Special aid to M-W district promotes acceleration of Palm Tree village


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By Nancy Kriz

ALBANY-$1 million in special aid for the Monroe-Woodbury School District has been secured by State Assemblyman James Skoufis to offset the net loss to the district’s budget resulting from the boundary shift with the Kiryas Joel School District, approved by both school boards last year.

That aid-announced by Skoufis on June 15-follows the Assembly giving final approval on June 14 to that bill now allowing the Village of Kiryas Joel to separate from the Town of Monroe and become the Town of Palm Tree next January, instead of in 2020 as per existing state law.

The State Senate unanimously passed the bill earlier this month.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is expected to sign it the bill, sponsored by Skoufis (D-Woodbury) and State Sen. William Larkin Jr. (R-Cornwall-in-Hudson), shortly.

Skoufis had consistently said the approval of the acceleration bill was contingent on securing the special aid as a means to protect school district taxpayers.

“The final outcome is one that better promotes political independence in Monroe all the while fully and completely protects Monroe-Woodbury’s taxpayers from these changes,” Skoufis said in a statement.

In that same statement, Schools Superintendent Elsie Rodriguez said,“The special aid that Assemblyman Skoufis has been able to secure will totally offset those net losses and protect our district’s students and taxpayers.”

But, the district hasn’t yet determined how the funds will actually be used.

“The school district’s Building Facilities Committee has dedicated many hours to conducting research, gathering information and prioritizing both short- and long-term facilities projects,” Carole Spendley, the district’s spokesperson, wrote in an email to The Photo News. “While the committee has not yet made a final recommendation to the Board of Education, the school district aims to have a plan in place early in the 2018-2019 school year. The special aid promised from Assemblyman Skoufis will help cover the cost of some of the district’s short-term projects, among those the athletic fields.”

These actions follow the Monroe Town Board’s required approval of the home-rule request bill from the state Legislature in mid-May.

The town’s formation-which will consist of the Village of Kiryas Joel and additional acreage-was overwhelmingly approved by Monroe voters in a referendum held last November.

The bill’s passage now allows the required legal time for prospective Palm Tree board members to get signatures and file petitions to run for office in November, so they can assume their town roles in January.

The new town is the resolution to two annexation proposals that Kiryas Joel officials and United Monroe leaders developed last year, which received widespread support from neighboring towns and villages in addition to Orange County and both school districts.

Those annexation proposals caused years of anger and frustration with town residents along with extremely confrontational town board meetings. The annexation proposals were among the key reasons leading to the formation of the United Monroe grassroots group.

United Monroe consistently said that accelerating the process by one year gives Monroe and Kiryas Joel their political freedom one year early, accelerates the date of the change in school district boundaries, and removes the KJ bloc vote from participation in the 2018 Town Council special election.

That special election this November is for the seat Tony Cardone vacated when he was elected supervisor in 2017. That seat is now held by Sal Scancarello, who was appointed to the councilman role by the board.

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