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You are here: Home Schools School Board Approves 2018/19 Budget with Funding for Synthetic Turf and Additional Security
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School Board Approves 2018/19 Budget with Funding for Synthetic Turf and Additional Security

turf fieldThe Board of Education approved the resolution for a $157,849,407 budget for the 2018/2019 school year at their April 16 meeting with six of the seven board members voting yea and one against. The budget is 2.71% above the 2017/18 budget and will translate into a 2.65% tax increase for Scarsdale residents and 4.21% for those in the Mamaroneck strip.

As many of the board members noted, the budget supports the educational program, employs staff to limit class sizes, funds necessary plant repairs and improvements and provides for safe and secure schools.

Earlier drafts of the proposed budget projected only a 2% increase. But two decisions made in the subsequent weeks, drove it up by $1,000,000. First, community calls for better security after the shootings in Parkland Florida led the board to approve an expenditure of $250,000 for a director of security and security enhancements at the schools. Then last week, due to concerns about the safety and sustainability of the synthetic turf at the high school, the Board approved an additional $750,000 to be used with the $1.2 million already allocated to purchase and install a synthetic turf with organic infill, pending the findings of a district-wide committee who will research the issue.

Together, those two items took the budget up almost ¾ of a percent.

schoolbudget18 19

The district traditionally uses surplus funds from the current year’s budget to buffer tax increases for the following year, and this practice continues next year when $2,125,000 in surplus funds from 2017/18 will be used in the 2018/19 school budget. The undesignated fund balance, which by law cannot exceed 4% of the budget, was 3.81% in 2017/18 and will decrease to 3.59% in June, 2018. Total reserves are projected to drop almost $2 million dollars from $14,771,858 in June, 30, 2017 to $12,895,210 as of June 30, 2018. The dip in reserves and tight budgeting have some community members concerned that if additional faculty has to be hired to maintain class sizes, funds may not be available.

An additional stressor on the budget is the need to maintain high tax certiorari reserves to refund taxpayers who grieve their taxes and win settlements. Historically, the district kept less than $50,000 in tax cert reserves, but following the revaluation, there were many more grievances and the reserve for 2018/19 is $1,376,082.

Board members were given the chance to make statements before casting their budget votes. Nina Cannon said that she found this budget challenging due to the additions for security and the turf. However she said, “I believe this board has been as careful as possible,” and said that the “budget ensures students are safe in the classroom and on the field and provides a 21st century education at all levels.” She said, “I cast my vote in favor of the budget.”

Art Rublin looked back at Scarsdale’s history and noted challenges posed by the recession and by the state tax cap. He discussed the fact that Scarsdale has a large international population with students from 25 countries and “an interest from people all over the world in the best education for their kids.” He said, “We should be proud. … this is about kids, about families and about a community that has distinguished itself around the world.” He said the budget would “continue to sustain what we have and more our education forward,” and voiced his support for the budget.

Chris Morin agreed with Art and noted that though “the budget does not include a lot of money for new instruction, we have done that in the last 2 and 3 years…. We are making significant capital and security investment. We are below the tax cap and in a sustainable place to be.”

Pam Fuehrer said, “I think we continue to honor the budget process and avoid budget spikes which relates to planning by our business department. (The budget funds) all that is needed to support our infrastructure, protects educational excellence, professional development and sustainability … all the key parameters are being maintained at important levels. We have been faithful to a solid process.”

Lee Maude was the only dissenter. She said, “I dreaded this moment…. Thank you to my fellow board members for the hard work… My hope was to speak last because my sense is that you all are going to support the budget….I know you have worked hard… This is a great school and we do invest.” (Referring to the tax increase she said) “But was are at 2.7%. I think I have been consistent. This has all come off the rails for me in the past few weeks. When Butler Field went from $1.2 to $1.9 I was hoping we could postpone the track for $500,000. $950,000 has been added to the budget since February 12. That number will never go away because it goes in the case. It’s things like this $950 that makes Scarsdale so expensive. If I let it go, I don’t think I would be doing my job. I am not against an organic turf field. I wish I had been given a better choice – postpone something. I wish we could have offered a lower tax increase. We will try to do a better job next year.”

Scott Silberfien said, “I do support the budget. I feel that it balances our needs and honors our commitment to our staff and our community – on Butler Field and security. I can only do the best I can do. To wait or get over the $900,000 – I didn’t want to wait a year to do these projects. We heard this was coming anyway.”

Board President William Natbony also supported the budget saying “It meets our needs, enhances our schools, is a prudent budget and is not excessive. It is the result of open, vibrant discussions, open ears and open voices. We listened to the community as well. Some of the budget items were activated by issues beyond our control… We made commitments to the community about Butler Field, I struggled as well. I looked at the field to see if we could wait another year – but I didn’t think so.”

The budget passed six to one, with the nay vote cast by Lee Maude. Natbony reminded everyone that the budget vote will take place on Tuesday May 15 from 7 am to 9 pm at the Scarsdale Middle School gym. School board members will be elected as well.

Food Service Update

Assistant Superintendent Stuart Mattey provided an update on the work of the Food Service Committee who is planning the delivery of lunches to elementary school cafeterias beginning in September, 2018. This district-wide food service will replace lunch programs that were formerly run by the school PTA’s.

The group is planning elementary school menus that will be high quality and healthy. Food options will include a choice of a hot meal or an alternative meal each day. Sandwiches, salads and yogurt, as well as seasonal fruits and vegetables will be available. Monthly menus will be posted online allowing parents to order their children’s meals for up to a month at a time. Kids will not need to have money as parents will fund the accounts online.

The meals will be cooked at the high school where there is excess capacity and transported to the schools by vans leased by Chartwells. The packaging materials for the lunches will be biodegradable and sustainable. The district may try to pilot some aspects of the program at Quaker Ridge in May or June, just to make sure it is working correctly.

All program expenses are funded through program revenues. There is currently a $400,000 balance in the fund that will be used to purchase serving equipment for the elementary schools and to retain an executive chef to oversee the program and ensure its success. The program is self-funded and is not a district expense.

Details about the new lunch program will be conveyed in district communications, at PTA meetings and perhaps on the district website via a new video for parents with instructions on how to order.

Board Meeting Schedule for 2018/19

Another item on the agenda was a discussion of the scheduling of Board of Education meetings for the 2018/19 school year. The administration suggested that Board meetings be moved from Monday nights to Wednesday or Thursday nights, to allow more time to gather information and issue the agenda early enough for the community to consider it with more time before the meeting. Currently the agenda is given to the public on the Monday of the meeting.

There was also discussion about the meeting start time. Since the meetings have been extending to late in the evening, Dr. Hagerman asked if the pre-meetings with community groups could begin at 6 rather than 6:30 pm. However, Art Rublin pointed out that some members of the Board commute to work in Manhattan, and have difficulty making early evening meetings.

Lee Maude urged the Board to go back to schedule meetings at the five elementary schools which was done previously. This is difficult because all the AV equipment needs to be moved to the schools for live streaming. The Board discussed whether or not that practice should be resumed. At the end of the meeting, Dr. Hagerman said he would get input from the principals and PTA’s about meetings at the individual schools and further consider the meeting day shift.

Donor Recognition

During the first public comments session the Linda Doucette-Ashman, Amy Cooper and Leah Dembitzer from the League of Women Voters of Scarsdale read a statement about the relationship between the Board of Education and the Scarsdale Schools Education Foundation (SSEF). See the full statement below. In light of a decision to purchase and hang large plaques recognizing donors to the Design Lab and the Fitness Center, the League asked the Board to develop a gift policy specific to the SSEF and a formal policy on donor recognition. They asked that the Board allow public input and discussion on both of these matters and engage the community on these issues.

Just prior to the Board of Education meeting, the Board received a letter from the Scarsdale Schools Education Foundation stating their intent to pay the $38,000 for the donor recognition plaques. Since the board had already approved the design of the plaques and no longer had to allocate funds, the matter was considered closed.

At the end of the meeting Chris Morin raised the issues addressed in the League statement. He said, “I do agree that we should discuss this issue of recognition…. gifts. I feel like we answered many of the issues raised in the Leagues letter in our last gift policy. But there are certainly some holes in it. And now with this experience I think it’s worth taking a look at it and trying to get this policy right.” Dr. Hagerman added, “Compounding this issues There is potential legislation that will allow private donations to school districts which will not be given to an adjunct group like our foundation but directly to the district so in anticipation of that, this could be the beginning of something much larger down the road.”

Natbony added, “We have been in touch with our attorneys –- and are awaiting their advice. We do have a naming rights policy in place. We revised our policy a few years ago and discussed whether there should be a separate policy for the foundation at that point and decided “no.” On a broader scale, we need to see where this legislation comes out.”

lwvStatement from the League of Women Voters on BOE Gift Policy and Recognition of Donors
April 16, 2018

The League acknowledges the efforts of the Scarsdale Schools Education Foundation (Education Foundation), the Board of Education (the Board) and District Administration for the work that resulted in the creation of the High School Design Lab and Fitness Cente

The League further acknowledges that:
● An October 20, 2014 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) entered into by and between the Board and the Education Foundation for the funding of the High School Design Lab and Fitness Center specifically stipulates Board support for
“an appropriate means of recognizing donors to the projects;” and that
● On June 20, 2016 the Board approved plaques to recognize individual donors who provided various levels of financial support to the Education Foundation, while clarifying such recognition be limited to the one-time and specific situation of the Education Foundation gift to the District of funding for the above-named capital projects.

We also understand that the Board considers its relationship with the Education Foundation to be adequately defined and governed by the 2014 MOU and its existing Gift Policy (1800), last revised on October 6, 2014.

Since the Education Foundation was formed in 2012, the League has repeatedly recommended that the Board proactively develop gift policies through a thoughtful, methodical process that actively engages community input to ensure the resulting policy accurately reflects Scarsdale community values for our public schools.

In 2013 and 2014, the League issued several statements recommending that the Board develop and adopt “a new policy, specific to gifts given by the Education Foundation to the District, in light of the new and unique relationship between the BOE and the Education Foundation,” as well as “the size and nature of past and contemplated gifts 1 from the Education Foundation to the District.” In 2014, the League further suggested that the Board also “develop a policy regarding the recognition of gifts initiated by donors, including naming rights.”2 While certain League suggestions were incorporated into the Board’s revisions to its Gift Policy (1800) in 2014, the Board has yet to adopt these two key League recommendations.

The League observes that on March 19, 2018 the Board discussed and approved the Education Foundation’s preliminary designs for two donor recognition signage plaques, listing individual donors who contributed at various tiers of financial support above a certain threshold to the Education Foundation’s Capital Campaign 2015-17 for the above referenced projects. The Education Foundation’s public presentation of the preliminary designs for these signage plaques indicates a total estimated cost of $38,000. While the overall dimension of the donor recognition plaque for the Fitness Center is clearly shown to be 105.5 inches by 104 inches (about. 8.8 feet x 8.7 feet), the overall dimension of the Design Lab signage appears to be approximately 23 feet by 11 feet, with a donor recognition portion of approximately 38 inches x 59 inches (about 3 feet x 5 feet).3

We further observe that:
• The March 19, 2018 meeting was the first opportunity for the public to see the actual preliminary design of the proposed recognition signage plaques and to 4 learn such details as their overall dimension and cost;
• The March 19, 2018 Board Meeting Agenda afforded no opportunity for public comment between the Board’s discussion and its action to approve the5 preliminary design of the plaques; and that
• Subsequent community discussion and concern has arisen, now that the details of the two donor recognition signage plaques have been made public.

The League believes that now is the time for the Board to develop both a separate gift policy specific to the Education Foundation and a donor recognition policy that appropriately incorporate and reflect Scarsdale community values.

With the 2014 MOU coming to closure, there is gap to be filled with respect to the definition of the Board’s relationship with the Education Foundation. As such, now is the time to develop a policy to establish and clarify that relationship, just as the Board has done with respect to booster organizations. The League asserts that if the Board continues its process by replacing one MOU with another, without first establishing policy to guide what principles, priorities and values will shape the next agreement between the Board and the Education Foundation, it will not be incorporating necessary public input to ensure consistency with Scarsdale community values and priorities. The recent Board discussion and public comments on the issues surrounding the current donor recognition signage, including dimensions and cost, make this an especially opportune time for the Board to ensure their understanding of community values by engaging the broader community in discussion of the full range of issues that arise with such large donations.

We believe that the Board’s one-time approval of donor recognition signage for Education Foundation gifts to the District for the High School Design Lab and Fitness Center, which the Board stated was not intended to set precedent, has also highlighted issues that existing Board policy has yet to address. Based on our review of the June 20, 2016 Board meeting referenced above, we believe members of the Board of Education and District Administration had already begun to discuss and recognize both the absence of, and the need for, a policy regarding recognition of donors. Furthermore, we believe that, without an appropriate policy in place moving forward, the Board’s supposedly one-time recognition of certain donors to the Education Foundation’s gift to the District, does, in effect, serve as precedent that potentially governs future Board actions with respect to the recognition of donors.

The League further asserts that:
● As elected officials, Board members are accountable to the public and have a responsibility to engage in public deliberation and public discussion, and to give the public an opportunity to observe the Board’s decision-making process and to weigh in on its deliberations;
● The Board has a responsibility to provide ample public notice of, and public opportunity for comment on, Board discussions and actions regarding the Education Foundation, and donor recognition, including separately scheduled
Board meetings for Board discussion and Board action; and
● The Board has the responsibility to develop a donor recognition policy that can be applied with consistency, fairness and transparency for both the donors and the community.

Recommendations:

1. While the League acknowledges that preliminary designs for two donor recognition signage plaques have already been approved by the Board, we request that the Board still allow for and consider community input to ensure the Board’s decision on the details of the donor recognition signage for the High School Design Lab and Fitness Center appropriately reflects the values and priorities of both the school community and the broader Scarsdale community.
2. We urge the Board to develop a policy regarding the recognition of donors of gifts to the District, including naming rights. We further urge the Board to solicit public input and schedule opportunities for public comment to ensure that resulting policy reflects community values. In addition to obtaining a sense of community values, this effort will provide the Board with opportunities to identify and address specific issues associated with donor recognition in a methodical manner and thereby allow for the creation of a policy that will enable consistent application going forward.
3. Finally, in light of the Board’s unique relationship with the Education Foundation, as well as the size and nature of past and contemplated gifts from the Education Foundation to the District, we continue to urge the Board to reconsider our previous recommendation to develop and adopt a separate policy regarding its relationship with the Education Foundation.

Thank you for your consideration.
League of Women Voters of Scarsdale Board of Directors

Footnotes:

1. LWVS Statement in Connection with the Scarsdale Schools Education Foundation, December 9, 2013; LWVS Statement to the BOE regarding Revisions to Gift Policy, September 22, 2014; LWVS Comments to the BOE on Proposed Revisions to the Gift Policy, September 30, 2014; and Third Statement to BOE Regarding Revisions to Their Gift Policy, October 6, 2014, available on LWVS website at http://lwvs.org/issues.html.

2. LWVS Comments to the BOE on Proposed Revisions to the Gift Policy, September 30, 2014

3. Source: March 15, 2018 Education Foundation Director Letter to Dr. Hagerman with attachments, plus two separate documents with signage dimensions, included in the March 19, 2018 Board Meeting Agenda, located on the District website under “Board of Education - Board Meeting Agendas.”

4. At the December 11, 2017 Board Meeting Dr. Hagerman presents the SSEF letter regarding an installment of their gift in the amount of $263,000, adding, “We are also in the process of continuing to work with the Foundation on the signage that will commemorate the donors.” There is no subsequent Board discussion of the signage details or how it will commemorate donors. [See: Board Meeting video recording, minute 2:24.] In addition, neither the District Minutes nor the District Highlights of the December 11, 2017 Board Meeting mention the issue of donor recognition signage.

5 .The District Meeting Notice for the March 19, 2018 Board Meeting emailed on March 15, 2018 lists several agenda topics but does not include mention of the SSEF proposal for donor recognition signage; and, according to the Board Meeting Agenda for March 19, 2018, there was no public comment period scheduled between “8. Information/Discussion Items,” including “8.03 SSEF Donor Recognition Signage,” and “9. Action Items,” including “9.03 SSEF DonorRecognition Signage.” In addition, the March 15, 2018 Education Foundation Letter addressed to Dr. Hagerman and describing their proposal is an attachment to the Board’s Agenda for March 19, 2018, which members of the public could only access on the District website under “Board of Education – Board Meeting Agendas,” was not posted until the afternoon of the same day as the public meeting.

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