By Michael Mell
The current budget year has been tight for the Garrison Union Free School (GUFS), with all expenses matched to income with little or no wiggle room. Three unanticipated expenses will now make a tight budget even tighter: replacement of well-water pumps, the Putnam/Northern Westchester Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) capital improvement project and school tax assessment refunds. All were topics of concern at the Dec. 21 regular meeting of the GUFS Board of Education. The cost for the water pumps will be covered by a funds transfer (moving monies from an under-budget account) and school business manager Susan Huetter said that “we will be okay” [in keeping a balanced budget.] Superintendent Gloria Colucci, however, reminded the board that, while this expense can be paid for, “it means that money will not be available” for student programs. GUFS contribution to the BOCES capital project will not impact the 2011-12 budget, but will need to be approved by voters and accommodated in the next and subsequent budgets.
Lack of sufficient water pressure, discovered on Sunday, Dec. 4 forced GUFS to close the following Monday. Classes resumed on Tuesday, while repairs proceeded, but without potable water available (forcing the cancelling of that week’s PTA sponsored hot lunch.) The cause of the problem was a drop in the water table in two of the three wells that supply water to the school and the pumps in those wells burned out (without water to pump.) Although the water level has risen, the pumps and associated controls and sensors needed to be replaced. Even though the pumps were replaced last week, the water was not immediately fit for drinking. Colucci said that the school, in concert with the Department of Health, has conducted two tests for bacteria and that both have come back “clear.” As a result, “the plastic bags have been taken off the water fountains,” said Colucci. All of the bills are not yet in, but Colucci expects the final cost to be within the $30,000 anticipated.
The BOCES capital plan will spend $19 million dollars for its campus buildings, many of which are over 40 years-old. BOCES is not a taxing entity and must solicit funding from member schools. Each school district must hold a public vote approving the plan and the BOCES may not proceed without unanimous approval of all 18 member districts. GUFS total share will be $191,000, not including debt service. [CLICK HERE TO READ ‘BOCES Presents Capital Improvement Plan.’]
Board members generally acknowledged the value of BOCES to member schools, as well as GUFS in particular (in services provided), but expressed concern about public reaction and whether BOCES has fully evaluated all possible options. “Is BOCES looking through the same lens?” [as GUFS] asked Trustee Jim Cannon. Cannon stated that he did not like the fact that the board would have to make an all-or-nothing vote. Board members were also concerned about passage of next year’s budget, while giving money (over $63,000 due on July 1, 2012) to BOCES.
Absent from the meeting were board President Carol McCullough, Vice President Raymond O’Rourke and Trustee Anita Prentice (who arrived after the discussion was over.) The trustees appeared reluctant to vote without the full board present. “The deadline [for the vote] is Jan. 15,” said Cannon, “so we have another meeting [before having to vote.]” Cannon then made a motion to table the vote, which was seconded and passed. “This will allow all board members to be present and will allow more time for review,” Cannon said.
The board also learned that it will need to refund a total of $5,600 to five residents who appealed their tax assessments. Colucci said that this was money that had already been collected and assigned to cover expenses. “This [too] will be money that won’t be available for student programs,” Colucci said.