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While all of New York waits with baited breath for Andrew Cuomo to formally announce his gubernatorial candidacy (now rumored to occur on May 25th) there is an election this week with profound implications for public education in New York State. On Tuesday May 18th most public school districts in New York will hold school board elections and school budget votes (all except the large cities).

County town and village taxes have skyrocketed in the past year or two (for which there is no direct vote). School district budgets however are put up to a plebiscite every year. School boards in New York have endeavored to move heaven and earth to keep school expenditures to a minimum this year. In the midst of rampant teacher bashing and so many lamentations about the state of our public schools, most districts in the state are proposing budgets that are less than 2% higher than last year. And given the rate of increases embedded in contractual obligations and required pension contributions (all outside the control of school boards) that means deep cuts to get to those numbers. Moreover, many school districts in New York rely on state aid. Yet Governor Paterson has proposed to cut educational spending by over $1 billion. But school boards can only guess what the real numbers will be because the state legislature has failed to adopt a state budget and there's no resolution in sight. Aside from the uncertainty from Albany -- school districts across the state have been decimated by the dramatic drop in property assessments -- thereby driving down the primary revenue source for school districts -- the property tax. So while many school districts adopted budgets that are at or close to zero increases over last year, the property tax rate in most districts are slated to go up by an average of 3.3%.

Assuming all school budgets pass on Tuesday (highly unlikely) there will be, according to Tim Kremer, the Executive Director of the New York State School Boards Association, a least 14,000 teachers who will lose their jobs. Another 5,000 non-instructional school employees will also be axed. So in the best of circumstances at least 20,000 will lose their jobs this year. If school budgets are defeated at the polls -- the ramifications are drastic. Contingency budgets will be pegged at a zero percent increase over last year's budgets with harsh restrictions as to how you get there. You could see the wholesale elimination of important educational and co-curricular programs - and layoffs could be double that of what Kremer estimated. What's the impact of this on the classroom? Much larger class sizes, elimination of athletics, arts, and foreign language. And these cutbacks come at a time when the pundits and critics of our educational system continue to bash teachers, administrators, and public schools generally. Inflicting this budgetary damage will only make it worse.

Rye blogger and community activist Charmian Neary lays much of the blame at Albany's doorstep. In a letter to the Journal News, Neary states:

"It's important to talk about the sorry state of our state Legislature and how that affects schools across Westchester. The Legislature every year passes more and more laws -- which we are then mandated to include in our school budgets -- but they do not increase our state school aid accordingly. ...In Rye, where I live, the schools next year will see an increase in enrollment of 1.2 percent -- and a budget increase of 1.3 percent (or only one-tenth of a percent above enrollment). This is the lowest tax rate increase in almost two decades. The taxpayers need to hear that fact above all the noise. School taxes are the only taxes we as voters can vote against directly, so it is tempting to register our frustration at the polls during our school budget vote. Please remember before you vote, however, that the men and women with the real power to change the way schools are funded are on the ballot in the fall. Voting against your school budget does not send a message to Albany. They only listen when it's their office on the ballot and their career on the line. If you're angry about taxes let them have it -- but not by voting against your own kids."

On Tuesday the voters are not only voting on school budgets, they are also electing school board members. Lois Winkler and Lisa Davis, respectively the president and executive director of the Westchester Putnam School Boards Association emphasize the importance of choosing school board members wisely: "Local school boards make the governance decisions that affect how our children are educated and how our tax dollars are spent. Boards of education will face ever more challenging issues in the years to come, and the districts with solid leadership teams will be best prepared to navigate through rough waters." http://bit.ly/92dilB.

There are hundreds of solid citizens on the ballot Tuesday -- yet there are also some clinkers and some more destructive. In Buffalo, a school board candidate wants eliminate sports from the school day: The Buffalo News reported that board candidate Ford Beckwith wants to eliminate athletics: "Do we want to continue to sink money into sports versus education?" asked Beckwith, a Navy veteran. "You should teach kids to read, write, do math and science. . . . Everything after that is a bunch of crap. How many kids will grow up to play football?"

And in Harrison, board candidate Naomi Oppmann has what she thinks is a brilliant idea about how to raise revenue for schools:

"Have a company pay to put their logo on a school roof that has a flat roof (so that the artwork would only be seen from the sky)-since we are in the flight path to many area airports it would make it more appealing to businesses."

I'll leave the last word on this to Winkler and Davis:

"Public education is at a crossroads. School districts must come to grips with shrinking resources, long-standing union contracts, and federal and state mandates, while being ever mindful of the needs of the local taxpayer and the student in the classroom. We need to elect board of education members who are able to maintain a clear and consistent focus on strategic goals and priorities. Now, more than ever, an effective school governance team is critical to the long-term success of every district. Board of education members have the power to lead a district to great success or to lead it astray. Choose wisely when you cast your vote on May 18."

This article first appeared in the Huffington Post.

Bronxville and Carmel police have issued an alert to Westchester residents concerning a man who was found taking photos of young girls outside Bronxville High School on May 4. David Reeves of Lake Carmel, NY was parked in a red 1996 Mercedes while taking pictures of 12-14 year old girls on his cell phone. He also had a palm-sized Sony video recorder containing about 30 videos of young girls outside of schools in Mahopac, Carmel and Kent. When questioned Reeves confirmed that he had recorded the videos but would not elaborate on his intentions.

Reeves is described as a 6’0’ tall white man, 260 pounds, with thin white hair and a white mustache wearing glasses. In addition to the red Mercedes he may also be driving a white Saab. Since it is not against the law to take pictures and Reeves has not published the photos, there are no criminal charges against him at this time. However, anyone who sees a white male fitting this description, taking photos or acting suspiciously should contact the school administrator and the Bronxville Police Department at 914-337-0500.

According to the Greenburgh Police an organized burglary ring based in Queens may be the culprits in recent residential burglaries occurring within the Town of Greenburgh. This group may be responsible for similar type burglaries throughout the east coast of the United States. Members of this organized ring have been arrested in New York, New Jersey, and Virginia.

The suspects are believed to be men and women primarily of Hispanic descent. They are well dressed, usually in business attire. They are known to drive high value cars or S.U.V.’s including BMW, Lexus, or Range Rover vehicles and have also utilized Lincoln Town Cars and livery vehicles.

In at least several cases, the suspects have targeted victims of Asian or Middle Eastern descent whose names and addresses were gathered through telephone directories or the Internet. The suspects are able to blend into affluent neighborhoods during the daylight hours without raising suspicion.

The Greenburgh Police Department encourages you to lock all doors and ground floor level windows. If you see something suspicious, notify the police via E911 or at (914) 682-5300.

A home at 7 Sprain Valley Road home was entered on Tuesday May 4, sometime between 11:30 am and 4:30 pm.  The owners returned home to find their front door open and broken glass on a back door, through which it is assumed the burglars entered.  The master bedroom and closets were pilfered but so far, all that appears to be missing is a digital camera. Police ask residents to be alert.

On Tuesday morning April 27 the manager who opened the Burger King on Central Avenue found damage to the drive through sign, four bushes and a curb. The incident occurred sometime between midnight and 5 am.

Three women fled from Marshalls with unpaid merchandise on the afternoon of April 28th.   A store employee heard the alarm go off and saw three women running from the store holding two suitcases and a chrome dish rack. They got into a gray Honda Civic and drove north on Central Avenue.

Police stopped a red 2000 Volvo in the parking lot of Chef Central at 1 am on 4/29 and found that the car was filled with large quantities of food. Police asked the driver where he had gotten the goods and he claimed that he had purchased it.  Upon further questioning, the man admitted that he, along with others, had been retrieving discarded food from store dumpsters along Central Avenue.

Copper piping, valued at $2,800 was stolen from St. Andrews Golf Course on Old Jackson Avenue.  The piping was part of the main valve for the sprinkler system and the incident was reported on May 1.

An attorney with offices on Central Avenue came to headquarters on 5/3 to report that $45,000 in funds had been unlawfully withdrawn from a client’s escrow account sometime since January 1, 2009.

It turns out that a Hartsdale neighbor has been housing a live bazooka rocket in her attic. Joseph Barden was assisting his elderly neighbor, Kathryn Sloate of Joyce Road in Hartsdale to clean out her attic on Friday 5-7 when he found what he believed to be a mortar round shell. He picked it up, brought it outside, placed it on the front lawn and then called the police.

When officers arrived, they saw the potentially explosive device and closed off the area to cars and pedestrians. The Special Operations Unit placed ballistic blankets near the device in case it detonated. They called in the Westchester County Bomb Squad Unit who identified the device as a World War II 2.36” M87 Practice Bazooka Rocket. The bazooka rocket was xrayed and classified as a “live” practice round. The device was made safe by the Westchester County Police Bomb Squad, and removed from the scene. It will be stored at an undisclosed location for future disposal by the U.S. Military.

Apparently, Mrs. Sloates’ late husband was a World War II veteran who served in the United States Air Force but Mrs. Sloate had no knowledge of what was upstairs. There may be more in your attic than flying squirrels. Watch out!

A 54 year-old Scarsdale School employee, watching the High School Lacrosse game against Mamaroneck collapsed next to the track and was reported to be unconscious and unresponsive at 5:27 pm on May 3rd. The game stopped, players dropped to their knees and school personnel quickly applied the AED machine to the man and gave him two shocks. Police and the Scarsdale Village Ambulance Corps arrived and performed CPR. The man was taken to White Plains hospital and his present condition is unknown.

Arrested: Two additional suspects involved in the April 12 Walworth Avenue mugging were arrested on April 28th. Neshia Dias, age 19 of South Kensico Street in White Plains and Jasmine Burnett, age 20 of North Broadway in White Plains were both charged with robbery, grand larceny and criminal possession of stolen property. Working with Krystal Walters, age 21 of Dobbs Ferry Road, Greenburgh, the two are charged with approaching a Greenacres woman, throwing her coat over her head and stealing her bag. Police pursued a number of leads to find the girls, including information that the suspects used the stolen credit cards to make purchases in Westchester and the Bronx. Dias and Burnett are being held at the Westchester County jail as they were unable to post bail of $50,000 in cash or a $100,000 bond.

An 18 year-old Secor Farms boy was arrested for entering a neighbor’s home on February 3, 2010 and taking over $15,000 in jewelry. The suspect entered the house through an unlocked basement door and rummaged through the master bedroom and took jewelry from the dresser. He left through a rear kitchen sliding door and left footprints in the snow that lead to his own backyard, where police found four bottles of wine that had also been taken from the home. During their investigation Police found that the perpetrator had sold some of the stolen jewelry to a local pawn shop and this information lead to his arrest.

Cosimo Bruno, age 21 of Popham Road, was picked up by the Bronx Police on the night of April 30th for an outstanding bench warrant in Scarsdale. He was booked and transported to Scarsdale Village Court where he paid an outstanding fine and was released.

Public Protest: Police were summoned on Friday morning 4/30 when a group of Chinese Monks were marching on Garden Road. The group was walking for a Nuclear Free Future and headed for the United Nations.

Mischief: Three rocks were thrown through a second floor window at a Fairview Road home on April 30th. Both the window and the storm window were broken.

On April 28, an antsy Valley Road man, eager to pass a village truck parked on his street, drove onto village-owned land at the corner of Valley and Gorham Roads and got stuck in the mud. The resident agreed to have his landscaper repair the damage his car caused to village property and no further action was taken.

A passerby reported that a man had started a fire in Chase Park on the morning of 4/29. Police found the man at a picnic table where he was passing time by lighting up a small piece of paper. He had no intention of starting anything larger.

Thefts: An unlocked car, parked in the driveway of a Fenimore Road home was entered during the night of 4/29-4/30. An iPod and a Garmin navigation device were taken.

A White Plains man claims that his ex-wife had the locks changed on his car and stole a briefcase and $500 in cash when his car was parked in front of the Scarsdale Post Office. The man had no proof to back his allegations.

A Fender Deluxe Strat Guitar was reported missing from the guitar room at Scarsdale High School on 4/28. The guitar, valued at $1199 was last seen around March 26 during Jabbber Fest. It is a rare instrument that is maroon in color. If anyone knows of the guitar’s whereabouts, please contact Scarsdale High School.

Lost: A North Carolina woman called police to check a Ridgecrest West home to see if her children were there in the custody of her ex-husband’s mother. Police checked the house but found that no one was at home.

Found: a rusty red Schwinn bicycle with two flat tires was found chained to a pole at the corner of Popham Road and East Parkway on 4/28. Police cut the chain and brought the bike to headquarters.

A Scarsdale Crossing Guard reported that he lost his department- issued cell phone on April 27th while visiting the Scarsdale Post Office. Later that day, the Crossing Guard found the phone in his car.

A large black Labrador retriever was found inside a house under construction on Cushman Road on Saturday afternoon 4/30. Though the dog had an invisible fence tag, he wore no identification. He was picked up by the New Rochelle Humane Society.

Two Edgewood women got into a dispute at the Davis Park playground on Boulevard on Saturday afternoon April 30th. The caller claimed that another woman was verbally abusive to her and her child. Police arrived, spoke to the women and both agreed to leave the park.

A woman, jogging on Palmer Road on Sunday morning was followed by a man driving a blue Camry. The man asked to speak to her, and when she told him she was calling the police he drove off.

On Sunday night May 1 at 10 pm police were called to break up a large group of kids at the corner of Brewster Road and Huntington Avenue. Police found kids fleeing in all directions and empty alcohol containers. Police stopped a 16 year-old driver who was letting passengers out of his car and charged him with driving after 9 pm.

Police came to the aid of a woman who had fallen off her bike on the Bronx River bike path on Sunday morning at 11 a.m. At 1 p.m. a 9 year-old girl fell off her bike on the Parkway, just south of Fenimore Road but refused treatment.

On Monday morning 5/3, a Scarsdale school bus sideswiped a MTA Beeline bus on the Post Road. The passenger side window of the school bus clipped the driver’s side window of the Beeline bus and the school bus mirror cracked. The school bus was empty at the time and the MTA transferred passengers to another bus. There were no injuries reported.

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