A financial relationship between the Rensselaer Central School District and the nearby S.A. Dunn Landfill is coming under scrutiny.
The pact was approved back in December by the Rensselaer school board. The Times Union first reported that operators of the landfill are paying at least $125,000 annually to the city school district, whose high school campus is next door to the dump. Former EPA regional administrator Judith Enck likens the deal to a gag order. "I'm not saying that the school should not accept corporate donations. I am saying that they should never sign a quid pro quo, and that's what this donation agreement is. The school superintendent signed on the dotted line and said 'in exchange for $125,000 a year that would come to the school district, he will not publicly say anything negative about the landfill.’ And I think that is unconscionable. I think it's unethical. And most importantly, it's not in the best interests of the students and the teachers that are in that school building."
In an effort to clarify the school's position, Rensselaer Central School District Superintendent Joseph Kardash posted a message on the district's website. "We have some local activists who are very much looking out for their community, and I've applauded them before and I continue to applaud them for doing that. This is not an ideal situation. I wouldn't want to live on Partition Street and certainly would never put a school next to a landfill. But here we are with that. When I look at what the role of a school is, a school needs to remain neutral for the good of the kids. We're not allowed to take a religious stance or support a single religion. We shouldn't be taking a political stance, whether it's Democrat or Republican in endorsing any given direction. And it's really not the school's role to choose winners and losers in legally operating businesses.”
School board President John Mooney says the district can terminate the agreement at any time. Enck says the 99-acre construction and debris landfill causes major odor and dust problems. "This so-called 'donation agreement' between the Rensselaer School superintendent and Waste Connections, which is one of the largest waste companies in the nation, is deeply deeply troubling. And it's important that the school district cancel the agreement between themselves and the waste company."
A man who answered the phone at the landfill said no one was available to speak with the media. Kardash believes the district is on the right path and hasn't taken any action that would jeopardize the safety of students. "My door is open. My number is out there. I am happy to discuss with anyone. The school will continue to focus on providing opportunities for our kids and making our environment safe in every way that our organization is capable of doing. But we understand our role. And we hope that the rest of the community can understand that role and take on the other roles necessary to keep the whole community safe. And we applaud everyone who is doing that."