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reportFollowing years of controversy in Scarsdale about two property tax revaluations in 2014 and 2016, a committee of the Scarsdale Forum studied both revaluations, examined the deficiencies of each one and drew some conclusions about lessons learned for future revaluations.

The report notes that Scarsdale residents may have given the revaluations more scrutiny than homeowners in other municipalities. The Village’s highly educated group of data analysts, financiers and real estate professionals were able to critique the input data, processes and the mathematical models used for both revaluations and found many flaws in the inexact practice of assessing approximately 5,900 diverse properties.

The report notes, “It may well be the case that Scarsdale standards and expectations with respect to property revaluations are higher than ordinary industry standards. After all, Scarsdale standards for schools, police and other services are also higher than ordinary. In the context of revaluations, it may well be that the standards set forth here are higher than any potential vendors would want to bid on and commit to. Therefore, although this report articulates the necessary high standards, it does acknowledge that in practice it may be necessary to compromise for something less.”

The 60-page report will serve to document what happened and suggest improvements if, and when, Scarsdale embarks on its next revaluation.

Here are comments from Robert Berg and Steve Pass who co-chaired the Assessment revaluation Committee of the Scarsdale Forum:

Bob Berg: This is a very important report that aims to teach people best practices in conducting a town wide revaluation in Scarsdale and how to avoid certain pitfalls encountered in both the Tyler and Ryan revaluations. Michael Levine was the primary author of this extraordinary report and he has done a brilliant job of crafting a highly readable report about an arcane and technical subject. This report is mandatory reading for everyone in Scarsdale Village government who has or will have anything to do with property valuation and assessment as well as any vendor or consultant who may seek work for the Village going forward. We are delighted that so many Committee members participated in this project and signed the report.

Steve Pass: After several months of work, our committee is proud to present a report with recommendations that the vast majority of members agree will improve and help set a vendor's expectations for any future revaluation. While the report only addresses deficiencies of the two vendors' work in Scarsdale, based on my own research looking at revaluations elsewhere, many of these deficiencies are not unique to Scarsdale or the two vendors we used. Thus, this report and its recommendations should be useful to any municipality considering a revaluation.

Here is a press release from the Forum about the report:

Scarsdale Forum Examines Technical Aspects of Recent Scarsdale Revaluations and Makes Recommendations to Avoid Future Problems

The Scarsdale Forum Assessment Revaluation Committee has released a report on the 2014 and 2016 revaluations.

The report recognizes that there were too many instances in both revaluations where the results were not adequately explained and, worse, where the processes and the results could credibly and logically be considered unfair. However, the premise and focus of the report is that, with the benefit of hindsight, Scarsdale can learn from these revaluations to prevent a repeat of the problems. The goal is to put future Scarsdale leadership in a better position to supervise/manage a revaluation and to stand behind it in an informed and convincing way.

The committee recognizes that learning these lessons and applying them requires an understanding of the technical and sometimes arcane details of revaluations and of assessment processes generally. Therefore, the report is designed to explain this material to residents regardless of their expertise in these areas. It uses these explanations to demonstrate how specific aspects of both revaluations had actual unfair impacts and created additional perceptions of unfairness. The report makes recommendations to prevent, or at least minimize, these deficiencies in the future.

The report specifically addresses six topical areas that comprise the revaluation process and makes recommendations with respect to each.

Inventory Data
Valuation Modeling and Methodology
Land Valuation
Documentation
Validation
Sales Data

The report includes many appendices that support the committee’s observations and add to the report’s value as a reference source. These include assessment industry literature, useful New York State materials, documentation from both revaluations, and some technical papers and spreadsheets. There is also an appendix that restates all the recommendations.

The committee believes the report will be a valuable educational resource, should any revaluations be considered in the near- to mid-future. While not every member of the public may wish to study it, the report has been developed in the belief that there will be those who do want to learn from it and use it as a guide. The Scarsdale Forum strongly encourages all leaders of the Scarsdale community to be familiar with its content and recommendations.

The committee members recognize that they are not experts in this field and are not declaring that any future revaluation must conform in all respects to this report. Rather, the committee believes that this report establishes expectations in terms of depth and detail of analysis. In any future revaluation, the assessor and any vendor should be expected to engage the public and address public concerns at this level.

This report takes no position on the current (July 2018) state of the Scarsdale assessment or on the timing of future revaluations. This is not to say that these are unimportant topics. Rather, these are potentially controversial topics and they are likely to require more analysis.

A copy of the report is available here.

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Taking a gap year“Four years of high school and four years of college” is the formula for success for the vast majority of Scarsdale High School alumni. However, Scarsdale High School Dean Oren Iosepovici noted that there are typically a “handful of students every year” who choose to take a year off before attending college. The value of taking gap years or other alternative journeys is often overlooked by seniors in the midst of expectations and stress.

Iosepovici said the “Reasons (for taking a gap year) are varied overall but specific to the individual student. Some students feel they need a break after the hectic nature of 12 years of schooling, while others are looking to do something that is outside the box. There are also those who believe in the benefits of an additional year to grow and mature, and that a different experience may better prepare them for the rigors of a college education. As a whole, we generally believe it’s an option that is worthwhile as long as it's a productive one for the student.”

Here are the stories of four recent SHS graduates who have decided to take a different path:

Jordan KrautJordan Kraut, an A-School graduate, will be attending the Mechina Program at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem next year. Kraut will be learning Hebrew while taking classes at the university. The following year, she will be returning to the US to study at Bucknell University in the College of Management.

“I decided to take a gap year because I just didn’t feel ready to move away, adjust to living alone, have a social life and do well in school. My family encouraged me to take a gap year because they thought it would be a great experience, but most of my friends thought I was crazy for ‘wasting’ a year of my life,” said Kraut.

But Kraut is hardly wasting any time. Next year, she hopes to learn how to adapt to new environments, take care of herself, and maintain her grades. She anticipates that spending a year in Israel will also expose her to a number of new cultural and linguistic experiences.
Kraut did express, however, some of her initial reservations. “When I decided to take a gap year… I thought about how different my first year out of high school would be, and how I would compare it to my friends’ experiences,” said Kraut. “I finally wrapped my head around having 1 year in Israel and then 4 years in college. I am not going to miss anything, it just will be postponed a year.”

Matthew Kuo was offered a “guaranteed transfer option” from Cornell University’s Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management. This option enables Kuo to attend any university of his choosing this upcoming fall, and if he achieves a GPA of at least 3.5 and takes a macroeconomics, statistics, calculus, and two English classes, Kuo will be allowed to transfer into Cornell for his sophomore year of college.

The guaranteed transfer option is not a binding decision, but Kuo has already decided to fulfill his requirements next year at Westchester Community College and then complete the remainder of his college degree at Cornell.

Although Kuo expressed some uncertainty about missing out on the “traditional college freshman experience,” Kuo explained that he wants to be as productive as possible next year. Kuo has previously interned at Ace & Everett, Thursday Boots, and Knot Standard. “I want to try my best to have internships on that level so I can go into Cornell having all this real world experience… knowing how a company operates and all those skills you don’t really teach, but you have to learn over time. I want to be able to get those (experiences) so I can bring that new angle to my school, and also so in the future I’m a lot more desirable as an employee,” said Kuo.

For rising seniors who receive the guaranteed transfer option, Kuo recommends to “try your best to keep the options open, because you never know. You never know if your interests change or what could happen.”

Nicole SilberbergNicole Silberberg will be taking a gap year with a program called Kivunim. Although this organization is based in Jerusalem, it includes international travel to 12 different countries. The basis of this program is to explore the conflict in the Middle East through first-hand exposure to different cultures and groups of people. “I’m hoping that visiting these countries firsthand will deepen my understanding of Jewish life and history as it relates to the conflict in the Middle East,” said Silberberg.

Silberberg has always been intrigued by unfamiliar cultures and places, and felt largely supported by both friends and family in her decision to take a year off. However, she is quick to acknowledge the uniqueness of her path. “I did not feel judged by the Scarsdale community,” said Silberberg. “Yet, I know this is not a typical path for SHS students and a gap year is not something that is recommended or talked about by the school. SHS hosts a gap year fair but does not encourage students to choose this path…College is something that is expected of students, and the administration and community at large assume that students will take this traditional path… parents often ask me about plans for next year as if going to college was a given.”

In two years, Silberberg will attend Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration to study business. She hopes that learning about other cultures will bring new perspectives and ideas into the hospitality industry.

Haofeng Liu will be attending the Naval Academy this fall. Throughout high school, Liu was always a dedicated and diligent student as well as an accomplished swimmer. With an acceptance rate of only 9%, the Naval Academy takes only the brightest and most athletically fit students.

Liu described the application process as “long” and “drawn out.” He started preparing the spring of his junior year by interviewing, applying for a congressional nomination, and taking fitness tests. For juniors and sophomores considering this opportunity, he says, “Stick with it. It’s a really long process and there are many times where you don’t know if you’re going to make it or if it’s worth it. You will be happy if you stick it through until the end.”

Liu said that although the Naval Academy isn’t deemed “normal” or “relatable” at times in Scarsdale, Liu suggested that ultimately public perception was irrelevant to his decision. “The reaction has generally been supportive, although most people don’t really understand my decision and why I would do that, which is fine. It’s not for everyone, especially not in Scarsdale,” said Liu.

Looking to the future, Liu is filled with anticipation. “I’m excited to get a world-class education and be trained to become a military officer at the same time. I’m ready to have the experience of my life, learn valuable life lessons, and bond with my classmates more than any regular college experience allows me to.”

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redcrossJust before 3 pm on Thursday June 21, a Greenacres woman was injured in a car accident on Montrose Road near the Greenacres Elementary School. Sinying Lin, age 24 of Valley Road backed the 2018 Volvo she was driving into a space on the west side of Montrose Road.

According to the police, when she backed in, she scraped a 2017 Toyota that was parked in the next spot. She got out of her car to assess the damage and the Volvo rolled toward the other car, pinning Lin in the middle.

Good samaritans rushed to help her. One moved the car to free her and another carried her to the grass to perform CPR until help arrived.

Scarsdale Police, firefighters and SVAC all came to the scene to extricate Lin who was taken to the trauma center at Westchester Medical Center for treatment. Her condition is unknown.

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protest3Almost 800 hundred locals came out in sweltering heat on Saturday June 30 to protest the practice of separating families of those seeking to immigrate to the United States. Under a new “no tolerance policy,” the U.S. Government is placing adults in detention centers and separating parents from their children who have been shipped all over the United States. In fact, immigrant children are being held in four facilities in Westchester County, and elected officials have been denied access to them.

protest2On Saturday June 30, local residents joined protestors across the country as part of the “Families Belong Together” campaign to demand that this policy be changed. Protestors called for the end of detention without due process and for the re-unification of parents and children, who in some cases are thousands of miles apart.

Westchester residents assembled at the Federal Courthouse in White Plains to hear speeches from Congressman Eliot Engel, County Executive George Latimer, State Senator Andrea Stewart Cousins and a 15 year-old boy who came home from school one day in November to find that his father had been picked up by ICE during the day and has not been heard from since.

Photos by Michelle Lichtenberg

protest cousinsState Senator Andrea Stewart CousinsprotestlatimerWestchester County Executive George LatimerprotestengelCongressman Eliot Engelprotest1John Leslie, Deb Pekarek and Michelle Lichtenbergprotestwater

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students inside albanyThe League of Women Voters of Scarsdale selected and sponsored Scarsdale High School Juniors Amanda Glik and Isabelle Riback to attend this year’s Students Inside Albany conference held from May 20-23. SIA is an intensive four-day conference run by the League of Women Voters of New York State designed to immerse students in the process by which public policy is proposed, revised and enacted in New York State and to educate them as to how they can influence and affect this process. If you would like more information about the League of Women Voters of Scarsdale and/or the Students Inside Albany Program, contact president@lwvs.org. Here is the report prepared by Amanda and Isabelle about their trip:

The beautiful view from the train foreshadowed the drastic change of scenery that awaited us in Albany. Once we were settled at the hotel, the group of 60 students from all over New York congregated and talked about our different experiences. We met people who lived 10 minutes away from us, and others who lived 10 minutes away from Canada. These unique and varied perspectives led to truly engaging conversations when we talked about politics and our daily lives. In order to prepare for the following days, Jennifer Wilson, the Legislative Director of the LWVNYS taught the group about New York State politics and how Assembly Sessions function. These presentations were particularly eye-opening, as we had not studied state government in school. Armed with knowledge and new friends, we prepared for the mock session with our peers.

The next morning, the group took a tour of the Capitol and learned about its rich history. Whereas some rooms had lavish carvings, the end of construction left many walls unfinished. We witnessed senators having private discussions in the only location of the senate chamber that doesn’t echo: the fireplaces. In fact, we decided to try out the fireplaces ourselves. The Million Dollar Staircase provided insight to the amount of time, energy, and money that was put into to making our beautiful capital. On the Assembly floor, we participated in a mock session, discussing A6140, the Repeal the NY SAFE Act Bill. As we advocated and voted, we realized the diversity of New York State and the controversy of gun bills. The people who lived upstate had exceptionally different views than we are accustomed to hearing in our community. It felt amazing to engage in such thoughtful discussion and advocate on behalf of our “constituents.” We also learned firsthand about the importance of civility on the assembly floor. Ultimately, the bill did not pass, which we learned is rare; in reality, the majority party of the Assembly would not likely allow a bill to be heard on the floor if it was not going to pass. Newly empowered, we were perfectly primed to learn about the power of the private citizen. The rest of the day consisted of guest speakers who spoke of political activism and lobbying successfully. A representative from the Alliance for Quality Education talked about the disparity between certain school districts and advocated for public education equality. Liz Moran of the Environmental Advocates of New York defined environmentalism and taught the group about issues in New York such as aging water infrastructure. We were encouraged to learn more about current environmental policy such as a bill that is currently sitting on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senate Bill S5287, which relates to the right to clean air and water and a healthful environment. The most important message was that members of the public, because they are not special interest groups, are key to policy change. Not only was state government more influential to our lives than we thought, we have a lot of power, too!

Following our mock session, we got to witness our own legislators in action. Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, who represents the 88th Assembly District, was generous enough to give us an idea of what her life is like day to day. We learned about different bills she was working on. We were all amazed as we sat and watched her gracefully work out little bumps in her Assembly Bill A01030, which is set to be passed. We admired her use of power for good. The passion Assemblywoman Paulin has for what she does was evident in the way she fought for her beliefs and interacted with her fellow legislators. Despite our age, we were treated with a great amount of respect and promise. We look forward to following Assemblywoman Paulin’s activity and hope to follow in her passionate footsteps toward positive advocacy.

Next, we had the honor of meeting Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Minority Leader of the New York Senate. We talked to her about the importance of state government and learned about her path to becoming a state senator. During our shadow session we witnessed Senator Stewart-Cousins second the nomination of Barbara Underwood to be the New York State Attorney General. As young women looking to enter the field of government as we get older, it was a tremendous privilege to see such an inspiring and historic moment. At the joint session, some members spoke about their unhappiness with the Constitution's requirement that the Legislature must appoint an acting Attorney General, as opposed to having a special direct election. The appointment of Attorney General Underwood was rare, as it was a result of the resignation of the previous Attorney General, Eric Schneiderman. Through this experience, we learned the state Constitution is not perfect; it is incumbent upon the members of the government and public to ensure a fair process.

On Tuesday night, at a media panel, our group asked questions about the role of media in politics and the influence media has on the public. The panelists, Rachel Silberstein from the Times Union, Don Clark from PolitiFact, and Tim Williams from WCNY, discussed their respective media and how they became involved in journalism. Many students asked about identifying reliable news sources and being well-informed. Many students were encouraged to reach out to magazines and submit their own work.

The knowledge and experience we gained in Albany was important, eye-opening, and inspiring. We formed connections with teenagers from all over the state. In fact, we have remained in touch with many of the other students from the group. We feel incredibly fortunate to have formed such close bonds and to have had such an incredible experience.

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