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Energy Proposals: Solid Plan Or Fairy Dust?

Syosset Board of Ed delays vote on energy contract; staff awarded tenure

The January meeting of the Syosset Central School District School Board was another long, three-hour production. However, quite possibly for the first time since the election of newcomers Chris DiFilippo and Josh Lafazan last spring, all members seemed to be on the same page; though several votes were not unanimous, there was a sense of camaraderie and the meeting was not contentious. 

Add in appointments to tenure for popular high school principle Dr. Giovanni Durante and four other well-regarded administrators, and Jan. 14 featured the most upbeat meeting the district has had in quite a while.

The main event was a question and answer session between the board and representatives for the two companies that are bidding on an 18-year energy performance contract with the district, Johnson Controls and Siemens. 

The main difference is that Johnson Controls assessed the project at $16 million, with approximately $500,000 in guaranteed profit by the eighteenth year; Siemens assessed the project at $17 million, with over a million in guaranteed profit.

No matter which company is awarded the contract, the project is slated to include many improvements, including replacing the high school roof as well as lighting and heating fixtures throughout the district for better energy efficiency.

One of the largest areas of savings will be in fuel, by way of switching from oil to natural gas. DiFilippo asked why the district couldn’t install solar panels on the roof and achieve energy savings that way, as Kellenberg Memorial High School has. In response, David Tanner from Siemens said that the payback period on solar panels was so long it could be “a burden” to the district.

Many on the board expressed concern about the project’s hefty price tag. While Siemens touted the project as “budget-neutral,” board president Dr. Michael Cohen was not convinced.

“It really shouldn’t be presented as this fairy dust coming out of nowhere,” said Cohen.

Dr. Alan Resnick inquired about forgoing the extended contract and focusing on the highest priority improvement: fixing the high school roof. However, the representatives explained that without the energy savings achieved throughout the rest of the district, there would be no way to pay for the estimated $4 million in necessary roof replacements.

Superintendent Dr. Carole G. Hankin was clear that no matter what else happens, the capital improvements to the high school are non-negotiable. “The pool, and the high school library and the roof of the high school [building] need to be changed. That’s a given,” she said. According to the Hankin, signing onto an energy plan like this was a good way to get the high school roof replaced without raising taxes. However, Lafazan pointed out that there had, at one time, been another way to finance the roof improvements.

“If we hadn’t spent 6 million dollars in reserves last year, we’d be able to write a check to fix the roof of the high school,” he said.

Though a vote on the contract with Johnson Controls was initially scheduled for that evening, after the Q&A revealed many areas of concern, the board decided to table the vote for a later meeting. During Audience to the Public, two residents with extensive expertise in the field offered to help the district sort out their options for energy improvements. Jimmy Carchietta added that the representatives from Simenes and Johnson Controls didn’t seem very familiar with the rebates available in the area.

“In order to put a new roof on, LIPA’s offering a 20 percent rebate per square foot. No one mentioned that,” said Carchietta.

The board also heard a presentation from Orlando Martinez, director of local sports programming for the greater NYC area at Verizon FiOS. While the board had discussed signing a contract with FiOS’ competitor, Cablevision’s MSG Varsity, in order to broadcast school sports and other events on television, Martinez informed them that they could easily sign up with both FiOS and Cablevision, since FiOS does not require exclusivity. The board later voted unanimously to do just that; MSG Varsity, which broadcasts more non-sports events, will have first pick.

In other votes, the board voted 7-1 to approve the creation of an official district Facebook page for emergency communications, and 6-2 to create a district finance committee. DiFilippo, who put forward the motion for the committee, cited Hicksville as a nearby district that uses multiple committees to go over some items in detail without having to discuss them all at monthly board meetings. The trustee noted that getting some discussion moved to outside of the board meetings could be helpful. After all, “these meetings have been taking longer and longer,” DiFilippo said.

The next meeting of the board of education will take place on Monday, Feb. 11 in the South Woods Middle School Auditorium.