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The Fear Factor

no-talking-signThis is the opinion of site founder Joanne Wallenstein: There's an awful lot of whispering going on around town. I can't count the number of times I've heard something like this in the past few weeks, "I can't say it out loud, but .....") What is the unmentionable they are afraid to address? It's not the bombastic POTUS Donald Trump, the natural disasters that are overtaking our planet or the razing of homes and trees in the 'dale. No, the thing they're afraid to discuss is the proposed 2017 school bond, the one that includes a massive addition to Greenacres school and new boilers, roofs and security vestibules at other district schools.

And why would anyone be scared to talk about it? Here's my interpretation:

The atmosphere at Board of Education meetings is tense –- it appears that board members are reluctant to share their concerns or question the administration's assumptions and recommendations. At meetings, they tend to vote as a pack and apologize if they have to pose a question. It looks like they are more concerned with the superintendent's approval than representing the residents who chose them to serve.

When out in the community, board members are cautious about interactions with individuals as they've been warned that the Board of Education needs to speak as one voice, and individual board members should refrain from commenting on their own views.

Same for the teachers – they are reticent and have shied away from conveying any concerns about the building conditions at Greenacres or how the proposed plans will impact the students and the teaching environment. Why? Could speaking out affect tenure decisions or future class assignments?

Parents of children in the schools have openly told me they are afraid that objecting to the current plan will affect their children's education. They fear their children will be "punished" for their parents' views with undesirable class placements.

And even those with no children in the schools are reluctant to speak openly. They don't want to stir the pot with their neighbors who may have opposing views.

So since no one wants to speak out loud, here are some of the concerns and questions that seem to be running through our minds.

Timing:

After a six-month moratorium on bond discussions, the superintendent re-opened the process by retaining new architects in the spring and announcing plans for a decision by the board in October for a bond referendum in December, 2017. A single scheme for the re-design of Greenacres was released on August 24, at a special Board Meeting when many were out of town. Few details about the interior space, educational underpinnings, infrastructure, parking or traffic have been released and no design options were presented. The administration has not scheduled public forums or time for community comment and is now presenting the plan as a "done deal." Why the rush to the finish line?

Project Goals:

The administration worked with the architects to devise a plan but failed to involved the community in prioritizing goals and outlining building needs. As a result, many are questioning what's included in the building and what's not being done. For instance, a large cafeteria is being added but water and sanitary pipes that are decades beyond their useful lives will remain. New bathrooms will be added, but the old ones, which are badly in need of upgrades, will not be touched. Mold and moisture, perennial problems on the lower level of the school, will be remediated with dehumidifiers rather than by addressing the underlying issues.

The administration defends the addition of the cafeteria, claiming that in a few years PTA's will be barred from serving lunch. However, this "need" should be balanced against the risk of adding on to to a building with a damp foundation and aged plumbing that could pose risks to the students and faculty down the road. Witness for example what happened to Westchester County and Scarsdale Village when they were charged with alleged violation of the Federal Clean Water Act. Where is an accounting of the expense of maintaining this aging building and the real costs of kicking the can down the road?

What's become of our decision-making processes and civic engagement?

Neighborhood Impact:

The new plan saves Greenacres field, but at what cost to the neighborhood? The proposed building encompasses almost the entire building lot and soars three stories high from the base which is just feet from the sidewalk on Huntington Avenue. Residents who were shocked by the bulk and siting of the new retail building in front of Balducci's at One Palmer Avenue will no doubt have a similar reaction when the framing starts in front of the school. Though Scarsdale Village requires builders to set homes back 30 feet from the street and limit bulk and floor area ratio, the school does not have to conform to local code even though the school is surrounded by homes. Will the new structure block views and light? Have the homeowners on Sage Terrace and Putnam Road been notified? Do they have concerns? Why did former Assistant Superintendent Linda Purvis insist that the lot site was "maxed out"? ... and why is this expansion okay now?

In June the Board of Education asked the administration for a traffic study but to date nothing has been released to the public. That leaves many questions up in the air. How will kids be dropped off and picked up – during and after the construction. The green area in front of the school has been eliminated. Where will kids and parents meet up and where will parents and faculty park their cars?

For the new cafeteria, how will food delivery trucks approach the building and where will garbage and dumpsters be sited?

Construction Concerns:

One group of parents has been more vocal. These are the parents of children who will be in the school at the time of the construction. They are very concerned about the safety of their children and environment hazards during the construction process. They point out that though children usually remain in the building during construction, nothing of this scale has ever been done at an elementary school in Scarsdale. They have asked that their kids be relocated during the process, but they have been silenced and rebuffed when they attempted to convey their concerns to the Board of Education. At the September 11 meeting, a worried father who attempted to warn the board about the risks of lead dust was yelled off the mic when he exceeded is allotted time. Other parents want to know if there are contingency plans for the kids if environmental monitors find that conditions are unsafe or delays in timing prevent occupation of the building.

Other District Facility Spending:

About 40% of the $65 million bond will go to infrastructure items such as roofs, ventilation systems, boilers and security vestibules at all district schools. These types of items have been traditionally funded out of the general operating budget of the district which allocates a certain percentage of each year's budget to facilities improvements.

This change in policy, to utilize a bond to fund repairs rather than improvements, was not fully vetted by the board and the community and it is a decision with tremendous impact. Some suspect that spending these funds on repairs is a disguised attempt to decrease school spending and taxes in the future. Is this what the community wants? It may well be, but sufficient time has not been allotted to examine whether this is a good decision or not.

Most importantly, some are asking why a Superintendent of Schools is pushing the Board of Education to cut corners rather than champion world-class education and facilities. Instead of requesting funds to increase classroom size, improve recreational facilities and bring forward-thinking educational design to our schools, he's looking for ways to scrimp and save on the backs of Scarsdale's kids. Who is behind this agenda?

These are just a few of the many questions I have heard and I am sure you have others. But you only have a few weeks to get them answered before the Board votes on the bond referendum. So if there's something you want to know, email the Board now – or if you're really brave, speak up at a Board of Education meeting. You'll only have three minutes – so say it quickly.

Comments   

+2 #33 B. Dirk 2017-09-27 11:14
Dear Y. Kurchin,

What do you mean by Mandarin, reval, etc? And are your kids harrassed at school by teachers when they oppose a different view from the teacher? If this is true, this is unacceptable. Quoting Y Kurchin:
Quoting This is not the Scarsdale I Thought I Knew:
Has anyone else noticed that all of the comments supporting the bond or otherwise putting down people who are concerned about the current plan mention how they "support a decision to renovate"? To me, we're not talking about a renovation vs a new school anymore, but they keep bringing it back up, because that's really all they are focused on. Honestly, who else would actively oppose moving kids out of a school under construction unless it served their narrow self-interest?

As this article points out, Scarsdale is grappling with some big issues, including why kids aren't being moved off-site during a construction project of unprecedented scope for a Scarsdale elementary school, the process that was used to reach that decision and the culture created by our Superintendent Thomas Hagerman and a complicit School Board that completely chills any discussion of issues that don't fit their agenda. This is not the Scarsdale that any of us thought we lived in.


When you villainize community members because they do not have the same interest as you, do not be surprised when you find yourself on the receiving end!

I am not speaking to you specifically but after watching what happened about mandarin, the reval and the last vote with the new party .........

This is the new normal (abnormal) in America
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+2 #32 Y Kurchin 2017-09-26 13:50
Quoting This is not the Scarsdale I Thought I Knew:
Has anyone else noticed that all of the comments supporting the bond or otherwise putting down people who are concerned about the current plan mention how they "support a decision to renovate"? To me, we're not talking about a renovation vs a new school anymore, but they keep bringing it back up, because that's really all they are focused on. Honestly, who else would actively oppose moving kids out of a school under construction unless it served their narrow self-interest?

As this article points out, Scarsdale is grappling with some big issues, including why kids aren't being moved off-site during a construction project of unprecedented scope for a Scarsdale elementary school, the process that was used to reach that decision and the culture created by our Superintendent Thomas Hagerman and a complicit School Board that completely chills any discussion of issues that don't fit their agenda. This is not the Scarsdale that any of us thought we lived in.


When you villainize community members because they do not have the same interest as you, do not be surprised when you find yourself on the receiving end!

I am not speaking to you specifically but after watching what happened about mandarin, the reval and the last vote with the new party .........

This is the new normal (abnormal) in America
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0 #31 Y Kurchin 2017-09-26 13:44
Quoting Heathcote parent:
It is not just Dr. Hagerman and not just this bond issue. The teaching in Heathcote has also gone down but many are afraid to say something. No one wants to deal with the repercussions. I wonder if the feelings are the same at each Scarsdale school.



YES! Fox Meadow & Middle school parent here and in both schools i have to worry about teachers targeting my children !

I have told my children listen to what the teacher says regarding the class, they teach, if the teacher goes into anything with a political leaning and ask your opinion agree with the teacher no matter what they say.

Come home and we will discuss the topic and thoroughly review all information so you can make your own mind up!
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+3 #30 Y Kurchin 2017-09-26 12:48
"Parents of children in the schools have openly told me they are afraid that objecting to the current plan will affect their children's education."

It’s interesting now that they would care but there is no concern about teachers making student discuss politics and telling everyone in their class whom they voted for.

How is that not a concern? I want my children to learn and to think for themselves and not have to hide their thoughts and feelings out of fear of a teacher!
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+5 #29 M. Smith 2017-09-25 16:05
And why are the facilities committees closed to the public?
We pay taxes, and yet, we do not get to find out what is going on? Why should we vote for this bond, when discussions are being held behind closed doors? Quoting This is not the Scarsdale I Thought I Knew:
Has anyone else noticed that all of the comments supporting the bond or otherwise putting down people who are concerned about the current plan mention how they "support a decision to renovate"? To me, we're not talking about a renovation vs a new school anymore, but they keep bringing it back up, because that's really all they are focused on. Honestly, who else would actively oppose moving kids out of a school under construction unless it served their narrow self-interest?

As this article points out, Scarsdale is grappling with some big issues, including why kids aren't being moved off-site during a construction project of unprecedented scope for a Scarsdale elementary school, the process that was used to reach that decision and the culture created by our Superintendent Thomas Hagerman and a complicit School Board that completely chills any discussion of issues that don't fit their agenda. This is not the Scarsdale that any of us thought we lived in.
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+7 #28 Joanne Wallenstein 2017-09-23 02:51
To GA Dad:
A few points:
As for now, the existing bathrooms in Greenacres School will not be replaced.
About the sanitary pipes, a few years back there was a big rupture in the waste pipe that caused school to be closed.
The previous engineering report said that the sanitary piping (installed in 1923) was in poor condition, 53 years beyond its useful life.
The water supply piping, also installed in 1923 is 43 years beyond its useful life - found to be in "acceptable" condition, except for the lead issue.
And if you look at the rendering of the building it is indeed 3 stories from the sidewalk to the top of the roof.
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+3 #27 In the know 2017-09-22 18:52
As a building committee member I can tell you that the bathrooms are NOT being renovated. There was begging by members to at least do the main one and that might be getting done now. The classroom ones will remain as is, as will the one near the current cafeteria. The building is 3 stories high at Huntington at the road. There are not classrooms at the bottom level but the structure is a full 3 stories.
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-3 #26 GA Dad 2017-09-22 17:29
Joanne,

We will have to agree to disagree on the existing bathrooms and seems like an appropriate question for Monday night.

Still disagree that the addition is 3 stories. It's not. It's the same height as the existing 2 story structure and this was discussed in the last BOE meeting. I see what you are looking at which I think are below grade entrances. If you look at the floorplans, there are clearly 2 floors of classroom / instructional space plus the existing basement.

Quoting Joanne Wallenstein:
To GA Dad:
A few points:
As for now, the existing bathrooms in Greenacres School will not be replaced.
About the sanitary pipes, a few years back there was a big rupture in the waste pipe that caused school to be closed.
The previous engineering report said that the sanitary piping (installed in 1923) was in poor condition, 53 years beyond its useful life.
The water supply piping, also installed in 1923 is 43 years beyond its useful life - found to be in "acceptable" condition, except for the lead issue.
And if you look at the rendering of the building it is indeed 3 stories from the sidewalk to the top of the roof.
Quote
-3 #25 J. Lasser 2017-09-22 17:22
Have you even considered that they added the Q&A to correct a mistake? These aren't communications professionals on the PTA. They are hard working volunteers doing the best to balance their responsibilitie s, work, families etc. There is no vast conspiracy by the Board to control the GA PTA.

It's completely appropriate to try and manage the flow of the meeting Monday lest it go on too long.

Quoting PTA and District Want to Control the Message:
People who want to screen your questions typically don't say that's the reason they're requesting them in advance. Do you really think they needed questions submitted in advance to reduce redundancy? Please. This was about control, pure and simple. The District fears that the their carefully crafted narrative will be challenged, and they can't have that. With all questions submitted in advance, they can better control the situation. The PTA belatedly added something about possibly having time for a few questions at the end (I'm not holding my breath) only AFTER it was pointed out by the community that requiring all questions up front wouldn't give anyone a chance to react after hearing the presentations.

Quoting J. Lasser:
The PTA requested questions be submitted in advance in order to keep the meeting organized and reduce redundancy. There is no mention of "screening".

They have also said that there will be time for additional questions at the end.

What's the issue here?

Quoting Why is the PTA Limiting Discussion:
Do you mean the PTA meeting where all of the questions are being required to be submitted and screened in advance? I'm sure it will be very informative, if you're looking for one side of the story. Why didn't the PTA invite anyone to offer another point of view?

Quoting Greenacres parent:
The best way to compromise and work together will most likely come from ALL of us attending the upcoming PTA meeting and presentation and getting all of our information together
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+7 #24 PTA and District Want to Control the Message 2017-09-22 15:25
People who want to screen your questions typically don't say that's the reason they're requesting them in advance. Do you really think they needed questions submitted in advance to reduce redundancy? Please. This was about control, pure and simple. The District fears that the their carefully crafted narrative will be challenged, and they can't have that. With all questions submitted in advance, they can better control the situation. The PTA belatedly added something about possibly having time for a few questions at the end (I'm not holding my breath) only AFTER it was pointed out by the community that requiring all questions up front wouldn't give anyone a chance to react after hearing the presentations.

Quoting J. Lasser:
The PTA requested questions be submitted in advance in order to keep the meeting organized and reduce redundancy. There is no mention of "screening".

They have also said that there will be time for additional questions at the end.

What's the issue here?

Quoting Why is the PTA Limiting Discussion:
Do you mean the PTA meeting where all of the questions are being required to be submitted and screened in advance? I'm sure it will be very informative, if you're looking for one side of the story. Why didn't the PTA invite anyone to offer another point of view?

Quoting Greenacres parent:
The best way to compromise and work together will most likely come from ALL of us attending the upcoming PTA meeting and presentation and getting all of our information together
Quote

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