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Niagara Falls schools face challenge of informing public on referundum

Niagara Falls Repoerter

May 22, 2012

By Frank Parlato Jr.

Less than 10 percent of the city’s 25,000 registered voters are expected to vote in the upcoming Niagara Falls School District referendum, to be held on Sept. 25, a vote by the people of Niagara Falls on whether they want the state to fix up local schools or pay for it all locally. Total cost: $65 million.

With 7,000 students, 50,000 residents who will be affected and more than 25,000 registered voters, the last school board election saw less than 2,000 voters come to the polls.

A referendum last year that would have brought $130 million in state benefits to Niagara Falls only interested 2,600 and they voted against it, as if oseemingly only naysayers rushed out to vote, because they like to get out and vote against something. 

Niagara Falls qualifies to receive 100 percent reimbursement for capital improvements made to school campuses because the school district is designated by New York State as a "special needs'" district. 

According to Earl Smeal, energy manager and assistant capital projects manager; and David Spacone, assistant supervisor for operations management for the district, all 11 campuses are in need of renovation. Some need roofs, some boilers, lighting, security, energy-efficient heating, cooling and ventilation, in place of costly, failing systems, wiring, windows that work, updated communication systems, fire alarms, proper locks, useable parking lots, lowered ceilings, a new busing loop, better lockers, kitchens that provide hot lunches, pools that don’t have dehumidification and more than 400 other major and minor interior and exterior repairs and improvements that affluent school districts have as a matter of course.

The repairs the schools need are so basic and necessary, the state will reimburse the district 100 percent. Niagara Falls students can have the same basic standard of school conditions that other schools in the state have, despite the poverty of the community.

This is what the referendum is about on Sept. 25.

Whether Niagara Falls voters, or the few that bother to vote, want to have the state pay for it, or whether they prefer to make any and all repairs to the schools locally, through a probable raise in property taxes.

Sixty percent of the voters, a super majority, have to vote yes on Sept. 25 to get state money because the district has to sell bonds -and this requires voter approval - do the work then get reimbursed by the state.

“Obviously the comfort level of the students and staff in these buildings will increase as a result of the planned improvements,” said Mr. Smeal.

“Just like your home and mine, our schools need regular maintenance and improvements," said School Supt. Cynthia Bianco. “Obviously, a more comfortable environment means a better learning environment.”

In addition to essential repairs, the district came up with a plan to include educational-centered improvements – such as upgrading classrooms and building STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math) labs.
If the referendum passes, local union workers will complete $65 million in construction work.

Niagara Falls represents 0.25 percent (one quarter of one percent) of the state population. If the referendum passes, state taxpayers outside Niagara Falls will pay $99.74 out of every $100 used to renovate Niagara Falls schools. State taxpayers in Niagara Falls will pay 26 cents

If the referendum fails, Niagara Falls taxpayers will pay the full 100 percent of the cost, $100  out of every $100 dollars for repairs made to the schools. If the referendum fails, even if only one percent of repairs now planned are made and the other 99 percent of needed school improvements are ignored, Niagara Falls taxpayers will pay more. 

STEM LABS WILL BE PART OF THE STATE FUNDED PACKAGE

Cameras, virtual field trips, skyping, data bases, probeware, green screen technology, multimedia presentation, weather stations, broadcasts, cameras, recording devices, virtual field trips and more will be included in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) labs planned for each school as part of the September 25 referendum initiative.

“Instead of reading about something, students will be able to go into the Stem Lab and actually do it,” said Darlene Sprague, administrator for Information Services for the district. “It could be a Weather Station or earth science study of rocks in our area. In the Science Stem Lab we can recreate within a few degrees a Rain Forest.”

Students would still have science, social studies and math where they learn from book.

The STEM Lab is where they go to apply it.

Lynne Tompkins, a school administrator working with Ms Sprague on the STEM Lab project explained, “In the lab we have the materials where students are able to construct a model bridge or an overpass using math skills and engineering skills Then have the ability to place it in a chamber that would apply stress and see if it would hold up or how it would hold up.”

Because Niagara Falls is designated as a “special needs”’ district it qualifies for 100 state reimbursement for classroom technology improvements such as STEM labs.

“What we are trying to promote to our kids is college and career readiness,” said School Supt. Bianco. “We want our students to have experience tied to the real world of research scientists, engineers, robotics, and medical field labs to introduce them to a world students don’t typically receive.

“The highest kind of learning and knowledge is applied knowledge. What good is it if you learned it all in a book? If you can’t do something with it, apply it towards a career or research or study or finding a cure for cancer? During the experience of touching and doing things, kids see opportunities that can develop into a career. To actually touch and do things you learn in science or math and apply it and see the outcome. It gets kids thinking about their careers.”

Each of the STEM labs will be approximately 1,400 sq. ft. And set up to accommodate a full class of 28 students. It will cost $300,000 -$350,000 to construct each or about $4 million for all 12.

On Sept. 25 voters in Niagara Falls can decide whether they want STEM labs along with other renovations officials say are needed paid locally or by the state which by all accounts has never been shy, through taxation and mandates of charging the people locally for grandiose and wasteful schemes in New York City and elsewhere.

Here is a chance for getting a fraction of it back and for some frivolous cause but for the youth of our city, for their futures.

 

 

 

 
 
 
  Copyright © 2008 Frank Parlato Jr.