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Greenacres Elementary Task Force Recommends a "No" Vote on the Bond on February 8

greenacresschoolThe Greenacres Elementary Task Force represents residents of Scarsdale who have significant concerns about the unmet facilities needs of Greenacres Elementary School and the health and safety aspects of a proposed renovation of the school.

We have advocated for an inclusive and transparent bond planning process, collaborative discussion of Greenacres' needs, fiscal responsibility, and a major focus on safety during any construction.

After careful consideration, the Task Force recommends a "No" vote on the 2018 Scarsdale school bond. We believe the bond is the product of a flawed planning process, offers a poor return on investment, and fails to address important safety concerns. We propose to work together with the School Board to develop and promote a new bond that offers worthwhile investment for all of Scarsdale while protecting our kids and teachers.

Process
Efforts to identify and incorporate community values were disingenuous, and no clear vision of the long-term investment of this bond was ever convincingly articulated. Many major decisions during this process were also made unilaterally behind closed doors.

There are too many examples of the flawed process to fully recount here, but some major events included:

  • Failing to adequately engage both Greenacres and all of Scarsdale in meaningful two-way dialogue;
  • Firing the former District architects and then hiring new ones and revealing the related RFP only after public pressure;
  • Holding the most important meeting of the process in determining the future plans for Greenacres on a weekday morning during a summer holiday week when many residents were out of town;
  • Inexplicably limiting the Greenacres discussion to a single renovation option;
  • Surveying residents purportedly to identify their facilities concerns but intentionally omitting a response that would have allowed residents to indicate their preference for a new Greenacres building;
  • Failing to form a Greenacres Building Committee until all major decisions had already been made, in contrast with renovation proposals at the other schools, then ignoring the most important recommendations made by the Greenacres Building Committee and the District-wide Facilities Committee;
  • Ignoring strong demand from surveyed residents for air conditioning throughout the District; and
  • Failing to pursue viable parking options for Greenacres or even to perform a traffic study when those issues have long been identified as significant Greenacres concerns.

With this history, perhaps it should come as no surprise that such a process resulted in a flawed and very atypical school bond proposal.

Return on Investment
The 2018 bond's proposed renovation of Greenacres is merely an expensive band-aid for a school building with significant unmet needs, including:

  • Small, antiquated classrooms for the younger grades;
  • Over 100-year old lead water pipes and aging sanitary pipes;
  • Ongoing issues with mold that more than once the District has incorrectly insisted had been fully addressed;
  • Lack of energy-efficiency and sustainability planning;
  • Inadequate parking and a precarious drop-off and pick-up traffic situation;
  • Lack of fire safety sprinklers as required in all new construction; and
  • Uniquely poor site plan that requires children to cross a road to access the playground.

Virtually none of these issues will be addressed by the $35 million renovation. In addition, the architects indicated that several million dollars of additional work will be required over the next decade. Is this the best use of Scarsdale's resources?

It is important to note that we are not promoting that a new Greenacres school would be the only acceptable solution should the February 8th bond vote fail. However, as recently emphasized by the League of Women Voters of Scarsdale in announcing why the League does not support this bond, the community was never provided with a full cost-benefit analysis to renovate and expand versus build a new Greenacres School. The Board's supposed comparative fiscal analysis assumes a $60 million cost for a new school without having conducted a true cost study. No architectural plans were ever drawn for a cost estimate nor were any options presented for study. In any case, the Board's myopic focus on cost alone ignores the crucial other side of any cost-benefit analysis: what would be the value of such an investment to the Scarsdale community?

Safety
As parents, we continue to believe that there are major, unaddressed safety issues with renovating the uniquely space-constrained Greenacres School while children are inside.

The 2018 bond does not include several safety recommendations endorsed by the Greenacres Building Committee and the Districtwide Facilities Committee, including modular classrooms to be used as swing space in the likely event of construction delays. These recommendations were ignored, and the Greenacres Building Committee was summarily dismissed prior to the Board making its final bond recommendation.

Additional safety concerns include:

  • Potential hazards resulting from the opening of walls that likely contain asbestos, lead and other toxic materials;
  • Playground in very close proximity to and surrounded by construction (an option to relocate the playground away from construction was dismissed without public discussion);
  • Use of cranes at Greenacres, including a statement by the District's Construction Manager that the kids will be around "swinging steel" for some time; and
  • Exacerbation of significant, existing issues with student drop-off, pick-up, traffic and parking.

The District has yet to come up with a contingency plan on where to move the children and staff should unexpected toxins be found in the renovation, or a detailed plan of how the children and staff will be protected at each stage of the renovation. Our children's and school staff's safety during this proposed renovation process should not be put at risk.

This renovation cannot be compared to other school renovations. The Greenacres project would be the largest renovation project in the history of Scarsdale's elementary schools, in its oldest school building, on a site offering the least amount of room to accommodate the demands of construction. There is no margin for error.

Greenacres may be the first, but it won't be the last of Scarsdale's aging elementary schools to be subject to major construction. The precedent established for Greenacres will eventually affect all of Scarsdale's elementary schools. We must get this right.

Conclusion
Many of us moved to Scarsdale due to its reputation for educational excellence. We believe that a well-articulated, long-term vision of how this bond invests in improving the Scarsdale school system should have been apparent and guided the bond development process from the beginning. This lack of vision and flawed process has led to a bond proposal with unclear educational and facilities goals, as well as a lack of critical safety contingencies.

As Greenacres residents whose neighborhood school would receive the majority of work under this bond, we are particularly disappointed to find ourselves recommending a "No" vote on February 8th, but we believe that is the better choice not only for Greenacres, but for all of Scarsdale.

We therefore encourage all Scarsdale voters to join us in voting "No" on February 8.

For more information on our efforts, please visit www.greenacrestaskforce.org and https://www.facebook.com/greenacrestaskforce/.

BLOG COMMENTS POWERED BY DISQUS

Comments   

#15 We can do BETTER. Vote NO! 2018-02-03 15:09
After reading letters to the editor in this weekend's Scarsdale Inquirer, it seems that some people believe that "most of those opposing the proposed bond believe that the next time around they'll get a brand new Greenacres school".

Umm, I don't think so.

80% of Scarsdale residents do not reside in Greenacres. They reside in Fox Meadow, Edgewood, Heathcote or Quaker Ridge. I am hopeful that this silent majority comes out in large numbers on Feb 8th to vote NO because:

1) It is imprudent to spend $35 million expanding Greenacres when the administration itself has projected that enrollment is projected to decline. Oh sure, some people will say "but if we renovate the school, maybe more families will move in!". From the perspective of the 80% of residents who don't reside in Greenacres, the only reason we can conclude that the school board is throwing $35 million at Greenacres is because the Greenacres community has been so vocal in recent years that the board felt obligated to spend a significant sum to hush them up. But that's not a good reason to spend $35 million dollars. Especially when...

2) State and local taxes (combined!) are now limited to a $10,000 deduction. Dear Scarsdale resdients, if you haven't already, please pull out Schedule A from your most recent tax return and imagine line #9 showing $10,000 instead of whatever you most recently deducted. The cost of living in Scarsdale just became MUCH higher, and it's already effective as of Jan 1st of this year. It's time for everyone in our village to tighten their belts, especially school administrators and school boards. It is not the time to be borrowing $65 million, spending it on questionable projects, and ducking our obligation to develop a long term fiscal plan.

3) There is no long term fiscal plan. Dr. Hagerman himself has admitted it. With no more debt rolling off the books in the coming years, we can't borrow a record amount of money now, and kick the can down the road on a long term fiscal plan. The administration has admitted that it has no clue whether it will need to borrow even more money. The "health" and "safety" items (nice marketing!) in this budget are arguably operating expenses (not capital expenditures), but clearly our annual school budget has been insufficient to pay those operating expenses. So clearly the annual budget needs a closer look too, because normally a bond like this would be used to fund capital expenditures such as:

4) The bond has practically zero capital expenditures that Scarsdale residents actually requested when polled. No air conditioning. No food service in all elementary schools. It doesn't even have secure vestibules at all the schools. Yes, that's correct folks. The high school and middle school won't even get secure vestibules. Have you tried to walk into those schools school lately? I did. I walked right in and wandered around freely. So in this corner, you have very vocal Greenacres residents still arguing to build a new school, purchase modular classrooms, etc. And in this other corner, you have 80% of Scarsdale residents silently voting NO because they don't want to borrow $65 million and/or they realize that if we're really going to borrow $65 million dollars, we can spend it more wisely to the benefit of all residents.

I have read letters to the editor saying "Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good" as if doing something, ANYTHING, is better than doing nothing. Come on folks. Don't let the BAD become the enemy of the BETTER.

We can do better.

This bond proposition should fail. Our taxes will go DOWN, at least for awhile. Perhaps we need some new administrators and/or some new board members to take a fiscally prudent, long term approach.

Vote NO.

And encourage your friends and neighbors to vote NO too. It's all about turnout now.
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#14 A. Taylor 2018-01-31 19:02
To GA resident and Bob,

My name is Andy Taylor, and I am a resident of GA and have been actively following this from the beginning. There are numerous GA families whose perspectives are consistent with the Task Force. I am one of them. But there are numerous families who will not criticize the process publicly for fear of retribution by the school system when it come to classroom placement, fear of unfair treatment and singling out their children, and overall standing in the community. I don’t understand that position, but it is widely held. People are entitled to different perspectives, but everything that the GATF laid out is completely accurate. This is an objectively poor project that provides terrible value and was a railroaded, results oriented, process from the beginning. All of the open meetings were perfunctory without serious engagement or the sharing of information and analysis despite countless requests. Only thing worse than this project is the process used to put it forth. I think it’s our civic duty to vote this down - decisions can’t be made this way in our town.

Quoting GA Resident:
Bob,

The Task Force does not speak for GA. They are a group consisting mostly of parents that are concerned about being inconvenienced and do not listen to or trust the District about how the renovation will be conducted and what safety measures will be put in place.

If you drive around GA you will Vote Yes lawn signs all over the neighborhood and not just around the field and the school. They are as far South as Fenimore, North to Farley and West to River Road.

Many people in GA are excited about the prospect of an expanded and renovated Greenacres including those with children that will be in the school. We can accept the inconvenience and disturbance and are willing to sacrifice for future families.

I urge you and others to not let their negativity impact your own analysis of what is best for our community.

Quoting Robert Berg:
Who are the concerned Scarsdale residents that constitute the Greenacres Elementary Task Force? Only two names can be found on the organization's website: Jon Krisbergh and Tony Corrigio. I know and respect Jon, though I disagree with his analysis and recommendation on the bond proposal. I don't know Tony, but I've heard him articulate his position on the bond at the many public meetings that the Board has held.

Does the Greenacres Elementary Task Force represent only a handful of deeply concerned and opinionated residents as I suspect? Who knows? But we'll find out next Tuesday. As responsible citizens, whatever you do, please educate yourselves about the bond -- there's a wealth of information out there -- make up your own mind -- don't be a lemming. And then get out and VOTE.

Your individual vote really is important. This vote matters for the education of our kids and for your own real estate values.
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#13 LWV fan 2018-01-31 17:42
Thank you to the last three comments!
That pretty much wraps it all up.
Send the Board back to the drawing board, and this time request that Dr Hagerman develop a vision for the future beyond this bond, as he frankly admitted to the League of Women Voters he had not thought about it “for a second”.
THEN we can decide if this huge financial commitment is being deployed toward the very best plan our community can devise.
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#12 big picture 2018-01-31 11:14
I did get the School Board email. A few thoughts:

(1) I don't think something this important should be such a "hard sell". Why all the splashy mailings and the posted videos? If at this late date, this bond really makes so much sense we shouldn't be getting plastered with last minute PR pushes. This is a well educated community - we shouldn't have to be sold on something this important. The vast majority of us should feel good about this proposal. I don't think that is the case.

(2) I understand - there is a certain amount of current funding that can be replaced with new funding. Just because we have money to spend, doesn't mean it should be spent. Why not just go for the items on which is there is significant community consensus? And, if that means using only a portion of the available funding, so be it. I am not in finance, so if I have this wrong - please explain it - but wouldn't our taxes decrease in comparison to what we are currently paying for bonding if we don't max out what we "could" spend - because then we would be paying interest on less principal?

(3) If the regular school budget requires 60% approval, at a minimum this should (I know it doesn't) require at least that much consensus - it should not pass a la a Scarsdale Schools version of the Senate reconciliation rules used to cram through Obamacare on one side, and the tax reform on the other.

(4) My opinion is that, in the interest of this community, this should fail and that we are entitled to a proposal that truly has WIDESPREAD community support. In the long run, and short run, I think this is damaging for the community, damaging for the respect for the School Board, and particularly damaging for the reputation of the current Administration on which many groups look for guidance (parents, teachers and staff, taxpayers). For those reasons alone, if I were the school board I would pull the bond from the vote right now and get real about building consensus.

We can't undo this bond if it is approved. But if it fails, we can, and I think will, come up with something much much better for everyone - school kids, empty nesters, taxpayers and the overall reputation of Scarsdale and our schools.
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#11 Proud and grateful neighbor 2018-01-31 10:33
It's great to see parents such as those who have led the Greenacres Task force step up and show such exemplary leadership. Their position is extremely well-written, thoughtful and based on concrete examples. They advocate convincingly for educational excellence and student and teacher health and safety. And they advocate for a more inclusive and vision-driven bond process. They should be applauded for standing up for the very values that created a great school system that benefits all Scarsdale residents.
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#10 GA Parent 10583 2018-01-31 09:47
Those that say "this is our last chance" or "if we don't get this we will get nothing" are factually wrong. There is a video going around of the Board clearly stating that is NOT the case. If the bond fails, the needs of the schools do not go away and neither does our ability to raise another bond. Also, taxes do not increase because we are not borrowing (How would that even make sense?)

GA residents (all residents really) should vote YES if they think this is a good use of +$60mn or NO if they believe we deserve something better for borrowing/spend ing that much.

Personally, I think it is insane to spend that much on an expansion. But it is deplorable to suggest that GA has to cut some DACA for THE WALL bargain with the rest of the town to get our share.
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#9 resident 2018-01-30 23:06
Did anyone else read the email from Natbony today? It sounds like, "Pass this tax neutral plan that nobody likes so we can raise taxes to do all the other stuff that people actually want."

Why can't parking at all the schools and air conditioning be tax neutral? Let super sizing Greenacres be the piece that in not tax neutral and see if people really want to pay for it.
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#8 Wrong total cost of GA renovation 2018-01-30 19:47
The total cost of the GA renovation is 43.5 million, not 45 million. It’s bascially 35mm in the bond plus 8.5 million in the operating budgets.

Quoting Stop complaining:
A renovation with a total price tag of $45 million will not be bad for a Greenacres in the long run.

I think it’s great that Scarsdale is willing to spend this much on Greenacres even though enrollment is declining.
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#7 Stop complaining 2018-01-30 19:01
A renovation with a total price tag of $45 million will not be bad for a Greenacres in the long run.

I think it’s great that Scarsdale is willing to spend this much on Greenacres even though enrollment is declining.
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#6 Disgusted with the Rhetoric 2018-01-30 18:16
The plan is flawed and a few well organized and funded individuals have placed their own self interests above that of the community in leading the charge to "save the field" at all costs, Mr. Berg being one of them.

The disrespectful dismissal of the GATF by Mr. Berg, ignores the hundreds of families who contributed to its mission for the greater good of the community as opposed to self interest.

If the people who are behind the clever signs and emails really cared about the community, they would demand trailers for the children. That would be the morally right thing to do and would allay many of the concerns that parents have about the renovation. It would also demonstrate empathy and good citizenship, traits we try to teach our children.

The deafening silence from these individuals who supposedly care about the children, exposes their self interested motivation. What a sad commentary on some of our neighbors.
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