‘The time to act is now’

| 24 Aug 2017 | 01:35

By Bob Quinn
— The creation of the Town of Palm Tree took a significant step forward Wednesday evening as the Monroe-Woodbury School Board voted unanimously to change the boundary lines to conform with an enlarged Kiryas Joel School District.
Without Monroe-Woodbury’s approval, the agreement negotiated between the Village of Kiryas Joel and United Monroe and Preserve Hudson Valley leading to the creation of Palm Tree would have been terminated. The Kiryas Joel School Board has already indicated it will approved the re-alignment.
The school board’s vote sets the stage for the Orange County Legislature to vote on Sept. 7 on whether to allow all the residents in the Town of Monroe to vote on a proposal to create the new Town of Palm Tree. Earlier Wednesday, the Legislature’s Rules Committee voted a 7-1 vote to approve the environmental review for Palm Tree and then voted 6-2 to send the Palm Tree resolution to the full Legislature.
The school board heard from 12 speakers, who all urged Monroe-Woodbury to alter the boundaries.
‘The integrity’ of the districtAssemblyman James Skoufis was the first. Last week, Skoufis announced that he will introduce legislation that would accelerate the timetable for the creation of Palm Tree, which would take place in January 2020.
That same legislation also would compensate the Monroe-Woodbury for some portion of the $880,000 in revenue the district would lose by agreeing to the new municipality. Palm Tree that would include the Village of Kiryas Joel, the 164 acres that have already been successfully annexed from the unincorporated portion of the Town of Monroe, plus 56 acres in two parcels on the western border of Kiryas Joel.
The give and take of the those two elements of his legislation, Skoufis said, ensured agreement from Kiryas Joel officials. That support is critical, given that fellow Democrat, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, has twice vetoed Skoufis legislation that would have given counties greater oversight over annexation issues since the issue first arose in Monroe in 2014.
Without changing the boundaries of the two school districts, “a voting bloc that does not exist now,” Skoufis said, “will jeopardize the integrity of this school district.”
‘We want to stay’Next, Grace Sass, who said she has a child in the Middle School and another in the High School, urged the school board to take action:
“We need to let the Orange County Legislature know that the Monroe-Woodbury School Board clearly and decisively” supports the separation of the two communities and two school districts, Sass said.
Patricia McHugh echoed that sentiment: The message to the County Legislature “must be clear and powerful.”
Without separation, she added, “you can expect our school district to be destroyed.”
Monica Haugh talked about the influence the district has had on her children.
“My husband and I are proud of the adults our children have become,” she said. Despite this “crisis in our town and in our school district,” she added, “we want to stay.
“The time to act is now,” Haugh added, “for our children, for our community.”
Many of the speakers cited what has happened to the East Ramapo School District, where a bloc vote of Hasidic residents in this Rockland County community took control of the school board which in turn eliminated sports, extracurricular activities and programs needed to graduate.
“The bloc vote is not interested in public education,” said Diane Egan. “And in East Ramapo, it is outright hostile to public education.”
‘A moment of truth’The leaders of United Monroe - John Allegro, Mike Egan and Emily Convers - each addressed the board. School Board President Jon Huberth also read a statement from County Legislator Myrna Kemnitz.
As others had noted, Convers said the school board’s vote would give the county Legislature “the green light” to approve a resolution on Sept. 7 to allow all the people of the Town of Monroe - including those living in the villages of Harriman, Kiryas Joel and Monroe - to vote yea or nay in November about the creation of the new town.
Egan was the last to speak. The “political imperative” of today, he said, is the same as it was in 1990 when the Kiryas Joel School District was created out of what was then the Monroe-Woodbury School District.
“We can see what’s coming,” Egan said. This is, he added, “a moment of truth.”
Average tax increase of $21Following the speakers. Superintendent Elsie Rodriguez and Assistant Superintendent for Business and Management Services Patrick Cahill outlined the impact of altering the boundaries. After evaluating tax revenue loss and offsetting expense reductions, the alteration of school district boundaries would result in an estimated average increase of $21 in annual school taxes for a typical residence with a market value of $275,000.
Huberth then called the question. And without hesitation or question, the school board voted 9-0.
“We believe this movement of boundaries is in the best interest of the students and families who reside within the Monroe-Woodbury Central School District,” Huberth said. “This decision has been years in the making and, based on the findings of our research, we are confident in our final decision.”
Issue now goes to the district superintendent at Orange-Ulster BOCES for approval.