Saturday, May 26th

Last updateSat, 26 May 2018 9am

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BOE security and sustainability Soon after yet another school shooting tragedy, the Scarsdale Board of Education opened this week’s meeting with an all too familiar expression of condolence to members of the Santa Fe High School community in Texas.

Scarsdale School Superintendent Thomas Hagerman stated, “There are no words that I can say that will allay the grave concerns that parents and children feel around their vulnerability to violence in today’s world. That does not mean that we accept it as an inevitability, however.” He continued, “We have, and continue to, encourage our students, staff and parents to have their voices heard on this issue to ensure that our schools, of all places, are, indeed, safe spaces for all... Here at home, we’ve redoubled our efforts and maintained a strong focus on health and safety.”

Fittingly, the meeting, which provided a detailed update on the district’s transition plan, also included a good deal of discussion about school safety and security. While parents can appreciate the administration’s reports on finance and budget, communications, facilities, curriculum, staffing and related matters, many are distracted by the rash of violent incidents in our nation’s schools.

Shortly after his update on 2014 bond project status and planning for 2018 bond projects, Scarsdale Assistant Superintendent for Business and Facilities Stuart Mattey addressed the district’s efforts to enhance safety in and around its buildings. He began by saying, “Security vestibules (were) a big part of the security planning that was part of the bond, along with a more robust security camera system, and really tying in with some of the different opportunities for improvement that were identified by our security consultants when they came on board.” He continued, “Security vestibules are a best practice… for many school districts, so we’re instituting that, but also (entry) procedures will change as well… putting those in place (provides) another layer of making sure that the people who are coming into the building(s) are the people you want to come in.”

Mattey also mentioned the district’s recent security panel discussion that included district and law enforcement representatives. The event, which was very well attended, provided Mattey’s team with ideas about safety and security from a variety of viewpoints, particularly parents’ ideas, and set the table for future collaboration. “Those conversations have always been there, and when tragedies occur, they become more robust and focused. I do feel good, however, about the processes we’ve put in place.“

He then went on to discuss improvements in the district’s approach to security, stating, “Having Altaris on board, working with our building teams, having them go through training, and making them, perhaps, more aware of best practices and things they should be putting in place, has been a really big boost to all of our buildings, and we’ve been hearing really positive feedback.”

Mattey also reiterated the importance of hiring a security liaison or head of security, made possible for next year through a late budget allocation. “With a 100 percent focus on security, (the liaison) will make sure all our buildings and district level teams are working together… and keep us focused on security instead of getting diverted by (issues such as) construction and budget. This person will be the key go-to person on a day-to-day basis if (our staff) needs assistance.” Hagerman followed by saying, “This is somebody we want out and about, and interacting and visible.” In addition,

Mattey also mentioned the role of the Scarsdale District-Level Emergency Response Team (DERT) as a forum to review district level crisis-response and how to address security issues going forward. Going forward, DERT will be critical component in ensuring a thoughtful, collaborative process in longer-term security planning and decision making. “This is new… items have arisen and been handled as they made sense, without thoughtful planning and review.”

In the meeting’s public comment sessions, attendees made statements for and against the more significant step of placing armed security officers at our schools. Mayra Kirkendall-Rodriguez (Fox Meadow Road) said, “Many of us would like to put armed guards all around our prized loved ones, our children… Do we want to fill them with fear when they are at an age where we want them to find their passions and talents… Armed guards did not save 10 people in Sante Fe…” She continued, “We cannot protect our children 100 percent from all exposure to adversity. We should first tackle those first risks that have a high probability of manifesting themselves. I thank the Scarsdale administration and board of education for lending us your ear. My fellow Scarsdale friends and neighbors, I urge all of us not to succumb to fear… I have faith that we are so incredibly lucky in Scarsdale to have the intellectual and financial resources to devise efficient and economically prudent ways to improve safety in and around our schools. I have faith that we, as a community, will not come to the conclusion that we need to imprison our children. And, I have faith that we will continue to pressure legislators for sensible gun control laws and additional resources for mental health problems. “

Steve Pass (Shawnee Road) later asked school administrators for related cost estimates, and pros and cons of hiring and training armed security guards at each of the district’s buildings. “Armed school resource officers (SROs) will obviously not solve all our safety issues. But they could be just one component of many, including a improved counseling program, an improved social curriculum and building enhancements that should be considered. While there does not appear to be any research showing the effectiveness or ineffectiveness SROs have in preventing crime or more serious incidents, intuitively, I think having an armed, specially trained officer on the premises if something were to happen is better than not having one.“ He went on, “Would it, definitively, be the most efficient use of funds? We could never know… School resource officers are not (just) armed guards standing at school entrances. These men and women receive training in counseling and other skills that help them be effective in a school setting. Part of the SRO’s job is to build relationships with students and faculty… I realize this is a very controversial topic, but the community needs more information to have the discussion.”

In responding to the idea of making armed guards part of the district’s security plan, Scarsdale School Board President Bill Natbony said, “That issue is part of our ongoing discussion, among many other options, with regard to security.”

Significant Strides in Sustainability

The meeting also featured a presentation on another topic of significant interest, the district’s sustainability planning and programs, and achievements to date. Fox Meadow Elementary School Principal Duncan Wilson began the presentation by discussing the history of Scarsdale’s sustainability program, which began 10 years ago, when the Environment Protection Agency provided grants to organizations focused on energy conservation and reduced emissions.

In referencing the district’s official sustainability resolution from June 2007, Wilson explained the initial focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent below the district’s 1990-91 emissions level by the year 2020. “The truth is it’s a much harder target to understand… people were trying to peg targets based on emissions numbers.” He went on, “One reason that it’s complicated is the (district) isn’t a car… it’s more complex to measure. The more important part is… the ongoing metrics of energy use, our fuel consumption and other items so we have a much better sense of what our environmental footprint is.”

Today, as Wilson explained, the district’s sustainability efforts are interdisciplinary, involving facilities, curriculum and professional development, and community behavior. “It’s not just that global warming is taught in the classroom. It’s the behaviors in the lunch room, it’s also in facilities (management). We’re doing our best work when everything surrounding a student’s life at school is having them think in a certain way.”

Scarsdale Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources and Leadership Development Drew Patrick then discussed efforts to define sustainability objectives and set priorities, notably through the district’s sustainability committee. In all its work, the committee is guided by the question of what a Scarsdale student needs to know, understand, be able to do, and value at the elementary, middle and high school levels, in order to create a sustainable future. “That became the center point of our conversion and generated a set of expectations, hopes and dreams for each of these areas… it has become a living, guiding (statement) for how we think about this,” said Patrick.

Specifically, the committee has developed a three-part model to illustrate its view of sustainability, which involves students being connected to guiding principles that shape short-term goals in key areas. According to Patrick, “Sustainability is just a bunch of key ideas, deep ideas, that cut across all sorts of different facets of learning, of life, of organizations and of communities. “ From this, the sustainability committee is focusing on four major areas -- student engagement projects, curriculum/professional development, facilities and community involvement.

Wilson chose to discuss the community component first, outlining efforts to promote zero waste throughout the district and in Scarsdale as a whole. “In the sustainability world, the three Rs are not reading, ‘riting, ‘rithmatic; they are reduce, reuse, recycle. Zero-waste is a more ambitious version of that. It… strives to reduce the amount of waste entering the waste stream that could otherwise be directed toward recycling, composting or reuse,” he said. To this end, the committee is working with school PTAs and the district office on a variety of efforts, such as expanding cafeteria recycling and composting, and considering how all school events can eventually become zero-waste events. Although different schools are at different points in their sustainability programs, the concept has impacted events district-wide.

Moving forward, the plan is to make all schools zero-waste and enlist students to assist in these efforts by getting involved in projects like reducing bottled water use, and promoting battery recycling. “My generation got our parents to wear seatbelts and stop smoking; this generation is going to be taking on these zero-waste challenges,” promised Wilson.

With regard to facilities, the committee is working to ensure that sustainability is an important part of the facility and operations planning and decision making processes. Patrick stated that the district should consider that “all aspects of internal operations and school environments should maximize energy and resource efficiency; reduce, reuse and recycle materials; foster clean air and excellent water quality; minimize the impact of land use changes; and prevent pollution.”

He continued, “This doesn’t always mean that we always act with sustainability as the number one consideration, that just not going to be realistic, but that it’s embedded in the process, to have, at least, thought about it and reported on it.”

Patrick noted that sustainability efforts must be considered in the context of what is best from educational, environmental and economic points of view. Is the project consistent with sustainability goals? Does it assist students in sustainability activities? Does it promote decreases in energy consumption? Does it improve air, water and/or soil quality? Are we assessing not only financial return over time, but the environmental and human health impacts of an investment? Are we weighing financial considerations along with educational and environmental goals?

In concluding their presentation, Wilson and Patrick screened a short film that illustrated varying approaches to sustainability programming in Scarsdale’s elementary, middle and high schools. It provided a brief snapshot of hands-on student activities, based on level of understanding and course of study. The video may be viewed via the district website here.

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school board electionsA stormy evening did not stop residents from supporting the candidates and waiting to hear the results of the election for the school board seats and 2018-19 school budget. After the polls closed at 9 pm, the ballots were counted and it was announced that the budget passed with 906 yes votes and 206 no’s. The votes were then announced for the two seats on the school board. 

Alison Singer, running unopposed, got 890 votes, and Pam Feuhrer, earning 829 votes, beat out Woodrow Crouch, who got 317 votes. Feuhrer is returning to the school board to serve a second three year term.

Five board members were present and passed a motion to acknowledge the results of the votes. Both Feuhrer and Singer rejoiced and were congratulated by friends and board members.

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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.

Vaping
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.

Tenure
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.

Donations
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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votebuttonAll eyes will be on the Scarsdale Middle School on Tuesday May 15, when voters will elect two members of the Scarsdale School Board in another contested election.

This year, the ballot will include Woody Crouch and Alison Singer, the two candidates selected by the Scarsdale School Board Nominating Committee (SBNC), as well as Pam Fuehrer, who served one three-year term and is running as an independent candidate. Fuehrer says she was surprised to learn that the SBNC had not re-nominated her, which is customary, and opted to run for a second term independently. She is running against Woody Crouch for one seat and Singer is running unopposed.

Proponents for both Fuehrer and the SBNC candidates have been campaigning, shaking hands, sending emails and postcards and will undoubtedly draw a larger than normal number of voters to the polls.

Also on the ballot is the proposed $157,849,407 Scarsdale School budget, which is $4.15 mm greater than last year, or a 2.71% increase. The budget will mean a tax increase of 2.74% for Scarsdale taxpayers.

The budget includes $1.9 million to replace the existing turf field at the high school as well as $250,000 for a director of security and security enhancements at district schools.

The proposed budget was approved by the Scarsdale School Board by a vote of 6-1.

Voting will take place at the Scarsdale Middle School from 7 am to 9 pm. Electronic voting machines will be used and write-in votes will be permitted. The results will be announced after the polls close Tuesday night at 9 pm.

Watch Scarsdale10583.com for the counts and remember to vote on Tuesday.

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collegecampusAre you a college student looking for scholarship money? The Scarsdale Foundation Scholarship Program is offering college students entering their sophomore, junior, or senior year scholarship funds for the coming school year. Applicants must have either graduated from Scarsdale High School or lived in Scarsdale during their high school years. Applications are available online at www.scarsdalefoundation.org and are due by June 4th, 2018.

For any questions, contact Anne Lyons at aulyons@gmail.com or BK Munguia at beeks58@aol.com.

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