Groton voters reject school propositions

Margo Martin, superintendent of the Groton Central School District, says, “This community wants what’s best. They support and want what’s best for the students, but they call on us to be prudent and more fiscally responsible.”
Margo Martin, superintendent of the Groton Central School District, says, “This community wants what’s best. They support and want what’s best for the students, but they call on us to be prudent and more fiscally responsible.”

Residents in the Groton Central School District last week rejected a $12.3 million proposed capital improvement project that would have supported the renovation and resurrecting of educational and recreational buildings throughout the district.
 
The vote was 280-261 against the Proposition 1 on Feb. 23, putting on hold a major overhaul that would have addressed “a wide variety of building maintenance and safety issues, provide for a 21st Century Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) learning center for students in grades 7-12, and upgrade facilities and renovate Ross Field,” Groton Superintendent Margo Martin penned in a letter to the voters.
 
Proposed renovations to Ross Field had implications for an expansion of the property. The Groton Fire Department donated land at the athletic field with the intention of increasing the size of the playing field for both football and soccer and an adjacent softball field. Plans included major upgrades to the bleachers, press box, concession stands, and bathrooms. Parking lots on two sides of the field would have also been expanded to accommodate larger crowds.
 
Proposition 2 was contingent on the passage of Proposition 1, and included changing the Ross Field playing surface from natural grass to artificial turf for $1.55 million.
 
According to Martin, the changes made to Ross Field would realign the football field “so that it is deemed safe enough to host post-season sectional games.” Currently, the requirements call for an extra 12 inches of space around the current surface to meet standards.
 
Two informational meetings in late January and mid-February provided the platform for voters and the district, to inform, explain, and express concerns about both propositions. Martin and the Groton Central School District conducted several focus groups on the pieces of each proposition to find a justified conclusion where both parties could find common ground.
 
However, Tuesday’s vote showed that objections and concerns overruled the Capital Improvement Project.
“This community wants what’s best,” Martin says. “They support and want what’s best for the students, but they call on us to be prudent and more fiscally responsible.” The impact on the wallets of taxpayers in the school district was estimated as 1.66 percent increase on the tax levy in 2017-18. The increase is equivalent to $.40 per $1,000 of property value for Proposition 1.
 
The cost of the project was offset by building aid from the state, and the district’s capital reserve and unappropriated funds. However, the proposition tackling the transition of Ross Field from natural grass to artificial turf would have been fully funded by taxpayers. The $1.55 million investment came at a price of a 4 percent increase on the tax levy, or an additional $37.87 for a home assessed at $100,000.
 
Martin notes that while the average turnout for a school district vote in Groton is 350 people, the Capital Project vote totaled 541 individuals. “There was no shortage of different voices at the vote,” Martin says. “But in the end we received the public opinion that now is not the right time for Ross Field renovations and the cost to the taxpayer.”
 
In presentations to the voters, the district cited needs for “high priority renovations for all facilities for safety reasons as well as general upkeep of buildings,” according to a five-year Building Conditions Survey.
 
Aside from Ross Field, Proposition 1 included improvements at Groton Elementary, Groton Junior-Senior High School, and the bus garage. The elementary school sought improvements for select bathrooms, exterior doors, a new water heater, meeting building code for emergency lighting, handicap accessibility, flooring in specific areas, and meeting building code for fresh air exchange throughout the building.
 
At the junior-senior high school, many of the same changes and upgrades received by the elementary school would occur, but a renovated entry for safety purposes, HVAC with air conditioning in the auditorium, and a generator for emergency heating would also be instituted.
 
At the junior-senior high school, the STEM project incorporating a lab for Science, Technology, Engineering & Math could bring “Groton education into the 21st Century,” according to Martin. In 2013, President Barack Obama instituted the mission of STEM through the U.S. Department of Education.
 
The school district emphasized that implementing a STEM Center would draw families to the community through a commitment to innovation. The learning center focuses on students working to solve real-life problems and Project-Based learning in a global landscape where the United States ranks 29th in math and 22nd in science according to the Department of Education.
 
For now, the district must reconstruct a new plan to amend Groton’s educational future without an increase in taxes.
“I spoke with a lot of people at the vote and gauged a lot of opinions,” Martin says. “We’ll continue to look for a solution by going back to the drawing board to reevaluate a project with no implication on the tax levy.”