Tuxedo woman seeks support to change school district boundaries

| 22 Feb 2012 | 03:24

    Cathy Herbert wants Tuxedo kids to go to Tuxedo School District schools and not M-W TUXEDO - A Tuxedo woman is launching a revitalized effort to change school district boundaries in order to get children who live in the northern part of the Town of Tuxedo, but who attend Monroe-Woodbury schools, to go school in the Tuxedo School District. Cathy Herbert, who lives in the Laurel Ridge development in the Town of Tuxedo, strongly feels the 100 children who live there and in the Clinton Woods development should be able to go to school closer to home. She has launched an online survey asking Tuxedo residents who have children attending the Monroe-Woodbury district to give their opinions on this and related issues.. While Herbert has no school age children, she said the impetus for her actions are what she considers to be extremely high school taxes paid to Monroe-Woodbury. Her school tax bill jumped this year to more than $10,000, she said to due equalization formulas. However, added Herbert, she feels transporting students by bus - close to nine miles, one way - on a busy Route 17 in the morning and afternoon is unnecessary, when the George Grant Mason School and George F. Baker High School are only three miles to the south. It’s more than just a safety issue, she explained, adding the “inconvenience” factor for parents placing their children on buses much earlier than other Monroe-Woodbury students, and having their children involved in after school activities so far from home. Herbert also cited a 2004 Tuxedo Chamber of Commerce study, which she said showed that residents felt Tuxedo schools were better than Monroe-Woodbury. “I also assumed that Monroe-Woodbury schools were better,” she said. “In 2004, the Tuxedo Chamber of Commerce did a survey looking at quality of life issues in Tuxedo. Interestingly, people thought he Tuxedo schools were a lot better. And there were also concerns about property taxes.” She also noted that survey showed one in five Tuxedo residents were of retirement age and indicated they could not afford the increased school tax burden. That was then Herbert explained her understanding of how the district boundaries were set goes back to the 1960s, when her Laurel Ridge development was built. At that time, as Herbert said it was explained to her, the Tuxedo School District system wasn’t set up to handle the big influx of students that moved into the area. It looked to the Ramapo School District in nearby Rockland County and to Monroe-Woodbury for help in taking those students. “They did the right thing at the time,” she said. “It was a respectful and conscious decision by Tuxedo, which had a problem. They asked for help. They didn’t have the infrastructure. “But when Tuxedo upgraded its resources, it would make sense the kids would go back to the schools that were geographically appropriate,” she added. “But Monroe-Woodbury didn’t give the kids back.” Tuxedo School District Superintendent Joseph Zanetti could not confirm Herbert’s understanding of the course of events. “I can’t concur, as I don’t know that to be accurate,” said Zanetti, noting he’d have to research the district’s archives housed at BOCES. “All I know is that it happened. And this isn’t the first time someone has attempted to take this on. It’s probably the fourth time.” ‘Lives, agencies and political entities’ While Zanetti has yet to speak with Herbert personally, he said he would be suggesting to her that if this is something she wishes to pursue, she’d need to clearly state her case to the boards of education of both districts as well as the State Education Department and request their approval. “My understanding is that both boards would need to sign off on it and the state has to sign off on it,” he said. “Nothing like this is ever simple. It’s involves people’s lives, agencies and political entities.” However, Zanetti said the Tuxedo board has always been open to having those students attend Tuxedo schools. “I have no reason to think they wouldn’t continue to be receptive to the idea,” he added. “The districts involved need to agree in order to get this to happen. If the districts are not in agreement, it changes the paradigm tremendously. I’m not going to get into the details of whether it’s good for Monroe-Woodbury or not. Cathy Herbert has to involve both boards and the State Education Department. There is a process for that and she needs to follow that process.” Herbert expressed her displeasure with Monroe-Woodbury school officials for what she said was their lack of cooperation in discussing the idea and providing information about enrollment from the area. She said the district is requiring her to file freedom of information requests for information she is seeking. However, Monroe-Woodbury School District Superintendent Edward Mehrhof disputed that, noting he’s invited Herbert to meet with him on two occasions and she refused. Assistant Superintendent for Business and Management Services Jeff White also had an extended telephone conversation with her, he said. “I have to give the lady credit,” said Mehrhof. “Her one issue is taxes. She believes her taxes are too high. She’s cloaked this, it’s all about taxes.” Borders date back to the 50s Mehrhof said the Monroe-Woodbury School District boundaries cover 100 square miles and are about 60 years old, dating back to a time in the 1950s when a New York State committee began statewide consolidation of school districts. The Monroe-Woodbury district is actually comprised of 12 small districts within the area, explained Mehrhof, and includes the former Arden, Central Valley, Monroe, Woodbury districts and even smaller ones which featured the one-room schoolhouses of yesteryear for all grade levels. “Cathy Herbert’s view is that kids in Tuxedo should go to Tuxedo schools,” Mehrhof said. “Town lines do not dictate school borders. We have kids living in Woodbury who go to Cornwall schools. Should I go to Cornwall and tell them I want them back?” While he understood the reasoning for Monroe-Woodbury taking kids from that part of Tuxedo into the district almost 40 years ago, he also believed one of the criteria the next generation of home buyers in that area used when making their home purchases was what school district their children would attend. “I never want to compare us to others, but you know what district I would pick and why,” he added. Mehrhof said Herbert’s idea is an attempt to dismember the Monroe-Woodbury district. He added Governor-elect Andrew Cuomo and the State Education Department are seeking ways to consolidate school districts, which means looking at scenario options like smaller districts blending into larger ones, not taking a piece of a large district and giving it to a smaller one. “I am a little appalled that she would cloak this under the guise of what’s good for children when in reality she just does not like her taxes,” he said. “Who doesn’t like their taxes?” Like Zanetti, Mehrhof reinforced there’s a process to be followed if Herbert wants to pursue this, adding he had not heard from anyone else in that area who is seeking to change boundaries. “There’s one thing I will tell you,” added Mehrhof. “While I’m superintendent of Monroe-Woodbury, we are not going to dismember this district.” ‘A nice money base’ In the meantime, Herbert seems prepared to continue with her challenging task of rallying those in her immediate community to consider the concept. She said she is beginning an informational campaign explaining the merits of the idea. “Tuxedo has said they would love the kids to come back,” she said. “The only hang-up is Monroe-Woodbury. You can say they’re being held hostage. My perception is that we are perceived as a nice money base. I can’t see anything that justifies the current school boundaries. I see a lot of minuses, including my wallet.” Herbert encouraged her neighbors to take part in the survey. “If people think it’s fine to be part of Monroe-Woodbury (as a result of survey findings), I’m fine with that,” she said. But I think it’s something that should be discussed. I just think there is no way that this doesn’t make sense.” - Nancy Kriz Taxes Cathy Herbert lives in the Laurel Ridge development in the Town of Tuxedo, but pays school taxes to Monroe-Woodbury. Her school tax bill for 2010 was $10,751.62; in 2009 it was $9,901.90, according to the Orange County Department of Real Property Tax Service Agency. Based on conversations with Town of Tuxedo Supervisor Peter Dolan, she said she believed her school tax bill would be half of what it is now if her home were within the Tuxedo School District boundaries.