by Tom Bartley
Voters in the Hastings-on-Hudson school district went to the polls in heavy numbers Tuesday, rejecting a proposal to borrow $8.1 million for school repairs and major overhaul of athletic facilities.
The tally minus absentee ballots which have yet to be counted was 1,027 "yes" and 1,543 "no." The absentee ballots will not change the outcome, the district clerk said.
The school board has 90 days to decide on its next steps.
Eileen Baecher, president of the Board of Education, said she was disappointed. "It was really a good plan...It was worth asking the question. Now we have to move on.
"We did an exit poll," she said. "We will look at that and move on from there."
"The vast majority of high-schoolers wanted the fields," said Janey Litvin, a student at Hastings High School. "I've played on both turf fields and Reynolds Field and the difference is unbelievable. I also believe it's necessary that we get a 6-lane track so we have a proper place to practice and have home meets." She felt voters were focused not on the athletics but on the money and on inaccurate environmental information.
Superintendent Roy Montesano said, "We weren't overly surprised because we know artificial turf in these communities is difficult."
Polls in the high school gym, where long lines formed early, opened at 7 a.m. Long lines formed again 30 minutes before the polls closed. It was a steady stream, said Connie Rasulo, a Hastings resident and poll worker.
"I've never seen anything like it," she said.
The controversial bond referendum, especially the money earmarked for the high school sports overhaul, had divided the community. Dueling websites, heavy campaigning and hot rhetoric marked the months, weeks and days leading to Tuesday’s showdown vote.
All three schools stood to benefit from the proposed repairs, replacements and upgrades, estimated to cost $8.6 million. In addition to proceeds from the bond, district officials planned to use a half-million dollars from the capital-reserve fund to finance the work.
But most of the bond money was set aside for a major overhaul of athletic facilities at the high school, including a new track, refurbished tennis courts and other athletic-area upgrades. Those projects came with a price tag topping $3.2 million.
Much of the heat in the athletic-facilities debate was generated by a plan to redo the high school’s Reynolds Field. Now a general-purpose, natural-grass field, it was scheduled to get a $1.3 million synthetic surface.
Proponents organized under a Say YES To the Bond banner, which also became their .org website, urging voter approval of the referendum. Critics rallied as Save Reynolds Field, gave that name to their own .org website and beseeched voters to reject the bond.