget, children are deprived of several essential school services, and, as a result, their education is compromised. We strongly urge all voters to approve the Garrison School budget on June 21.

  13. My name is Sofia Rasic. I’m 14 years old and graduating from Garrison Union Free School this year. I am upset to hear that our school may be stripped of the arts, music, and several other programs. Those classes are the very ones that have made a large impact on me as both a person and a student at GUFS. I have been playing an instrument at school for nearly 5 years, and became a part of the band. From music, I gained confidence in performing in front of people, strengthened my character by challenging me to work through problems, and forced me to feel good about asking for help.

    Not only did I learn all of these things, but it allowed me to make friends that I wouldn’t have had before. It gave me a passion for the arts, and because of that I will continue playing music throughout high school and hopefully beyond. I believe that by taking away the arts programs, including music, many children will be missing an essential part of school; making friends, learning through challenges, and discovering one’s passions.

  14. Growing up in Garrison and attending the Garrison School in the 1990s, I always felt that it was a unique and special place. That small brick building was a place that nurtured creativity, a sense of community, out-of-the-box learning and the passions of all its students and faculty members.

    Mr. Douty’s third-grade classroom was “Star City,” where we 8-year-olds learned how to apply for jobs and balance our checkbooks. Mrs. Swetz’s French class meant total immersion into all things France, including learning how to cook beignets in the cafeteria. Mr. O’Dell taught us how to spot birds in the School Forest, and Mrs. Waters taught us the scientific method through hands-on experiments. GUFS made learning fun and being a student exciting. Even as a kid I felt and appreciated that.

    As our oldest child approached school age, I felt the urge to move from Chicago back to Garrison. I wanted my daughter to have experiences as enriching and enlivening as those that I knew GUFS would offer. The school has surpassed all my expectations. As our daughter entered kindergarten this past year, my husband and I were blown away by the enthusiasm of her teachers, by the approachable leadership of the school administrators, and by the steady and comforting care of Nurse Melissa during the chaos of COVID.

    It was a joy, too, to see so many familiar faces. Robin Waters and Kevin Keegan, once my teachers, were still at GUFS. Stacy Ricci, the pal I’d known as Stacy Wiese, would be my daughter’s kindergarten teacher. Sarah Lusardi, who once tutored me in math, greeted us outside the school office. And the fact that so many former classmates and GUFS alums have returned to be GUFS parents speaks volumes.

    So it’s troubling, now, to see that Garrison School could lose so much of what makes it an exceptional place, and one of the long-time hallmarks of our community.

    If this budget vote fails, our school will have no other option than to go to a contingency budget. If that happens, we will lose so much more than art, theater, music and sports programming, though all of that will, sadly, have to go. But so, too, will the programs that are aimed at the physical, emotional and social intelligence of these students, and the opportunities for these children to develop as individuals and citizens. We will also lose our best teachers. After all that the teachers have been through in the past three years, they are heroes. We, as a community, ought to treat them as such.

    I have heard the many valid arguments against a tax increase. Property taxes are a real burden, particularly to senior citizens and those on a fixed income. With gas prices, a pandemic, a war in Ukraine, inflation and so many other headwinds, this is a scary and challenging time. But even if you don’t currently have a kid in the school, you still have a horse in this race.

    Here’s why: As a community, the investments we make today matter for tomorrow. Having a quality public school has been one of the primary reasons that Garrison has been such a wonderful community for all of its residents for so long. There is literally nothing more important for the future of our community than the children who will make up the future of it. The GUFS kids of today are the citizens and leaders of Philipstown — and New York, and the U.S., and the world — in the years to come. The challenges that will face their generation are daunting. We will need the best out of them. They deserve the best from us today.

    Life is hard for so many right now. That’s an understatement. I would ask you to consider, for a moment, how hard it has been for these kids and these teachers in recent years. Their flexibility and resilience have been inspiring. But they need us right now. There is no backstop after this budget vote. We cannot go back to the table to try again. They need us to step up in this moment that calls for us to examine our priorities and our values as a community. This much-needed investment in our school today means an investment in our children, our community, our home values, and the future that we all share together.

  15. The Garrison Union Free School faces what we all do — rising costs, mostly on things that we have no control over.

    I have heard numerous times that the school board should have planned better or kept more reserve funds. They did. Our school board has kept reserve funds at or above the legal limit of 4 percent of the operating budget for years. I urge you to check out the financial information including the audits posted on the school’s website (gufs.org) if how your tax dollars are being spent is a concern.

    How could anyone have anticipated the unforeseen costs of COVID and rising energy bills that impacts the school budget and everyone’s household expenses? Social Security recipients received a 5.9 percent increase in 2022 and most companies give a yearly cost-of-living increase, yet many seem to find it outrageous that our school needs to do something similar? Gas is the same painful price per gallon whether it’s filling a car or a school bus. Our teachers and administration also face the same economic hardships and yet they agreed to freeze their salaries because the children mean that much to them. These incredible and caring people, most of whom do not live in this community, have families to support and have sacrificed so that our taxes can be lower.

    Nobody wants to pay higher taxes, but everyone wants a strong home value. A family moving into the area will naturally look for the best school district for their children. We are surrounded by great towns with strong districts, so why would families consider a school with, among others, no art or music programs and whose school ranking has tanked in part because of the loss of six excellent teachers and the school psychologist?

    The law dictates that we have both a superintendent and principal. Contact Albany and express your concerns if you don’t like it — as many seem not to — but please do not vote “no” to express your frustration with this law. Casting that “no” vote does not change it and you only hurt the children in our community. This is a free-market society, and everyone’s salary everywhere reflects this reality, so why would salaries for them, as well as our teachers, be any different? As it is, our superintendent’s and principal’s salaries rank at the bottom of school districts in Westchester, Putnam, and Rockland counties.

    The next time you are out in the community look around at the children you see and keep in mind when you vote on June 21 that your vote has very real consequences for these children and others. It has very real consequences for the six teachers and school psychologist (plus their families) who have dedicated their time, energy and heart to teaching and supporting the children of GUFS. I urge you to join me in voting yes.

  16. I write to you on behalf of my children and many others like them.

    With all due respect for those who voted “no” last month to avoid a tax increase: Please try to understand the gravity of this particular, lower investment being asked of us on June 21. I can’t think of any other taxes we pay where we can say they will undoubtedly help someone. If you vote “Yes,” you may save someone. And not just one, but many—children, passionate and caring teachers and their families.

    Not only does every child deserve a full education and a positive experience in school, I happen to know firsthand that many children have hidden obstacles that hold them back. They struggle, they shut down, they lose their ability to learn—and in a room with 17+ fellow students and one teacher, they can easily fall through the cracks. Mental health support, sports and the arts have saved so many kids from that fate. I am one of them. I attended a public high school for the arts that changed the course of my life. Today, many would say I’m successful in my career, but it was an arts school that fostered my creative talents alongside my academics, gave me the confidence to succeed, and led me to Northeastern University where I graduated top of my class.

    Similarly, every child in our community can thrive if they find something they are good at. Maybe they have no access or exposure to musical instruments at home, but they discover a love for them at school. That desire to learn and be a part of something often translates into a level of confidence that carries them through years of schooling.

    That’s just a glimpse of what’s at stake in the GUFS budget vote June 21.

    Voting “yes” will make it possible for many children at GUFS to discover or nurture their love of art, science, music, theater, sports and so much more. Voting “no,” by contrast, will mean that many children never find the confidence that puts them on a path to success. And not just the kids in 2022-23, but for years to come.

    Someone at GUFS who understands this better than anyone, and who is beloved by her students, fellow teachers, and parents is the school psychologist. She is trained to identify, understand and guide children through unseen barriers to learning. She can quite literally be the reason a child gets through a day or year in school. My 6-year-old son suffers from an illness that has made it impossible for him to attend school in the classroom for months. If not for the knowledge, experience, dedication and passion of the school psychologist, the art teacher and principal (among other caring and helpful staff and faculty), my son would have fallen completely through the cracks. Instead, he’s feeling strong and proud for each day he’s able to stay in class, participate and learn, like everyone else.

    The school psychologist and art teacher are among the dozens who will lose their jobs or flee to other districts if we don’t vote “yes.” This won’t just impact our son’s ability to get a reasonable education, but nearly every student at GUFS. These teachers and staff built a relationship of trust and support with my son last year in kindergarten and, later, when he hung on by a thread — a lifeline — they were at the other end of it.

    If you vote “no,” all the children and their parents lose that lifeline. And it won’t just be my son who falls through the cracks. Dozens more will, since there will be a skeleton crew of remaining staff.

    For every kid who deserves more than a mediocre education and every educator that has given so much of themselves to our kids, please vote yes.

  17. I’m writing to urge all Garrison residents to vote yes on the budget proposal before us. The school, like the rest of us, is emerging from the very strange and dark time of a global pandemic, a time that the school, its teachers, administrators and staff led the way through with inspiration, innovation, reason and common sense. The young students of the Garrison school, and by extension the community of which they are a part, fared far better than those of many other schools in our region and beyond. It seems that the least we could do is to affirm how valuable their mission is by approving the means by which to continue accomplishing it.

    Anyone who attended the spring concert a few weeks back during which the whole school community – and anyone else who wanted to attend – came together for the first time in a very long time in joy and gratitude, will know how vital the school has been to this community. As will anyone who has seen young student athletes competing again just as young people should be. These are essential things to the growth of our students and citizens and would be the first things cut – though not the last – if this budget is not approved. As now proposed, there would be an increase of $322 a year for a home valued at $500,000. This is less than $1 a day, about the cost of one large pizza per month. This is money well spent, money that will pay dividends many times over for the health and well being of this community and the larger region, country and world of which it is a part. Please vote yes on June 21.

  18. My husband and I are voting “yes” on June 21. The Garrison school will hold a second and final vote on its budget, which includes a 6.6 percent tax increase. We are not without reservations, but the consequences are too dire for our students if this budget does not pass.

    As empty nesters, it’s easy to resent any tax increase. We were surprised when we were presented with a 9 percent increase. Perhaps if we had been more engaged with the budget process we wouldn’t be taken so off guard. But going forward we will become more active in the process, as much is allowed for a taxpayer.

    That said, we are deeply concerned about the quality of the GUFS school if the newly amended budget does not pass. After learning about (and factchecking) the draconian cuts to music, sports, arts and many other services and programs, I would be remiss to remain silent. As you’ve read in previous letters, if the budget does not pass -the school is forced to go to a zero percent contingency budget, which means the state steps in and some staff will lose their jobs. In addition, the status of our school will be in peril. Not only will the students suffer, but home values could be adversely affected as well.

    Our own children have long since graduated from GUFS and we are close to retirement. Our children benefited greatly from this school, not only in math, English, science and social studies but also art, music and sports. We want current and future students to benefit from the same. I can say with absolute certainty as a director of a home-based preschool for more than 11 years and a parent of two grown children that when kids explore, embrace and seek to understand the world around them, experiences through art, music and the outdoors fuel their ambition and help them excel at basic academics.

    Previous Garrison empty nesters paid taxes to support our children when they were in the school. It’s now our turn and responsibility to support the next generation of kids so they’ll have the same opportunities that ours did.

    The cost of voting “yes” is about an additional $1 per day in taxes. That’s worth it to ensure the kids and teachers have a thriving place to learn and grow. Too much is at stake here. I respectfully ask you to please vote yes.

  19. O partner, trusted one! What came over you? How could you take it all for yourself and leave us struggling? Every year, going back so far, we paid more than the year before. We did not complain because we — the community — trusted you.

    Then you, GUFS, disregarded your partner. Circled your wagons, left your supporters as trash. 10 percent: impossible to believe! 6.6 per cent — three times the state mandate!

    How high are your salaries? That’s a secret, and we don’t trust you any more. In a community filled with generous persons in drama, art, environmental science, music of many inspirational types, but, no, GUFS will be “special” by themselves. Goodbye, gone partner.

  20. I graduated from GUFS in 2016. I grew up with intense social anxiety, and in elementary and middle school one of my only social footholds was “Lunch Bunch,” hosted by school psychologist, Jessica Van Dekker. I rarely let my own personality shine in standard social settings, but in her cozy room at the back of the school I felt safe to relax. I could connect with others by playing games and having conversations about feelings and concerns. Though I still struggled with making friends during my adolescence, I can’t imagine how lost I would’ve felt in high school if I hadn’t been provided with the opportunity to sit with others and feel welcomed.

    I also found comfort in the arts, especially because educators like Karen Bresnan (music) and Coulter Young (art) were so capable of welcoming me into them. The art room was another place I often found myself during lunch, and in class I could put emotions I rarely felt good about sharing into my artwork. We explored many mediums, eras and artists. In Mrs. Bresnan’s room I found what I expect will be a lifelong love of music — while the recorder hasn’t stuck with me, I have participated in choir in many forms since I first participated in kindergarten (kindergarten)! Choir has continued to provide me with a community, even in times where I found none elsewhere, and personal growth in areas like teamwork and responsibility.

    The cost of living in Garrison is high. If it wasn’t, more people would live in this exceptionally small and close-knit town. What that means, however, is that in times of need, we have no one to rely on but each other. Garrison School is being forced to change with the inflationary times, as is everyone else. Right now, when prices are higher than you want them to be no matter where you look, no budget increase will feel comfortable, even when needed.

    However, I am close enough to childhood myself to state that childhood without free access to structured enrichment opportunities like music, sports, and the arts is barely childhood. Without these opportunities, the children of GUFS will become little adults — obligation is all that they will learn and be preoccupied with. They lose crucial spaces in which to develop humor, creativity, and strong social connections, which I would warn you not to expect to form otherwise. Please vote yes on June 21 and help Garrison School bear this responsibility.

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