Friday, January 11, 2013

Open Letter: School district finance in New York!

A letter regarding the how's and why's behind school district decisions that are often made using short-term fixes for long-term financial problems!

Note: The letter's author, Josh Lafazan, is a very recent graduate of the Syosset School District who ran for the School Board and won against the enthusiastic opposition of the School Superintendent and other constituencies within the District. This was in no small part due to the fact that Mr. Lafazan ran as an opponent to the status quo.

To the Syosset Community,

At the upcoming board meeting this Monday, the administration is asking the school board to approve a proposal from Johnson Controls that will commit us to spending $16,000,000 for improvements that will reduce our overall energy costs. On the face of it, the proposal looks reasonable because the cash outlay by the district will be offset in the earlier years, with the contractual guarantee from Johnson Controls, by our new savings in energy costs.

What is not being discussed is the true cost to the district. We are giving away 18 years worth of energy savings and getting only 5 boiler plants for 5 elementary schools and 1 new roof for the high school in return. The current administration is taking a short term view of the benefit and is not looking far enough down the road.  

We as a community need to deal with our financial limitations long after the current administrators will be retired.  

We need to begin planning today, for 10 years and 15 years into the future, to ensure the continuance of our ability to offer a great education to the next generation of children.  

Dix Hills is facing a crisis today that we could be facing in the future if we do not CHANGE the way we have been operating. 

Yes, we have a need for a new roof at the high school. If this proposal is passed, where is the plan to replace the other 9 roofs that we will eventually need to worry about?  What about the other 5 boiler plants in our district that are not being replaced?  Yes, we need to address the current high school roof issue but we also need to create a plan to find funds for long term capital improvements that will be needed in the future, long after our current administrators will be gone.  

I think we should reach out directly to several school districts that have already implemented this type of project with Johnson Controls.  

We can learn if their projected savings have been realized.  We can learn from hindsight the good and the bad of this type of project.  

What is the RUSH?

The urgency to deal with the high school roof must not allow us to sell off our future like a payday loan.
I have reached out to numerous citizens within our community who own and operate businesses within the fields addressed in this proposal.
 Over the last 4 board meetings I have met resistance by school board members to use the expertise of willing volunteers within our community to better inform us of the nuances within their respective fields.  

Other board members have questioned how we determine who is an expert.  

I say someone who has owned and operated a commercial roofing business for the last 25 years has more expertise than anyone we are currently getting advice from regarding our roof.  The same goes for HVAC and firms that install the type of energy saving controllers we are considering.
The administration 
says we have an architect advising us. That is all well and good, but anyone who has ever done a construction project in their home knows that the architect has only general knowledge and does not anticipate for every contingency. Otherwise, no one would ever go over budget on their projects.


Why are we so afraid to get advice from business owners who deal in their specific fields each day for years?
Board members have stated that these citizens might get their hand in the till.  These business leaders are willing to volunteer their expertise and are willing to recuse themselves from bidding on these jobs.


Instead, we rely on the advice of those that are earning a commission or profit from us. That is the most unreliable resource there is.
Why are we so afraid of listening and gaining advice from others who live within our community who would benefit from a positive outcome?


I have learned that if we separate these projects and put them out to competitive bid, we can save a minimum of $1,500,000 on the roof aspect of the project alone.
 There is an even a greater savings to be had on the boiler aspect of the project if we put it out to competitive bid.  

If we confirm from other school districts that their energy savings realized were in line with the projections from Johnson Controls, then we can use those future savings to fund the debt service not only for this project but to fund a future capital improvements budget with the energy savings we will keep ourselves.


The real issue here is one of cash flow.  

If we look to finance this ourselves and eliminate the huge profit Johnson Controls has built in for themselves, we can create a source of revenue down the road to allocate funds to a capital improvement budget and allocate funds for the inevitable repairs to our district's infrastructure for the future.
This revenue stream will be created by us holding onto our own energy savings rather than turning them over to a vendor like Johnson Controls.
The fact that this type of project in not part of our tax cap issues should not deter us from using all efforts to maximize our savings.


For these reasons and many more that I cannot put into this e-mail, I will be voting NO to the proposal on Monday.

I encourage the citizens of this community to come down to the school board meeting on Monday, January 14 at 8:00 p.m. in the South Woods Middle School Auditorium, and get involved in the future of your district.

Please forward this to everyone in the community.

With Appreciation,

Josh Lafazan

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