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Grand Island Board of Education: Administration considers veterans tax exemption

•Taken from the Jan. 16 Island Dispatch

Fri, Jan 23rd 2015 10:30 am

by Larry Austin

The Grand Island Board of Education will investigate a tax exemption that would save money for Island veterans.

At Monday's school board meeting in the Professional Development Room of Grand Island High School, Assistant Superintendent for Finance Robert McDow called the exemption "a very touchy subject for some people." A savings for veterans with an exemption would result in an added cost for non-veterans. As such, the district hopes to let the voters decide at the ballot whether to offer the credit.

McDow, making his first school board meeting since his recent hiring to replace Joe Giarrizzo, who took at job in the Niagara Falls City School District, said when he worked in the Sweet Home district, the school sent a query to other districts, and only three of nearly 30 have decided to offer the exemption.

Grand Island will receive a briefing on the matter at a later meeting and then set a pubic hearing on whether to put the issue up for a public vote.

"And then our hope would be when we have the budget vote in May to put that particular issue up for vote and let our citizens determine if this is something they would want," McDow said.

McDow said the tax impact on the average homeowner would be an increase of about half a percent, but the tax impact for veterans would be a savings in the $300 to $400 range. "So it's major for them," he said.

Trustee Sue Marston said she felt more comfortable with letting the public, rather than the seven trustees, decide. She added the veterans are looking for a decision one way or another.

Capital Project

On another matter, Grand Island Central School District officials clarified to the Board of Education a decision process used in funding work on its new transportation building.

At its previous meeting in December, trustees felt blindsided by the use of $400,000 from the $51 million capital project to pay for work on the new $6.3 million transportation building.

In discussion of the capital project, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Teresa Lawrence said that some decisions that were made suffered from a lack of communication with the board.

The design of the ring road has not changed, but "the cost of a ring road and the transportation building together were more than what we had for that particular project," McDow said. The communication failure occurred when the construction managers and project architects found a way to fund the project from savings in phases of the $51 million capital plan.

"And that's where communication failure occurred. Dr. Lawrence knew about this, but someone in my position is supposed to tell Dr. Lawrence that this is something that should be conveyed to the board, and our recommendation would have been to use monies from Phase 1 and Phase 2 to pay for the ring road portion of that project and then let the transportation building stand alone as we did," McDow said. He noted the district went to the state and received approval for the plan.

"It still comes down to the fact that we did not impress upon Dr. Lawrence this was something that was material enough to bring to the seven of you, and then have you make a decision," McDow said, adding it won't happen again. "If I have to come in here and stand on a table, that's what we will do."

He attributed much of the failure in communication to the turnover in the position.

"When it's all said and done, it's all district money," McDow noted. Using only the maximum $6.3 million from the transportation project would not allow the district to afford both a ring road and an alternative transportation building.

Save the Dates for Concerts

Sue Wolcott of the Grand Island Music Boosters invited the trustees "to come to some spectacular concerts that are on the horizon."

She said the Kaleidoscope concerts feature students from elementary to high school and show "the progression of Grand Island's music talents as they begin on their instruments and then as they come to the culmination of their high school careers."

The first Kaleidoscope band concert is Feb. 11, a Kaleidoscope string concert is Feb. 12, and a second Kaleidoscope band concert is Feb. 26. ("We have so many instrumental students that we can't put them all into one concert, which is a great problem to have," Wolcott said.) A Kaleidoscope choral concert is March 3. All the concerts start at 7 p.m. and take place in the Grand Viking Theater.

"It's a great way to be able to see how all of the teachers, faculty and staff work together with the students to create such a tremendous music program," Wolcott said of the concerts. "It's important to continue to preserve this strong music heritage that Grand Island is known for."

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