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League of Women Voters of Scarsdale Opposes $64.9 Million Bond Proposal for Scarsdale Schools

redquestionAfter months of study, the League of Women Voters of Scarsdale issued a surprising statement to the Scarsdale School administration and the Board of Education at their January 22, 2018 meeting. For the first time anyone can remember, the League came out against a school bond, saying, "We support a bond ... but not this bond." Though the League supports investment in the Scarsdale Schools, they "disagree with this proposal for substantive reasons and for the way in which it was conceived and presented to the community." Reviewing the development of the proposed $64.9 million 2018 bond, the statement, says,"the process for the development of this Bond was flawed and thus undermined the League's confidence in the result."

Furthermore, the consensus was that the community was not provided opportunities to give input on issues such as school cafeterias, air conditioning and sustainability or to vet options to renovate the Greenacres School vs. building a new school. They also questioned the Board's decision to limit the discussion to tax neutral solutions.

The statement concludes with a list of recommendations on how the Board can reach out to the community in the future, develop goals and a vision and build consensus.

The statement reflects the consensus of the membership of the League of Women Voters of Scarsdale and was read by Mary Beth Evans, who chaired the bond study committee, Linda Doucette-Ashman, co-President of the League and League Board member Amy Cooper.

Read the entire statement below.


Acknowledgements
The League of Women Voters of Scarsdale (the "League") thanks members of the Board of Education (the "Board") and District Administration (the "Administration") for their presentation and responses to League questions on the Proposed 2018 School Facilities Bond (the "Bond") at the League's General Membership Meeting held January 10, 2018.

The League acknowledges that much time and effort have gone into developing the Bond and we thank the Administration and the Board for their additional effort spent in preparing for our meeting and for providing the audience with informational handout materials on the Bond. The League also appreciates that members of the Board and Administration allowed additional time to respond to numerous audience member questions that extended the public information session past the scheduled time.

The League appreciates the opportunity to comment on the Bond. This statement reflects the consensus of League members at a meeting held immediately following the public information session on January 10, 2018.

Position
The League does not support the 2018 School Facilities Bond. To be clear, the League struggled with this statement because we do support investment in Scarsdale school facilities in order to maintain and enhance Scarsdale educational excellence and to ensure the health, safety and security of our students and staff. Moreover, we support a bond as a means of funding projects that address major facilities needs. We disagree with this proposal for substantive reasons and for the way in which it was conceived and presented to the community. Should the Bond be voted down, the League hopes that the Board and Administration will begin a new bond process without delay and with a more fully integrated long-range vision. In short, we support a bond but not this particular Bond.

Major Objections & Concerns
While we recognize that no bond process is perfect, the process for the development of this Bond was flawed and thus undermined the League's confidence in the result. The League notes that the process did not provide:

  • Timely, structured and thorough outreach to identify broad community values and priorities early on;
  • Timely, thorough and broad community input on such issues as elementary school cafeterias and kitchens, district-wide classroom air conditioning, and sustainability;
  • An opportunity for the community to thoroughly explore and vet all cost/value options;
  • A full cost/benefit analysis to justify the Administration's recommendation and Board's 
decision to renovate and expand versus building a new Greenacres School; or
  • A clear and compelling explanation of the Board's decision that the scope of the bond should be "tax neutral" (i.e., resulting in no associated tax increase to homeowners), especially given the long list of identified work and current favorable borrowing climate.


Furthermore, most conspicuously and significantly absent from the process that produced this Bond was a long-range vision for all of our schools. The process did not provide a coherent picture of what our buildings need in order to preserve and enhance a high quality Scarsdale education or a plan to address all facilities needs moving forward. The League believes that an opportunity was missed to develop a long-range master facilities plan and to present a framework for the future that could bring the community together in support of all of our school buildings.

The League acknowledges that ultimately:

• In late fall 2017, the Board did shift the bond vote date forward to include additional 
meetings that involved open Board member deliberation and opportunity for public input 
on key priorities and values;
• In October 2017, the Administration did articulate educational goals for the Greenacres 
School project; and
• In late December 2017, the District did provide the public with new informational 
materials that now present the Bond projects in a more digestible format and are readily accessible on the District website.


However, the League maintains that each of these positive actions were taken too late in the process. We therefore reiterate several concerns with the process expressed in various public statements at School Board meetings since July 2017 by the League School Bond Study Committee and League Board, including:

• The overwhelming volume of data presented at each public meeting;
• The constant shifts in narrative following real-time District decision-making;
• The absence of a clear statement of the Board's overall objective as it relates to the 
quality of our schools and Scarsdale's educational values; and
• The insufficient opportunity for public input and insufficient Board deliberation to fully 
inform the public in a manner that allowed the community more timely opportunity to engage, question, challenge and/or support the School Board's educational rationale and fiscal assumptions in deciding the key parameters of the Bond. 


The League further concludes that the District's presentation of how the proposed Bond project would address Greenacres School's educational needs lacked specificity. In the end, we lacked a sufficiently detailed picture of how students would experience the proposed new addition and changes to the existing building, and how the project would connect to the District's larger educational vision not only for Greenacres but for all District schools. There was also no clear answer provided as to how long we could expect the $35 million investment to serve the community. 


The League remains uncertain that the Bond's plan for Greenacres School represents the best investment of the community's resources. The League recognizes that the Bond's proposed project for Greenacres School would realize some long-awaited improvements and address some of the District's stated educational, health and safety goals for that building; however, the League has concerns that key spatial, health and safety needs are not being adequately addressed.

Recommendations
In order to produce a bond that maintains and enhances Scarsdale educational excellence in a fiscally responsible way that is in the best interests of the community, the League believes that the Board should implement an improved bond process that:

  • Begins with more timely, effective and thorough outreach to identify broad community values and priorities;
  • Articulates a clear vision as to the purpose of the bond;
  • Presents to the community a coherent picture of what our buildings need in order to 
preserve and enhance a high quality Scarsdale education, including sharing with the 
community the District's benchmarking method and results;
  • Develops the bond as part of a long-range facilities plan that provides a framework 
for the future of all of the schools; and
  • Is collaborative and builds community consensus from the ground-up. 


The League believes these process recommendations align with the Board's statements highlighting the importance of acting in partnership with the community. We agree that a successful bond process and proposal that makes sense for our community requires us to work together. To this end, a bond process must ensure that we all start from the same place and proceed forward together in a methodical manner, with a shared understanding of the basic underlying assumptions and overall District goals and educational values driving the process that a proposed facilities bond would address.

Conclusion 

While the League does not support this Bond, we support investment in our school facilities and a collaborative bond process that builds community consensus from the ground-up and results in a shared long-range vision for maintaining and enhancing our excellent Scarsdale schools.

The Bond vote will take place on Thursday, February 8, 2018 from 7 am to 9 pm at the Scarsdale Middle School. Information on how to register to vote and/or to obtain an absentee ballot is available by clicking either the "New Bond Website" link on the homepage of the District website (www.scarsdaleschools.org) or the "Voter Information" tab on our League website (www.lwvs.org). 
Respectfully submitted, 
Mary Beth Evans, Chair, School Bond Study Committee Linda Doucette-Ashman and Janice Starr, Co-Presidents League of Women Voters of Scarsdale

BLOG COMMENTS POWERED BY DISQUS

Comments   

#14 Hockey Dad 2018-01-29 10:13
If this bond is so great, why are they working so hard to sell us on it?
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#13 More wasting of money 2018-01-28 17:30
How much are all these signs and newsletters costing the town? We have gotten 3 different mailings from the school in the last week.
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#12 Vote Yes! 2018-01-28 11:52
This is a very balanced proposal by the BOE that maintains tax neutrality and addresses important infrastructure and safety needs. Over 50% of households no longer have school age children. Tax neutrality is critical for them and any proposed tax increase will bring out that contingent in droves. We must use our capital wisely. If we are to propose other improvements such as A/C or other addition / renovations prior to the next bond, this will result in a tax increase and there is only so much tolerance for this. It would be a big mistake to vote this bond down.
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#11 Resident 2018-01-27 11:30
Thank you League of Women Voters. You have given us a great deal to think about. I appreciate the research and well thought out statement.
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#10 Greenacres Parent 2018-01-26 20:35
I have read the BoE's statement, the article in today's paper, and have followed closely the process for the past three years. I have been impressed with the thorough approach to exploration and the completeness of the assessment of the schools. The BoE has engaged the Scarsdale community extensively, and it seems to me that most complaints about "lack of engagement" boil down to "I didn't get my way."

So: This is a GREAT bond plan. It is the BEST compromise for the community and the BEST WAY to meet the needs of the greatest number of people in our community. The noise about the bond not being "good enough" is... just noise.

VOTE YES ON FEBRUARY 8
#Supporthebond
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#9 VOTE NO!!! 2018-01-26 04:21
We must stop this Bond. Waste of money and will be awful for the kids at Greenacres during this process. I have been speaking with many parents in Quaker Ridge and Heathcote and all support the No vote. Please speak to everyone you know and advise them about the waste of money and encourage them to VOTE NO so that the board can come up with a plan that makes sense.
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#8 Not About the Option, But the Discourse 2018-01-25 21:15
Voting Yes or No in response to Greenacres shouldn't be about whether or not the current plan is a good idea. People can reasonably disagree about that. Voting no should be about the school administration rescinding the public discussion and not being blunt about doing so.

Quoting VOTE NO!!!:
We must stop this Bond. Waste of money and will be awful for the kids at Greenacres during this process. I have been speaking with many parents in Quaker Ridge and Heathcote and all support the No vote. Please speak to everyone you know and advise them about the waste of money and encourage them to VOTE NO so that the board can come up with a plan that makes sense.
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#7 Supporting Another Resident 2018-01-25 17:09
Administration current rescinds plans for Greenacres: Vote Yes

Administration does not rescind plans for Greenacres: Vote No

Simple as that.

Another thing: has anyone noticed that those full color, glossy multipage newsletters that the District mails us are basically puff pieces telling us how well they're doing?

Quoting Another Scarsdale Resident:
I read both the LWV statement and the "Statement from Board of Education President and Vice President Regarding the 2018 Bond".

It seems to me that the key mistake made by the school administration was not reengaging the community in decision-making over replacement or renovation of the Greenacres school. Had this been done, the community could have been engaged on which they prized more, tax neutrality or a new school, a reconfiguration of the site or an update within the existing footprint, construction work while kids are in school, or closure of much of the field while a new school was being built. A decision by the Community might not have been needed, but a rigorous multiparty discussion would have at least fostered a sense of deep inclusion.

Instead, the administration took a previously active public discussion off the table. This one move palpably bothered many people and it is surprising that the administration didn't understand that no amount of openness would offset this mistake.

I propose that the rest of the bond - filled with necessary work - be put forward and that the Greenacres school renovation be delayed pending a true discussion. Or pass the bond measure but perform only critical maintenance on the school for now, pending a new discussion. Taking this step would be a profile in courage for the administration and would revive its damaged reputation.
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#6 Parent 2018-01-25 14:26
I got the email from the schools too and read it carefully. It really doesnt have good answers to the League’s concerns. The League statement also mentions that there were “various public statements at School Board meetings since July 2017 by the League School Bond Study Committee and League Board,” So why is the district only now responding to the League? Isn’t the Scarsdale League made up of Scarsdale community members?
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#5 Another Scarsdale Resident 2018-01-25 10:09
I read both the LWV statement and the "Statement from Board of Education President and Vice President Regarding the 2018 Bond".

It seems to me that the key mistake made by the school administration was not reengaging the community in decision-making over replacement or renovation of the Greenacres school. Had this been done, the community could have been engaged on which they prized more, tax neutrality or a new school, a reconfiguration of the site or an update within the existing footprint, construction work while kids are in school, or closure of much of the field while a new school was being built. A decision by the Community might not have been needed, but a rigorous multiparty discussion would have at least fostered a sense of deep inclusion.

Instead, the administration took a previously active public discussion off the table. This one move palpably bothered many people and it is surprising that the administration didn't understand that no amount of openness would offset this mistake.

I propose that the rest of the bond - filled with necessary work - be put forward and that the Greenacres school renovation be delayed pending a true discussion. Or pass the bond measure but perform only critical maintenance on the school for now, pending a new discussion. Taking this step would be a profile in courage for the administration and would revive its damaged reputation.
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