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Community Groups Weigh in on Proposed 2017-18 School Budget

FeedbackThe community was invited to respond to the proposed 2017-18 Scarsdale School budget on Monday night March 27th. The budget for the next school year funds 8.4 new teachers along with an additional nurse and two full time cleaning people at the high school, bringing the staff to the highest level it has been in the past eight years. However, due to savings from retirements, decreased contributions to the state retirement fund and stable utility and health insurance costs, the district can fund these additions without passing a big increase onto taxpayers.

The $153.69 mm school budget is a 2.15% budget-to-budget increase and includes funds from reserves from this year's budget to reduce the growth in the tax levy to just .96%. Due to the equalization rate, Scarsdale resident's taxpayers will go up 2.15%.

Response from the community was positive overall. School Budget Mtg 2017Speaking for the League of Women Voters of Scarsdale, Diane Greenwald encouraged a "Yes" vote on the budget, saying that it adheres to class size maximums, funds growth in the curriculum, accommodates the needs of special education students and allows for the hiring of a second nurse at the high school.

The League cautioned against budgeting to the state tax cap, saying "We recommend you present metrics going further back in Scarsdale budgeting history, when budget growth reflected prudent and justifiable investments that at times were higher than the "2%" limit, which is a misnomer. Educating the community in this way will be critical to getting the necessary approval if and when the Board must request an override of the tax cap to ensure the quality of a Scarsdale education."

For next year, the League asked for the Board to host community forums or provide opportunities for the public to give input on the budget earlier in the process, and asked the administration to provide a draft version of the budget for review before the final budget is released. They recommended that the district report on gifts made to the schools in the budget document. They also urged the Board to advocate for the district on matters such as unfunded mandates, teacher evaluations and other state and national issues affecting public schools.

The full statement from the League is shown below.

Speaking on behalf of the PT Council, Claudine Gecel thanked the school board and administration for a transparent budgeting process. The PT Council supported the addition of reading teachers, a half time Special Education teacher, a STEAM teacher, a nurse, and a part-time speech pathologist. They urged the Board to come up with a facilities plan to address "long neglected facilities issues." See the full statement below.

Newly elected Mayor of Scarsdale Dan Hochvert spoke on behalf of the Scarsdale Forum's Education Committee. He said that the Education Committee could not offer a formal comment on the budget as they had not received a copy until a week ago and were interrupted by the village election. He said he personally agrees with about 90% of what Diane Greenwald said, and requested that an earlier copy of the budget be issued next year for community groups to analyze. He also said he looks forward to seeing a long-range financial plan for the district from the administration.

Sharon Higgins, President of the Scarsdale Middle School PTA spoke on behalf of the SMS PTA Executive Committee and expressed their "mixed feelings" about the new Mandarin classes that will be offered before school in the "zero period."

Here is an excerpt from her statement: "Although our committee is not making a statement for or against the pilot, we would like to raise the question of how the World Language Report from November 28, 2016, in specific the ScarsdaleK-12 households survey and 6-11 survey were utilized in this decision. Priorities from the parent survey ranked STEAM and Technology over World Language and the student survey ranks Mandarin fourth after American Sign Language, Italian and German. We are concerned about the long-term viability of a program and the attendant repercussions to personnel where there is a demonstrated low level of interest and a high attrition rate."

BK Munguia spoke on behalf of the Scarsdale Teen Center, which did not receive funding from the School Board this year. She said that the decision to cu the funding was made by some who had originally supported the founding of the Teen Center. She also noted potential uses for the space at a time when the library will be under construction, saying, "In a community with space issues does it make sense to walk away from a completed community space?" She said that despite the School Board's decision, the Teen Center will continue with the funding they receive from the Village Board and is currently seeking new board members.

In response to commentary, Board President Lee Maude said the Board would think more about the timing of the release of the budget book, reporting on gifts to the district, holding forums on the budget before it is formulated and on the SMS PTA's comments on the new Mandarin program.

After the fireworks over the Village election the prior week, the mood of the meeting was calm and without contention. It appears that this year's budget should garner voter approval without a fuss.

League of Women Voters of Scarsdale Comments on the Proposed School Budget 2017-18 March 27, 2017

Introduction
The League of Women Voters of Scarsdale (the "League") annually welcomes members of the Board of Education (the "Board") and District Administration (the "Administration") to participate in a panel at the League's General Membership School Budget Information Meeting, this year held on March 20, 2017 at Village Hall and open to the public. The League acknowledges with appreciation the substantial time and effort that goes into developing the proposed Budget and thanks the Administration and the Board for their additional effort spent in preparation for our meeting. The League believes that the time given for the public to ask questions of the Board and Administration is a particularly valuable service, and offers a unique opportunity for dialogue about community-held priorities and values. This statement reflects the consensus of League members discussed at a League consensus meeting held immediately after the Information Meeting.

Position
The League supports the proposed Scarsdale School District Budget for the 2017-18 school year (the "Budget"), which includes priority investment into well-defined teaching and learning opportunities for Scarsdale students, and recommends that the community vote "yes" to approve this Budget on Tuesday May 16, 2017 at Scarsdale Middle School. However, the League notes that our budget study1 does not include a review of the fully articulated budget details as found in the "Budget Book," which was not made available to the community in time for our consensus meeting.

Budget Overview
The proposed $153,690,765 budget represents a 2.15% total budget-to-budget increase and overall tax levy growth of 0.96%. The budget includes an overall addition of 6.4 FTE faculty for new literacy, LRC, STEAM, Speech, kindergarten special education, and 1 unassigned position; .2-.4 FTE for a new morning Mandarin teacher in the middle school; 1 new nurse in the high school; and 2 new cleaners.

This year, the allowable tax levy growth under the New York State "Tax Cap" law is 1.55%, so the proposed Budget is .59% or $825,689 below the levy increase permitted by law without a 60% override vote. The Budget proposes use of the 2016-17 fund balance of approximately $2.8 million to cover one- time expenses such as the cost of overruns from the 2014 bond project and also to offset tax increases. The fund balance is available this year because of a decrease in mandated pension contributions due to favorable market conditions, lower-than-estimated utility bills due to decreased fuel costs and a mild winter, and 15 teachers retirements at the end of this school year, permitting lower salaries to replace higher ones. This year, the State property tax equalization rate for Scarsdale changed from 100% to ~89%, causing an increase in the share of the total tax levy Scarsdale residents are responsible for as compared to residents of the Mamaroneck Strip. Based on current estimates, the Town of Scarsdale tax rate for 2017- 18 will increase by 2.76%, while the Town of Mamaroneck's tax rate will decrease by 8.40%. These estimates mean that Scarsdale residents will likely pay ~$15.23 per $1000 of assessed property value, and Mamaroneck Strip residents will pay ~$13.53 per $1000 of assessed property value. We note that there have been years when these percentages have been different, and favored Scarsdale over Mamaroneck.

Noteworthy Budget Features
The League recognizes the use of the Transition Plan as the primary driver of the Budget development. We support the Budget choices that link to educational values as expressed in Education for Tomorrow Set 2.0, that support reflection on teaching and learning, including:

• Adherence to established elementary school class size maximums;
• Maintenance of the SMS house system;
• Commitment to the SHS class size norm that the League understands strive for no more than
12% of classes over 25 students, and scheduling practices that support student choice in
course selection and teacher availability for one-on-one student-teacher interaction;
• New curriculum growth in areas such as elementary literacy, K-12 STEAM programs, including
coding and making classes, expansion of hands-on science learning and expanded technology
instruction;
• Ongoing commitment to special education offerings that meet the needs of more students with
disabilities and learning differences in-District;
• Hire of a second nurse in the high school;
• Funding of certain stated PTA values, including security and sustainability programs.

The League also supports the Budget items that maintain long-term fiscal health, such as:
• Regular planned investment into the budget focus areas defined by the Transition Plan2 that have their own funding goals, and can 'smooth out' spending over time to avoid one-time expenses that may surprise;
• Funding of reserves that provide for a 'rainy day' and help to secure the District's Aaa bond
rating;
• Maintenance of the self-insured health care program that has saved the District [an estimated] $7
million over the past five years, as compared to Empire, according to District calculations.

The League recommends that revenues and expenses that are not part of a budget document but are important components of a district financial plan be provided as an addendum to the budget document. This addendum would list gifts from the Scarsdale Schools Education Foundation, PTAs, local organizations as well as individuals.

State Imposed Tax Levy Limit (the 'tax cap')
The League reiterates our continued support of the Administration and the Board's stated policy of not budgeting to the state-calculated tax cap. Though we understand that the arbitrary "line" created by the tax cap law requires 60% voter approval for override, and thus is necessary to be addressed during the budget development process, the League does not think the cap should be the standard by which the Board measures its fiduciary duty to the community.

The League recommends the Board and Administration continue to resist using the tax cap as a single- point guiding metric. We recommend you present metrics going further back in Scarsdale budgeting history, when budget growth reflected prudent and justifiable investments that at times were higher than the '2%' limit, which is a misnomer. Educating the community in this way will be critical to getting the necessary approval if and when the Board must request an override of the tax cap to ensure the quality of a Scarsdale education.

Capital Investment and Budget Cuts
The League reiterates our recommendation for regular, planned investment for capital improvements, and commends the Administration and the Board for committing funding for capital improvements in this year's operating Budget. However, after years of underfunding during recession years, the League wonders if cuts made to capital projects during Budget Study Session 4 on March 13th constitute a missed opportunity to chip away at what we understand is a significant backlog of capital needs. The League encourages the Board and the Administration to question the rationales and reconsider the reductions made to certain ongoing capital maintenance projects that we assume are priority; such as, but not limited to, the SMS faculty bathrooms, the asbestos abatement program, replacing aging computer monitors and the second (field) stairs replacement project at Fox Meadow (which might see an efficiency of scale benefit if completed simultaneously.)

Professional Development
The League values teacher excellence as critical to Scarsdale's educational success and commends the Administration's work to build on a faculty culture that promotes reflection and welcomes 'authentic feedback.' With an influx of new teachers to the District, the League applauds funding for professional development, focusing on special programs that buttress, mentor and even showcase new faculty in constructive and exciting ways. The League understands the clarification made during the League presentation that State tenure law does not permit the District to mandate that teachers with tenure participate in District-provided professional development offerings. We hope, just the same that the Administration will encourage all teachers to recognize the value of lifelong learning as vital to maintaining the highest standards of the profession. We encourage the District to continue to make professional development attractive, attainable and appropriate for all faculty members. The League supports the efforts by the Administration in each of our seven schools to create a culture where teachers welcome feedback and are encouraged to regularly reflect on and enrich their own effectiveness.

Budget Process
We commend the Administration and, in particular Assistant Superintendent Mattey, on the clear and comprehensive presentations, starting last December and continuing through the four Budget Sessions, outlining the 2017-18 budget development. However, we note that the budget presentations at the December 12, 2016, Board meeting, or the two in January, were not listed as such on the Board calendar.

The League recommends that the Board of Education calendar reflect all the Budget presentations throughout the budget development process and identify them as part of the
Budget process.

The question of how the Board and Administration solicit input and interpret community values during budget analysis remains, for the second year, a League concern. This year, like last year, the Budget season includes just this one community forum, a week before the Board is scheduled to vote on the Budget. The full Budget Book was made available only after the League's informational session and consensus meeting. Although residents are permitted to comment during every Board meeting, there is no opportunity for dialogue with the Administration or Board, and the League is not aware of any formal or informal processes by which the Administration or Board proactively solicits input from the community on issues related to the budget during its development.

The League recommends that the Administration and Board identify new ways to proactively solicit community input during the budget development process-- not just in the form of formal question submission. The League would welcome the restoration of an additional community forum, earlier in the process that offers the community direct Q+A opportunities with the Administration and the Board. Further, we recommend that the Budget Book be made available, albeit in draft form, in January for both the Board and the community.
The League recognizes that the Budget development process has changed over the last few years and we are trying to change our approach to studying the Budget so that we most effectively inform our membership and the community and offer the Board and the Administration thorough and considered recommendations. We believe our voice has value to your process and recommend that the Administration and Board work with the League this spring while setting calendars, in order to help us realign our study protocol with current budget development practice. Further, we recommend that the Board consider designating a Board Liaison to the League to better facilitate communication with our League School Budget committee.

Communications, Next Steps
The League commends last year's development of plans for District communications, but recognizes that Scarsdale residents are busy people, and as such, don't often 'tune in' to school issues until they are either personally pressing or the issue has grown fully adversarial. There are pending issues on the horizon, such as: determining the best use of mandated and contractually negotiated increases in classroom time; prioritizing district-wide capital needs that will be detailed in the long-awaited Facilities Master Plan; resolving the scope of the Greenacres School project plans; confirming assumptions for use of the upcoming debt service drop off; delivering a long range financial plan; and creating the next iteration of the District's multi-year 'Transition Plan.' The League foresees the need for the broader community to engage in constructive ways that go beyond the loudest voices at the microphone. The League commends the Board for its encouragement of written communication to the Board and the stated commitment to respond to all incoming correspondence, but we wonder how the Board then identifies, analyzes, integrates and communicates any trends found in these private correspondences as part of transparent decision- making practices.

The League recommends that the Administration and Board find ways to engage early interest in District issues, actively seek input from stakeholders to identify the range of community sentiment, create spaces for dialogue, offer greater agency to stakeholders and build solid buy-in when needed.3 The League further recommends that any established Board protocols for community interaction be made publicly known.

Advocacy for District Values in the State and Federal Landscape:
The League understands that State and Federal policies impact the district in ways that do not always reflect our own community values or serve our students' best interests. The League reiterates our concerns that challenges from the State and the Federal government continue to undermine the local democratic processes that have allowed Scarsdale community values to shape our public school system. The League thanks the Administration and Board for their commitment to Political Outreach as part of the Transition Plan, and encourages more regular reports that inform the community on issues facing the District in the wider public education landscape, particularly in the areas of unfunded mandates, State testing, teacher evaluation mandates such as APPR, and on issues of State Aid. The League encourages the Board's ongoing interactions with our local lawmakers, New York State Regents, regional and state school boards associations, and other education advocacy organizations.

The League reiterates our recommendation that the Board and Administration take on a greater role in advocacy and leadership for our District and for public school in general.
Thank you for your consideration of the League's report.

Sincerely,
Diane Greenwald
School Budget Study Chair
League of Women Voters of Scarsdale

Deb Morel
President
League of Women Voters of Scarsdale

Scarsdale PTC EC Comments - 2017/18 Proposed School Budget

Hi. I'm Claudine Gecel, one of the Scarsdale School's PT Council Budget Chairs. I'd also like to introduce two new Budget Chairs, Susan Lee-Foley and Wendy Huo. Tonight, we'd like to commend the School Board, the District Administration, and all the other hard-working staff who contributed to this year's organized, transparent budgeting process. And of course, we welcome the opportunity to comment!

As parents of school-aged children, we appreciate the efforts made by members of the BOE, and the District Administration, to present a financially responsible budget - One with a tax levy increase of less than 1%, and a budget-to-budget increase of 2.15%. Despite the fact that roughly 80% of our school budget is determined by outside forces, we believe this budget provides for an excellent public education - both for today and tomorrow. The Scarsdale PT Council's Executive Committee firmly supports this budget, and encourages the community to vote on May 16th, 2017.

That said, there are a few points we'd like to highlight:

1.) To further our shared value of maintaining established class size practices, and to ensure that students of all learning styles are able to access the general curriculum, we support the decision to add 2.5 Reading Teachers, and an additional .5 (half-time) Special Education Teacher to the Elementary Schools. We also support adding a second School Nurse, and a dedicated part-time Speech Pathologist, to the High School.

2.) The Council Executive Committee also supports the hiring of an additional STEAM teacher, for the High School, to continue last year's efforts of expanding our STEAM offerings. Likewise, we endorse the revitalization of a District-Wide Sustainability Committee that will include District Employees, Parents, and Students. The Council continues to support Sustainability Initiatives that promote Environmentally Responsible behavior.

3.) The Committee also understands that the District has postponed many Capital Projects during this past economic downturn. While the District has several Long Term Bonds coming due, building an annual budget which begins addressing Long-Neglected Facilities Issues should make everyone feel better about the health and safety of the buildings where our children learn. We're also glad to hear the District is working with a safety consultant. We urge the Board to ensure that the consultant's recommendations have the required funding.

Once again, the PT Council Executive Committee supports this budget in its current form, and also thanks the Board of Education, and the District Administration, for being responsible stewards of our financial resources.

Thanks so much for your time and attention!

Chris Morin and Scott Silberfein Nominated to Serve Second Terms on the Scarsdale School Board

MorinWendy Gendel, Chair of the 2017 School Board Nominating Committee (SBNC) announced today, March 20, 2017, that the committee has re-nominated Chris Morin and Scott Silberfein to serve second three-year terms on the Scarsdale Board of Education. If elected on May 16, 2017 the two will begin their second terms on July 1.

According to a press release from Gendel, the non-partisan SBNC is a committee comprised of 30 voting members and 4 non-voting members, all of whom are residents of the Scarsdale School District. The thirty voting members serve staggered 3-year terms and are elected directly by the residents of their election units, which correspond to the five elementary school neighborhoods. The 4 non-voting members consist of a Chair and Vice Chair who are selected from the previous year's graduating voting members, and one appointee each from the Scarsdale Forum and the Confederation of Scarsdale Neighborhood Association Presidents (SNAP). Collectively, the SBNC undertakes the process of recruiting and vetting prospective candidates to serve as members on the Board of Education.

Over the course of Sunday meetings from January Scott E. Silberfeinthrough March, this year's SBNC interviewed and conducted detailed due diligence on all applicants. Through thoughtful discussion and careful consideration, and pursuant to the SBNC Resolution, the SBNC then judges and selects individuals "solely on their qualifications to serve the community." This resulted in the nomination of Morin and Silberfein.

Discussing the process, SBNC Chair Gendel said, "I am incredibly proud to have served the SBNC and our community in this capacity. I thank the entire SBNC Board and all applicants for their hard work these past months and their unwavering commitment to ensuring that the Scarsdale School system remains among the finest in the country."

Commenting on the news, Scott Silberfein said, "I am excited and privileged to have received the nomination of the SBNC to serve a second term on the Scarsdale Board of Education. Serving our community in this way has been and continues to be an honor. If elected, I look forward to the opportunity to continue to support and build upon the good work of our district's administration and teachers in partnership with all of our community's stakeholders in providing the best possible education for all of the district's children, now and in the future."

For more information on the SBNC, including the governing resolution, information on the nonpartisan system, and a list of the current SBNC members, please visit the SBNC website or contact the SBNC Chair.

Residents are reminded to vote on Tuesday, May 16, 2017 in the school board election, the same day as the 2017-2018 school budget vote.

Proposed 2017-18 School Budget Scrutinized

magnifying-glass-2Scarsdale Board of Education's third Budget Study Session for the 2017-2018 school year took place on Monday, March 6th with detailed reviews of all relevant departments' proposals and careful questioning from the Board regarding expenditures both large and small.

So what's the big picture as of last Monday? That's a budget-to-budget increase of 2.56% which would result in a projected increase in tax levy of 1.40%, which is fortunately below the projected tax cap, as detailed below:

draft budget

 The following chart gives a more detailed look at the increases and decreases that come together to make up this total budget. Notably, staffing expenditures are up as Scarsdale Schools approach once more the staffing levels that were customary prior to the financial crisis. That expense, however, is largely offset this year by substantial savings due to decreased needs in employee pension funding:

reconciled expnese

 



Mandarin is a Go for SMS!

The most warmly welcomed news of the evening came when Lynn Shain, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum, Assessment, and Instruction, announced that the time during which parents may opt for "zero period" Mandarin for their rising 6th graders had just concluded with 42 students on board. To accommodate this number of students, the budget now contains funding for two instructors to be hired at a 0.2 level each at a total cost of approximately $40,000. Board President Lee Maude noted that it had been a long time in coming but that she hoped the new Mandarin option would "grow roots."

Did You Know???

Here's an arresting fact: district custodial staff clean nearly 900,000 square feet of building space daily! Next year that square footage will increase as the new spaces under construction at the Middle and High Schools come into use, and that means 2 additional custodial hires, at a cost of $92,000.

The additional spaces come with other costs as well. They'll need new cabling installed to accommodate technology ($175,000) and furniture and other equipment ($250,000) in the new SMS orchestra room, and High School Innovation Lab and Learning Commons.

Administrative Demands

One proposed change involving new costs is to reclassify the Teacher-in-Charge positions at the elementary schools as Assistant Principals, i.e. no longer teachers but administrators with a different salary structure. This reflects the changing requirements of the job, which has become more demanding and administrative in nature, according to Drew Patrick, Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources and Leadership Development. The new position would involve more work days through the summer, and come with an ongoing projected increased cost of $75,000 for the five individuals.

Greenacres School in Line for Paint

A line item under Plant Improvement caused some surprise: $70,000 for exterior painting at Greenacres (as well as at Edgewood for $80,000.) School Board member Arthur Rublin twice circled back to this item, asking "Since we're in process with Greenacres, couldn't the paint be deferred for one year while the plan develops?" Stuart Mattey, Assistant Superintendent for Business and Facilities, replied that even should the plan develop for a new school instead of renovation, that would be several years down the road. "The paint has been deferred for a number of years, and the building will be in use for some time."

What Price Sustainability?

Although not large within the overall budget, another item which drew Board scrutiny was $60,000 under Curricular Development set aside for future sustainability efforts, as yet undetermined, following on the installment of the Rocket Composter. Board members Art Rublin and Nina Cannon both questioned the necessity, with Ms. Cannon wondering whether the PTA's could take on some sustainability funding instead.

Teen Center:

Noticeably absent from the proposed school budget was the $65,000 for the Teen Center, which is funded jointly by the School and Village Boards. At a joint meeting of the two boards prior to the school board meeting on March 6 members of both boards discussed their views on continuing to finance the center. Village Trustee Marc Samwick told the school board, "We understand it's not now in your budget. We are concerned as well. We are also stewards of tax dollars. While we are supportive of teens and safe places can this programming be absorbed elsewhere?" School Board member Nina Cannon added, "It was initially supported because it was a student led initiative and there was real engagement from the student body. Now I am unsure if there is real interest among students. We should solicit feedback from students to see if there are using it – and if it wasn't there – where they would go? I am not discounting the value of the program and the effort – but I would like to know if our students and our community think this is needed." Village Trustee Matt Callaghan said, "I have visited it and found the doors locked. The Teen Center is over funded and under utilized. I think the funds are ill spent. I would like to give Scarsdale Family Counseling two more counselors instead."

However Village Trustee Bill Stern continued to support the Teen Center. He said, "To argue that money goes to family counseling instead is not good. It's like saying – wait for the kid to get into trouble and then we'll help them. The Teen Center is a tool that's available to help kids avoid drugs. If you save one kid it's worth the money." Carl Finger agreed. He said, "We gave them guidance and they made substantial progress. We are guilty of lukewarm support. It is hard to grow an organization this way."

School Board President spoke of other budget priorities. She said, "This is my fourth year on the board and it feels like we're kicking the can down the road each year.
We have a lot of capital expenditures, and we're increasing staff. These funds could go to a reading teacher that could help a lot of kids."

At the school board meeting that followed, speaking about the Teen Center, Board Member Art Rublin said, "It is a difficult issue but I don't think the school district has a role to play in the Teen Center in 2017. I don't think it makes sense for the district to spend monies on a center we have no relationship with."

Financial Strategy

While some proposed expenditures drew questions, overall the School Board found plenty to praise in this third Draft Budget. Money spent on the proposed additional Reading Specialists at each elementary were "well justified" in Mr. Rublin's view, and Ms. Maude approved of them as well. Board Member Chris Morin supported initiatives to bring capabilities in-house, such as the $63,000 earmarked to fund the Metamorphosis program, which would train certain of our own elementary teachers to be math instruction leaders within each school, reducing the use of outside math consultants from 3 to 1.

As the Budget Study drew to a close, the discussion trended towards the best financial strategy going forward. Both Ms. Maude and Board Vice President Bill Natbony noted that with the very significant savings in pension costs at this time, there was the opportunity to address needs that might go unfunded in a less favorable year. Mr. Morin expressed caution about recurring expenses, and also drew attention to the fact that the biggest line item in the budget was the contracted extension of the school day, which was decided in contract negotiations and lies outside of the budget process currently under review. As the discussion wrapped up, Superintendent Dr. Thomas Hagerman spoke in support of his 10-15 year plan: "Every year we will need to accomplish some of the plan in our yearly budget, but there shouldn't be a lot of surprises if we follow the plan. We're trying to get away from surprises."

You can watch the meeting in it's entirety here. The fourth Budget Session is scheduled for Monday, March 13 at 6:30 pm

Administration Presents Revised School Budget for 2017-18

shs2A revised school budget proposal for 2017-18 was presented to the Scarsdale School Board on Monday night 3-12, and will come in at less than a 1% increase in the tax levy over the prior year. The budget includes $1.699 mm in reserve funds from the 2016-17 budget to bring in a total 2017-18 budget of $153,690,765. This is a budget-to-budget increase of 2.15% or $3.236 million, but the use of reserves softens the impact on taxpayers.  Though the budget represents a .96% increase in the tax levy, application of the equalization rate will increase Scarsdale taxpayers school taxes by 2.76% and decrease taxes for those in the Mamaroneck strip by 8.40%.  See the chart below.

To deliver this budget, Assistant Superintendent Stuart Mattey trimmed $620,000 in expenses from the budget proposed on March 6 in response to questions from board members.

The district finds itself in the enviable position of being able to add teachers and staffing will now be back up to 2008-9 levels. The budget includes 8.4 more full time employees, bringing the total teaching staff to 457 up from 446 in 2009-10. These include 2.5 reading teachers for the elementary schools, added staffing for Special Education, a STEAM coordinator, one additional elementary school teacher and 2 unassigned teachers to respond to shifts in enrollment. Total district enrollment for 2017-18 and expected to decrease by just two students going from 4,779 students in 2016-17 to 4,777 students in 2017-18.

Dr. Hagerman noted that the school budget has been under the NYS tax cap since it was implemented – and indicated that the administration would continue to make this a goal unless it required compromises to the educational program. Mattey noted that the district has become more cost efficient with cooperative purchasing, competitive bidding, self funded insurance, employee recruitment practices and technological efficiencies. A few low enrollment classes have been combined and the school principals have been asked to look for ways they might save money.

The new budget does not include $70,000 in funds to paint the Greenacres School as work will be put off until the district makes a decision on what will be done at the school. Also cut from this version of the budget were the following:

One additional full time elementary school teacher at $110,000. The district is unsure of enrollment will warrant another section and there is already one additional teacher and two contingent positions included in the budget.

The district is working on a continuous project to remove worn floor tiles that contain asbestos. That budget for the coming year was reduced from $225,000 to $125,000. Mattey says the floors are safe but that it's a long-term goal to get rid of all the asbestos tile.

The exterior stairs from Hampton Road to the Fox Meadow School will be repaired – but the district will put off improving the staircase to the field at a savings of $85,000.

Health insurance costs are trending lower this year and therefore the line item was cut by$65,000.

Funds for renovations to the bathrooms at the middle school were reduced from $125,000 to $60,000 which will allow some, but not all of the work to be done.

The technology budget reduced by $30,000

The general carpentry reduced by $30,000

The sustainability budget which was at $60,000 was cut to $30,000

The budget for security improvements, which was originally at $100,000 was reduced by $25,000 to $75,000. Mattey said security improvements would be recommended by consultants and that these were optional opportunities for improvement based on priorities.

The total reductions from the prior week were $610,000.

The board discussed the appropriate level of reserves for tax certioraris in light of recent news that Fenway Golf Course had won a settlement with the Village to reduce their assessment from $13.4 million in 2011 to $7.2 million in 2017. Both the school and the village will need to issue substantial tax refunds to the club. The School Board discussed the need for improved communications with the Village Board so that they would have more upfront information about potential settlements. (Note that the proposed 2015-16 school budget showed that $118,387 had been refunded to Fenway in 2008-9

Effect of the Equalization Rate

More discussion ensued about the equalization rate. The state has assigned Scarsdale a .89 equalization rate, indicating that the New York Office of Real Property Tax Services (ORPTS) has calculated that the total value of Scarsdale's real estate is assessed at 11% below market. Applying this equalization rate to the school budget will mean a tax rate increase for Scarsdale residents of 2.76% while school taxes for those in the Mamaroneck strip will actually decrease by 8.4%. According to the budget document, "The equalization rate, as issued by NYS for the Town of Scarsdale, has decreased to below 100% causing a shift in each Town's share of the total levy and thus impacting each Town's projected tax rate. These estimated tax rates are based on a projection of final assessments.

equalization rate

In comments after the presentation, Board members were generally pleased with the results. Nina Cannon said, "Stuart, You have created a fiscally prudent budget that accomplishes what you hoped to do. We'll see a tremendous return on our investments."  Bill Natbony said, "I like where we are on capital improvements and the percentage increase. I like the flexibility we have in terms of staffing and enrollment. I like the flexibility we have to use budget transfers." Chris Morin said, "There is a tremondous investment in teaching and a 1% tax increase." Pam Fuehrer expressed reservations about taking funds out of the budget for the middle school bathroom renovations and asbetos abatement. The Board considered putting these funds back in but ultimately decided that if circumstances required flexibility, funds could be taken out of reserves.

Mattey also provided a timeline for providing the Board with a long-term financial plan for the district. He said the 2017-18 budget will provide the groundwork for looking ahead and said that a long-term plan would be presented in the fall of 2017 after the district finalizes their facilities plans.

SHS Choir Sings and Experiences Italian Culture During February Trip to Naples and Rome

chorus4Twenty-six students from the Scarsdale High School Chorus sang and toured in Naples and Rome and soaked up the culture of Italy during the February break. I was among the group that was less than half the size of the chorus that travelled to England in 2015. With such a small choir, every voice was important, and we had to shift voice parts quite a bit. For example, only two tenors signed up for the trip, so several altos had sing tenor parts. The trip was chaperoned by SHS Chorus Teacher John Cuk, his wife and Scarsdale Middle School Chorus Teacher Celia Cuk, SHS Tech Director Steve Bogardus, and his wife Cathy Bogardus.chorus2

On Saturday, February 18, 2017, we departed for our week-long performance tour in Italy. Upon arrival in Rome on Sunday morning, the choir traveled by motor coach to Naples, where we went on a walking tour of the city and checked in at the hotel NH Ambassador Naples. The next day, we toured the Teatro di San Carlo, the oldest Opera House in Italy, and The Naples Conservatory of Music, where we would perform Gabriel Fauré's "Requiem" with one of the Conservatory's chamber orchestras that night.

We also performed four a capella pieces at our concert that night in Naples: "Weep, O Mine Eyes" by John Bennet, "Ubi Caritas" by Maurice Duruflé, "Nelly Bly" by Stephen Foster, and "Rockin' Jerusalem" by André J. Thomas. Those four songs, along with the Fauré "Requiem" made up our program at our concert in Naples, our exchange in Rome, and our concert in Rome. Soloists on "Requiem" were Caroline Kaufman '17, Sofus Rose '17, Elias Hairatdis '19, and Christina Coco '19.

chorus1On Tuesday, we visited the nearby ancient ruins of Pompeii, then travelled to Rome. That night, after checking in at The Building Hotel, we attended an Opera Serenades Concert at the Palazzo Doria Pamphilj. The next morning, we went on a walking tour of Rome, stopping at the Piazza Navona, the Trevi Fountain, and the Spanish Steps. Then, we visited a Roman High School at the top of the Spanish steps, La Scuola Sacro Cuore, for an exchange with their choir who performed for us after we performed for them. All of us were in awe of the beauty of their school. After the exchange, we went to the San Lorenzo in Lucina Church, where we rehearsed with a local chamber orchestra for our final concert that night. The next day, we toured the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, and St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican City. We also got the opportunity to sing a few of our a capella songs inside the Pantheon. This concluded our tour.

Each day, we had free time for lunch, shopping and exploration on our own between rehearsals and performances. However, we all had dinner together every night. We were welcomed with open arms by both orchestras, the Roman High School Choir, our tour guide, Maria-Laura Giorgi, and the organist who played with us at both concerts. We were able to speak with all of these people, and learn so much about them and their music. The trip was not only a wonderful musical and cultural experience, but a great bonding opportunity for our small group. chorus3All of us quickly became comfortable with each other and made friends across grades, something we may not have had the chance to do without this trip. On this subject, Rachel Meiselman '20 expressed, "I liked how although we all come from different friend groups, we were able to bond over the music. Singing on the bus and through the streets of Rome are some things I'll never forget."

Annie Radin '20 reflected, "At first, I was kind of nervous to go on the trip because I had never done something like this before, but the moment we got off the plane I only felt excitement. We were able to learn about and experience the Italian culture. My favorite part was recognizing how universal music can be, especially when we sang with an Italian school choir." Emily Chase '17 discussed the musical demands of the tour: "Traveling and singing with such a small group was a really special experience. We all took the singing aspect of the trip very seriously, and with a smaller group we had to really depend on each other. We had to trust that the people around us would sing out and support us if we got lost or confused. All of us could also tell how hard Mr. Cuk was working because he had to figure out how to get the orchestras and our chorus to collaborate. It was a much greater challenge than I anticipated, and without the support from the group and Mr. Cuk's persistence, it would not have worked out so well."

Choir Director Mr. Cuk discussed how impressed he was with this particular group: "Maria-Laura (our tour guide) loved that this group asked questions and were bright, and dug into the culture. I've been with groups where they could care less and just wanted to shop and sleep, but this group soaked in every moment."

Personally, besides of course spending time in Italy with my friends, and eating some excellent food, my favorite thing about the trip was that it helped me grow stronger as a choir member, and realize what I am capable of musically. There were moments in some songs where I would be one of only 3 or 4 people singing a certain part. When singing in the larger choir at school, it's easy to feel like other people can cover me on parts I am unsure of, or that I can go on cruise control during a song I know very well. However, with such a small group I had to sing out and be present at all times, and I had to be sure to ask questions if I didn't know my part. I also really enjoyed the camaraderie among the choir. Right before our last concert, one of the sophomores suggested that we all circle up and let the seniors reflect on what this trip and chorus in general means to them. It was so touching to hear what everyone said, that I even started crying at the thought of leaving the SHS Choir next year.

Overall, the trip was an amazing experience, and we are all so grateful to have had Mr. Cuk to lead us through it.

Josie Blatt is a senior at Scarsdale High School.

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