PORT CHESTER, N.Y. -- Residents of the Port Chester-Rye Union Free District narrowly approved nearly $80 million in proposed renovations at five schools.
After counting absentee ballots, the margin was just 29 votes: 1,307 for and 1,278 against, according to unofficial returns.
“Tonight is a wonderful victory for the students – current and future – of the Port Chester school district,” said Superintendent of Schools Dr. Edward Kliszus. “Thank you to every Port Chester community member who used their vote to show their support."
"Thank you to the people who helped get this capital bond project approved – our PTA families, an invaluable group of grassroots campaigners, key members of the business community, elected officials and members of the media," Kliszus said. "Of course, I cannot say enough about our district’s administrators and teachers who see the needs we face every day, and who worked every day to help parents and community acquaintances understand those needs leading up to this historic vote.”
Board of Education President Jim Dreves said, “I am thrilled at the turnout and outcome of tonight’s vote, and the prevailing progressive attitude of our Port Chester neighbors that it signifies."
Residents defeated an earlier $41.5 million school renovation proposal in December 2015.
“After our last bond was voted down, we knew the challenges we would face in getting this even more expansive project passed. It has been a carefully conceived, deliberate plan to identify our district’s urgent needs and share that immediacy with the public," Dreves added. "Tonight’s approval shows that the community listened, understood, and cares about the futures of the students in our district.”
The newly-proposed capital bond project is eligible to receive state reimbursement for two-thirds (or 66 percent) of allowable construction expenses.
Under the bond issue, the 24-year average annual cost to Port Chester taxpayers will be $75 per $100,000 of property assessment.
The bond money will pay for new athletic facilities, new classrooms at every school but the middle school as well as other capital improvements.
The capital project plans were developed with the guidance of a Bond Advisory Council.The total cost of all additions, renovations and upgrades is $79,950,000.
The breakdown of spending on the projects includes almost $50 million at Port Chester High School, $15 million at John F. Kennedy Magnet School, nearly $12 million at King Street School, nearly $3 million at Park Avenue School and roughly $292,000 at Thomas A. Edison School.
The capital project will add space to solve the districtwide problem of crowded classrooms.
Smaller class sizes would improve teacher-to-student ratio and allow for the type of tailored instruction that contributes to better academic achievement, test scores and graduation rates, according to school officials.
All of the district's school buildings are aging, with outdated heating, cooling and water systems as well as serious overcrowding. The student population at the middle and high schools has risen by more than 20 percent in the past seven years with continued growth forecast through 2020, according to district officials.
Space added by the capital project would also allow for added services to students with disabilities, and allow them full access to the mainstream curriculum. At the secondary level, it would provide more space for elective and honors classes, such as the International Baccalaureate program, to better prepare students for college and employment after graduation.
The capital project includes facility upgrades for athletics and the arts. Among these, the proposed new high school gymnasium would increase capacity for instruction, while bringing competition space up to New York State High School Association standards. This would enable the district to host state tournament and championship games. New full-size rehearsal spaces for the choral and band programs will make room for greater educational programming in the overused auditorium.
Residents defeated a $41.5 million bond vote by a wide margin for the school district in December 2015.