What is the issue? Board votes on construction of two new schools, holds off on other improvements
When it comes to Union City schools, should the question be, "What is needed in the schools?' or "How much should the taxpayers pay?" According to Mayor Rudy Garcia at the Board of School Estimate meeting last week, "The real issue is the children." The board met to vote on the sale of $13,250,000 in bonds to finance the construction of a new middle school and renovations to the St. Joseph's school building to create a second new public school. This amount, however, was reached after the board cut $4 million from the original $17 million in bonds received. The trimmed $4 million was supposed to be used to pay for new air conditioning units in Washington and Robert Waters Elementary schools and improvements to the cafeterias in Emerson and Union Hill high schools. The decision to cut the other improvements was made because the state was only going to reimburse the city for 80 percent of the costs, leaving 20 percent for the taxpayers. "These improvements will get done," said Lenny Calvo, a representative of the Board of Education. Calvo said that the construction of the two schools was the most important of the renovations and that the other improvements are just on hold. "We must have a balance for our taxpayers," said Calvo. "We cannot afford for the taxpayers to pick up any additional tabs." However, Garcia said that in the court decision of Abbott vs. Burke, the state ruled to pay for 100 percent of the costs of construction in the Abbott districts and Union City is one of them. Abbot districts were earmarked by a series of court rulings dating back to 1970, which targeted poorer districts for increased funding to equalize the quality of education throughout the state. Garcia voted against the sale of the bonds saying that he wanted to vote on the entire $17 million at the meeting. "The children deserve to have air conditioning in Washington and Robert Waters schools and new cafeterias in Emerson and Union Hill high schools," said Garcia. "It is not fair to the children who attend these schools." The board, however, stood behind its decision to only vote on the construction of the two new schools scheduled to open in the fall, 2001. The new middle school will be located at the St Michael's Monastery site. This school will serve 750 sixth, seventh, and eighth grade students from Sarah Gilmore, Hudson and Robert Waters schools. This site will also include a special wing that will serve as a community library and will preserve the playing field already on the site. The St. Joseph's School building will be reopened as a new public school for kindergarten through fifth grade, serving 500 students. These two schools will solve the city's overcrowded schools problem, creating more classrooms and reducing class sizes. While the $13 million sale was passed at the meeting, both Calvo and Commissioner Michael Leggiero, who also sits on the board, agreed that if the state is paying 100 percent of the construction costs than they would vote for the other improvements to be made. "We love children too," said Leggiero. "If the state will pay 100 percent of the costs, why wouldn't we be for it?" Another meeting was to be called, if the state was going to pay 100 percent, to vote on the additional improvements, but none has been set yet. "The state is going to pay 100 percent," said Garcia, who doesn't understand how the Board of education doesn't already know about the court ruling. Garcia said that he would attend the next Board of Education meeting and continue to push the issue.