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School Board Candidates Engage in Respectful Forum at Village Hall

SchoolBoardCandidatesForumSchool Board Candidates Woody Crouch, Alison Singer and Pam Fuehrer at the LWVS ForumScarsdale voters will find themselves in another pickle this May when they will be asked to vote for two school board members, out of a pool of three, on Tuesday May 15. Why a pickle? Because traditionally the Scarsdale School Board Nominating Committee (SBNC) vets, interviews and selects the school board candidates and they run in an uncontested election for their seats.

However this year, when the SBNC announced their selections, Alison Tepper Singer and Woodrow Crouch, some were surprised that a candidate that had served her first term on the board had not received a re-nomination to serve three more years. After consideration, that board member, Pam Fuehrer decided to run independently. And in yet another quirk, rather than running for her own seat, she decided to run against SBNC candidate Woody Crouch who was running for the seat vacated by current board member Art Rublin.

Per the SBNC Resolution, candidates run for individual seats and the candidates who gets the most votes for each seat win.The proceedings of the SBNC are confidential in order to protect the candidates, so no one knows why Fuehrer was not re-nominated. However, there has been speculation that the SBNC’s decision was a reaction to community concerns about board transparency and the process for determining what projects would be included in the controversial 2018 bond. The February 2018 bond was the biggest in Scarsdale’s history, and it passed by only 65% with 667 voting no. Perhaps the SBNC was signaling that it was time for a change of leadership

So again the community appears to be divided among those who support the non-partisan system and slate of candidates and another group of former school board members and PTA leaders who are standing behind one of their own.

On Monday night April 30, the League of Women Voters of Scarsdale held a candidates’ forum and invited the public to hear the views of Crouch, Fuehrer, and Singer. Each candidate gave opening and closing statements and answered questions posed by the League and from the audience. The forum was moderated by Stephen Cohen, who is the President of the League of Women Voters of White Plains. The forum, held at Village Hall, was well attended, and was also televised on SPTV for viewers at home.

In their opening statements, the candidates highlighted the unique strengths that differentiated them. Woody Crouch explained that his experience as an engineer combined with his years of community service has prepared him to guide the district through the large scale facilities projects that are in the works. Allison Singer noted that having both a special needs and a high achieving child gave her a unique perspective on Scarsdale’s educational program. Pam Fuehrer emphasized that her service on the board for the past three years and volunteer work within the schools for the past fourteen years has given her the experience needed to serve.

When asked about the three most pressing issues facing the Scarsdale Schools, all three candidates agreed safety was among the more pressing issues. Singer and Crouch furthered that mental health and wellness are important due to the high levels of stress facing high school students. Fuehrer specifically noted to “Put taxes first; the non-deductability of most state and local taxes must be at the forefront” and also cited sustainability as a key issue.

Responsiveness to the community was a hot button issue over the past year, and was addressed multiple times throughout the forum. Fuehrer noted the complicated budget process is designed to utilize community input, as evident by the recent shift towards funding STEAM and world language education. Crouch felt that talking directly to people from each area of Scarsdale was the best way to gauge community sentiment on a given issue. Singer highlighted the value of public comments at board meetings, as people who comment tend to be experts in their specific issue and ought to be recognized and respected.

When asked about changing the budget process, Fuehrer said that the process weighs all viewpoints and comes to a decision that fits the vision of the district. Crouch believes the process should start earlier to give people time to raise issues. Singer reinforced her belief in ground-up budgeting, and was happy the current process allocated funds for the field and safety.

In response to a question about private contributions to the schools, Singer cautioned that while donations to Scarsdale Schools are welcome, it is important that spending decisions are at the discretion of trustees. Fuehrer noted that the decision to recognize the individual donors of the Scarsdale Schools Education Foundation for their gifts to fund the Design Lab and Fitness Center was a one-time occurrence and is not a precedent moving forward. Crouch believes that people who donate should be thanked, but not recognized with signage or plaques.

Regarding community appraisement in construction projects, Singer noted that communication and transparency are key. Crouch added that it’s also important to ask the right questions. Fuehrer believes the recent survey on the state of school infrastructure has provided a clear view on the conditions of the nine district buildings moving forward.

On fiscal responsibility, Crouch stressed the importance of using funds responsibly so the budget in whole can be applied properly. Both Singer and Fuehrer emphasized the significance of balancing fiscal constraints with strong and safe schools, with Fuehrer stating that every expense should align with the district’s vision.

When dealing with differences of opinion among board members and the administration, Both Fuehrer and Singer believe diverse viewpoints are a strength of Scarsdalians, but Singer furthered that once a decision is made, board members should support it regardless of personal beliefs. Crouch believes respect is key when addressing differences in opinion.

For creating a strategic process for the Scarsdale Schools with community involvement, Fuehrer brought up the importance of ongoing budgeting to guide community goals and holding forums on wellness and safety so the board understands the direction of the community. Crouch mentioned the importance of having a singular vision when developing a strategic plan, and would use his communication skills to reach out to the community. Singer noted the plan must be based in a collective community vision, and new plans should be based in studies and research on topics including stress and differentiation of instruction.

To keep Scarsdale on the cutting edge, Crouch believes teachers and principals should be brought in when planning the curriculum. Singer believes Scarsdale is already on the cutting edge with diverse extracurriculars, small class sizes, and high achieving students but improvements can always be made. Fuehrer wants to incorporate 21st century learning while maintaining achievement, and also expressed interest in funding the Center for Innovation so that teachers can get grants for designing and testing new and innovative forms of teaching.

Regarding curriculum review, Both Singer and Fuehrer believe teachers should take the lead in planning, and Fuehrer also noted that the board is designed to ask “why” and “how much” when dealing with potential changes to the curriculum. Singer believes differentiation of learning should be addressed to support instruction for different kinds of learning. Crouch noted the importance of vetting changes made to the curriculum.

Regarding political advocacy by the board, Fuehrer believes advocacy is one of the board’s primary responsibility and Scarsdale ought to have a district level advocacy committee made up of parents, community members, and administrators to issue joint statements to legislators. Crouch highlighted the value in collaborating with other school boards on various issues. Singer brought up her own experience helping pass the Combating Autism Act of 2006, and said, “We should not let perfection be the enemy of the good when dealing with advocacy."

When asked about unique experiences, Singer stated that her experience as a parent of both a special needs and non special needs child combined with years of professional experience at NBC and the Autism Science Foundation has provided her with communication skills and the ability to negotiate. Fuehrer said her experience as a board member gives her a unique edge, as she has already received training. She also touted her fourteen years of volunteer experience in Scarsdale, from the Junior League at Wayside Cottage to the League of Women Voters. “I’ve built billion dollar plants throughout the state of New York and am no stranger to dealing with complex issues firsthand” stated Crouch on his uniqueness, and also cited his expediency in completing these projects.

Singer believes the most important role of a board member is to maintain the balance between strong schools and reasonable tax rates and listen to their constituents to represent the collective view. Fuehrer believes students are the ultimate focus, and a good board keeps community members informed and has a collaborative relationship with the superintendent. Crouch believes carefully planning the budget and infrastructure are a necessity to make sure the schools run smoothly.

In her closing statement, Fuehrer cited her passion for students along with her veteran status on why she should be a member of the board. She cautioned that with elections taking place in the next few years, there could be up to six new board members in three years, causing an imbalance and leaving no veterans on the board. Crouch noted that the School Board Nominating Committee carefully vetted him as a choice for board member, and that his experience as an engineer can be vital when planning infrastructure. He’s also claimed to be a quick-learner, and told the community they “won’t be disappointed”. Singer expressed gratitude for the experience the Scarsdale Schools brought her family, and said she will bring enthusiasm and experience to the board while maintaining an open mind.

The three were collegial and cooperative, often agreeing with another and building on each other’s statements. They all appeared eminently qualified to serve. Voters will have to decide whether to consider the individual candidates on their merits or to support the nominating process and Scarsdale’s Non-Partisan System.

Voting will be held Tuesday May 15 from 7 AM to 9 PM. According to District Clerk Honore Adams, NYS law requires voting machines with optical scanners to be used and there is a section for write-in votes on the ballot, which are separated for counting purposes.

The forum in full can be viewed by clicking here

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