Frequently Asked Questions:
Q: If these repairs and upgrades are so urgent, why is this bond being brought to a vote now and not earlier?
A: Two separate Building Condition surveys conducted in 2010 and 2015 concur that the infrastructure items being addressed in this bond are long overdue for replacement. Our custodial and maintenance staff has worked diligently over the years to extend the life of the boiler and roofs. Most estimates state that the life-expectancy of a boiler is about 20-30 years, however, thanks to the staff’s hard work, we have been able to maintain the high school’s boiler for 54 years and the middle school’s boiler for 45 years! The roofs are in the same situation. They are part of the original construction and have been fixed and repaired over the years to maintain their integrity. If this bond passes, by the time the work is completed, these items will log an additional two winters onto their life.
The Mount Pleasant school community supported a prior bond that resulted in significant renovations and repairs to Hawthorne and Columbus Elementary Schools in 2005. During 2008, our nation endured a major economic downturn and the board of education did not approach the community to support another referendum to address the outstanding facilities issues at the Westlake campus at that time. As the economy began to improve, the district formed a Facilities Steering Committee to address the Westlake campus needs. The district presented a bond to the community in the Fall of 2014 and the Spring of 2015.
While the Westlake boilers and the roofs were included in those bonds, there were other items included that were not infrastructure related. This 2016 referendum proposes to address only the issues related to infrastructure and health and safety.
Q: Why is the cost estimated?
A: Voters will be asked to approve a fixed amount of $39,621,180 which is the maximum amount the district can borrow and spend on the construction project itself. While this number is constant, there are several estimates that must be used including the cost of construction contracts, interest rates on the bonds, assessed values of all properties in the district which affects the tax rate.
The bond amount of $39,621,180 is based on construction cost estimates provided by our Construction Manager and Architect. Actual construction costs are dependent on competitively bid contracts that cannot be issued until funding is approved and construction documents are completed and approved by New York State Education Department.
The bonds cannot be issued without a voter approved project and signed construction contracts. It is anticipated that the project will be completed over three years with three separate bond issuances beginning in 2017. Each bond will be issued via a competitive process and interest rates will be determined based on market conditions at that time. We are conservatively estimating interest rates of 5% on those bonds. Bonds issued over the last several years have been in the 2.0% to 3.5% range.
Building aid is subject to NYSED approval and the annual budget allocation provided by New York State. The amount of building aid is estimated based on our current and historical aid ratio and assumed scope of work to be determined aidable by NYSED.
Individual taxpayer implications are based on a variety of factors including assessed values of properties within the school district, assessed value of the individual property, final interest rates and building aid determinations on the bond.
Q: What reserve funds does the district have available?
A: The district follows strict governmental accounting standards and State Education and General Municipal Finance Laws when managing district funds. By NYS law, public school districts are allowed to reserve up to 4% of the next year's budget in an unassigned fund. Only schools, and not towns or municipalities, have this limit. At the end of the 2015-2016 school year, the district had an unassigned fund balance (funds available for emergency expenditures) of $2.3 million. This amount was below the state imposed limit of 4% of the subsequent year’s budget.
The district also maintains a restricted reserve fund set aside for specific purposes such as pending commercial and residential tax refund claims that are currently unresolved. Total restricted reserve funds amounted to $4.47 million at June 30th, 2016.
The remaining assigned reserve funds include previously approved capital projects currently in the planning process such as the Columbus Boiler/HVAC, WMS elevator and Hawthorne facade projects, cafeteria program funds, scholarships and $575,000 in funds set aside to balance the 2016-2017 budget.
The district is prudent about maintaining a modest reserve balance because once the money is spent, there is no way to recoup the funds. It is necessary to be prepared for the many repairs and replacements which occur on an annual basis such as the ones mentioned above and to be prepared for any unexpected emergencies.
The district's annual financial statements, completed by external auditors PKF O'Connor Davies, along with the NYS Comptroller's return report completed in 2015 are available on the district's website. If you would like additional information, please feel free to reach out to any member of the board of education, the Audit Committee chairperson, Mr. Vincent D'Ambroso, or the Director of Business Administration, Mr. Andrew Lennon.
Q: Is there a maintenance plan going forward?
A: School Maintenance
The annual school district budget includes funds for repairs and preventative maintenance on all district facilities. These funds keep our schools clean and running efficiently and includes custodial staffing, cleaning supplies, paint, smaller scale electrical, plumbing, HVAC, and other projects as examples. Each year as part of the budget process, the building principals and members of the administrative team meet to discuss the maintenance of the school buildings. The ongoing maintenance work allows us to maximize the useful life of district infrastructure.
In recent years the Board of Education has increased funding for the maintenance of our schools to help address the growing number of building needs. These funds address various preventative maintenance and building repairs including regular roof inspection and boiler maintenance. The district will continue to fund annual maintenance and repair needs to ensure systems and structures are safe, sound and functioning at optimum efficiency.
Facilities Plan and Capital Projects
In addition to funding maintenance items, in the last two budgets the board of education has significantly increased the amount of funds allocated to large scale capital improvement projects. These projects include the replacement of the Columbus Elementary School boiler ($2.2 million) and the Westlake elevator ($500K) as examples. Two separate NYS required building condition surveys (2010 and 2015) identified over $43 million dollars in repairs, replacements, and code compliance items that need to be addressed now. With an annual operating school district budget around $59 million, it is impossible to address all of these current needs while keeping the taxpayer impact in mind. Additionally, each year that replacements are postponed, our facilities needs continue to grow while the cost of those repairs escallate.
School districts, when faced with a number of more significant repairs, bond these items to maximize economies of scale, spread the costs over a longer period of time and reduce the current impact on the tax rate for the community.
The 2015 Building Condition Survey listed the following items as “Unsatisfactory” and are prioritized to be replaced/repaired in the facilities plan. The The 2016 bond proposal hopes to address the priorities on this list.
Fresh Air Ventilation (district wide)
HVAC Control Systems (HES)
Parking and roadways (district wide)
Field Renovation (HES and CES)
Masonry/chimney repair (district wide)
Ceilings (CES, WMS, WHS)
Boilers (WMS and WHS)
Roofs (WHS and WMS)
Vinyl asbestos tile (WHS and WMS)
Structural steel repair (WHS)
Q: When did the NYS Comptroller’s office audit the Mount Pleasant CSD? What was the outcome of the Comptroller’s audit?
A: The NYS Comptroller has visited the Mount Pleasant School District twice. Once in 2008, as the current superintendent was newly appointed, and again most recently in 2015. The current superintendent worked closely with the Comptroller’s office in both instances and ensured the district’s full compliance with the audits.
The most recent NY State Comptroller’s report (Financial Condition - Report of Examination - 2015M) conducted in 2015 can be found on the Mount Pleasant website or by clicking here.
The state examined the District’s financial condition for the period July 1, 2013 through January 6, 2015. They extended their scope period back to July 1, 2009 to analyze the District’s fund balance, budgeting and financial trends. They concluded that "District officials adequately monitored the District’s financial condition to maintain fiscal stability".
The previous report, conducted in 2008, found that while there were serious questions regarding the use of funds and adequate oversight of spending, there was no evidence of illegal activities. The NYS Comptroller’s office works closely with other state agencies and in the event any illegal activity was uncovered, the comptroller’s auditors were mandated to contact law enforcement. Fortunately, this did not occur as no evidence of illegal activities were present.
Since 2008, the staff involved in the issues represented in the 2008 comptroller’s report are no longer employed by the district. Recommendations made in the audit, including the implementation of significant internal and external controls, were put into place to ensure strict compliance with spending policies. This included the implementation of an audit committee by the board of education. Credit card accounts were closed, gas for school vehicles was purchased through the Town of Mount Pleasant, and strict procedures were instituted regarding purchases and bidding.
Adherence to these policies and implemented procedures is evident in the positive audit report conducted in 2015, five years after the original findings. The comptroller’s office only recommendation was to "continue to closely monitor the budget and take necessary actions to maintain fiscal stability" which the district and board of education continue to successfully do.