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Newsday (New York)
Residents of the Northport-East Northport school district will vote Feb. 28 on a nearly $40 million bond referendum that would upgrade and replace infrastructure at every school in the district while raising residents' taxes an average of $122 a year, officials said.
Currently, the district has athletic fields described by many parents as an "embarrassment," science labs with rusty sinks and decrepit work stations, and stretches of bumpy, cracked asphalt in parking areas.
"We need the makeover," Northport resident Dennis Gaddis said. "The schools here are very antiquated. . . . The buildings are still from the 1960s and 1970s."
The 15-year bond proposal seeks to also address renovations to HVAC systems, electrical systems and bathrooms, and to replace leaky windows. It would also upgrade student spaces, including 18 science classrooms, and install artificial turf on several athletic fields.
"It's really in line with the philosophy of educating the whole child," Superintendent Robert Banzer said of the proposal's broad scope. "The community feedback has been that we need improvement in all of these areas."
The district hosted a forum on Wednesday in Northport, where voters' questions focused on cost and fiscal responsibility.
The request for increased taxes comes as the district faces uncertainty about potential financial implications of a lawsuit by the Long Island Power Authority, which is claiming it has been overassessed in taxes, much of which goes to the district.
Tom Loughran of East Northport said he was concerned about a tax increase while the lawsuit is unresolved.
"If we lose that income, the burden on the taxpayer will be significant," he said. "Not that $122 a year is going to make or break the average family, but at some point, it will."
Banzer said district officials are sensitive to financial concerns, noting that the past five budgets have stayed within the state-mandated tax levy cap, and the bond was put together with fiscal restraint.
"The need is there," he said. "We're trying to maximize every dollar."
State school aid would cover nearly 28 percent - $12.9 million - of the upgrades if the bond passes.
Infrastructure improvements account for roughly half of total planned spending, while athletic facilities and classrooms would each get a quarter of the bond money.
The district projects that with a 3.5 percent interest rate, total costs would amount to $51.7 million by the time debt service was paid off. Banzer said the actual rate won't be determined unless the bond passes, when officials would shop for the lowest rate.
Many residents at the forum said they support the proposal.
"I'm voting for it, I'm optimistic it will pass," Northport resident Jordan Endler said. "I just want to make sure the money will be spent as efficiently as possible."
Details on the proposal and voting locations are available online at www.northport.k12.ny.us.
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