Stand up and be counted

For the second time in the recent months, the North East (Webutuck) Central School District Board of Education (BOE) is requesting the community consider the dire needs of the district — and help alleviate those needs by funding a capital improvements project. 

In November, the school board put forth a referendum to spend $8.5 million on capital improvements, including a new boiler, improved security, upgraded technology, new septic fields, repaired sidewalks, blacktop and a new generator. All things, according to Superintendent of Schools Ray Castellani, that the district needs — not wants — to continue operating.

Because voters couldn’t get behind the high cost of the project, they rejected it. Now, said Castellani, there’s a chance to pick and choose what seems prudent and drop what seems wasteful.

While the school board would, of course, like to see the whole project completed, it’s realistic. At this point, the BOE would rather see some of the work done than none at all.

Enter the taxpayer. The public is urged to attend the next BOE meeting, set for Monday, Jan. 23, at 7 p.m. at the high school library, to give input. Whether that input ultimately approves what’s been submitted before, redrafts the plan or rejects it in totality — the school board wants to know the final outcome, and how and why it was reached.

This is what community government and open communication are all about. Too often, the BOE meets in a room of empty chairs and vacant tables. There are, understandably, few people who can actually afford to spend a few hours after work, away from their families, listening to school business being conducted. 

That’s understandable — really. But when the board puts forth a special invitation, on an issue as important as this one, it might be wise to make the time, just this once.

Why? Because the result of the board’s decision will directly impact taxpayers. Those who live in the Webutuck school district will feel the strain on their wallets if nearly $9 million must be financed. If, however, a compromise is sought, the impact of a $4 or $5 million project will be drastically different. If, perhaps, the community feels that no improvements are needed at all (and for the record, we believe they are), then there could be zero tax impact.

That’s what the meeting is all about. Go, learn what the district is proposing and why it’s so critical to make repairs at this time. Sometimes when problems are allowed to linger, they become exponentially worse. What could have been addressed with a new security system might instead mean something very different if a serious security breach occurs. The same is true with any of the capital improvements being proposed by the district. It’s not really a matter of if the improvements are needed — they are — but when they can be made.

Let’s not be passive on this one, but instead take an interest in local affairs. After all, this will affect not only your taxes, but also your children and their learning environment. Let your opinions be heard — be a part of the process. 

If you decide to opt out, that’s your decision. Just don’t say you weren’t asked in the first place.