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Board of Education Meeting Tackles Vaping, Budgeting, and Scheduling

holland parkThis week’s Board of Education meeting kicked off with a thank you to all of the district’s teachers. Dr. Hagerman noted it was teacher appreciation week and thanked Scarsdale’s teachers for being friends and confidantes. The meeting included comments on the proposed 2018/19 school budget, vaping, meeting schedules for next year, scheduling of parent teacher conferences and changes to the health care policy.

In response to the appearance of two SHS students on Good Morning America, Dr. Hagerman read a statement from SHS School Principal Kenneth Bonamo on vaping:

“We have been aware of the trends regarding student use of Juul and e-cigarettes for some time, but have seen a dramatic increases in use over the past year. What started out as a concern about a relatively small number of students has turned out to be a growing problem that requires a multi-faceted response to a much broader audience. As such, we have developed programming to educate our students, parents, and teachers about the dangers of electronic cigarettes: We have offered a presentation to parents by a physician who specializes in this topic, instruction in physical education classes for all students, and discussions at faculty meetings. We have also sent communiques to teachers and parents to inform and educate them further. And, as an added measure, we have increased staff presence in areas of the building which might be more susceptible to vaping activity.

The use of electronic cigarettes is a violation of our rules, and this is clearly specified in our student Code of Conduct. When such violations occur, we impose progressive discipline commensurate with the violation. Additionally, we provide counseling and support to help deal with this addictive behavior, because this is much more of a health epidemic than a disciplinary problem in so many schools across the nation, including ours. Finally, as partners in this work, we contact parents of any students found to be using or possessing these devices, so that we may work together to change these behaviors and promote healthier choices”.

Budget Remarks
Board member Art Rublin gave extensive remarks regarding the proposed tax increase. He stated that Scarsdale has led the state in academic achievement throughout history, and in order to maintain this achievement, Scarsdale has had to increase property taxes each year, with 7.28% average increase throughout the 1980’s. That number decreased to a 6.52% average increase by the 2000’s. The 2018-19 proposed 2.65% increase is extremely modest relative to historical increases, “demonstrating that a certain level of investment indeed does not need to persist forever.” He concluded by saying, “I want to stress that I am not for unlimited spending for all time, but I do believe you get what you pay for. What Scarsdale School District taxpayers have paid for a century are top-quality public schools for our kids.”

His full remarks can be read below.

School Safety
Board member Nina Cannon attended the school safety panel last week and reinforced the message of improving safety and security under the new director of security. She also enforced the importance of a police presence in the school, and used the experience to “listen to the community and understand the work that is ongoing”. A full article on the school safety meeting can be found by clicking here.

The board announced the teacher and faculty candidates who were awarded tenure this year. An article detailing the tenure ceremony can be found by clicking here.

Public Comment
After a brief intermission, the board resumed the session with public comments. SHS senior Hannah Lewis commented on the district’s role in sexual assault awareness. She noted that students should be made aware of their Title IX rights at freshman orientation, and that the high school website should be updated to reflect the school’s sexual assault policy for incidents both on and off school property.

2018/19 Board Meetings and Budgeting
After taking the single public comment, the board moved on to discuss calendar logistics, including the 2018/19 Board of Education meeting schedule and a timeline on releasing the budget book. Moving forward, board meetings will continue on Monday nights. Pam Fuehrer noted that the budget development calendar will be adopted in September, and Dr. Hagerman noted the budget book is scheduled to be released on March 15th. Since the Budget Forum is scheduled for March 25th, there isn’t much time allocated for processing community input. Lee Maude noted that the budget book used to be released in February, and multiple edits were done. Although this requires more effort, she believes it can allow for maximum community input. William Natbony suggested that a community budget forum should take place in January to gauge the community direction before the budget book is formally presented.

Like scheduling, the board addressed the issue of meeting locations. When speaking to elementary school principals, there was an overall consensus against having meetings in elementary school buildings because it stressed the PTAs into incentivizing people to show up to meetings but usually there was only a light turnout. The principals believe it would be more valuable for board members to tour the schools during the school day with students. William Natbony suggested the introduction of informal coffees at each elementary school so parents can give their feedback to the board members.

Parent-Teacher Conference Days
Parent teacher conference days will function similarly to years prior to 2017 as the New York State Board of Regents is expected to be more flexible with required instructional time moving forward. As a result, elementary school conference days will take place over three days in two weeks in late November/early December, and additional K-2 conference days will take place in mid March.

Healthcare Changes
Assistant Superintendent Drew Patrick noted that the current POMCO health insurance agreement expires June 30, and he recommends a three year contract with UMR as it will likely lead to $2mm in savings while giving teachers access the large United Healthcare network. No changes are being made to the current prescription plan.

Giving Gifts to Teachers
The next issue addressed was the school ethics code, and specifically the rules regarding gifts to teachers. “A Board member, officer or employee shall not directly or indirectly solicit any gift or accept or receive any gift having a value of $15 or more, whether in the form of money, services, loan, travel, entertainment, hospitality, thing or promise, or any other form.” Board member Christopher Morin noted that when given as an act of gratitude, the amount of money given to a district employee isn’t of particular interest. He noted that ensuring no money is given to teachers as a means of influence is the more important issue, and Scarsdale should look to other districts to review their policies.

The final issue involved a motion to accept multiple gifts to Heathcote and Greenacres. At Heatchote, a $9,618.78 gift was provided by the Heathcote PTA in order to fund the purchase of new mats for the gymnasium. At Greenacres, $1,000 was given by the Greenacres PTA for a bench to remember beloved teacher Debbie Leitner. Both gifts were unanimously approved by the board.

Art Rublin’s remarks on the budget:

“At our last meeting I explained that my Yes vote was undergirded by a belief in investment in this international landmark district. But I want to make clear that I am not suggesting that there should be unlimited spending.

I do want us to continue to consider Scarsdale’s history as we consider these issues. My review of Scarsdale’s history leads me to conclude that the 1920s were the pivotal decade for Scarsdale schools. Historian Carol O’Connor tells us that before World War I, there was nothing remarkable about public education in Scarsdale. Bythe 1930s, a study conducted for the Board of Regents showed that Scarsdale and Bronxville, along with Garden City on Long Island, led the state in terms of academic achievement. Arguably it is not a coincidence that Scarsdale and Bronxville were found to be spending more per pupil than any other villages in the state. And
indeed, in Scarsdale, the amount of money budgeted per student for the 1929-30 school year was 179 percent higher than the per student expenditure a decade earlier, 1919-20, just after this High School was built. 179 percent higher.

And spending did persist in Scarsdale after the 1920s to help create the wonderful public education program that our children and families and homeowners in Scarsdale continue to benefit from. Fast-forwarding to the 1980s: the average property tax increase in Scarsdale to move Scarsdale schools forward for our benefit today was 7.28%. 7.28%. In the 1990s, the average property tax increase in Scarsdale to help bring our schools to what we benefit from today was 5.54%. And in the 2000s, spending persisted for the benefit of our children – the average property tax increase in Scarsdale to support our District budgets was 6.52%, despite the credit crisis toward the end of the 2000s. My sense is that these tax increases did not force large numbers of folks out of their homes, or discourage people from coming to Scarsdale. To the contrary, Scarsdale residents enjoyed increases in their home values over many years, and even during difficult times, our homes held their value better than in other communities. And I would argue that that was largely because of the investment that began in earnest just about a century ago, in the 1920s.

How does all of this history inform our Budget discussion today? Four points:

1) The tax levy increase for Scarsdale associated with our proposed Budget is much, much lower than the tax levy increases that sustained Scarsdale and moved it forward over the last 4 decades – 80s, 7.3%; 90s, 5.5%; 2000s, 6.5%, 2018-19, a proposed 2.65%, less than half the average in the 2000s, less than half the average in the 1990s, less than half the average in the 1980s. We are paying it forward to a certain extent, but we are demonstrating that a certain level of investment indeed does not need to persist forever.

2) The Budget Resolution that Dr. Hagerman recommended to us that we discussed and approved at our last meeting is the product of a multi-month, multi-meeting process that included community input, including two dedicated Budget Fora, and that reinforces my belief that it reflects community values. I believe that community input influenced our decision to add additional investment in security and to add funds responsive to community concerns about the use of crumb rubber as infill for a replacement synthetic turf. I think it is a good thing that we took community input into account and added this additional investment in security and in seeking safe playing surfaces. And I understand the Administration’s reasoning in saying it would have been imprudent to cut in other areas to make these investments. For example, the League notes that our plant improvement budget is already well under the level recommended by the National School Boards Association.

3) We owe to all in our community to try to contain taxes, but we also owe it all in our community to work to sustain their home values, be residents with young families or seniors. Arguably, from a pocketbook perspective, in a town like Scarsdale so tied to the schools, investment in our schools has a multiplier effect in terms of home values.

4) Relatedly, I want to point everyone to the report in our budget book that the true tax rate in Scarsdale is among the lowest in all of Westchester, Putnam and Rockland Counties – 44th out of 52, and considerably lower than the median. For those who don’t know  true tax rate, takes into account the market values of all of the District’s properties; arguably, it reflects a wealth factor of sorts.

In conclusion, I want to stress that I am not for unlimited spending for all time, but I do believe you get what you pay for. What  Scarsdale School District taxpayers have paid for a century are top-quality public schools for our kids. My vote on the Budget Resolution reflected my view that we should pay this forward for the next century of Scarsdale schoolchildren, and this year we’re proposing to voters to do so with a much more modest increase than many of those that brought us here.”

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