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people commentsThis statement was sent to Scarsdale10583 by the League of Women Voters of Scarsdale:

The League of Women Voters of Scarsdale (the “League”) thanks members of the Board of Education (the “Board”) and District Administration (the “Administration”) for participating in a panel at the League’s General Membership School Budget Information Meeting and addressing questions on the Proposed School Budget 2018-19 (the “Budget”) on March 12, 2018 at Village Hall. The League acknowledges, with appreciation, the substantial time and effort that goes into developing the proposed Budget and thanks the Administration and the Board for their additional effort spent in preparing for our meeting. The League appreciates the opportunity for Question and Answer exchange and dialogue with members of the Administration and Board. This statement reflects the consensus of League members at a Consensus Meeting held immediately following the Information Meeting.

The League supports the Scarsdale School District Proposed Budget for 2018-19 and recommends that the community vote yes to approve the Proposed Budget on Tuesday, May 15, 2018 at the Scarsdale Middle School. The League offers its comments and recommendations regarding certain budgetary items as well as the budget process, which we hope will be considered as the Budget is revised and finalized.

Budget Overview and Noteworthy Features
The current Budget draft is $156,899,407, with a budget-to-budget increase of 2.09% ($3.2 million) and a tax levy growth of 2.07%. Per the District, the estimated tax increase for an average assessed property valued at $1,595,700 would be: Scarsdale residents $482 (1.98% increase) and Mamaroneck Strip residents $767 (3.53%). Key Budget increases include a one-time expense of $1.025 million to support Tax Certiorari settlements, an increase in mandatory contributions for Employee and Teacher Retirement Service (ERS and TRS), as well as contractually negotiated salary increases (0.47%). The Budget includes a rise in Special Education and Transportation. An increase in employee health care costs also contributes to the overall budget growth. The draft Budget proposes transferring $600,000 out of the Healthcare Reserves due to an over-budget amount anticipated for the 2017-18 school year.

In preparation for student enrollment projections, the Budget adds 2.4 Full Time positions, resulting in two Full Time Contingency Elementary Teachers, one Full Time Contingency Special Education Teacher, and a part-time (.4) Contingency STEAM Teacher for the high school. At the Board meeting preceding the fourth and final budget draft session, the Administration recommended $250,000 toward Security enhancement, including a recommendation for a Director of Security ($125,000). If the proposed Budget ultimately includes the $250,000 for Security, the associated tax levy would increase from 2.07% to 2.25%.

The District is currently in strong financial health with a Moody’s stable outlook and Aaa bond rating. In April 2014, Moody’s issued a “negative” outlook for Scarsdale Union Free School District, due to the District’s over-reliance on non-recurring revenue and reduced level of reserve funds. At the League Information Session, the Administration noted that the Moody’s negative outlook has since been removed as a result of the District’s replenishment of its various reserve funds. The Administration further noted that the New York State Comptroller monitors the fiscal health of school districts and that Scarsdale passed the agency’s fiscal stress test.

At the final budget study session on March 5, the District provided a draft Budget Book, which is available as a resource to the community on the District website.

Comments and Recommendations

The League notes, with some concern, that overall, the current year budget, as well as this Budget represent very tight budgeting practices. The League encourages the District to consider unforeseen expenditures and unpredictable cost increases in their budget planning process.

While the League appreciates the Board’s efforts to manage the impact of tax increases on residents, we are aware that educational needs are constantly changing and therefore the League seeks to ensure that our school budgets not only maintain but continuously enhance Scarsdale education.

Staffing and Class Size
The League supports investment in staffing our schools appropriately, including budgeting for contingency positions to support current elementary class size practices and high school norms. The League notes its concern that the District is engaging in tight budgeting practices at a time when additional models for delivery of educational services to students are being explored and the projected enrollment forecasts an additional 43 students in the elementary schools. The League recommends ensuring that all student needs are met. In light of the District effort to keep more students in District schools, the League would like the Administration and Board to articulate and clarify the policy regarding class size and staffing practices, as well as spatial standards, for Co-taught Inclusion (CTI) and Bridge classes. We encourage the Administration and Board to be mindful not only of student/ teacher ratio but also the physical space, including square footage of the classroom, in relation to the amount of students and staff in a given space, in order to ensure the adequate delivery of educational services for all students.

Capital Investment
The League recommends that the Board clearly articulate its approach to annual budgeting for Plant and Capital improvements in the context of a long-range facilities plan. The League notes that Plant and Capital Improvements are currently budgeted at $2,045,203, representing a 29.91% decrease from the 2017-18 Budget. Given that several of our schools were built over a century ago, capital improvement is of utmost importance. Our buildings must maintain and enhance student learning; and be safe, sustainable and flexible spaces able to support 21st century innovation and future programs.

The League supports the inclusion of capital improvement projects in the annual operating budget. We recommend an articulation of the approach behind the Plant and Capital investment budget line. For the given ten years between now and the next Bond roll-off in 2028, the League recommends that the Administration and Board create a ten year projection and schedule of how facilities needs and capital improvements will be included in the annual operating budget. The League also recommends that the consistent investment in capital improvement be sufficient to keep a long list of infrastructure repairs from necessary inclusion in the next Bond.

State Calculated Tax Levy Limit (the ‘tax cap’)
This year, the allowable tax levy growth under the New York State “Tax Cap” law is 3.08%, thus the proposed Budget is 1.01% below the tax levy limit. The tax cap serves as a threshold for determining the percentage of voters required to approve the budget. In the event that a district seeks an increase beyond the tax levy limit, 60% of voter approval is required to pass the budget. If a district requests an increase either at or below the cap, approval by a simple majority (over 50%) can pass the budget.

At the League Information Session preceding Consensus, the Administration noted that the tax cap is not a driver of the budget process. Similarly, Board President Natbony said that the tax cap is not a targeted goal. Both the Administration and Board noted that they have remained cognizant of the new Federal tax laws and the impact on Scarsdale residents, during the draft budget process.

The League notes that the current draft Budget is $1,429,955 below the tax cap. The League understands the desire to keep the tax levy growth as low as possible; however, the League is concerned about being far below the tax cap with regard to planning for next year’s budget. If we are not spending up to the cap, our allowable levels for the following year are lowered.

Security Enhancement
In the final Budget study session, Dr. Hagerman noted that our schools have to be safe spaces at all times; warm, welcoming and filled with supportive and caring adults. Dr. Hagerman further noted that we all have an obligation to create the kind of community in which we want to live. The League echoes this sentiment and hopes that implemented security measures reflect and connect to the values of the entire school community. In light of the recommendation to hire a Director of Security, the League hopes that the District is proactive with safety measures, rather than reactive. The League hopes that the District Safety Committee seeks and receives input from the community.

If the recommended Director of Security is more than a one year position, the League recommends to include the position as a line item in the annual operating budget and not to take the funds from reserves. In response to the League question of how the Administration would approach funding Security in the Budget; the Administration spoke of not funding recurring expenses with one-time revenues such as fund balance. The League supports the Administration’s view and recommends including the total $250,000 for a Director of Security and the implementation of security enhancements, as a budget line, and not to take the funds from the reserves.

Curricular Enhancement
As per the Administration, current curriculum practices correlate to the Scarsdale Education for Tomorrow, 2.0 vision statement. Elements included are the Wellness Initiative, the Teachers’ College Reading and Writing Program, Singapore Math and further development of Math Leaders among the faculty, as well as Next Generation Science Standards, the latter will be implemented next year. There is also an expansion of the 1:1 Bring your own Device Initiative, which was introduced in the elementary schools and will be launched in 6th grade at Scarsdale Middle School next year.

The League acknowledges that this year marks a transitional moment as longtime Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction, Lynne Shain, will retire at the end of the school year. The League acknowledges that the District is establishing curricular consistency, while allowing room for teacher latitude and autonomy, across the District elementary schools. The League encourages the District’s pursuit of forward-looking curricular initiatives and program enhancements that continue to support and develop the students and provide environments that stimulate innovation and educational excellence.

The Transportation budget line is $4,190,581 and supports student transportation to and from District schools for students who reside 1.5 miles or more from their school. The District also provides transportation for students living more than 1.5 miles from private or parochial schools located within a 15 mile radius of their Scarsdale address. In addition, the District transports 261 students to 56 private, parochial and special education programs both in and out of Scarsdale. The District buses students to athletic and other extracurricular events as well as school-related field trips. The Transportation budget also includes the maintenance of the District’s fleet of buses and the purchase of new vehicles as needed.

A long-range vehicle replacement plan is currently in progress as the District’s fleet is aging. In light of the current vehicle replacement plan, the League recommends an evaluation of actual usage and efficiency of the fleet as well as an evaluation of the most cost-effective way to support transportation, within the constraints of the law. If the District is currently looking at transportation efficiency, as per the above recommendation, then the League requests that the District publicly communicate, in a detailed way, how the District is utilizing resources in the most efficient manner to meet all demands of transportation.

Budget Process
The League supports the Administration’s stated year-round process for budget development. The League also supports a bottom-up process for building the budget and especially encourages the Board to prioritize community engagement throughout its budget process.

The League recommends that the Board consider ways to more proactively engage the community in next year’s budget development process. The League acknowledges that the bond process made prioritizing budget-related community engagement difficult this year. However, we note that the Board budget calendar released in September 2017 originally scheduled two public forums in November for early community input and we urge to the Board to restore these opportunities for public input into next year’s budget calendar.

The League also suggests that the Board consider ways in which community engagement at public meetings might be more effectively encouraged and facilitated, such as:

- Publicizing the detailed meeting agenda further in advance so that community members are aware of the schedule of topics to be addressed in Board discussion;
- Designating more conducive moments for community members to express their views, such as consistently allowing comment earlier in the meeting agenda; and
- Addressing the often long wait time between public comment and the Board response to public comment.

The League appreciates that the Administration presents different aspects of the Budget at each of the budget study sessions; however, the League reiterates our recommendation that the Administration have a full draft budget book available earlier in the process next year in order for the community to have ample time to study, understand and raise questions about the comprehensive draft budget before the date scheduled for formal community input.

The League maintains that providing context to the budget numbers is integral to the community’s ability to evaluate the Budget. Therefore, in addition to current Administration and Board communication outreach, including the District publication, Insight, the League recommends that the Budget be accompanied by an overview explaining how the Budget specifically supports District objectives, goals and community values.

As there are substantial issues with future budget implications currently being discussed at the District committee level -- such as Sustainability, Food Service and Air Conditioning -- the League requests that the Administration and Board apprise the community of the current discussion progress on these topics and inform the community about the nature of the discussion and potential committee findings. The League encourages the District to implement additional outreach methods and timely communication practices to inform the community.

Especially in light of the Administration’s additional recommended security measures, the League supports the Administration and Board’s proposal to craft a statement to send to our elected officials urging state funding support for school safety, sensible gun control measures and the implementation of mental and emotional health programming in schools.

The League recommends that the Administration and Board reinstate a Legislative Advisory Committee in order to monitor relevant legislative issues; increase the number of community members educated on current issues as well as to expand the community’s engagement; and to raise an awareness of the purpose of these funds. Another rationale for reinstating the Committee is to allow community members to lobby in Albany for Curriculum, Special Education, APPR, School Safety, and various relevant advocacy action items.

The League further reiterates last year’s recommendation that the Administration and Board take on a greater role in advocacy and leadership for our District and for public schools in general.

In conclusion, we thank all members of the Administration and Board for consideration of our statement. The League looks forward to the release of the Board’s final budget iteration resulting from having considered comments made by the community.


Leah Dembitzer
Budget Study Chair
League of Women Voters of Scarsdale

Janice Starr and Linda Doucette-Ashman
League of Women Voters of Scarsdale


i Budget Book, p. 2.
ii One FTE Contingency Elementary position is carried over from 2017-18 school year.
iii As noted by the District during the League Information Session on March 12, 2018.
iv Scarsdale U.F.S.D. earned a “O” fiscal score on the NYS Comptroller’s 2017 stress test, indicating no sources of fiscal stress on the District. https://www.osc.state.ny.us/localgov/fiscalmonitoring/schools/pdf/2017/summary-list.pdf
v Scarsdale Schools’ maximum class size is 22 students in grades K-3 and 24 students in grades 4 and 5. The historical norm at the High School is to have no more than 12% of class sections with greater than 25 students.
v1 District Enrollment Summary on p. 4 of Budget Book.
vii District discusses tax levy and limit on p. 13 of Budget Book.
viii The current draft budget has a projected tax levy of 2.07% and a projected tax levy limit of 3.08%.
ix In response to a League question posed about the implications for being below the tax cap, at the March 13 Public Comment Session for the Budget, Stuart Mattey pointed out that Capital Improvements do not count toward the tax cap. Mr. Mattey noted that current budget planning process and new Federal tax laws were on their mind during budget development.
x March 5 Board meeting discussion on Security and Safety at our schools.
xi Detailed information on Transportation on pp. 49-50 of Proposed Budget 2018-19, Budget Book, March, 5, 2018.
xiiThe Budget Book was made available on March 5, 2018. The League has requested, in past School Budget Consensus statements, that the Budget Book be available in January or February, early in the draft process.
xiii As noted by the League at the Information Session, the practice of including a cover letter from the Board to the community, outlining community priorities and values and connecting these values to the budget numbers, used to be in practice in the District. These letters can be read in the “Archived Budget Documents” on the District website, 2008-2013 budgets.
xiv Westchester Putnam School Board Association Resolution Template for Safe School Measures Now is available on the District website under Board docs from the March 5, 2018 Business Meeting.

fair2Saturday, March 10th marked the fourth annual Heathcote Elementary School Maker Fair. Over 210 students engaged in a variety of different workshops throughout the day, including multiple setups in the gym that allowed kids to participate in hands on activities.

Some workshops involved arts and crafts, such as Stuck on Collage, which used consumer packaging to create art instead of throwing it out; and mask making, which allowed students to express themselves through their creations. Other activities focused on computer coding, robotics, and engineering where the kids could come up with their own gaming apps, animations, or learn how to make a rocket. The gyms offered a space for participants to play with robots courtesy of Scarsdale High School and Middle school robotics teams, sew, take apart electronics such as printers and speakers, and so much more.fair6

Each activity encouraged the students to think creatively to solve problems and work collaboratively, skills that are vital to educational and professional success.

This was all made possible by Maker Fair organizer and fifth grade teacher Christine Boyer in addition to the many Heathcote faculty and parents who volunteered.

marchforourlives(This article was submitted by Jordy Love, a sohpomore at Scarsdale High School.) In the weeks following the fatal shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, students across America have been organizing rallies, walkouts, and marches to show their support for gun control. This tragedy has been a catalyst for the "Never Again" movement causing many to wonder why it took this long to spark action.

As many people know, the NRA carries a lot of influence over the Republican Party. With Republicans controlling our government, and Democrats and Republicans unwilling to agree, Congress often finds itself gridlocked and unable to make progress. In 2016, Democrats backed a filibuster, which forced Senate to vote on four gun control proposals. None of these proposals passed. In 1994, a ban on the manufacturing of different types of firearms was passed, but this gun control legislation expired in 2004 and attempts to renew it have been unsuccessful. Bump fire stocks, (also known as bump stocks) are devices that allow semi-automatic weapons to fire at a more rapid rate. The department of justice has announced that through a regulatory process, they may be able to reinterpret the legality of bump stocks and possibly ban them. Although this ban seems to be getting traction, people should not feel satisfied if it is accomplished. In the wake of the tragic Parkland shooting, Democrats have had a lot of pressure on them to "make a change" while Republicans have had an equal amount of pressure to stop accepting money from the NRA. Applying a ban to bump stocks is a step in the right direction. This being said, it gives both parties an opportunity to appear as if they are making huge progress and appear united in the eyes of American citizens when in reality, they have only tackled a smaller issue that falls under the umbrella of gun control.

Many people are thirsty for change but of course, laws aren't passed overnight. One solution President Trump has proposed is arming teachers. This approach makes many students and teachers feel uncomfortable and unsafe. The most important thing to do is limit access to guns and makes them harder to obtain; however, this is much easier said than done. Australia has not had a mass-shooting spree since 2002 and statistics show that Japan is one of the safest countries in the world as far as gun violence is concerned. This is because after horrific shootings, Japanese and Australian governments barred down and implemented strict gun-control laws. The United Sates is unique in the fact that the second amendment says we have the right to bear arms but many believe that this constitutional right is outdated considering the fact that when it was written, the technology for automatic weapons was non-existent. In our world today, rifles, handguns, and other fire arms are more dangerous and accurate than could have been imagined when the constitution was written —the weapons of today are easily obtainable and completely different than anything that existed in 1791.

On Monday at Scarsdale High School there was a possible threat against the school via social media. Police were notified and officers were posted on campus after school as a result of this threat. On Tuesday, five Westchester School Districts went into a lockout, preventing everyone but students and teachers from coming in or out of the school building. Although there were no actual incidents at the schools, students and community members are understandably concerned. Jen Farfel, a tenth grade student at Scarsdale High School says, "Students should not have to worry about guns anywhere. Not only in school, but also while walking around the streets of their community. Placing metal detectors and new security systems in the school is not a rational or healthy way to make school a safer place. Action has to come from politicians, and change should be rapid." She is not the only student who feels this way. Another Scarsdale High School sophomore, Sammy Rosenberg added, "School should be an environment where students feel safe at all times. We must begin with social awareness and build up to changing laws. Buying guns should not be a common or simple task." Students, teachers, and parents all agree that feeling safe in school is essential.

A note from the author:

Considering recent events, I have been feeling especially grateful for our teachers and their bravery. That being said, arming them and making rifles more accessible is not a solution to the lack of gun control in our country. Protective measures such as law enforcement at school entrances may make us feel safe temporarily, but the only way to see permanent change is to speak up for what we believe in and make it happen ourselves. The Republicans run our government but the NRA owns the Republican Party and has paid them for their silence. Puppet politicians offering condolences to victims and their families is not enough; we need policy change and fast. As the future of country we MUST stand up for what we believe in and let everyone know that it is not acceptable to feel unsafe at our own schools. We may be young but we will not be unheard. If you are tired of feeling helpless, please support the Never Again movement by joining the march for our lives on March 24th, a march for gun control which will be held in various cities around the nation.

Jordy Love is a sophomore at Scarsdale High School. After the tragic shooting at The Douglas School she feels compelled to voice her opinion on gun control and become involved. She hopes to see change and an end to gun violence.

choiceIn its fourth budget study session, held this past Monday, the Scarsdale Board of Education and school administration provided a full review of the proposed budget as it currently stands.

Assistant Superintendent for Business and Facilities Stuart Mattey began the overview by addressing some questions posed by the public, including an explanation of the year-over-year increase in the special education budget, a justification for not deferring facility project items to save money in a particular budget year, and the plan for the CHOICE building at Scarsdale Middle School, which will not house students beginning next year.

Mattey then reiterated the budget process for residents who may be unaware. Remaining public budget sessions include a League of Women Voters information session on Monday, March 12, a district forum on Tuesday, March 13, and a discussion at the next BOE meeting on Monday, March 19. The board plans on voting to adopt the proposed budget on Monday, April 16.

Mattey also addressed specific budget components such as enrollment, staffing, expenses and revenue. Enrollment is projected to be flat in 2018-19, increasing by just four students. District staffing currently is projected to increase by 2.4 FTE's.

The expense budget is estimated at $156,899,407, which is a 2.09 percent increase over last year, or $3,208, 642. The largest expense component is employee benefits, which total $36,851,470. Employee benefits also account for the largest line item increase in the budget, increasing by $1,583,514 or 4.49 percent.

Revenues are projected at $156,899,407, which represents a 1.83 percent increase year over year. The main driver of the increase is building aid related to the 2014 bond projects, which is estimated to rise by 3 percent. Interest earnings also are expected to improve by more than $214,000 over last year.

The tax levy is estimated to increase by $2,922,514 (or 2.07 percent) over 2017-18, for total levy of $144,412,640. The tax levy limit is 3.08 percent and the draft budget is $1,429,955 below the projected limit.

The board then discussed the administration's request for an additional $250,000 for security enhancements (building and technology upgrades) and the hire of a director of security, which were discussed earlier in the evening. The amount was not included in the budget numbers as of yet, and, if treated as an add-on, would increase the expense budget by 2.25 percent.

Schools Superintendent Thomas Hagerman said, "There were conversations about ideas and thoughts relative to safety and security... We want to have more detailed security information (and) someone who can coordinate, interface with children and staff, someone who conduct safety activities/drills, someone with expertise and liaison experience with police, etc." He continued, "We need to have a more coordinated approach to this work... I don't see this being a high stakes investment for the next decade, but over the next couple of years, in order to do this right."

The board then considered two questions, should the proposed safety measures be funded and, if so, how? Board Vice President Scott Silberfein said, "I have no problem with increasing the budget line... to accomplish whatever it is you believe (necessary)... I would obviously like some clarity... but (building and technology improvements are) easier for me to get my hands around, knowing that we're going to have to do some of this stuff." Board President Bill Natbony stated, "We have a recommendation from the administration to spend $250,000 next year... (it) is very well-articulated, with known costs. I very much think this has to be done." He then asked the board as a whole, "Do we have a consensus to add this to the budget?" With no board members objecting, the allocation was approved.

The discussion next shifted to how the allocation would be funded, and if it would be treated as an add-in, covered by reserves or paid through eliminating another line item. Silberfein said, "I think we easily can find $250,000 in the reserves without exposing ourselves to risk in any meaningful way or influencing taxes." Natbony agreed, "I wouldn't want to take something away... I can be comfortable with taking the funds from reserves."

Board Member Pam Fuehrer added, "Considering a flexible and responsive budgeting process, saying that a 2.09 percent increase that we saw in January is important today... after weeks of discussion, is not genuine. To say we can be flexible and allow us go to 2.25 is what this is this is about. I don't have a problem saying... is this expense critical, necessary? Yes. Timely? Yes. Then, let's add it to our budget." Silberfein responded, "I agree with everything you just said... I personally think we have plenty of reserves (to cover the cost), especially for a high need like security."

The board then turned the issue over to the school administration to determine the best means to cover the security cost. The administration is asked to decide funding by the next board meeting.

Following the discussion, the board and administration addressed questions raised in the public comment portion of the meeting, which took place earlier. Specifically, they explained how the new security recommendations were developed, covered the timing of security vestibule construction (which will remain unchanged), and provided reassurance that the district's wellness initiatives are meeting the emotional health needs of students, on a school-by-school basis.

Not addressed, but noted, were budget questions sent to the board and administration to help guide preparation for the upcoming League of Women Voters budget information session. Leah Dembitzer (Mamaroneck Road), chair of the league's budget study committee, reminded the public that the session is scheduled for 10:00 am on Monday, March 12.

mt vernon2After a difficult stretch during December and January, the Scarsdale Girls Basketball team has turned around their season, finishing regulation play on 5-game winning streak. Wins include a three point victory against White Plains (42-39) and Mount Vernon (77-52). Both teams had beaten the Raiders earlier this season.

The team has improved on both their scoring and ability to control the pace of the game, as evident in their maintaining the leads throughout the entirety of both Mount Vernon and White Plains games.

The final league game of the season, also Senior Night, was against Fox Lane. The Raiders won 56-49. With this momentum, Scarsdale (#13 seed) will play Horace Greeley (#20 seed) in an out-bracket game for the playoffs at home on Wednesday (2/14), and the winner of Wednesday's game will face Ursuline (#4 seed) on Saturday (2/17.

Photos by Jon Thaler, see more here


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