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LWVS Comments on Donor Recognition and Budget Process at School Board Meeting

megaphoneThe LWVS comments on recognizing donors to the Scarsdale Schools Education Foundation as well as the budgeting process at the School Board meeting on April 10. Here are their comments, read by Linda Doucette-Ashman, League Co-President and Leah Dembitzer, Chair of the League School Budget Committee.

Donor Recognition
The LWVS Board listened with interest to the discussion at the last Board of Education Meeting on March 19, 2018 regarding the proposed Scarsdale School Education Foundation (the “Education Foundation”) donor recognition displays for the High School Design Lab and Fitness Center. I also want to acknowledge Mr. Natbony’s remarks from earlier this evening about the Board currently focusing on cost issues of the displays and not the gift policy issues.

However, at this time, the LWVS Board requests that the Board of Education provide scheduled time for community discussion of any questions or issues associated with the Education Foundation, including donor recognition, similar to tonight’s public engagement regarding Butler field.

The LWVS has issued statements in 2013 and 2014 to the Board of Education regarding the School District’s relationship with the Education Foundation. The League has recommended that the Board develop and adopt a gift policy that is specific to the Education Foundation and addresses the recognition of gifts initiated by donors, including naming rights.

It is with these past League statements in mind that we intend to issue a League Board statement on the proposed Education Foundation donor recognition signage at the next regular Board Meeting on April 16.

School Budget Process
As an organization whose mission is to promote the active participation of citizens in government, the League encourages the Board of Education to continue to be proactive in engaging the community. The Budget Process and community involvement go hand in hand in order to produce a budget that reflects our community’s educational values and priorities.

The reason that the League consistently recommends that the District provide an early full draft budget book to the community – though we understand that it would be a preliminary draft – is to give the community ample time to study, understand and raise questions well before the date scheduled for formal community input. Giving context of the budget numbers is integral to the community’s ability to evaluate the Budget. The additional time will allow for discussion of community priorities regarding what is to be funded and what is not.

The League further recommends that the Board implement ways to more proactively engage the community in next year’s budget development process and affirm -- both through words and actions -- to encourage comments from the public, whether at board meetings or community forums, to ensure that the public understands that public dialogue is genuinely welcomed, considered and heard.

By giving the community a draft budget book (with an introductory letter from the Board of Education) and hosting community meetings earlier in the process, the Board of Education will provide members of the community with the contextualized budget information and the additional time it needs to allow for more methodical and timely discussions of issues and community priorities. The ultimate goal for all of us is to have a well- developed budget that supports and enhances our District objectives, goals and the community values.

In light of:
The School Board and Administration discussion during the March 19 meeting;
The District’s publicly-disseminated meeting highlights from the March 19 Budget Study Forum;
And the March 26 letter sent to the community by School Board Leadership;

The League Board finds it necessary to reiterate and emphasize some of our Consensus points and recommendations on the Proposed Draft Budget 2018-19.

Although we support the proposed school budget:

1) The League is concerned with the District’s tight budgeting practices, which restrict the District’s ability to adapt to constantly changing educational and facilities’ needs. Though the School Board has recently discussed possible additions to the budget, the League reiterates its concern that the Board is putting forth a budget considerably below the tax cap and the League calls attention to potential resulting financial implications on future budget development.

2) As the District makes an effort to keep more students in District Schools, and with an increasing elementary population forecast for 2018-19, the League strongly emphasizes our recommendation that the Board and Administration articulate and clarify the class size policy for Bridge and Co-taught Inclusion classes, being mindful not only of student/ teacher ratio, but also the physical space and square footage of the classroom, in order to ensure the adequate delivery of educational services for all students.

3) 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 and that it use the annual budget for consistent investment in capital improvement sufficient to keep a long list of infrastructure repairs from necessary inclusion in the next bond.

4) Regarding current substantial issues with future budget implications, such as Air Conditioning and Food Service; the League Consensus statement did not suggest inclusion of these elements in the Proposed Budget, as was noted in the District Highlights from the March 19 School Board meeting. Rather, the League statement requested that the status and progress of District-level committee discussions on Air Conditioning, Food Service and Sustainability, be conveyed to the greater community in a timely manner, in order to proactively inform and engage the public.

In addition, regarding Butler Field, the League acknowledges the Superintendent’s comments from the March 19 meeting to thoughtfully and proactively gather thorough community feedback and facts on the positive and negative effects of various synthetic turf and natural grass options.

I would like to note that all members of the Board and Administration received copies of our full Consensus statement. If community members would like to read the full statement, it is available on the League of Women Voters of Scarsdale website (www.lwvs.org).

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