Friday, May 09, 2014

KJ annexation has school issue, too 

The pending request to shift 507 acres from Monroe into Kiryas Joel puts a major decision in the hands of the Monroe Town Board, which must decide whether to cede the properties after studies to determine the potential impact of enlarging Kiryas Joel are finished.

But the annexation petition that property owners filed in December also might hand the Monroe-Woodbury School District a consequential choice: whether to give up the same territory to the Kiryas Joel School District if the municipal borders change.

At stake is a complicated mix of factors that include the school taxes paid by landowners in the area targeted for annexation, the public education expenses of children living there and the voting clout their parents would wield in school elections.

If the Monroe board allows the annexation and no legal challenges block it, the undeveloped land and houses there would become part of Kiryas Joel and subject to its high-density zoning. But the area would remain in Monroe-Woodbury unless separate actions are taken to shift it into the Kiryas Joel School District, the public school that provides special-education services for the Hasidic community.

The uncertain outcome for Monroe-Woodbury has helped fuel anxiety over the annexation proposal.

Opponents fear the district could become "another East Ramapo" if the land shift takes place, invoking a deeply divided Rockland County school system run by Orthodox board members whose children attend religious schools. They worry voters in the annexed area could control Monroe-Woodbury elections once their numbers grow, and elect board members who would slash programs.

Moving the same properties into Kiryas Joel School District would deprive Monroe-Woodbury of the taxes those landowners pay, but also eliminate expenses and allay concerns about a future, powerful voting bloc.

In a letter sent to Monroe-Woodbury School Board President Eleni Kikiras Carter Tuesday, Kiryas Joel School Superintendent Joel Petlin suggested changing district boundaries as a "practical solution," saying his board is prepared to do so if the annexation occurs. He included an outline of legal steps by the state Education Department suggesting the move would require resolutions by both school boards and the approval of the Orange-Ulster BOCES superintendent.

Monroe-Woodbury has calculated that losing the properties in the annexation request would cost the district about $1 million a year in tax income, based on current tax bills. Petlin counters that the district would save roughly the same amount on special-education tuition and busing costs for students in that area, neutralizing the impact of changing school boundaries.

Monroe-Woodbury provided figures Thursday indicating special-ed and transportation for Kiryas Joel students currently costs the district $974,047 a year. It also listed $196,212 in other expenses it said it had budgeted for remedial services and English language proficiency for those students.

No decision on school borders is imminent. The annexation proposal still must undergo an extensive review to determine its potential impact on taxes, traffic, population growth, water and sewer use and other factors, and that work can't begin until state Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens decides whether Monroe or Kiryas Joel will oversee the study.

Once that review is done, both municipal boards must vote on the annexation petition.


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