As 2015 draws to a close, we are preparing to move forward toward Vision 2020. If you recall my September column, Vision 2020 is designed to pull us toward the future of the Hudson City School District (HCSD).  It is where we need to be five years from now, and there is clearly plenty of room to grow and improve. Since the start of the 2015-16 school year, steps have been taken to begin the development and implementation of a Vision 2020 strategic plan—one that will focus squarely on the continued improvement of learning opportunities for our students.

Over the summer, HCSD underwent its New York State mandated five-year Building Condition Survey (BCS), which provided a list of recommended repair, maintenance, and replacement projects, most of which fall under the “health and safety” or “structural” category. Our district is in a unique position to appropriate $1.5 million in past budgetary savings and take advantage of maturing bonds to fund the recommended BCS items totaling close to $9 million. Additionally, the district is interested in other upgrades to improve the overall quality of education and student experience. It is important to note that this is not “new money” or additional debt. Our existing bonds are maturing and we have a small window of opportunity to refinance at a low rate. This is a compelling reason to move forward with a capital project at this time.

The project will provide improvements to academic and athletic programs. One academic improvement is grade reorganization, which has several advantages besides making better use of open classroom space due to declining enrollment. The vision is to move Grade 6 to the spacious Junior High School (JHS) in September 2016 and then Grade 2 to the M C Smith Intermediate School (MCSIS) in September 2017.

By relocating Grade 6 to the JHS, students will feel a sense of belonging rather than entering one year and exiting the next. This fits into HCSD’s mission of fostering the social and emotional development of students. Additionally, banding grades 6-8 makes academic sense because it allows the JHS to achieve grade level alignment with the design of the Common Core State Standards. Another benefit of having Grades 6-8 in one location will be the availability of shared resources that will help strengthen instruction and learning by providing opportunities for teachers to collaborate and better prepare students for secondary-level work.

The relocation of Grade 2 to MCSIS will ease overflow and congestion at JLE, especially in terms of building versus parking/traffic capacity. The small parking lot and bus loop make arrival and dismissal congested and a safety concern, not to mention the lack of parking available for school events. There is sufficient space at MCSIS to hold Grade 2; therefore only renovations (not new construction) are necessary to accommodate the needs of Grade 2 teachers and students.

The district recognizes and must respond to the trend of declining enrollment, which has also been experienced by several local and statewide districts. The expenses to maintain multiple buildings are significant and there are operational efficiencies to be gained by “right-sizing” our district to reduce the impact on taxpayers in the long run. Though the sale of JLE is not part of the proposed capital project, by eventually selling the building and consolidating to a two-campus system, we can be more efficient in terms of space, energy usage, continuity of programming, cohesion, and shared resources. The district’s long-term vision is to construct 15,000 sq. ft. onto the existing MCSIS to accommodate grades PK – 1 by September 2019 or 2020 at the latest.

An additional provision of the capital project is to construct an athletic facility to serve varsity baseball, soccer and football on the High School campus and to construct a 400-meter track. The existing track, located behind MCSIS, is not useable for practice or track meets, requiring our athletes to be transported to other districts for these purposes.

The proposed capital project would have a total cost between $18.3 and $19.9 million. While this is a significant figure, the project is expected to have low local tax impact due to state aid, retiring debt, and improved efficiencies. With voter approval, HCSD could see as much as 71.4% of the project cost returned to the district in the form of state aid. By way of example, the average annual cost to a taxpayer based on the $19.9 million figure and a home value of $250,000 with senior/star exemptions would be $30 (or $2.49 per month). Without senior/star exemption, it would cost the taxpayer $40 per year (or $3.37 per month).

It is said, “Hindsight is 20/20,” however with appropriate planning—which includes open communication between the district and our community—we can work together toward Vision 2020 with clear foresight and resolve. We invite community members to attend the next Board meeting on Monday, December 14 at 7:00 in the HS Library. There will also be another community conversation to discuss this project on Thursday, December 17 from 6:30-8:00 in the MCSIS cafeteria. Please come to learn more, ask questions directly, and provide feedback on the proposed project.