Friday, May 24th

Board of Ed Adopts Budget, Introduces New Principal and Reviews Health Initiative

shsberke1Though the Board of Education meeting on Monday night April 8 was much briefer than the last marathon of a meeting on March 24th, it was still chock full of information. There were announcements about upcoming programs, an introduction to the new Edgewood Principal Dr. Keene, public comments from concerned parents, and perhaps the biggest piece of news from the meeting, the Board’s decision to adopt the proposed budget for the 2024-2025 school year.

After the Board unanimously voted to adopt the budget resolution (primarily the budget proposed on March 11th plus $112,000 restored from the previous draft), at the sum of $184,934,125, each member had the opportunity to provide an explanation for their support of the most recent budget.

To start, Dr. Drew Patrick shared the news that in her state budget, Governor Hochul proposed postponing the reduction of foundation state aid until a study can be done to determine what the effects of that reduction would be. Dr. Patrick clarified that it is likely that Scarsdale will receive $558,000 of state aid that isn’t currently accounted for in this budget. He recommends that the funds be used to replenish the fund balance.

BOE President Ron Schulhof further clarified, “The Governor indicated that school districts should expect to receive their full foundation aid funding this year. This is great news. However, as part of the Governor's message, she indicated that a review and study of the foundation aid formula will be undertaken next year. While an update to the foundation aid formula is long overdue, we should recognize the significant uncertainty this creates for our district in future years. Our district receives over $3 million in foundation aid. While this amount is significantly less than other districts around the state, it does represent a meaningful source of revenue for our schools and programs. If an update to the foundation aid formula results in a decline in our state aid, our district would be faced with difficult decisions about funding in future year budgets. As more information becomes available about a review and study of the foundation aid formula, the Board and administration will discuss advocacy efforts to ensure our District receives an appropriate level of foundation aid going forward.”

As the members moved on to discuss their support of the proposed budget, Amber Yusef seemed to capture the sentiment of many of her fellow board members when she stated:

“This has been a challenging budget season. A large portion of our budget encompasses legal and contractual obligations. As has been aptly pointed out, we face a number of budget drivers that created a situation where the Board felt obligated to look at reductions to the Superintendent’s proposed budget.

Our last few meetings have been dually focused on the task of balancing our fiscal responsibility with following our guiding principles based on our mission and vision to sponsor each student’s full development.

I would like to express my gratitude to Drew, Andrew, Lisa and the entire team who spent countless hours brainstorming and implementing ideas for the Board’s consideration.

The budget presented to us today provides our community with the opportunity to adhere to our commitments to our students. While not every program or idea was fully funded, the board balanced its commitment to our students with consideration for our taxpayers during the development of this budget.

Among other things, this budget maintains our commitment to small elementary class sizes by introducing new staff when needed. The budget adheres to the house structure in the middle school and expands ICT programming into the 7th grade, providing all students with the least restrictive classroom learning experience. This budget enhances our student choice at the high school. We have heard from student speakers and student petitions, and parent emails about the value in offering a financial literacy course. And this budget exemplifies our motto of non-sibi, allowing students who are taking multivariable calculus online to now have the opportunity to take that class in person.

This budget responded to feedback from parents and prioritized the mental health and wellbeing of all students by retaining full funding for Varsity B sports. And this budget maintains funding to expand our security measures to introduce door ajar sensors in our highest priority locations.

This is not an exhaustive list of all that is accomplished in this budget - this budget achieves many other objectives as highlighted in the budget book, and it is with enthusiasm that I support this budget.”

A Budget Book detailing line items and where the funding is going, can be found at each school and online here.

Each member went on to read a statement of support for the budget with many echoing Yusef’s words. BOE President Ron Schulhof ended the budget discussion with these thoughts:

“I have a few brief comments tonight about why I support the proposed budget. We’ve spoken in detail about the specifics of the budget, so tonight I would like to talk about a few key themes I believe the proposed budget addresses for the upcoming school year:

Educational Excellence: We will be continuing to fund the delivery of educational excellence to our students across the district. Even in this challenging budget year, we have continued to expand programming to meet the needs and desires of our students. It was wonderful to see so much student engagement and feedback about proposed programming such as Financial Literacy, which has been added to the budget.

Fiscal Responsibility: I believe this budget and the thoughtful process we undertook to get here is respectful of our fiscal responsibilities for both the current and future years. A number of difficult decisions have been made to reduce expenditures to find an appropriate balance between delivering our educational missions and being fiscally responsible.

Important Capital Projects: We are funding key investments and capital projects to address flooding concerns at the high school and begin the rollout of door ajar sensors throughout our buildings.

Thoughtful and Transparent Process: As part of our budget process this year, we evaluated multiple scenarios and had detailed and thoughtful discussions on specific line items to determine the appropriate balance of funding items and fiscal responsibility. All of this detail is available for anyone to review on our Budget Page of the school website.

Fund Balance / State Aid: I’m so relieved to hear we are likely to receive our full foundation aid amount and want to thank our representatives Shelley Mayer and Amy Paulin for their active advocacy on this issue. We have discussed the significant use of fund balance this year and over the past several years and I hope the expected reinstatement of full foundation aid will help support returning our fund balances to healthy levels as an important financial safety net for our district.

Thank you to the administration and all of our faculty and staff for their work on the proposed budget. Thank you to the community for all the thoughtful ideas and feedback as well as my fellow board members for the detailed and thoughtful discussions throughout the budget process.”

In the “Written Communications” portion of the meeting, Suzie Hahn reported that the Board of Education has received over 243 emails. Hahn and the other members expressed gratitude for our community’s contributions and involvement in the budget process and other District matters.

While the Board’s adoption of the budget is certainly big news, the meeting on Monday night began with some celebratory news and a special presentation by the New York State School Board Association’s (NYSSBA) Recognition Program, “Tomorrow’s Leaders Today.” NYSSBA’s Members Relation Manager, Patrick Longo, came from Albany to honor Scarsdale High School senior, Rick Yang with an award for the extraordinary leadership he demonstrated when he came before the BOE earlier this year to advocate for a student wellness center. Longo commended Yang on his bravery for speaking in front of the Board and for his tremendous amount of background research he did to prepare for the proposal. Longo also commended the Scarsdale School District for growing students like Rick Yang and for providing them opportunities to speak.

In other good news, Superintendent Dr. Drew Patrick celebrated the team from Scarsdale Middle School who recently participated in the New York State Science Olympiad where they came in 7th place statewide. Patrick not only celebrated the students for their scientific prowess but also for the high standards with which they conducted themselves, both on their journey to the tournament and at the Olympiad itself.

In his District Update, Patrick also highlighted special author visits to Greenacres and Edgewood elementary schools, an amazing choir performance at the high school, and an Able Athletics wheelchair lacrosse game at SHS which enabled athletes with a variety of skills and abilities to play competitively against each other.

In updates from the board members, Suzie Hahn announced an upcoming PTC program on the evening of April 17th titled Combating Hate Crimes, Bias Incidents and Discrimination. The PTC invites the community to a Zoom webinar with the Hate Crimes Unit from the Westchester County District Attorney's office and the Westchester County Human Rights Commission. Representatives from these offices will discuss the difference between hate crimes, bias incidents and discrimination and how children and their parents can respond if they experience or witness a crime. The panelists will also discuss available protections and resources.
**Register for the webinar HERE**
**This event will take place on Zoom and will not be recorded.**”

During Cabinet updates, Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Meghan Troy introduced the new principal for Edgewood Elementary School, Dr. Annette Keane. Dr. Keane thanked the Board and the faculty, staff, and families at Edgewood and stated that she is confident they will do great work together and that she is excited for the journey. For more on Dr. Keane you can read this article here:

Edgar McIntosh announced that on April 25th, he will host two presentations about the revised health curriculum. As Mcintosh described, the presentations will explore the “Resources, Materials, guidelines and methods that we are using in our revised 5th grade health lessons…and I will share lesson plans and topics and answer parent questions.”

The presentations are open to all interested parents of current 5th grade students and an invitation to register for either the coffee at 10:30am or the Zoom Webinar at 6pm, has been sent directly to these parents. For parents who have children in other grades in elementary school, an additional informational meeting will be held in June with an exact date and location to be determined.

Voter Enrollment

During Public Comment Heedan Chung, President of the League of Women Voters Scarsdale, spoke about a measure that Governor Hochul signed in September that requires local boards of education to adopt policies that promote student voter registration and pre-registration during the school year. Chung said the League is interested to know when it can expect to see the Scarsdale Board of Education’s policy.

Dr. Patrick responded to this inquiry by stating that the District is following their policy process and information about the policy change will hopefully be forthcoming shortly. He also highlighted that there is an active awareness campaign at the high school for seniors and any age-eligible kids who can register to vote. Anyone who would like to register to vote can come, in person to the District office and the District Clerk would be happy to walk people through the registration process.

DEI

Parent Jonathan Rothenberg expressed his concerns about DEI initiatives taught in the district. Rothernberg began by questioning how much money is being set aside in the budget to support DEI. He claims that the district has wasted hundreds of thousands of dollars and countless hours on DEI consultants and initiatives and questions the results of this work. He also expressed worry that an entire Professional Development day is being dedicated to DEI initiatives. Rothenberg went on to assert, “I guarantee you that no one is getting smarter, doing better in math, science, or writing, or becoming better prepared for college or life because of DEI.” Rothenberg also expressed his concern about the “oppressor versus oppressed” framework that he claims is central to DEI and believes is being taught here in Scarsdale and blames this framework for “a tidal wave of shockingly brazen antisemitism.”

Next to speak, Mayra Kirkendall-Rodriguez thanked Dr. Edgar McIntosh for the tremendous amount of work he has done on DEI and belonging. She described how as a PTA volunteer at Fox Meadow, she and her co-chair invited Dr. McIntosh to speak to parents about how DEI is taught in our district and learned that the curriculum in Scarsdale follows New York State law. Kirkendall-Rodriguez asserts that there is nothing in the law that teaches about an “oppressor/oppressed” framework. She went on to describe how she has seen first-hand how Dr. McIntosh works closely with a variety of different people and welcomes different points of views and often listens to and addresses her own questions and concerns. While she appreciates this sort of openness from him, she doesn’t expect that this means that he will agree with everything she says and doesn’t believe that this is something that any parent should expect. In regard to the spending on DEI in the budget, Kirkendall-Rodriguez claims that the spending on DEI is a quite small percentage and furthermore, a lot of the DEI initiatives in our district are run by hard-working PTA volunteers.

In response to Mr. Rothenberg, Dr. Patrick had this to say:

“We do have a consultant line in the budget for some of our Belonging work [at the amount of $61,000]. In terms of our Superintendent’s Conference Day on Wednesday of this week…we gave a survey to students, faculty, and parents earlier this year and the focus was on Belonging and the research construct underneath it. I really encourage people to visit the Search Institute Website, it [the survey] is built on a long-term research base they have around what they call Developmental Relationships. There are five key things that the survey was based on inside of Developmental relationships:

-Express Care: (or from a student voice) Show me that I matter to you.
-Challenge Growth: Push me to keep getting better.
-Provide Support: Help me complete tasks and achieve goals.
-Share Power: Treat me with respect and give me a say.
-Expand Possibilities: Connect me with people and places to broaden my world.

That’s the framework of Belonging that we’re building off of, that the survey was connected to. Our focus on Wednesday is thinking about the clear and compelling ways that when a student experiences a strong relationship with the adults in their lives (in our case, our teachers), they also demonstrate strong social emotional competencies, a stronger sense of belonging, and importantly better academic outcomes. Search’s own research shows that things like motivation, engagement, critical thinking, responsible decision making, and emotional regulation are what improve when kids have strong developmental relationships.

Those are the facts. That’s what we’re focused on here.”

To learn more about the research you can check out the Search Institute.

To see the meeting in its entirety click here.

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