Sunday, February 04, 2007

Yes, and yes again

Albany voters should approve referenda on public schools and libraries

EDITORIAL First published in the Times Union: Sunday, February 4, 2007
Voters in Albany will have an opportunity to answer two multimillion dollar questions Tuesday. One is whether to approve $19 million for improvements at three public schools. The other is whether to approve $29.1 million to renovate or rebuild neighborhood library branches. The answer in both cases should be yes.
Good schools and good libraries are essential to any community's quality of life. Indeed, most suburban communities attract new families precisely because they can boast of their public school and library resources. If Albany skimps on them, the city will become less attractive to newcomers, as well as current residents, and it will continue to lose population.
Although the school and library projects will be on the same ballot Tuesday, they are separate from one another. The school district has no involvement with the library, which has its own budget and board of trustees. Thus, voters could choose to approve one referendum and not the other. But that would be a foolish choice. Schools and libraries are centers of learning, and both are deserving of support.
Although the school referendum totals $19 million, it's highly unlikely that there will be any cost to taxpayers. That's because the $19 million includes two forms of state aid that will cover the cost. The money would go toward improvements at Arbor Hill Elementary School, where, among other things, the school's exterior would be made watertight, and new acoustical improvements would be made; at Giffin Elementary School, where improvements would include new heating and air conditioning; and the Thomas O'Brien Academy of Science and Technology, where there would be new heating and air conditioning systems, a new auditorium ceiling and other improvements.
Unlike the school referendum, approval of the library borrowing will come at a cost to taxpayers. But it's a modest one -- just $47 a year for a home currently assessed at $100,000. And that $47 will go a long way to improve the city aging library branches. For example, the 90-year-old Howe branch, with its leaky roof, would be repaired. There would be a new Arbor Hill/West Hill branch and an expanded Pine Hills branch. The New Scotland Avenue branch is closing because of renovations at School 19, and needs to be replaced. The Delaware Avenue branch, squeezed into a strip mall, needs new and expanded quarters. Moreover, none of the branches has room for more books or computers.
All this will change for the better, and soon, if voters make the right choice Tuesday and say yes.

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