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District Releases Report on School Water Quality

waterfountainEver since high lead levels were found in drinking fountains and sinks at Davis Elementary School in nearby New Rochelle, Scarsdale parents have asked questions about the safety of the drinking water in their schools.

This week, Stuart Mattey, Assistant Superintendent for Business for the Scarsdale School District released the results of tests of water at all district schools done in March, 2016 that showed that with a few exceptions the 309 samples pulled from all schools were in compliance with EPA regulations.

However, the engineers did find that a number of sinks failed on the first draw but met standards after a 30 second flush. A few failed after the second draw and were taken out of service until filters could be installed. These locations included two sinks in the Cooper House lunchroom at the Middle School as well as a sink in the tech teacher's kitchen at the Middle School and the water fountain near the nurse's office at the Middle School.

At Fox Meadow, the water fountain next to the boiler room was also found to have unacceptable lead levels after the second draw.

The district remediated all of these locations and engineers returned on May 7, 2016 and found lead levels to be acceptable.

Local resident and environmental attorney Thomas Giuffra reviewed the report and offered the following comment for Scarsdale10583:

I just had the opportunity to review the test data for the water in the schools. Initially, I would note that the Board has taken a very proactive approach to this potential problem.

I hope that it will institute at least an annual survey of the drinking water in the district buildings.

Overall, the testing is favorable. There were a few locations which were over the EPA limits, but not so much so that they would raise concerns of a greater problem. If there had been large numbers of test locations in the same building which exceeded actionable limits, that would be a cause for concern because the issue would not be localized. Thankfully, the failing results appear to be in individual test locations which indicates a very small area of possibly degrading pipes or lead solder leaching lead.

What is most striking is the impact that remediation had on the failing locations. All
of the failing areas passed once remediation methods were utilized. Lead in drinking water is very easily controlled with filtration. In contrast lead dust, is much more difficult to safely manage and control based on its very nature.

One of the most basic ways to protect against lead in drinking water is to only use water from the cold tap for cooking, drinking or mixing baby formula. Water from a hot tap will always contain higher levels of lead. Water filters are very good idea.

Con Edison to Install Gas Main at Church Lane South and Popham Road

trafficconesScarsdale Village has notified us that the installation of a gas main will interrupt traffic and cause detours from now until early January.

Here's the information:
Con Edison has begun work to install 120 linear feet of gas main and a new natural gas regulator in the public right -of -way in front of 22 Church Lane South at the Popham Road intersection. The installation of the gas regulator is necessary to meet the high demand for gas in this area which is not currently being provided to the residents. The construction is expected to be completed in early January 2017, weather permitting.

Drivers should expect intermittent lane restrictions on Popham Road and Church Lane South during construction. The homeowners on Church Lane South between Popham and Hathaway will be detoured to Popham Road via School Lane. While Con Edison has a detour plan for the various phases of construction, and Scarsdale police officers will be on site for traffic control, it is advised that motorists allow extra time when traveling in the area or take an alternate route to avoid delays.

We appreciate your patience and cooperation during this project. For additional information, please contact the Village Engineer's Office at 914-722-1106.

Your Letters: Inaction and Fear Do Not Constitute Leadership

letter-to-the-editorOver four months since the Ryan reval train wrecked into Scarsdale, Mayor Mark and the Board of Trustees continue their weary Greek chorus, 'we cannot do anything or we will upset other residents.' Had Alexander the Great been gripped by fear like the Mayor and BOT are, Greece would never have become a great empire and Alexander the Great would have died unknown in his birthplace, Pella.

The Citizens Nominating Committee (CNC), its ardent fans of establishment politics, and prospective CNC candidates should take note when they try to pick the next mayor and trustees. Inaction and fear of the unknown do not constitute leadership.

At the October 13th Committee of the Whole meeting, Trustee Stern yet again brought up the Tyler reval. I reminded him what I said on June 14th in quoting statistician George Baxter, 'all models are flawed, but some are useful.'

There are clear differences between the Tyler and Ryan valuations that seem to escape the Mayor and Board of Trustees. Of course, there were complaints about the Tyler valuation. After over four decades of numerous boards neglecting their responsibilities of conducting a property assessment, those people's properties which went up in value were understandably upset. Moreover, at the higher and lower ends of the market, one challenge in a model can be less available sales data, which can cause distortions. For the record, my husband's and my property went up during the Tyler reval and even more under Ryan's 'finger in the air guess.'

Under Tyler there were numerous public meetings where residents could ask questions. Under Ryan, there were two meetings, one which was little publicized. At those meetings, Trustees Finger and Samwick asked Ryan questions which showed that Ryan was innumerate; Mayor Mark and the trustees never compelled Ryan to answer questions properly or to produce his work before the June 1st tentative assessment roll deadline.

Under Tyler, there were physical inspections of homes. To date no emails have been uncovered showing unethical behavior at the Assessor's office during Tyler like there were under Ryan. Tyler was a competed project; emails show how Assessor Albanese wanted Ryan to do the 2016 reval and his was not a competed project. Under Ryan, an unlicensed appraiser arrested for criminal trespassing and threatening, while living with a convicted felon, spent less than three and a half minutes looking at our homes from the public way trying to guess at construction grades. Under the terms of the contract, Assessor Albanese was required to vet any of Ryan's subcontractors; she never vetted this unlicensed appraiser, and in fact, gave him access to village computers. One of her staff members even offered Ryan and his subcontractor her password to access the Village system.

Starting in August, the Mayor and Village Manager finally admitted that the Ryan reval was a mistake. Moreover, they have publicly stated that they are exploring bringing a legal action against Ryan for not fulfilling his terms of the contract. Presently, they are withholding almost $50,000 in fees from Ryan. Further proving how wrong Ryan's valuation was, the New York State's Office of Real Property Services' valuation was $1.2 billion higher than Ryan's.

No legal action was ever even considered by the Village against Tyler. When I asked the Mayor at last week's meeting if payment was withheld from Tyler, the answer was 'no.' I have repeatedly asked 'If Trustee Stern or other trustees were so concerned about the Tyler reval's results why didn't residents or they call for an independent investigation? Why did they not take legal action against Tyler?' I have yet to receive an answer. What type of logic are the Mayor and Board of Trustees employing? 'Tyler made some people unhappy, so now let us sit here and have Ryan make hundreds of people unhappy even though we know that the Ryan reval and how he was hired are flawed?'

For anyone who can stomach reliving this summer's trustee meetings, much can be learned from the July 12th Board of Trustees meeting. At minute 62.06 in the video, Trustee Stern in explaining to resident Robert Harrison that there is nothing that the Board can do about the Ryan reval, says 'our hands are in handcuffs by the rules and laws of the state of New York.' Not at that meeting, nor at any other meeting in the last four months have Trustee Stern or any of the others proven what New York law prevents the board from invalidating the Ryan reval.

Trustee Stern also stated that he 'felt residents' pain' and that the Board and he 'were very upset about the reval.' When questioned by Harrison, Stern admits that under Ryan, his assessment declined. To this day, neither the mayor nor any trustee has ever apologized to the residents for the angst that they have inflicted on us. They have also not been held accountable for not solving the self-inflicted Ryan fiasco. Given that the CNC selected the Mayor and trustees, does the CNC ever hold them accountable?

Very elucidating is the exchange that Trustee Finger has with Harrison at minute 64.14, when responding to why the Board of Trustees will not invalidate the Ryan reval. Trustee Finger stated that 'if we take a plainly illegal action and the Village is sued by the other 4,000 homeowners or any one of them and it costs all the residents hundreds of thousands of dollars to lose and be right back where they started, will that make people feel better?' Those present at the meeting responded loudly 'yes.' To this date, Trustee Finger has not proven that it would be illegal for the BOT to invalidate the Ryan reval; he has yet to prove what residents might sue the Village if the Board were to invalidate the reval. And if other residents were to sue the Village, it would be their burden of proof to prove why they are suing the village?

The sad truth is that the Mayor and BOT largely ignored my team and other quantitative residents' analysis until we revealed, through emails obtained under the Freedom of Informational Law, Assessor Albanese's in appropriate behavior. Despite all the quantitative analysis that was brought forth, we have been pilloried by Village leaders and even in a couple of Scarsdale10583.com's editorials. Some residents, hiding under anonymity previously provided by Scarsdale1058.com's comment section, called us moochers and others told my husband and me to leave Scarsdale.

The irony is that the only good thing about the reval is that we now have met hundreds of residents personally or over email. Even though I am stunned at the opacity, and sometimes arrogance of key Scarsdale institutions, I could not leave. I now know such a cross section of kind and smart Scarsdalians of from every walk of life. They are my neighbors and many are now my friends. I meet not only the over assessed but also the under assessed. Interestingly, even people whose assessments stayed flat or declined are appalled by the misconduct of the Assessor's office and lack of leadership at Village Hall. The Mayor and Board of Trustees would be well-served to solve the Ryan reval. This debacle has been going on for over four months. In case they have not noticed, over assessed residents and I have not gone away and will continue to pursue justice.

Letter to the Editor: Tax Phase-in Denies Equal Protection of the Law

letter-to-the-editorThis letter to the Editor was sent to Scarsdale10583 by Michele Braun and Norman Bernstein:
To the Editor:
We have now attended several Scarsdale Village Trustee meetings at which the possibility of asking the NY State Legislature for legislation authorizing "phase in" of the increased tax assessments resulting from the 2016 revaluation has been discussed. As described, the phase-in would spread the increase for those with the most substantial increased valuations—e.g., 25 percent and higher and meet other criteria—over three years.

Under this proposal, the decreased taxes due to the 2016 revaluation accruing to those with the largest houses would be put into effect immediately, not phased in. This asymmetric treatment of Scarsdale property owners would result in a reduction in total Village revenues. The reduction, in turn, would be compensated for by immediate significant tax increases to everyone else. If Village Trustees persist in pursing this phase-in, then the only appropriate source of offsetting revenue is that the benefits of the irrational 2016 revaluation for those who received the largest tax reductions should be phased in on the same schedule.

However well intended, the proposed asymmetric treatment—phasing in of tax increases and immediately applying tax reductions—may well constitute a denial of equal protection of the law and the taking of property without due process of law to all those harmed by this proposal.

Sincerely,
Michele Braun and Norman W. Bernstein
Wakefield Road
Scarsdale, NY 10583

Screenagers: Film and Discussion at the Scarsdale Library

screenagers"SCREENAGERS: Growing Up in the Digital Age" film invites reflection and discussion about family challenges in today's screen-obsessed culture

Today's families are facing extraordinary challenges regarding connection, involvement, interaction, empathy and hands-on living. At the center of this contemporary predicament is a youth culture invested in screens, mobile devices and virtual interaction. If you are watching your kids scroll through life, with rapid-fire thumbs and six-second attention spans, you will find special interest in a provocative film "SCREENAGERS: Growing Up in the Digital Age," to be shown at Scarsdale Public Library Nov. 2 and Nov. 3. Each screening will be followed by a discussion moderated by Scarsdale Edgemont Family Counseling Center staff. Parent discussion guides will be provided to inspire thoughtful consideration and productive debate. This event is generously sponsored by Scarsdale Teen Center, Scarsdale Edgemont Family Counseling Services, Scarsdale Public Library, Scarsdale PT Council and Scarsdale Middle School PTA.

"SCREENAGERS: Growing Up in the Digital Age" is the brainchild of physician and filmmaker Delaney Ruston, who crafted the film out of her professional experiences and her day-to-day life with her own kids. In particular, Ruston became increasingly concerned about research showing average kids spending 6.5 hours a day looking at screens. She saw this in her own home and wondered about its impact. She also wondered about the affects of an epidemic of contentious negotiations over screen time occurring nationwide in homes and schools.

In SCREENAGERS, like her other award-winning documentaries on mental health, Ruston takes a deeply personal approach to probe the vulnerable corners of family life and explore struggles over social media, video games, academics and Internet addiction. Through poignant, and unexpectedly funny stories, along with surprising insights from authors, psychologists, and brain scientists, SCREENAGERS not only reveals how tech time impacts kids' development. It also offers solutions on how adults can empower kids to best navigate the digital world and find balance.

Ruston is a filmmaker, Stanford trained physician and mother of two. She said she decided to make "SCREENAGERS" because she believes in the importance of helping kids find balance in our tech-filled world. She is passionate about using the film as a vehicle to inspire discussion among parents, educators and kids – so change can happen in homes, schools and communities. She "loves engaging audiences in solution-centered discussions" and is excited that her daughter, Tessa, who is in the film, has enjoyed being part of these discussions.

"As a physician, I became increasingly anxious to know how our new tech world affects children's development," Ruston said. "I started finding new research on the impact of video gaming and social media on self-esteem, empathy, social skill development, academics and brain development. As a mom, I wanted to examine how we can better manage screen time in our homes and schools. What does science teach us about teaching self-control? How can we best encourage youth to find their own ways to achieve balance? What limits and rules are reasonable and how do we implement them?"

Eventually, given the struggles Ruston was facing at home, along with the results of her research, she decided to make a film. "I needed to find stories that addressed the questions and ideas floating in my head," she explained. "I was completely surprised to learn how hard it would be to capture family and school challenges on film. Finding stories for my past mental health films had been difficult, but this was harder. I had underestimated how private parenting is. I started to see it in myself, noticing that I was too shy to tell friends my rules, such as the one about prohibiting cell phones in the car. Other friends were embarrassed to tell me they had no rules. And we were all self-conscious about how hard it was to enforce any rules we did have."

In the course of making the film, Ruston's team fortunately found "incredible families, teachers and children across the U.S. from diverse socio-economic and cultural backgrounds ... who shared experiences that are relatable, very personal, but not sensational." She decided to include her own family's struggles too. "Some of the stories are cautionary tales that give us an encounter with scenarios we hope to avoid by knowing about them in advance, but mostly they inspire empathy, understanding and action," Ruston said.

The filmmaker hopes public screenings and follow-up discussions will be effective in several ways. First, she hopes the film will reveal the magnitude of today's screen-age problem. "Nearly every family and school faces similar struggles, and the next step is to talk openly about solutions," she said. "My daughter told me she didn't realize other families were sorting out rules too, after she participated in her first post-film discussion." The second intended result of the film is to increase understanding of why balance is needed. Ruston contends this is important because it gives parents the confidence to set appropriate tech limits. "For example, what if it became normal for parents of young kids to talk about ensuring offline time during playdates?" she pondered. The third intended result is to inspire communities to work together "so young people and adults can collaborate to better manage screen time in their homes and schools," Ruston said.

Her approach is sincere: "We all know that our new lives with kids and tech is challenging—I still struggle at home. I have learned that I can't always know if I am parenting the 'right' way but I can know that I am parenting with integrity...integrity by following my belief that I have a responsibility to provide my kids with the most diverse type of experiences as possible."

Prior to "SCREENAGERS," Ruston's production company, MyDoc Productions, made award-winning feature documentaries such as "Unlisted: A Story of Schizophrenia," about her father, and "Hidden Pictures," about global mental health. She has been invited to speak and screen her films to diverse audiences around the world – such as at primary schools, conferences, medical centers, universities, the United Nations, the TEDx stage in Seattle and the World Health Organization.

Throughout her education at Cornell University, Stanford Medical School and the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) for residency, Ruston studied diverse aspects of filmmaking and focused on film as a vehicle for social change. She made her first award-winning short film while doing her medical residency at UCSF. She then completed a Fellowship in Ethics and Communication at UCSF and went on to become faculty at the University of Washington in Seattle. She then completed a National Endowment for The Arts funded filmmaking program and was later awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to make films in India. Along with filmmaking, Ruston has spent over a decade providing primary care to underserved populations. Recently she became the Filmmaker-in-Residence at the Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care and Bioethics at Stony Brook Medicine, in New York. For her work in using film to launch advocacy movements, Ruston has won several awards.

Two showings of "SCREENAGERS: Growing Up in the Digital Age," followed by moderated discussions, will take place in the Scott Room of the Scarsdale Library on Wednesday, Nov. 2, at 7:30 p.m., and Thursday, Nov. 3, at 9:15 a.m. The event is free and open to the public. Reservations are required, due to limited space. For further information or to RSVP, contact Ellen Tiven-Moore at 914-722-8358 or, by email, at Ellen@Scarsdaleteencenter.com.

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