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Harrison to Challenge SBNC Candidate in School Board Run

Self-appointed citizen’s advocate Bob Harrison has filed to run for the Scarsdale School Board. Armed with a petition signed by 67 residents, Harrison appeared at the Board of Education today, April 20, to announce his candidacy. Harrison will challenge Suzanne Seiden, one of the candidates proposed by the School Board Nominating Committee.

According to Board of Election rules, Harrison was required to run for a specific seat, rather than appear as a fifth candidate on the ballot. In this year’s election, there are four seats to be filled on the School Board. Jeff Blatt, who has served two terms will be leaving the Board. Suzanne Seiden was nominated by the School Board Nominating Committee to fill Blatt’s seat and she will now run against Bob Harrison. The two drew for their ballot placement, and Seiden’s name will appear on top.

Current Board member Joel Gurin served one two-year term but is unable to continue for a second term due to professional responsibilities. Lewis J. Leone Jr. has been nominated by the SBNC to fill that seat. Jill Spieler and Elizabeth Guggenheimer have each served one term and they have both been nominated to serve a second term.

It is highly unusual for candidates to go outside the process and nominate themselves for a position on the Scarsdale School Board. The current district clerk has been with the district since 1984 and knows of no candidates who have run in the election without a nomination from the School Board Nominating Committee. Member of the SBNC are elected by residents to select candidates for the School Board.

Retirements Announced at Scarsdale High School

Seven retiring members of the faculty of Scarsdale High School were honored at the Scarsdale Board of Education meeting on Monday night April 19th. Together the seven have given 218 years of service to SHS and all have made significant contributions to the school and the students. Among those retiring were a Dean, the Math and Science Department Chairs, as well as members of the English, Science, and Technology departments.

Lead technology teacher Barbara Bierbauer has been with the district since 1981. She has led the district through the installation of new technologies and according to Assistant Principal Kelly Hamm, “She dragged the faculty into the 21st century.” She was credited for being readily available, willing, and never saying no. She took on an array of difficult tasks such as creating the Senior Options sign-up process, helping the Maroon staff to design the school paper and assisting the College and Career Center. Joan Weber called her talented, knowledgeable and an exemplary member of the faculty.

Biology Teacher Art Bloom has taught two generations of Scarsdalians, and has now instructed the children of at least ten of his students. A constant learner and educator with a true passion for science, Bloom has inspired many to go on to careers in science and medicine. About Bloom, one student said, “ He is the perfect biology teacher—when he was excited, so were we.” Another credited Bloom with “making the hardest subject the most interesting and fun.”

Chairman of the Mathematics Department Carol Desoe joined the Scarsdale schools in 1973 and has served as department chair for the last eight years. Praised for her remarkable clarity and quick, calculating mind Principal John Klemme said she furthered the careers of the teachers in the department and maintained high standards of excellence. PTA President Julie Hoofnagle said that Desoe connects easily with students and applied math to real world situations.

Bella Jacobson has led the Science Department for 23 years and championed the Science Research Program, which allows Scarsdale High School students to do original scientific research and work in area laboratories. Called a “superb teacher who embodies all things we seek in a teacher,” she was lauded for her care and precision. Principal John Klemme called Jacobson a consummate people person and confidante who was a sounding board and offered good advice. Saying that we have “all been blessed” by working with Ms. Jacobson, he told her that she has left her mark on SHS. Quoting a student, Julie Hoofnagle said that Ms. Jacobson “created an atmosphere of spark and vigor.”

Dean Linda Mandlawitz will also be missed. She has counseled hundreds of students, and in the words of Fred Goldberg, she shared herself, her compassion and her high ethical standards. He called Mandlawitz a wonderful friend and colleague, a distinguished counselor and a good friend. Parents and students said that Mandlawitz cares deeply, is compassionate, approachable and gives spot-on advice. In the words of one parent, “I will always be grateful to Dean Mandlawitz for her consummate professionalism and encouragement.”

Science Teacher Steven Sepe has been at SHS for over 20 years, teaching Chemistry, Physics and Earth Science. He served as a mentor for new teachers and designed a rigorous curriculum for Earth Science classes. He connects easily with students, has a straight-forward teaching style and encourages students to develop as individuals. Funny, brilliant, sweet and friendly, Sepe battled medical issues and continued to teach this past year.

English teacher Diane Wrobleski came to SHS on a part-time assignment in 1980 and has been here for 30 years. An outstanding educator, she has taught all grade levels and abilities. As a reading specialist she championed students with special needs but also taught AP and AT courses where she has honed the writing skills of her students. Mr. Klemme praised her mentoring, organizational skills and work ethic and said she has won the respect of all who know her. She teaches her students to fully experience the classics, and one grateful student said, that after her course no one ever “reads a book the same way.”

In the words of Assistant Superintendent Dr. Joan Weber, these faculty members have provided an exemplary education for our students and made Scarsdale great.

Community Provides Feedback on Proposed School Budget

The Scarsdale School Board received feedback from the community on the 2010-11 School Budget at the April 8th Budget Forum. Representatives from The Scarsdale Forum Education (Fiscal) Committee, the League of Women Voters of Scarsdale and the PT Council presented statements.

While the League and the PT Council spoke in support of the Board and the budget, the Scarsdale Forum statement was more critical. On behalf of the committee, John Bensche, outlined their reservations. It should be noted that this report was not approved by the entire membership of the Scarsdale Forum, and not even endorsed by the Forum’s own Educational Policy Committee. It did however received “Expeditious Treatment” from the executive committee of the Scarsdale Forum, which means that it was read, but necessarily endorsed by the leadership.

Here is a summary of their recommendations:

1. Reduce current year tax growth further by finding additional economies and using more from reserves.

2. Set a long-term goal of matching budget and tax growth to inflation, adjusted for changes in enrollment.

3. Take steps to further reduce the rate of growth in total compensation.

4. Prepare and publish a rolling five-year forecast for capital expenditures and a minimum of two years for operating budgets.

5. Because changes to union contracts have the potential to be such a significant driver of future expenditures, civic groups should have the opportunity to review and comment on contracts changes before they are approved by the Board.

The Committee has significant reservations about the budget. They fall into three main areas:

1. The budget is based on several fundamental policies and proposals that also impact future budgets, but is not presented in the context of its impact on future budget years. As a result we do not believe there is enough information to analyze the extent to which the current budget decisions may require future expense increases. Examples of multi-year decisions and proposals include:

• Use of reserves
• Order and timing of facilities projects
• Multi-year contract extension with teachers and multi-year no layoff clause
• Multi-year contract with bus drivers with multi-year no outsourcing clause
• Changes to teacher workloads or class sizes
• Changes in teacher headcount funded by Federal Stimulus money that may extend beyond the expiration of that funding

2. The Committee believes the rate of increase in employee compensation should be reduced at the earliest opportunity. Over many years and as a result of long-standing policies, Scarsdale has built up a structure of guaranteed payment increases (“steps”, “lanes”, COLAs) to employees, which has resulted in the most generous salaries in the State, according to the New York State Department of Education. We believe that this rate of increase reduces the financial flexibility of the District to react to changing economic circumstances and puts upward pressure on the budget every year. We will be submitting a future comprehensive report dedicated to analyzing this issue in depth, and making longer-term recommendations.

3. We recognize the Scarsdale Teachers Association (“STA”) voluntarily reopened its contract with the District. We are also aware that the District gave significant concessions to the STA in exchange for its agreement to reduce previously contracted compensation increases. While the cover letter on the budget says that the STA “unilaterally contributed” some of its across-the-board raise in an act of shared sacrifice, we view it as a trade, not a unilateral contribution. And a trade that puts off contract negotiations for an additional year, thereby delaying a full engagement with the STA on adjusting the rate of growth in compensation in a more meaningful fashion. We believe the District may have given up too much to get this agreement.

The full report can be viewed here:

Following Bensche’s statement, Board President Barbara Kemp reminded him that he applauded when the STA announced their decision to accept wage concessions for the coming years. She was disappointed that the Fiscal Committee did not praise the teacher’s for re-opening their contract. She thanked the Fiscal Committee for their hard work and analysis and promised that their suggestions were already under consideration. School Board member Jeff Blatt asked why The Scarsdale Forum divorces discussions of education policy from educational funding, and noted that the two go hand in hand.

Both the League of Women Voters and the PT Council spoke in support of the budget, the Board and the process.

Ann Sacher, speaking for the LWV credited the Board. “Given the current, challenging economic conditions, the League recognizes the difficulty in designing a school budget that retains core educational values while minimizing tax increases. The League appreciates the effort that the Administration and Board put into making information available and reaching out to the community for its input.”

The League commended the Board on negotiations with teachers but since they will have less flexibility on staffing, they recommended caution when “making new non-tenured staffing commitments.” They supported the 4% budget reserve due to uncertainty about state financing and tax receipts and urged the Board to support a village-wide tax revaluation. The League also supported the formation of a committee to seek additional revenue sources, funding for the Teen Center and the evaluation of the foreign language program. The full text of their letter appears below.

Elizabeth Gruber
of the PT Council Executive Committee, praised Scarsdale teachers for opening their contract and which helped to preserve class sizes, jobs and programs. To those who called for no tax increase, the PT Council said, “the educational cuts that would have to be made to bring about a 0% increase could directly compromise the integrity of a Scarsdale education both now and in the long term. We would be forced to deal with dramatic cuts in curriculum, extra curricular activities and staffing.” See the full statement below.

The budget vote and election for School Board candidates will be held on Tuesday May 18th from 7:00 am to 9:00 pm at the Scarsdale Middle School and everyone is encouraged to vote.

LWVS Comments on the proposed 2010-11 Scarsdale School Budget

The League of Women Voters of Scarsdale appreciates the opportunity to comment on the proposed 2010-2011 Scarsdale school budget. The League offers sincere thanks to the Administration and members of the Board of Education for participating in our consensus meeting on March 22, 2010 and for responding to our extensive list of questions. Given the current, challenging economic conditions, the League recognizes the difficulty in designing a school budget that retains core educational values while minimizing tax increases. The League appreciates the effort that the Administration and Board put into making information available and reaching out to the community for its input. The League supports the budget presented on March 1, 2010 and encourages the Board to continue to explore creative solutions to control costs, raise revenue and study productivity. The League awaits the District’s decisions on managing the tax rate increase given the additional $400,000 tax revenue deficit.

The League acknowledges and commends the Board and Administration on its historic teacher contract negotiation, which saves the District $1.9 million over two years. As a result of this agreement, important programs and services will be maintained at their current levels enabling Scarsdale to maintain its core educational values. We note that by extending the contract for one additional year, the district has limited its ability to negotiate other aspects of the agreement that may have generated future savings and concessions greater than those agreed to in this contract revision. Among the concerns are salary levels and cost-sharing of benefits that will be frozen for an additional year, and the inability to lay off teachers except in situations where there is a decrease in student enrollment, which could affect the process by which some programming can be evaluated. The League suggests that because of these constraints, the Board and Administration should take extra care when making new non-tenured staffing commitments.

The League recognizes the need for keeping a 4% budget reserve level and is in favor of doing so in light of the potential for either unanticipated expenses or decreased revenue that might occur next year, particularly due to the uncertainty of future tax certiorari grievances and receipt of state aid. The League has a strong view on tax reassessment, and wishes to reaffirm the need for a countywide and village-wide revaluation/reassessment. We hope that the Board vigorously supports a village plan for revaluation/reassessment within Scarsdale.

The League encourages the Village and School District to continue to look for creative ways to partner to decrease the overall taxpayer burden. The League appreciates the ongoing cost-sharing programs, including facilities and transportation for the summer day camp program, sanitation and fields for recreational activities. We recommend continued evaluation of cost-sharing opportunities, particularly in the areas of health and safety.

The Board has announced that it will be forming an advisory committee, made up of a cross-constituency group, to consider the feasibility of additional sources of revenue. The League commends the Board for taking the initiative to explore different sources of revenue and for doing so in an inclusive manner.

The League acknowledges the thorough process that the Board and Administration have undertaken to evaluate the funding levels for the Youth Services Project and the Teen Center. We look forward to the upcoming analysis being done by the Board on the best method of delivering social support services in the District. The League encourages the Board to continue to find a level at which to support the Teen Center. Though educational programming is the Board’s priority and should not be jeopardized, the Board should continue to acknowledge the Teen Center’s value to the community.

The League encourages the Board and Administration to continue the process of evaluating the Foreign Language Elementary Schools (“FLES”) program, and looks forward to learning the outcome of the assessment. The League understands the rationale for deferring the funding for a Mandarin language program and for reconsidering this initiative when economic conditions improve.

The League has learned that after the Preliminary Proposed Budget was drafted, a $400,000 reduction in tax revenues was reported due to settled tax grievances. Without further budget adjustments, this revenue reduction will result in a higher tax rate than originally proposed. The League’s statement on the proposed budget is based on the information available at the time of the March 22, 2010 meeting. The League may comment on further budget changes as they become available.

In conclusion, we thank the members of the Board of Education, Dr. Michael McGill and the entire Administration for the help that they have given to the League of Women Voters this year in its study of the proposed school budget. The Administration and Board’s willingness to listen to community input has made this year’s budget process a very inclusive endeavor. We look forward to the continuation of an open budget process again next year.

The League recommends that the community vote “yes” on the proposed 2010-2011 Scarsdale school budget on May 18th, 2010.

Angela Manson, Barbara Cohen and Ann Sacher
League of Women Voters School Budget Committee Co-Chairs
Jane Veron, President, League of Women Voters of Scarsdale

Scarsdale PT Council – 2010-11 Budget Statement

The Scarsdale PT Council Executive Committee applauds the efforts of the Board of Education and the District to maintain a high quality of education and a low tax rate increase.

We are extremely grateful to the teachers union for opening their contract to negotiate a lower salary increase saving $1.9 million over the next two years. This action preserves elementary school class size, jobs and programs. We fully support the preliminary proposed budget for 2010-2011 and encourage the community to get out and vote on May 18.

There are those in the community who are demanding a 0% tax increase. We feel that the educational program cuts that would have to be made to bring about a 0% increase could directly compromise the integrity of a Scarsdale education both now and in the long term. We would be forced to deal with dramatic cuts in curriculum, extra-curriculars, and staffing.
Given the uncertain future of our economy we support the board’s efforts to balance maintaining a low tax increase with maintaining adequate reserves. We know the board will continue to look for savings through efficiencies in energy, scheduling, staffing hours and building maintenance.

The School Board members, all volunteers, should be commended for their attention to detail in analyzing the school budget. The District Administration has done a very thorough job explaining their challenges and recommendations for this year’s budget. We thank you for your efforts to involve the community in this process.

Young Writers Meet at Seely Place

Almost 85 aspiring writers attended the annual Young Writer's Workshop at Seely Place Elementary School on the evening of Friday, April 16. The students in grade four, five and six go to Seely and Greenville Schools and signed up for courses in writing books or songs, character development, drawing comics and illustrations, creating ads, drafting legal arguements, running a websites and much, much more. 

Among the speakers were Angelo DeCesare, of Archie Comics and musician and recording artist Peter Spink.  Students chose two courses from the list of offerings and got a view of what it might be like to apply their creativity at work.

According to Albert Kwon, "it was an interesting night."

The event was hosted by the Edgemont PTA, lead by Audrey Arnold, Betsy Cadel and Haryn Intner and was free to attend.

Budget Increase Reduced and Kindergarten Moves to Full Day Program

There was good news for Scarsdale taxpayers at the Scarsdale School Board Community Budget Forum on Thursday April 8th. The Board is now projecting an $800,000 surplus from this year’s budget as a result of lower than expected expenses for electricity, natural gas, health insurance and salaries for teacher aids. The Board agreed to pass this savings back to the taxpayers, and as a result, the projected school tax increase for 2010-2011 will be 2.56% for Scarsdale residents and 5.7% for those in the Mamaroneck Strip. Given that the Board began the process with a projected 8% increase, School Board President Barbara Kemp was very pleased with the results and credited Scarsdale teachers for contract concessions and residents for their participation in budget discussions.

The Board decided to continue with plans to repave at the Middle School and renovate bathrooms at the Heathcote School, two projects that might have been cut if the additional funds had not been found. Though the Board cautioned that it is difficult to project future budget growth, they provided a very tentative estimate of a 5.3% budget increase for 2011-12, citing looming increases in the cost for health insurance, fuel and retirement charges.

The conversation then turned to the transition of the kindergarten program from the current callback schedule to full-day kindergarten for all. Superintendant McGill attempted to clarify how the administration had come to the decision and dispel a few misconceptions.

Though some felt that this was a major change that required a study before implementation, McGill contended that the program shares the same goals for learning and growth of the current kindergarten curriculum. He contended that the new schedule will provide added time and flexibility and is not a curriculum shift as we experienced with the transition to Singapore Math.

Though there was talk of a district-wide meeting to explain the change, McGill said that specifics are particular to each school and classroom and that meeting on a community-wide basis did not make sense. In addition, no committee had been formed to study the change.

On scheduling, he could not provide parents with specific schedules, as this will be dependent on the number of students in each section. Programming will be done by the Elementary School Principals in the summer but will include time for small group learning experiences. He encouraged parents to meet with their principal if they had questions or concerns.

Assistant Superintendant Lynn Shain provided information on how parents would be informed and involved in kindergarten orientation:

There will be meetings at the elementary schools in late April and early May for parents of incoming kindergartners

In September, all kindergarten classes will be half days, and teachers will meet with parents to discuss their children’s needs

There will be regular opportunities for parents to participate in the program, by accompanying the class on trips, and participating in class activities

Shain also assured parents that the program offered posed no curriculum changes, just added time for learning and individual instruction.

Despite assurances, a small group of parents expressed their frustration and concerns. An Edgewood mother asked the Board if they had taken time to visit a call-back session at a district school. Calling the leap from Pre-K to a full day of kindergarten “a gigantic jump” she argued that children are tired, and prefer play dates at home. She challenged McGill to verify his claim that many Pre-K programs now run longer days than the current kindergarten.

A Greenacres mother, who is also a teacher in the South Bronx called the decision “mismanagement in the name of the budget,” something she has witnessed time and time again in the Bronx. She argued that philosophy should precede budget concerns and asked for the logic behind the decision. Furthermore, since the Greenacres school does not bus, she asked out this change would benefit students at her school.

Another emotional Greenacres Mom, said “shame on the Board.” Contending that “more is not always better” she asked the Board and administration to take a step back, do their due diligence and consider adding optional enrichment in another setting, such as Kids Base. Last, another concerned mother brought up over-scheduled children and asked what time would be left for free play and creativity.

The Board and Administration answered these concerns and ultimately agreed to schedule a program evaluation in the fall. Assuring the group that “nothing is written in stone,” the Board said that if changes needed to be made, it would be done.

Board members were asked to comment. David Gurin let the group know that the Board has received many emails about the change and said there was a 50/50 split on those for and against. Jill Spieler answered the Greenacres mom query about the benefit of the change in a school with no busing, by telling the group that the Board does what is best for the entire community. She also suggested that parents could still bring their children home for lunch if they felt a full day was too long. Jeff Blatt said that the strength of Scarsdale lay in our continued quest to do things better and felt secure that the program would be smoothly implemented. Linda Chayes was “excited” by the new schedule and said that the consistency of the same schedule each day would be better for some children. Elizabeth Guggenheimer assured residents that “we all have done a lot of thinking” and was pleased that the district had the resources to take this on. Mary Beth Gose was skeptical and said it was a “big leap of faith for her to support” the move. She was disappointed with the way the change had been presented, felt that the long day could be stressful for young children and wished to hear more from the kindergarten teachers.

Ultimately, the Board agreed to accept the change and next year, there will be a full day of kindergarten for all with a program evaluation scheduled for the fall.