Taxpayers group opposes new high school, favors renovation

DAN BERRETT
Barbara Magnano (pictured) and Lucy Cohowicz are organizing a campaign against building a new high school in Stroudsburg. Their effort, called Taxpayers United for Stroudsburg High School Renovation, has collected more than 200 signatures in less than a week.

A pair of Stroudsburg taxpayers are leading an effort to block the building of a new high school, largely because of its price tag.

"We can't afford it," said Lucy Cohowicz, who lives on Chipperfield Drive, near to where the district's school board is considering buying land for a new school. "It's just not a logical scenario."

She and Barbara Magnano, both whom have or had children in district schools, have been circulating a petition on behalf of their group, "Taxpayers United for Stroudsburg High School Renovation."

It states that residents and taxpayers cannot afford a new school and favor renovating and expanding the existing school on West Main Street. In less than a week, the group has collected more than 200 signatures, including those of several past school board members, including Paul Cameron, Jerry Catina, Karl Dickl and Dr. Anthony Diecidue.

The $87 million renovation was approved in November by those past members, and properties neighboring the school have already been bought. In December, four new members joined the board, and plans brewed instead to build elsewhere, on two parcels on Chipperfield in Stroud Township. The price tag for a new building ranges from $107 million to $119 million, according to the most recent estimates from the district's architects.

Some of the most energetic proponents of a new school campaigned as members of a slate called Restore Pride. One of the group's platforms was a commitment to fiscal accountability.

"I think a lot of people are disappointed in this group," Magnano said. "They promised fiscal responsibility. How can this be fiscally responsible?"

Board members who favor building new have said that doing so will bring substantial benefits and that the difference in price, between $20-30 million, will net out to be less than it appears. The program will be better set up in a new building, they have said, and the current school can be sold to defray the difference in cost; a 2004 study estimated that the current high school would fetch $5 million.

"I'm not against the new school, but it can't be afforded by the district or the taxpayers," Magnano said. "It's to wake the sleeping members of the school board that have this dream."

Cohowicz and Magnano said they also oppose a new school for other reasons, including the loss of a school to which students can walk, and the traffic and environmental impacts of putting another school on Chipperfield, where there are already three.

A final decision by the board looks to be two months away as it seeks an environmental review of the Chipperfield land.

"I feel that at least we have a fighting chance at this point," Magnano said.

"Apathy has created this problem and it's got to stop," Cohowicz said. "We're not political, but we're taking a stand."

Taxpayers United for Stroudsburg High School Renovation is planning to convene more meetings to drum up support. The next is planned for next Tuesday afternoon at the community room of the Eastern Monroe Public Library. For more information, e-mail renovateschool@yahoo.com.