Bond Friends, Critics Make Last Pleas Ahead of Feb 10 Vote

Check Back With the Gazette After 9:30 pm on February 10 For Vote Results

by Judy Silberstein

(February 5, 2009) The Mamaroneck School Board’s $38 million bond that goes before voters on February 10 has been many, many years in the making. A strand for fields and playgrounds, budgeted at $9 million, expands on projects derailed for years by opposition to disturbing the Kemper Memorial.(See: Kemper Memorial Debate Rolls On.) The other $29 million mostly covers facility repairs and upgrades recommended by the Building Committee and pared down over two years from a much longer $75 million list.

The board took many additional months agonizing over the configuration, composition and quantity of fields and whether to split the bond in two. The result, the board argues, is the most pragmatic, cost effective (though not the least expensive) option and includes both building renovations and upgraded capacity, quality and safety for sports and playgrounds.

No Shortage of Explanation, Conversation & Commentary

Bonds typically generate a great deal of community conversation, and this one is no exception. The school board has made numerous presentations at their own regular meetings over the past few months plus an additional six for the PTAs of each district school and another eight for members of the community.

The Gazette has received more than 40 letters on this issue alone (see: Letters to the Editor). Two websites have sprung up. FriendsOfTheBond.org, coordinated by Lori Brandon, a founding member of Fields for Kids, and Amy Levere, the immediate past president of the Mamaroneck School Board. On the other side is TaxedEnuf.org, developed by Catherine Wachs, an ardent critic of artificial turf fields.

The Mamaroneck School District has posted its own extensive web presentation, Upcoming Bond, to explain the various elements of the proposal and their anticipated costs. Ms. Wachs and current Board President Linnet Tse faced off in a Gazette op-ed piece. (See: Commentary.)

For & Against

Supporters of the bond include the local Fields for Kids grassroots organization; presidents of the many sports leagues – soccer, lacrosse, baseball, and football; the PTAs of all six schools; physical education teachers; Realtors and others with children still in the school or not.

Objections to the fields on the basis of environmental factors have come from Ms. Wachs, Michele Lewis and others, who first raised concerns over the synthetic turf planned – and recently installed – at Flint Park. Despite success in moving the school board away from use of crumb rubber infill and other products containing lead or lead chromate, they continue to favor natural grass - enhanced by new drainage and better maintenance – because of remaining concerns over factors such as effects of high heat in summer and leaching of other volatile chemicals.

As economic conditions crumble, the anti-turf environmentalists have found allies among a growing number of cost-conscious taxpayers.They argue in favor of defeating the current bond and the eventual passage of a smaller bond without the fields and playgrounds. There hs been very little opposition to the building repair portion of the bond. But the critics have characterized the fields and playgrounds as luxuries. “When you can only afford to patch your roof, don’t borrow to buy a Maserati,” says taxedenuf.org.

Bond supporters very much disagree. The playgrounds and fields should be viewed as sub-par classrooms, according to a group of physical education teachers in a February 5 letter. Adding synthetic turf is essential for both capacity and safety, argue other supporters. Grass fields, which everyone would prefer, cannot be maintained under local weather patterns and intense usage, assert others.

The timing of the bond, however, is a challenge, given the still worsening economy. Further delay did not appear to be an option, particularly for projects such as the Hommocks boiler, which is considered to be in critical condition. Supporters note the importance of investing in the community’s “most important assets” and recall that previous bonds have been approved following “Black Monday” in 1987 and the bursting of the “tech bubble in 2000.

Time to Vote: February 10 at Neighborhood Elementary Schools: 7am - 9pm

The School Board, its supporters and opponents have had many weeks to get their message out. Now, it's up to the voter to weigh all of the available information and arguments. And it's up to all sides to turn out the vote.

Vote results will be announced shortly after the polls close at 9 pm on Tuesday, February 10. Check back with the Gazette after 9:30 for complete results.

VOTE YES
VOTE NO