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Feedback may be sought on defeat of Grand Island capital plan

By Harold McNeil
Updated: December 08, 2009, 8:04 AM /

The Grand Island School Board on Monday discussed the idea of mailing a questionnaire to about 8,500 town households in an effort to gather feedback on why district voters last month rejected a $47.3 million proposal for capital projects by a 2-1 ratio.

Had it passed, 80 percent of the cost of the project would have been reimbursed by the state and would have cost the average local property owner about $9.75 a year for 15 years.

“It’s a travesty that after 22 months, we, as a board, did not get the information that we needed out there [to the public],” said School Board President Richard J. Little Jr.

Board member Neil R. Seaman acknowledged that “the board needs to do more listening.”

“We have to do our homework and listen to what the taxpayer is saying,” Seaman said. “We’ve got to find ways to have better communication.”

It is a difficult challenge, Superintendent Robert W. Christmann said just before the board went into executive session following the open portion of Monday’s regular School Board meeting.

But it is still a challenge that the board and school district administrators will have to meet if the district is to avoid seeing its buildings and infrastructure fall into disrepair.

Little explained to the public Monday that every five years, the district is required by the state to hire a structural engineering firm to audit the condition of the district’s physical plant.

“They are mandated to review our buildings. They establish the life cycle. They establish where we’re at. They look at all of our components, from buildings and mechanical equipment . . . and then give us a report back that is filed with the [state Education Department],” Little said.

Both he and Christmann noted that without the 80 percent reimbursement from the state, district property owners would be saddled with the full burden of the cost of the proposed capital project.

“It’s New York State tax money. It’s all of our tax money. It’s the money that we pay out to New York State year in and year out as good taxpayers of Grand Island,” Little said.

He noted that other school districts will continue to access the funds whether or not the Grand Island School District does.

However, resident Nancy Sandford said the district has accumulated annual surpluses that could have been used to avoid property tax increases or could have been applied to the cost of paying for repairs to the district’s infrastructure.

“We have a long history of not doing our infrastructure,” Sandford said. “We’ve known about the Kaegebein [Elementary School] plumbing and foundation for 10 years. Why hasn’t money been put into it?”