By RUSSELL JONES
The Otter Valley school board rejected a proposal from the Pittsford selectboard to use $100,000 of Burditt Trust funds to repair a sidewalk along Route 7 in front of Lothrop Elementary at a meeting on Wednesday. The board rejected the request because a majority believed it was a town expense, not a school expense.
The Burditt fund was set up in 1974 when Dan Burditt, a resident of Pittsford who had no children, died. The trust he established was designed to be used by the school district of Pittsford, but in order for funds to be disbursed, both the school board and the town selectboard had to be in unanimous agreement on spending the money.
According to the school board, the wording of the trust also stated that if the school board was subsumed into a union board, that board would decide.
In May of 2018, the Pittsford selectboard received state funds of $100,000 for small projects that they wanted to use on the Route 7 sidewalk, but those funds had to be matched. The selectboard passed a resolution and asked the school board to approve $100,000 for the project with Burditt funds. That request was rejected.
That decision made the Pittsford Trustees of Public Funds, whose members Hank Pelkey and Tom Hooker are also on the selectboard, question whether the OV school board had the legal right to turn it down since they were not the Pittsford school board and only had two residents from Pittsford on it. After months in a probate court, the court ruled in favor of the town, but the school board appealed the decision.
In January, the two sides came to an agreement during mediation.
The agreement stated that the entire OVUU board would vote on the issue, with a majority (including the two Pittsford board members) needed for approval to disburse funds, as long as the town still agreed.
“The last time Burditt funds were used was to do the pellet furnace at Lothrop,” OVUU Pittsford rep and vice- chair Bonnie Bourne said. “The project requests have always come from the (Pittsford) school board.”
The Burditt fund was also used to help build new athletic fields at Otter Valley High School.
“Dan Burditt’s fund speaks to property, land, developing land, things like that,” Bourne said. “When they did the fields, they took the percentage of Otter Valley that were Pittsford residents and they contributed that percentage to the project.”
Bourne said she had not heard much about the sidewalk issue from members of the community, saying, “only a handful, two handfuls of people had even approached her about it.”
Bourne went on to say that the wording of the Burditt fund says it is specifically for school projects and this proposal, she said, was a municipal project. Bourne said the people she has heard from agreed with her.
During further discussion, other board members stated they were wary to set a precedent where the selectboard could use Burditt funds for town projects.
Bourne also brought up the fact that when the road improvements take place in Pittsford, currently scheduled for 2026, that sidewalk will be torn up.
The board voted to reject the project almost unanimously, with Barry Varian being the only dissenter.
He stated that because they just tried to pass a $2 million safety bond, and because this speaks to safety and keeping children safe that are walking in that area, he felt they should help out.
“If this is a project that will help keep kids safe and the town can’t get it across the goal line, I think we should help out,” Varian said. “If it won’t put a burden on taxpayers and it’s something the community wants, I think we should.”
Next steps after bond failure
In other business as the school board meeting, the board considered next steps following the defeat of a $2.9 million bond to insure school safety and other improvements.
“My greatest concern with the safety has always been with Otter Valley,” Bourne said. “I do think we need to stay focused on the Otter Valley piece. I don’t know how we do that, whether we look to secure funding elsewhere or what, but I think we should stay focused on that.”
The board talked about several options to move forward, including using existing surplus building funds and the sinking fund to do the Otter Valley portion, and maybe seeking Burditt funds for the Lothrop portion. Neshobe School has its own trust fund for school projects, the Ely fund, but that fund is tied up and cannot be used at this time.
“We can’t just throw our hands up and walk away and say ‘well we didn’t get the money so we can’t do anything,’” Bourne said. “There has to be a way to secure other sources of funding for these projects, maybe the whole Pittsford project can be done with Burditt funds, we won’t know until we ask.”
Other board members took a different tact.
“I don’t support doing anything to these schools that we don’t have a long-term plan for,” OVUU board member Emily Nelson said. The board tabled the discussion until the next meeting when business manager Brenda Fleming will be present to discuss what funds they may be able to access moving forward. The next school board meeting is April 3, at the OVUHS library.