LP school spending is out of hand

The Lake Placid Central School district’s upcoming referendum for a buildings and grounds capital project needs to be pared back if not eliminated completely.

This project has few details and large expenditures, with little to no return for students or taxpayers. It’s more a vehicle to make sure the taxpayer funds used to pay bonds for the additions to the school in 1999 are not returned to the taxpayers. Those additions should serve as a sign that school capital projects are not based on need (adding onto a school with declining enrollment) or a better quality education. This plan is to find ways to spend money to make sure the taxpayers do not have a lower tax rate. Once the district takes the money from your family, it makes sure never to return it. Tax cuts or cutting staffing, even though they have lost 40 percent of their student population since 2000, is not in their vocabulary.

The school plans to spend $2.3 million on the retaining wall along School Street. When asked at the project informational forum if they even owned the wall, they said they didn’t know and would be “looking into it.” Most organizations would know if they owned something before they would look at spending millions.

The next $2.35 million is to be spent on changing from a steam heating system to a hot water system. When asked what the return on investment was, they had no numbers to support the change. But the representative from Mosaic Associates claimed they had done a similar project and saved $500,000 per month in the winter on fuel oil. I would bet they don’t spend that a year on fuel. But let’s give them that number. One would infer from this large savings the school would cut $1.5 million per year from their operating budget based on these projected savings.

The next items are just plain wasteful. They have a plan to spend $1.731 million for around 2,000 square feet of storage. That is $865 per square foot for storage. A lease for 2,000 square feet of heated storage would cost about $24,000 per year. That is a 72-year payback for the school to build storage. This is not a cost-effective use of tax dollars. When asked what they need to store, Dr. Catania explained, “We have a ping-pong tournament every year, and we have to store the tables.” He also describes storage issues due to the after-school ski program. None of the reasons given were for an educational benefit. I will be more than happy to rent the school 2,000 square foot of storage space for $2,000 per month.

Every project on this list is suspect except the elementary school roof. This, at 40 years while not leaking, is probably worth replacing at this point. But they also want to replace the roof at the high school because the warranty is up and they want a new 15-year warranty. Once again, it is not leaking, so it seems they are spending for the sake of spending rather than need.

I could go on about every project and point out the lack of thoughtful consideration of need versus want in this capital project. The estimates and “project list” seem to be a poor-quality, inflated project list to just spend for the sake of spending. I am hereby putting the district on notice that I will be filing Freedom of Information Law requests for copies of all bills on each of these projects. I am especially interested in the $245,000 bathroom upgrade at the elementary school. The cost for a couple of sinks, 100 square feet of tiling and new toilets seems astronomical. This project list pricing seems to be a way to create a slush fund rather than a thoughtful use of taxpayer resources.

But it’s time to ask the hard questions about the current course and cost of this school district. The taxpayers spend almost $30,000 per student per year, a huge sum of money when you consider New York state has the highest average per-pupil spending in the nation at $20,000 per child. Lake Placid spends 50 percent more per child yet is a New York State Education Department school of focus, meaning they are not achieving to the NYSED standards.

A current student informed me of this designation. She said, “That’s why they’re doing this project because it’s easier than giving us a good education.” While students see how they are short-changed by the educational industry here in Lake Placid, many parents I found to be unaware of the school being a school of focus. As a taxpayer of the district, I am wondering why I never received a notification of the NYS Education Department’s declaration? While we are told spending on schools is important, luxury spending for poor results is not acceptable. Especially in a district with declining enrollment and some of the highest teacher-to-student ratios in the state. This seems to be a school board that is more concerned with shiny things then a quality education.

They don’t understand the taxes they are raising continuously are driving families from the region. Sixty percent of the property tax burden is school taxes in this region. There is a lack of understanding that those taxes make home ownership and a healthy, growing school population impossible. There is no affordable housing without affordable property tax. Property tax is the most immoral of all taxes, allowing government to take people’s lifelong investment at the point of a gun, even though it was their poor planning and expensive taste that put the taxpayer in such a vulnerable state. If a big corporation was doing this, people would be screaming that it’s using predatory tactics.

While these projects are a nice wish list, they do nothing to improve the students’ education in this district. It seems to be a list created just to ensure taxpayers do not get a small tax break, and it should be rejected by the LPCSD taxpayers.

Jim McCulley lives in Lake Placid.