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School Bond Referendum Pushed Back to February: Residents Pose Questions at Special Meeting

greenacresrenderingAt a special meeting of the Board of Education on November 6, the Scarsdale Schools administration continued to advocate for a proposed 2018 bond referendum that would fund a renovation and large addition of 8 classrooms and a cafeteria at Greenacres School as well as infrastructure repairs and security vestibules at other district schools.

For those following the discussions, the two new developments at the meeting were a change in the date for the referendum from January 24, 2018 to February 8, 2018 and a possible decrease in the total amount of the bond from $67.1 million to $63.4 million.

Why these changes? Assistant Superintendent Stuart Mattey said that the delay in the vote will allow time for the SEQRA review, as the environmental impact reports from the SEQRA consultants have not yet been received. Once this information comes in, the Board will need to have time to review it. The Board is also awaiting recommendations from the district wide building committee.

As for the amount of the bond, in the latest draft the bonded amount is projected to be $63,467,960, with an additional amount of $3,674,408 for "Greenacres Building Committee Recommendations," which included temporary classrooms, bathroom renovations, air and noise monitoring and security. Some of this work could be included in the bond while other items would need to be funded out of the operating budget.

We asked Mattey for an explanation and he said, "The $3.67mm is additional beyond the draft scope of the bond and it is in the form of a recommendation, as you know, from a Building Committee at this point. The Board will consider these recommendations for inclusion into the Bond if they receive them in the form of a formal recommendation from the District Wide committee and administration. If ultimately approved by the Board and by the community, all of items except the trailer rental would be bonded."

It was not clear before receiving Mattey's answers that the recommendations of the Greenacres Building Committee would need to be approved by the District Wide Building Committee in order to be a part of a formal recommendation to the Board of Education. Furthermore, this indicates that trailers, renovated bathrooms, air and noise monitoring and security may not be included.

Facilities projects in the proposed bond scope break out as follows:

Heating and ventilation including fresh air systems and unit ventilators: $12,246,453

Roofs: $9,606,885

Boilers and Steam Traps: $3,431,081

Field and Site Work including Dean Field at SHS: $2,585,500

Electrical Upgrades: $2,287,871

Masonry and water intrusion repairs: $1,132,500

ADA Doors, Handrails and Compliance $1,747,600

Flooring: $739,135

Security Improvements – (Cameras): $593,750

Miscellaneous: $968,000

This work totals $35.3mm of the total bond, and roughly half of that, or $17.9mm, are Priority 3 items.

Also at the meeting, the architects were asked to answer some outstanding questions from their meeting with the Greenacres Neighborhood Association. Clarification was requested on the dehumidification system for Greenacres basement, the extent of pipe replacement, ADA compliant bathrooms and construction work during the school day. The responses to these questions can be found here:

In response to a request from the Board of Education at their last meeting, Mattey provided a long term projection of future facilities needs for the entire district, including future facilities work, roofs, fields, sustainability projects and capital improvements. The estimates totaled $67mm and it was apparent that it is difficult to do analyses that project ten years out into the future, as the administration does not now know the priorities of future boards. You can review these estimates here:

Though the meeting had been scheduled as an opportunity for public comment, there were few speakers. Those that did speak raised some interesting questions and here are recaps of what they said:

First Linda Doucette-Ashman and Mary Beth Evans spoke on behalf of the League of Women Voters of Scarsdale school budget study committee: Linda Doucette-Ashman said that the League lacked sufficient information to schedule a consensus meeting. She asked for responses to the questions posed by the League and asked for the Board to allow for sufficient time for community comment about new iterations of the proposal. See her full comments below:

Mary Beth Evans posed questions to the Board about both the philosophical underpinnings of the proposal and the details of the Greenacres renovation. She asked if the plans reflected the recommendations of all the convened building committees, asked about district-wide thinking on elementary school lunch service, inquired about the proposed use of a Learning Commons, the extent of renovations to the Greenacres library, access to the outdoors and how the classroom makeovers would provide the right amount of space to achieve the district's educational goals.

She continued with questions about flexible, moveable furniture and wondered if all district classrooms would be outfitted with new furniture. She asked why the district had decided not to request a parking and traffic study for Greenacres. Furthermore she asked questions about the board's decisions on projects to include in the bond vs. the general operating budget and questioned the definitions of Priority 1A and 1B items. (See the complete list below.)

Mona Longman from Varian Lane asked the Board to justify that a $40 million project at Greenacres was the best use of taxpayer money and asked again, for a financial analysis for the renovations vs. a new school on the site. She said, "I read the article about what some other districts are doing, and I looked up those schools. In Newton, MA, a suburb of Boston, a new elementary school was completed in 2016, almost 75,000 square feet for up to 465 students for $37.5MM. The school is fully air-conditioned. Also completed last year was an elementary school in Arlington VA, a suburb in Washington; 97,588 square feet for $33.5MM. The school is described as the first net zero energy school in the mid-Atlantic. Wouldn't that be wonderful to do here? When someone at the Greenacres meeting asked about sustainability, we got some comment about an energy contract. No details at all. I'm sorry, but for $43MM I expect better." See her comments below:

I (Joanne Wallenstein) asked the administration to provide numbers on how much state aid would be received for the project. I also asked the Board to comment on a commonly heard rationale for supporting the bond. I said, "I have frequently heard that though residents don't like the proposal, they are afraid that if they turn this down, Greenacres will get nothing."

School Board President Bill Natbony responded, saying, "We have a responsibility to take care of our schools and move forward in a fiscally prudent way... We have given this plan a soft nod and we hope the community is behind this... If it does not move forward, this board will have to decide how to move forward. Can I tell you that if this bond does not move forward it will result in a new school? No! Can I tell you that all that money that was allocated will go to Greenacres? No! ... I hope we won't have to deal with this situation."

Heather Meili of 89 Walworth Avenue said, "I don't have a vision of how this new school will be used. Can we have some renderings? I understand there will be a plaza? Will there be space for the kids to stand on ... will there be a covering to protect children from the rain? What about the windows in the gym? And the learning commons ... how will this space be used and partitioned? We have renderings for the outside but not for the interiors. I think some renderings might help."

The district has hired a Public Relations firm, Zimmerman/Edelson from Great Neck, who will coordinate public outreach once the Board adopts the proposal. They plan to have a few months to disseminate information about the proposal to the community. Jake Mendlinger from Zimmerman was at the November 6 meeting.

The Board has scheduled the next meeting for Monday November 13. They hope to present the recommendations from the district wide building committee and review any SEQRA reports they receive this week.

Letter to the Board from the League School Budget Study Committee read by Linda Doucette-Ashman

To the Board of Education:

To date, the League's School Bond Study Committee has spent many hours attending School Board meetings and reviewing and discussing the bond process and various proposals. The committee's goal is to gather the necessary information to enable our League membership to weigh in on the proposed school bond from an informed perspective.

The League is not able to issue any comment at tonight's Special Meeting, nor are we able to schedule the date of our public information session and League member consensus meeting, because we still lack definitive information on the bond projects and scope.

We are hoping to hold a League consensus meeting to weigh in on the bond in advance of the School Board's vote on a final bond resolution. In order to prepare for our meeting, we need to hear the recommendations of the District-wide Facilities Committee, the recommendations of the Administration, as well as the State Environmental Quality Review (SEQRA) report.

In addition, at the October 23 meeting, members of the School Board raised questions related to the decisions made back in July, followed by a request for further information and analysis from the Administration. In order to weigh in on the Administration's proposal from an informed perspective, our League membership would also need this information.

While we learned from the November 1 email communication that the School Board intends to have "at least one public forum" before adopting a final bond resolution, as of the writing of this statement, the date of this public forum or forums has not been announced.

As the League Board stated on September 25, "In order to develop a school bond that is a product of a District-community partnership, the School Board should proactively encourage such partnership by ensuring the final bond proposal accurately reflects community values and priorities." We therefore urge that the dates of your public forums allow community members and community groups sufficient time to process and comment on the District-wide Facility Committee recommendations and the Administration's recommendations. We also recommend that the meeting timeline allow ample opportunity for the community to ask questions about any new iteration of the bond proposal and/or any new information or analysis presented to the public.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Questions from the League School Budget study committee read by Mary Beth Evans:

I'm Mary Beth Evans, Chair of the League's ten-member committee studying the proposed school bond. On behalf of the committee, I would like to take this opportunity to ask clarifying questions on what has been presented to the community to date. If answers are not able to be provided tonight, we hope they might be provided in the context of a public meeting, or perhaps posted on the District website.

1) Are the collective recommendations of the 2016 Building Committees, 2017 Greenacres Building Committee and 2017 District-wide Facilities Committee representative of the views of the community?
• If so, will the School Board be incorporating these committee recommendations into their decisions on the bond?
• If not, how is the School Board determining what are the shared views of the community on the various aspects of the bond proposal?

2) Regarding elementary school lunch service and space:
a) How has the School Board determined whether a cafeteria and kitchen with the potential for a hot lunch program is a shared value and top priority of the Greenacres school community?
b) How are other elementary school communities' values and priorities regarding lunch service, and other spatial needs, being factored into bond decisions?

3) Concerning the Greenacres Learning Commons:
a) In what ways will David Loertscher's definition of a library "Learning Commons" be adapted to function in the proposed location and design of the Greenacres cafeteria space?
b) What specific examples of instructional uses and activities do you foresee taking place in the proposed Learning Commons when it is not being utilized for lunch? And can you provide a sample daily schedule of those planned activities?

4) How much of the existing Greenacres library space will be renovated, and what 21st century learning goals will those renovations address?

5) Regarding proposed Greenacres classrooms:
a) How do proposed new classrooms and the makeover of existing classrooms provide the right amount of classroom space to achieve the District's educational goals?
b) How will the bond resolution prioritize spending for new 21st century classroom furniture at Greenacres? And what are the plans for providing new flexible and moveable furniture in other schools?

6) How will the proposed Greenacres renovation and expansion affect students' physical access to the outdoor learning environment? And are there plans to develop outdoor learning spaces?

7) What is the basis for the School Board's decision on whether or not to engage in a formal, independent study of Greenacres related traffic issues, including the proposal for parking along Huntington and its impact on student safety?

8) What are the School Board's fiscal assumptions when deciding such key questions as (a) what to include in the bond, as opposed to the operating budget, and (b) what is the appropriate amount for the District borrow for facilities work at this time?

9) What is the definition of "Priority 1" facilities items, and how does it differ from the definitions of "Priority 1A and 1B" items?

10) Which items in the Greenacres Building Committee recommendations represent additional costs since the September iteration of the bond proposal, and which items and costs were already in the proposal prior to those committee recommendations?

Comments from Mona Longman

After attending many meetings regarding this project, I am sorry to say I am not convinced this is the best way to go. I have considered this as a Scarsdale taxpayer, and not a resident of Greenacres. In the last year, I have seen the estimates for the Greenacres portion of the bond issue go from $25MM to $33MM now to $36 ½ MM. In addition, we know that there is at least another $6MM of additional work down the road that is a lower priority. That comes to a total of close to $43MM. If there are around 5600 households in Scarsdale, that comes to about $7500 per household. Ever since we came back to this project after the pause, there hasn't been any discussion about the alternative option of a new building. For my $7500, I would like to know that my Board of Education did an incredibly thorough job of researching all the options and deciding that is the best use of my money. To be honest, since this pause, as a Scarsdale taxpayer, I haven't been shown any thorough analysis of what the cost of a new building would have been or an accounting of what sustainable features could have been incorporated into this new building that would have reduced the operating expenses going forward. I'm sorry, but for the cost of this project, I expect better.

A few weeks ago, in Scarsdale 10583, I read the article about what some other districts are doing, and I looked up those schools. In Newton, MA, a suburb of Boston, a new elementary school was completed in 2016, almost 75,000 square feet for up to 465 students for $37.5MM. The school is fully air-conditioned. Also completed last year was an elementary school in Arlington VA, a suburb in Washington; 97,588 sq ft. for $33.5MM. The school is described as the first net zero energy school in the mid-Atlantic. Wouldn't that be wonderful to do here? When someone at the Greenacres meeting asked about sustainability, we got some comment about an energy contract. No details at all. I'm sorry, but for $43MM I expect better.

I must also comment on what happened at the GNA meeting last month. After trying to have district personnel address the Greenacres community for over a year, we finally had a presentation last month. At that meeting, four incorrect pieces of information about the project were disseminated to the neighborhood. After the meeting, I personally made three requests to the district to correct this wrong information, but no response came until 10 days after my first request; long after the Scarsdale Inquirer picked up the bad information and printed it. Because of that, the GNA had to send out corrections on their own. When bad information is disseminated, it must be corrected immediately. I'm sorry, but I expect better.

A Loss of Faith

green-school(This is the opinion of site founder Joanne Wallenstein.) Many people were surprised that I was serving on the Greenacres Building Committee. They said, wasn't there a conflict of interest between running and serving on a committee to help decide on the future of the community?

I thought not. As someone who had three children go through the school, as a longtime neighborhood resident and a member of the Greenacres Neighborhood Association I felt very qualified to serve. I was determined to listen carefully to the architects, construction managers, administration and my fellow committee members to come to the best solution for the children and the neighborhood.

I was hoping to find out that the plan presented by district architects BBS to expand the school would work, that the underlying space and infrastructure issues at the school would be adequately addressed, that the plan would be a step forward for 21st century learning, that the students and staff would be safe and their education would not be compromised during the construction.

As the committee met week after week, I listened intently. I put myself into the shoes of the architects who had designed this plan and the school board members who were seeking a compromise that would accommodate budgetary constraints and win voter support. I took long looks at the field, the existing green space in front of the school and observed the pick up drill when I entered the school for my 3:15 meetings.

I was beginning to come around to an idea that School Board member Art Rublin explained at a recent meeting, when he said, "sometimes perfect can be the enemy of the good enough," and accept that this plan, while not ideal, was workable. But then a few things happened that made me realize that this plan was simply NOT good enough.

What threw me for a loop?

First it was the community wide meeting hosted by the Greenacres Neighborhood Association when residents, many who were unfamiliar with the plans, posed candid questions to the architect. They were concerned about the existing conditions at the building, the plans to remediate some thorny problems and the long-term health of the century old portion of the building that would remain.

Having sat through the Building Committee meetings, I was intimately familiar with what was within the scope of the project and what was not. But the lead architect Roger Smith was either uninformed or made a deliberate attempt to make the project look far more comprehensive than it is. In short, his responses were not truthful, and this further diminished my trust in the architect's plans.

One woman asked about mold in the basement. She was told that commercial dehumidifiers would be installed and that ultimately the kids would be moved out of the lower level. She asked if these dehumidifiers were temporary or permanent, and wondered why, if there was indeed no moisture problem in the foundation of the building, would kids need to be moved upstairs? Why would these dehumidifiers be needed permanently? The response from the architect made little sense.

Then another woman asked if the water pipes would be replaced. After testing, the district found lead in the school's water supply and posted signs on the water fountains warning against drinking from them. They installed filters that are now remediating the issues and the signs have been removed. They claim that the pipes are fine as is.

However, anyone who has renovated a bathroom or a kitchen in an old house knows how important it is to run new pipes to the source to prevent lead leakage into the water supply. This is not being done at Greenacres School. But rather than admit this, Smith, replied, "We're going to replace anything we can touch." Many left the meeting thinking that these pipes will be replaced, and in fact the Scarsdale Inquirer reported that the lead pipes would be replaced. But they will not, as we were told that it is too expensive to open up the walls and run new pipes.

Another resident asked if the bathrooms would be ADA compliant. Though the architect replied yes, the truth is that the small toilet rooms in the too-small classrooms, will be redone, but not expanded to be made ADA compliant. Why? Because the classrooms are already too small and there's no extra room to borrow to build out these tiny bathrooms.

Then another woman, also new to the process, asked what systems and elements of the current infrastructure would not be replaced in this renovation. Rather than answering her question, Smith said, "I'll tell you what will be replaced." At that point I started to feel like I was listening to a pitch from a car salesman. Did Smith really think that this sophisticated audience would not notice his obfuscation?

I left the meeting thinking that if the architect himself felt the need to lie about the renovation, he too must believe he is proposing less than an adequate job.

But my loss of faith was not simply based on the architect's response at the meeting.schoolconstruction

That same week, a large sewage main was replaced on Brewster Road, a block up from the school. It wasn't just a small section. A long portion of the street, between Huntington and Kingston was closed to traffic for days.

It made me realize, that the infrastructure of our entire neighborhood will need to replaced, piece by piece, and reinforced to me how important it is to replace both the water and sanitary pipes at this 100 year-old building.

What else? That same week I wandered into a first grade classroom after one of the meetings. I was curious to see how these classrooms, which will remain their current size, function. Let me say, the kids were not even in the room and it was tight. A wall of freestanding cubbies took up one wall, and I was told that these cannot be moved into the hall. Tables and chairs were spread around a central floor mat centered on the smart board. Since there was not enough room for a desk for each child, three children were sharing the teacher's desk and there was no room to maneuver between the mat on the floor and the tables and chairs. The floor area was so small that I could not imagine how 22 children could sit comfortably and avoid bumping into each other.

BrewsterMainThe school district claims that these renovations will facilitate the SET 2.0 curriculum that involves active learning, small group collaboration and project-based learning. In addition, a new policy permits inclusion classes with two teachers and classes larger than 22 and 24 students. How can these tiny classrooms facilitate these initiatives?

Architects say these rooms will be refitted and discussed moving storage up to the ceiling to save space, but there was little wall space left above the blackboard on one wall, a smart board on another and the exterior wall of windows. Once I saw this for myself, I realized that I could not be fooled by "space-saving" speak. We can measure and re-measure, but these classrooms are not adequate for active learning.

But the clincher came at the end of our last building committee when the conversation turned to the construction process. One parent asked for clarification on a point made at the neighborhood association meeting. Would construction and use of Huntington Road stop during drop off and pick up? At first we were told yes, but then the answer was no.

The construction manager, in an attempt to prepare everyone for what was to come said, "We'll be swinging steel while school is in session." Swinging steel. I learned that a crane would be brought on to the narrow strip of property on Huntington Road and that this crane would be lifting steel beams to form the frame of the three-story addition – while school was in session.

I had visions of kids walking down the sidewalk to get to school – or to the playground, under a swinging crane. Unlike other school construction sites in the district on much larger footprints, this construction will be done in the access ways to the school and the playground. There will be no way to avoid it. I know that I will be not be driving down Huntington Road for the two years during the construction but I fear for every parent that will have to drop their children off, or pick them up, just steps from an operating crane.

Honestly – have we lost our minds?

What are the alternatives?

Perhaps it's time to re-examine all the options, and come up with some scenarios that give Greenacres a school that is safe, healthy, environmentally sustainable, meets current code requirements and will serve us well for the next three to five decades. Spending $35 million for a renovation, as well as millions in sunken costs for temporary classrooms, air and noise monitoring and safety personnel, makes no sense. Add the $6 million in additional facilities work that will be required on the older portions of Greenacres and you'll quickly realize that the concept is deeply flawed and financially unfeasible.

As a committee member I promised to put my faith in the good judgment of the administration and our board members. However, the process caused me to lose any trust that I had.

If members of the School Board are elected to do what's best for the district's children, it appears they have lost their way.

How Are Peer School Districts Approaching Plant Improvements?

arlingtonAs the Scarsdale School district ponders a major capitol improvement plan for the schools, we thought it would make sense to see how some neighboring districts and leading "peer" districts on the national level are approaching similar issues. We found a few projects here in Westchester along with work at other top districts around the country.

Close to home we noticed that Blind Brook in Rye will hold a bond referendum on October 17 for a $44.7 million bond, $38 million of which will go to renovations, infrastructure and new construction at their elementary school.

The proposal calls for a "cafetorium" that includes a cafeteria and an auditorium with retractable seating for 350 people. The rationale here is to create a large group assembly space with a full sized stage which is "less expensive and more functional than renovating the stage in the old gym."

The renovations will include the "replacement of outdated small classrooms with environmentally appropriate and flexible learning spaces to meet current and future programming needs for the 21st century." All bathrooms in all wings of the school will be renovated to comply with ADA code requirements and the library and technology room will be combined to create an "instructional media center." Both the new and existing areas of the school building will be air conditioned.

In terms of site planning a new school bus loop will be built to facilitate the arrival and dismissal of students and to separate buses from parent vehicles.

WPPSchoolJust up the road from Scarsdale, the original 95 year-old White Plains Post Road School was replaced with a new "green" school that opened in 2009. According to the architect's website, "This new, high-performance, 90,000sf replacement school has earned an Energy Star rating of 100, operates 65% more efficiently than a building of standard design and is the most energy-efficient public school building in New York State at the present time. The building was part of a District-Wide construction and infrastructure program. Sustainable elements of the project include geothermal heating and cooling, solar photovoltaic array, efficient building envelope, low-flow plumbing fixtures, extensive day lighting and advanced lighting controls, and the use of recycled and sustainable materials." Classrooms are 850 square feet and the school earned an AIANYS Excelsior Award for Public Architecture and LEED Gold certification, being called "the Greenest School in New York State."

Chappaqua passed a bond in 2016 for "Global Learning Centers" at three elementary schools to chappaquareplace the old libraries in the buildings. In addition to flexible and adaptable space to promote student collaboration the elementary school centers are adjacent to outdoor instructional work areas so that kids can move outside when weather allows.

Here's a description from the district website:

Global learning centers are 21st century libraries with work spaces intentionally designed to address how students learn and collaborate in today's world.

Flexible and adaptable spaces will support varied instructional techniques, promote student collaboration and research, and enhance virtual and face-to-face communication.

These centers have spaces where students can work in individualized research stations or collaborate in either open areas or smaller breakout rooms. At the elementary level, they provide outdoor instructional work areas.

In addition to print materials housed in stacks, the centers include individual and small group study areas, digital research resources, video teleconferencing and streaming capability, and the flexibility to include new technologies as they emerge.

At the elementary level, designated maker spaces provide students with the tools and technology to envision, design, prototype and create following a design thinking process.

In Newton Massachusetts, three elementary schools are getting makeovers. For one, the Angier Elementary School, formerly a 40,000 square foot school built in 1919, was replaced with a 74,000 square foot school for $37.5 million. The new building opened in 2016 and can serve up to 465 students. Students were transferred to another school during construction.

According to school construction news, "The new Angier Elementary School boasts floor-to-ceiling windows, classrooms equipped with new technology and dedicated areas for breakout instruction and special activities. Where students once had to meet with specialists in converted storage spaces, they now have proper offices and spaces for collaboration and specialized instruction. Color-coded floors assist in wayfinding. The new building is situated around an open plaza that serves as both an outdoor classroom and a gathering space." Also to note, Massachusetts's guidelines call for 1,200 square foot classrooms for kindergartens and 950 square feel for grades 1-6. The school is fully air conditioned and achieved LEED Gold certification.


Here's how a news article describes the first day of the opening of the new school, "On Dec. 22, staff members got a sneak preview of the new building. Cries of joy and shock were heard throughout the halls as teachers entered their classrooms."

arlingtonplaygroundA net-zero energy school called the Discovery Elementary School opened in Arlington Virginia in 2015. The school incorporates sustainability into its design so that the amount of energy produced by onsite renewable sources exceeds the amount of energy used. The building is heated and cooled by a geo-thermal well field under the school and employs 1,700 solar panels on the rooftop. It has solar thermal water heating, low flow plumbing fixtures, LED lighting and automatic controls, bioretention basins for the slow release of water from the site and rainwater collection barrels on the roof.

Students benefit from hands on learning about the schools many features including a rooftop solar lab, a digital dashboard that tracks energy usage and a built-in solar calendar. Engineers estimate that a similarly-sized traditional school would have $120,000 in annual energy costs, while this school is estimated to have energy costs of just $72,000 per year. The school is 97,558 square feet and the budget was $33.5 million.

And finally, in Winnetka Illinois, a $104.9 million project at New Trier High School was completed in September. Here's a list of some of the new features:

•A new student cafeteria;

•A new library;

•The first green roof;

•More than a dozen third floor classrooms for core English, math, social studies, language and business program classes, Johnson said;

•New art labs, although they were temporarily used by the theater department, he said.

Work on the 166,000-square-foot second phase started in May 2016, with the demolition of the Winnetka campus's old music building, its original 1912 cafeteria and the original McGee Theater.

Johnson said second phase work provided:

•Applied arts classroom space in the basement for STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programming;

•Classroom and performance spaces for the school's radio and broadcasting programming;

•Space on the third floor for the New Trier integrated global studies school, or IGSS, program. In all, the project created more than 25 new classrooms;

•A second green roof, also outside the fourth floor;

•A new McGee theater, and a new "black box" performance and classroom space, the Hayes-McCausland Theatre, named after two former New Trier students.

What themes are behind these new projects? Sustainability, energy preservation, flexible learning spaces, larger classrooms, natural light, and accessibility to indoor/outdoor classrooms to name a few.

What do you think is important for the future of Scarsdale Schools? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Board Asks Administration to Prioritize Long Term Facilities Needs

cafeteriaIn the past six months, the Scarsdale School administration has put forth a dizzying amount of data and a stream of evolving proposals for a 2017, now 2018, $67 million bond referendum. The lengthy board meeting agendas lacked opportunity for discussion by the Board members so it has been difficult to assess what the seven members of the Board of Education think about key issues such as Greenacres School, facilities improvements and air conditioning.

As the date for a vote by the Scarsdale Board of Education on the bond referendum draws near, the Board allowed an opportunity for discussion among board members at their October 23 meeting.

In almost an hour and a half of discussion Board members revealed a wide diversity of views on the administration's current proposal and questioned its philosophical underpinnings and the implications of these decisions on the future. They called for a long-term prioritization plan for facilities expenditures for the coming decade.

The Board faces decisions on the renovation and expansion of Greenacres, funding for a large list of facilities needs including roofs, boilers, drainage and ADA compliance as well as the question of air conditioning some or all of the schools. Should some of these needs be funded from future operating budgets? How much should be bonded and how much can be taken care of on an annual basis?

Further complicating the question was a proposal for an Energy Performance Contract (EPC) to fund $10.9 million of work outside of the bond. This would have been used to purchase some of the boilers, lighting and other energy saving items. The Superintendent has indicated that the Energy Performance Contract will no longer be a part of the bond process. Therefore, some of the boilers that were to be funded in the EPC will not be included in the work funded by the bond. The EPC is still on the table but will be decided on at a future date.

Board President Bill Natbony opened the discussion saying that since the Board gave the administration a "soft nod" to the proposed renovations at Greenacres School in July, many more issues have arisen. For example, would the inclusion of a cafeteria at Greenacres mean that the remaining elementary schools should have one as well? Should $17.9 million in Priority 3 facilities needs be funded in this bond?

Board member Chris Morin spoke first, asking for the Board to "back up" and put these decisions into a "broader context." He said, "What are our instructional goals? ... We are discussing what might be $100 million in capital spending. Without a long-term plan we need to talk about these broader issues. With fixed enrollment is our instructional improvement already built out? Will we need more language instruction or STEAM? Do we need to just focus on facilities?"

He continued, "Will adding extra space add extra custodial costs? What are our needs in the future? What about the Alternative school? Choice? Do we need cafeterias at all elementary schools? We may add tens of millions for air conditioning. None of this has been prioritized."

Dr. Hagerman responded, "Bond funds are not fungible. We can't use these funds to pay for staff."

Lee Maude thanked the administration for a thorough presentation saying, "It was a long time coming." She said, facilities like "Choice and cafeterias are really big numbers and I don't know that our future bond capacity can cover those things.Since you came to us with this long list of needs, you are really saying we can't do those other things. By saying "yes" to this $67 million we may be saying "no" to other issues further down the road." Referring to the 2014 bond she said, "When we did the previous bond we were told there were not other needs."

Art Rublin reminded the group that in 2014 the building committees agreed that the "Issues at Greenacres are too big to address now, and will be addressed in 2017. There was foresight." He said that after work by two architectural firms two sets of engineers and three building committees "I respect that we are not building a new school at Greenacres." I think what's on the table is a thoughtful approach to the delivery of program. Perfect can be the enemy of the good enough."

About tax neutrality he said, "I am not wedded to tax neutral. What has made this district great was not always tax neutral. If there is a need in the future, I hope that the community will be supportive. I think we can do what needs to be done in operating budgets."

Scott Silberfein said, "What is a rough outline of future facilities needs. I don't want to bind future boards, but we did feel bound to do what we did at Greenacres this time."

Chris Morin responded, "Of course we can't bind future boards but that's not an excuse for doing long term planning and having a vision for the future. .... Building multipurpose space, adding restrooms, adding instructional space... I am not wedded to tax neutral but I am wedded to prioritization and value. We are building a cafeteria at Greenacres without an understanding of the lunch programs at other schools."

Art Rublin asked, "Can we move some of these items into the operating budget? Can we go over line items one by one?"

Nina Cannon asked, "If we take items off and move them to the operating budget what is the impact? Does it tie our hands not to offer programs in the future? There are always going to be things we could add. I would like it to be as close to tax neutral as possible. I am mindful of the high taxes. We need to give the lion's share to Greenacres. They have been waiting. They have been put aside. We are giving them everything they have been waiting for. In terms of the other items I have relied on the building conditions survey. I trust our administration to provide us with a list that is most pressing." It doesn't make sense to burden this bond with items that have not been thoroughly flushed through.

Discussing a proposal to air condition all district classrooms that would add an incremental $24 million to the proposed $67 million bond, Rublin said, "Air conditioning the classrooms would be $24 million above and beyond the ventilation costs that are already in the bond. That would be ( a total of) $91 million. The operating budget for 2017-18 is $3 mm with another $1.3 mm for plant maintenance. I think air conditioning would be a good decision for now and in the years to come. I think there is a teaching and learning dimension to air conditioning and improved performance. Can we fund some of this facilities work in coming operating budgets over a ten-year span? To what extent can boilers be dealt with in future operating budgets? Is it possible to use a multi-year plan to fund replacement of roofs that are now in fair to good condition? Can we wait until the next bond in 2028? He discussed the fact that the district's fund balance is $9 million larger than it was five years ago and there is a $5mm health reserve fund.

Dr. Hagerman explained that the facilities list has already been prioritized and some of these projects have already been placed into current operating budgets. He said, that if the district did plan to fund facilities in the operating budgets, the district would have to designate more money for facilities in upcoming budgets and those would compete with programmatic dollars.

Scott Silberfein said, "Residents want a knowable, planned tax increase. Overall, if we kick things off, and something does not go well I worry we will get hit with the roof bill that we have to do that year. Do we cut a teacher or two or raise taxes to accommodate the roof?" Silberfein also asked for the administration to provide information for the public on the sustainable elements of the current facilities proposal.

Natbony continued to ask the administration to weigh the benefits and risks of funding some of this work now and putting some of it off for the future.

Chris Morin asked for more planning on cafeterias and the lunch program and Art Rublin said, "Just because we are putting in a kitchen at Greenacres does not mean we need one everywhere else."

Dr. Hagerman warned that a long-term plan drafted now would be subject to the priorities of future Boards and the needs at the time. However he agreed that the administration could provide a longer-term plan to the Board. It's not clear whether or not this information would be available in time for the administration's final bond recommendation scheduled for November 13.

Watch the entire meeting online here:

There will be a public forum on the proposed budget on November 6 at Scarsdale High School and everyone is invited to attend to learn more.

Global Citizenship Day Brings a World of Issues to Scarsdale

Bonamo-HarrisonHow do our actions as citizens affect our neighbors, the country and the world at large – and what can we do to foster understanding and act in ways that will make the world a better place?

These are just a few of the questions that were raised at Global Citizenship Day at Scarsdale High School on Tuesday October 3, when the entire school attended lectures and participated in workshops examining issues as far ranging as hunger in Westchester County to a nuclear crisis in North Korea.

Explaining the rationale behind the day of events, SHS Social Studies Teacher Heather Waters wrote, "Our goal for the day is to expose our kids to issues that they as citizens and future leaders of the world need to know to impact change. Our hope is that they are moved to act and they are able to have a more global perspective on the rights and responsibilities inherent in being a global citizen."russiaslide

The day began with a lecture by SHS Principal Ken Bonamo, an expert on Russian Studies, and SHS Social Studies Department Chairman John Harrison, who enlightened students on how Russian history laid the foundation for the tension between the U.S. and Russia today. In their talk, titled, "Putin and the United States: A New Cold War," they took a packed group of students through a sweeping history of Russia, touching on the Russian mindset, Russian identity, the Soviet economy, geographic features and ultimately the complexities of Vladmir Putin.

The students in the audience were well versed in world history and gave insightful responses to questions about Putin, economic and geographic challenges to Russia and the current conflict in the Ukraine. The talk concluded with a discussion of the alleged "fake news" campaign by the Russians to sway the U.S. presidential election and some speculation on Russia's ultimate goals. If the students at the lecture are representative of their peers at SHS, then I can predict that Scarsdale students will continue to have a big impact as global citizens!

As I passed the SHS auditorium I found another group of students engaged in a STEAM design challenge. Teacher Lisa Yokana asked, "how do your actions as individuals affect the planet," as an introduction to a workshop on redesigning disposable drink containers, straws, lids and stirrers to decrease waste.

She encouraged each group to spend some time brainstorming and letting ideas flow freely. She said that at this opening stage, "no idea was a bad idea," and encouraged students to build on the design1ideas of others in the group and make rough concept sketches. In the next stage ideas were evaluated and then the group built a prototype of the most promising concepts and presented them to the group.

Concurrently, Holocaust survivor Bernhardt Storch, one of a vanishing breed of those who lived through World War II, was telling his life story to a group in the auditorium. At the beginning of the war, Storch fled his home in Poland as the Germans approached and was arrested by the KGB and transported to a labor camp in Central Siberia. After the Nazis declared was on the USSR in 1941 Storch was released from the camp and enlisted in the Polish Army. During his service he helped to liberate four concentration camps, three in Poland and one in Germany.

Examining more local issues, Nicola Michillo and Kendra Claussen were in the high school cafeteria where they examined hunger in Westchester County. According to Minchillo, more than 10% of families in Westchester live in poverty, a number that's increased over the past 5 years. The two work with HOPE to provide meals to those in need. Through their network of volunteers Westchester County HOPE serves more than 600 meals a week in the soup kitchen and distributes 1,200 bag of groceries a month to the food pantry.

Following the talk, students were given instructions on preparing brown bag meals to be distributed to those in need. Students were told, "Make the meals with the same care you would make your own lunch. Be mindful that someone is dependent on the meal that you make today."

The lectures and workshops continued throughout the day covering a diversity of topics such as refugees, sustainable agriculture, sexual identity, bullying, harassment and more.waters

The day was produced by teachers Fallon Plunkett, Carlos Bedoya and Heather Waters – and from what I could see, students were interested and engaged in a fascinating program.

When will they produce a similar symposia for the parents?