By WILLIAM SHANNON
Voters will decide Thursday from Noon to 9 p.m. whether to approve the capital project at Germantown Central School. The proposed improvements to the school will be split into two separate propositions. In March, the proposed $11,382,056 project was voted down by a margin of 33 votes (345-312).
The portion of the project to create an addition, housing an auditorium and new theater and band classrooms on the east side of the school, will be voted on separately through proposition two.
According to the school district, New York State will foot 58.8 percent of the bill for the capital project. The estimated local share for the project per year is $186,985 if proposition one passes alone and will be $435,939 if both propositions pass.
Proposition one’s passing would greenlight just under $6 million in a wide assortment of renovations and upgrades throughout the school. This would include renovating and rotating the baseball field, renovating the softball field, masonry restoration, water mitigation, installing building-wide temperature controls and renovating the locker rooms and fitness area.
If proposition one passes, but proposition two fails, residents would see no related increase in their school taxes. If both propositions pass, a resident with a home assessed at $160,000—and using STAR—would see an annual increase of $49.14, starting in 2021, in their school taxes.
Superintendent Susan Brown hosted a second information night Tuesday evening at the school, answering questions, describing the process and explaining the propositions for a few dozen attendees. What you’ll see below are fully-transcribed sections of some of what Brown said Tuesday.
After being asked why there's a focus on the humanities rather than science, technology, engineering and math-type investments in this project, Brown said, “The reason why it’s like that is because the previous capital project, which was completed in the year 2000, added an entire science wing in the high school. That science wing is, to this day, pretty state-of-the-art. We have a chemistry lab, a living environment lab, we have a physics lab and we have an earth science lab. Since 2000 when that wing was built, there have been a couple of small projects. It’s important to know that our school district every year does small projects. But not ones that rise to this amount of money, nor ones we would take a bond for. And some of the small projects in the past decade were to enhance the relatively new science labs. The one thing that was not done back in the last project was to create an actual science lab for elementary students. And, as STEM becomes more and more important, we’ve considered sending them upstairs when the high school labs are not being used. And there’s a problem in that the equipment in the high school labs is not appropriate for the elementary-age students. So, we’re looking to create one in the downstairs, in the elementary area that has age-appropriate equipment for the students to use.” (The elementary lab, at a cost of $20,000, is included in proposition one.)
“And, at Germantown, we have changed STEM—and many schools are doing this—to STEAM. Science, technology, engineering, the arts and math. And, in fact, many schools are leaning toward using the acronym STEAM because we find that even the STEM employers are looking for our students to be well versed in the humanities, in collaborative 21st-century skills and teamwork skills. A second thing is Germantown Central School this year implemented a one-to-one technology device program. Kindergarten through fourth-grade students have a tablet, and students in fifth through twelfth-grade have a laptop. So, we are fortunate to be a district that is in pretty good shape regarding computer technology. In addition to that, Germantown Central School is a district that, even through the hard economic times, maintained elementary computer classes and an elementary computer curriculum. Many schools are bringing that back now—we have had it all along. And we are expanding our offerings in computer applications. A big issue in education right now is coding. So students next year will have the opportunity to take an elective course in computer programming. With the nanotechnology companies moving to this area of the United States, namely upstate New York, these employers are communicating directly to high schools about what the students need to have in terms of skills to be employable. So, we’re collaborating with them.”
Brown explained the lengthy process—which included a community input group—to select the most needed improvements for the school leading up to the first vote earlier this year for the capital project.
“The Board of Education wanted to know what the voters were thinking when they voted. So we did an exit poll. The exit poll data when we analyzed it showed that many people who had come to vote in March did not care for the fact that the entire project was together. Many, many of the people wrote that they liked the idea of having all of the project, but asked to separate out the addition, which contains an auditorium, a band room, a set design room, a classroom for set design and drama to use and an entry way for events with the auditorium in mind. Also, bathrooms and secure access. And we have a gym that was put in in 2000. It’s called a teaching gym because it has no bleachers. That was a great idea. Except later on we realized, uh-oh, we’re sharing one gym with, at-times, three different indoor sports, all having a varsity and junior varsity or modified. And we’re trying to juggle them all. So, as we were looking at the issues and problems that we wanted this project to solve, it occurred to us that if the addition went next to the existing gym that has no seats, we could combine in the project putting spectator seating in that gym.”
“...A couple things that I think are really important and I’ve been concerned about is there was an article in the paper that talked about voter eligibility and I’d like to take the opportunity to reiterate that to vote in the Germantown Central School District, there are only three requirements. One is to be a citizen of the United States. The second is to be at least 18 years old. And the third is that your primary residence is within the school district for at least 30 days. Other school districts have other requirements. I get concerned when I run into people and they say, well I’m not registered to vote for the county election. That doesn’t matter. You don’t have to be. You simply need to be a resident within the school district…”
In describing the somewhat complicated way the capital project must be structured, Brown said: “Some of the exit poll people said, the voters would like a checklist of twenty-something items and we’ll pick what we want to do. Well, in fact, you’re not allowed to do that in New York State. The way it is set up is you have a proposal that New York State already looked at, so they know this is happening, and the voters vote on it. And, if you want to give choice, it has to be in the form of adding to the base idea.
“The proposition wording in fact states that by voting yes on proposition one you are agreeing to do $5,966,000-worth of work and to apply the $500,000-capital project reserve that the district has. That excludes the addition. The only time we even think about the second proposition is if the first one passes. If that does not pass, we don’t even look at what you voted on the second one. So, the first proposition is very, very important. … To have both of them pass, both proposition one must pass on its own and then proposition two to add on the rest of the project. And that’s a really important point… So, if you want the full project you have to vote for both. And we absolutely respect every voter’s input, which is why the board of education put this out to the voters. The purpose of this night is to give out information only, so voters can make an informed decision. And to answer questions—because we know how complicated this is.”
“…This vote takes place Thursday, June 11 from Noon until 9 p.m. If you have a question or you run into a resident who has a question, please have them call the school. Ask for me. I will return the call. I’m more than happy to answer any questions that come our way. I don’t always have the answers myself, but I can contact Mr. Sammel (the district’s architect for the project) or our financial company and they immediately turn around an accurate answer and I will call back any person who calls with a question. So we do hope that folks will come and vote on Thursday and be heard.”