Donor Recognition and Lights at Butler Field: Under Debate at the Board of Education

DonorRecognitionNeighbors, residents, athletics fans, members of the LWVS, members of the Board of Education and the Superintendent held a lively discussion about a proposal to install lights on Butler Field using private funds –- and if so, how the donors would be recognized -- at a lengthy meeting on Monday night March 25.

At their March 11 meeting the Board of Education heard no opposition to the lights and appeared to be giving Athletic Director Ray Pappalardi permission to pursue the plan, letting him ask booster organization Maroon and White for funds for a SEQRA review and saying they had no objections to Maroon and White beginning their fundraising at their awards dinner. However this week, the picture changed.

Linda Doucette-Ashman, Co-President of the LWVS asked the Board to engage in community dialogue to establish a donor recognition policy. She said, “The League has not taken a position on this.” She also sought to clarify the perception that precedent on donor recognition had been set by the policies of the Scarsdale Schools Education Foundation, saying, “The SSEF memorandum was not setting precedent.” She urged the board to “engage in full range of issues that arise with large donations.”

Many spoke against named pavers and plaques on school property.

Discussing Maroon and White’s fundraising campaign, Rene Baylor of Sage Terrace said, “Private funding is being solicited but the school system has not adopted a donor recognition policy. There used to be public thanks offered for gifts, but not naming on school property except for remembering important individuals. … Placing names for financial donation indicates to me that the school values financial contributions above volunteer efforts… Imagine the potential for embarrassment if those who are named are found to be involved with illegal enterprises. Residents might seek to have the names removed.”

Harriet Sobol of Claremont Road said, “If the district needs night lights for students, they should be in the school budget for citizens to approve or disapprove. Maybe it is time for the community to take a moment to think? Do we want the school to be a repository of pavers, signs and plaques with donors’ names? Do we need lights? I don’t know. I imagine if the board saw a need it would be in the budget. Perhaps the Board sees more compelling needs and perhaps lights are a want. If Maroon and White does give the lights to the district, I hope the recognition will be to Maroon and White – not to the individuals. The school is the students’ world. Imagine you are 15 years old and your friend’s parents name is on a plaque and yours is not. Should we put one more problem on a student’s shoulders at this vulnerable time in their lives? If we must have donor recognition, let’s have it for Maroon and White.”

Scarsdale High School student Andrew Morin said, “To outside observers previous donations have set precedent. But the older plaques recognized achievement and volunteerism. Now there are names of large donors on the walls. I think we should accept the charity but not give permanent recognition that leads to long-term problems.”

Mary Beth Evans spoke about private donor recognition to public schools, saying “As you contemplate drafting a policy, I urge you to consider what is most beneficial to our students. Listen to our school professionals who are informed and on the ground. It would be appropriate for the board to hear directly from our high school students on the matter. If there is any chance that donor recognition highlights one students over another, I would urge the board not to permit this practice. Our buildings should not reinforce disparities that appear outside of school.”

Evans continued, “Are we assuming that parents will not give to our schools without the incentive of name recognition? We have a long tradition of giving to the district without any evidence that tax deductions are no longer sufficient as an incentive. Scarsdale has long valued Non Sibi.”

Others, who live near the field, expressed concern about the potential effects of the lights on their neighborhood.

Janet Korins of Ogden Road spoke about the lights at Butler Field. She said, “ Our concern is noise, music and loudspeakers that residents can hear from their homes.
We are sympathetic to the need for practice time. We believe our community values quiet during dinnertime and in the evening, especially during the week. We feel the school needs to operate consistent with community values. We can’t feel confident our needs will be addressed when we see a lack of agreement between the athletic department, the neighbors, Maroon and White and the administration on the purpose and the usage of the lights.”

She continued, “We were told in February that a committee would be formed with neighbors but to date that has not happened. We were told the number of existing night games but were not assured that the number would not go up. We were told it’s difficult to schedule games on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays but were not assured that they would not be scheduled on Thursdays. We were told that games would end at 9 pm but the village noise ordinances only apply after 11 pm. We were told that our concerns would be addressed but the fundraising documents indicate lights will result in more evening games and more community events.”

Korins, said, “We were surprised this past Saturday morning when we heard a game going on at Butler Field. Neighbors can hear this in our houses. M&W is already fundraising and donors will assume field will be at maximum use. These are difficult issues. It is critical for the school to be a good neighbor and operate within community standards.”

Julie Zhu of Harcourt Road said, “It’s the timeline that got me to come here tonight. On January 14 the board and public first learned about the proposal to install permanent lights around Butler Field. Community members could be adversely affected. A series of meetings were supposed to be scheduled. We learned they were leaning toward donor names on each light but would bring a proposal to the Board before fundraising began. About practice “creep”, Ray Pappalardi said we needed a policy before moving forward. Have these pledges been followed through?”

“After meeting with Old Fox Meadow Neighborhood Association Pappalardi said the lights needed to be a school and community partnership. Has there been another community outreach since January 29? At the February 25 BOE meeting, after hearing the community and the board I went away with the notion that everyone agreed we should study the lights extensively. It appeared that the Board would not be rushing into a decision.”

“Just two weeks later on March 11, I saw that the Board is putting the light proposal on an expedited track and even without a well thought out donor recognition policy. I am perplexed by the sudden pressure to get the lights approved before the end of the school year. There are numerous unanswered questions:

What is the board’s definition of “good neighbor?”

What usage limitations will be put in place?

What is the application of Village Noise Ordinance to school activities?

When will a task force be formed?

When will all neighborhood associations have the opportunity to hear Mr. Pappalardi’s presentation? I am told it has been planned?

What are our shared community values when it comes to donor recognition?

I urge the Board to hit the pause button on the permanent light proposal. Seek community input, provide concrete solutions to concerns, establish a donor recognition policy before proceeding any further. I urge you to lead – and possibly close the barn door.”

Julie Weinstein, of 9 Harcourt Road said, “A lot of my concerns were echoed by Julie. I was reassured there would be follow up and future meetings. The next thing I heard they were fundraising. I am shocked. It feels like you have done something drastic. Let’s have the discussions we were promised.”

Susan Kohn said she was from 20 Carstensan Road, a house that will be impacted by the lights. We hear the noise and we have lived with it. But with permanent lights and potentially use until 9 pm on weekdays and 10:30 pm on weekends, there is an impact on the studying in our house. The lights will have a profoundly negative impact on the homes surrounding the field. We have not been consulted for well over a month. We want to be part of any discussions.

Superintendent Dr. Hagerman called the Butler Field process "messy and organic." He answered community members, saying, “We have been in touch with the village to comport with ordinances and be good neighbors. We intend to codify policies on games and practices times. That work is ongoing.”

He then turned to a discussion of the district’s gift policy and proposed modifications. He said, “We recognize that there are items that we look to the community to support. Students have been the beneficiaries of those relationships. Reading from the existing policy he said, “Gifts must be purposeful and cannot be ad hoc. Acceptance of gifts is at the board’s discretion. Once the Board accepts the gift, they are financially responsible for those gifts. Gifts should benefit as broad a group as possible.”

He continued, “What is not here, is a provision that the Board accepts gifts at meetings and donors will receive a letter recognizing the gifts after the meeting.”
He suggested adding new wording that says that donor recognition related to gifting be decided on a case-by-case basis and require a memorandum of understanding for each large gift.

He suggested the following text be added:

8. The Board shall accept, with thanks, gifts at designated Board meetings when approved. On behalf of the Board, the Superintendent will also acknowledge the donor in writing after such acceptance.

Donor recognition related to gifting will be determined by the Board of Education on a case by case basis. Significant donations which seek donor recognition will require a Memorandum of Understanding that outlines the mutual agreement and understanding of the arrangement, noting each party's requirements and responsibilities, including the scope of donor recognition.

Board member Alison Singer thanked the speakers for sharing their views and the standpoint of students who may feel that some are the “haves” and some are the “have nots.”She said, “ I don’t think naming rights belong in the world of public schools nor do I think that a public school should codify an expression of income inequality via its policies. I support the idea of preserving flexibility – but I suggest we attach a “sense of the board” rider that expresses the board’s strong preference for recognizing community groups that raise a lot of money rather than individuals who contribute to those groups. The rider would send a message regarding expectations but still enable us flexibility when accepting gifts. I move that we attach a “sense of the board’ rider expressing a preference for recognizing groups rather than individuals.”

Dr. Hagerman suggested that provision could be added to the policy itself.

Nina Cannon said, “My view has been that there is a place for appropriate and tasteful recognition of our donors.” I think it should be on a case-by-case basis. We have tried to be tasteful.”

Bill Natbony said he was in charge of the committee that drafted the current gift policy. …What if Coca Cola wanted to give a gift – do we allow them to be recognized? I would be more inclined to accept Alison’s suggestions after we get feedback from some community organizations.”

Board President Scott Silberfein said that Maroon and White’s fundraising efforts would be thwarted if there were no policy for individual donor recognition in place.

Natbony said he worries about “putting in a preference for future boards down the road. I worry about the potential disincentives and I am leaning toward allowing individual recognition on a case-be-case basis.”

Nina Cannon asked to hear more from the student body. She said, “Are they impacted by donor’s names in the school? Are organizations impacted if they can’t provide tasteful donor recognition?” She continued, do we want the policy to be more specific about the memo of understanding?”

Lee Maude remembered that this gift policy came up when the school bond failed, and the Scarsdale Schools Education Foundation was created and said they would fund the fitness center and the design lab. Maude said, “Then we created a memo of understanding, started fundraising and we were in a bind.” Referring to the policy on the lights she said,” This is very different.”

Scott Silberfein said that memo of understanding was currently being drafted with Maroon and White. Silberfein summed up the conversation and next steps. He concluded that donor recognition should be included in the gift policy #1800. Chris Morin asked that the Board focus on the Maroon and White lights before amending the policy. Alison Singer said we need to define “significant donations.” Nina asked that donor recognition be a separate section of the policy. She also argued for remaining flexible and allowing the possibility that other organizations might form in the future to give a significant gift.

At the conclusion of the discussion, only Alison Singer and Lee Maude favored a clause that stated the board’s preference for recognizing groups rather than individuals.

Chris Morin said the design of any donor recognition be done in concert with the district and that these naming rights expire after a specified amount of time. He said this could be covered in a memorandum of understanding. He also raised the issue of recognizing funding for facilities but not for programming and wondered how that affects fundraising efforts.

Bill Natbony asked if the staff had views on this as well.

In the second public comments period, Karen Brew said, “I support what Board member Singer is saying. As Chairman of the Scholarship Fund we get 15-20 applications a year and so many say they felt inferior and excluded in high school and were looking forward to the next phase. More important than the ability to fundraise is the ability to create an environment where kids learn in comfort and feel important and nurtured.”

Harriet Sobol returned to the mike and said, “Think of two words: “Fundraising” which is not what a school is about. But there has been no talk of “Values” – which is the hidden word. Start at the values and forget about the fundraising, because that’s what this district is about. I have lived here for more than 50 years and there has been no swimming pool at the high school. What if, someone came along and said, “I will build you a pool. All you have to do is put my name up really big.” If you do it for a lot less, it’s the same thing.”

A few people got up to speak in favor of the proposal:

Claire Paquin, also of Harcourt Road said, “I have lived here for 30 years. I would like to address what Karen (Brew) said. My parents were both educators, we did not have a lot of money. I never felt disenfranchised because the school does not make you feel disenfranchised. What is our motto – “Non Sibi” – not for oneself. When you hear people say, “I don’t want others to be recognized,” and “I don’t want noise,” are they thinking of others or themselves? The squeaky wheel gets the oil – that’s not who we should be listening to. Our neighboring towns have more fields and more lights. We want to stay competitive and we may need private help to do it. The lights are not just for the athletes – they are for the whole community. There is widespread support for the lights but you might not see it here. People will put their money where they think the community needs it.”

Kate Conlon, Co-President of Maroon and White said, “There is widespread community support for this project-- community support for environmentally friendly lights instead of the diesel lights we have been using. We are in a position to commit $200,000. We have slowly started fundraising. A delay in fundraising is a delay in installation. This is about elevating Scarsdale’s amenities to peer communities and provide the same opportunities.”

Conlon continued, “People are specifically giving to the lights. They wouldn’t otherwise give to Maroon and White. The BOE has approved donor recognition plans in the past. We want to beautify a tar walkway with inlaid pavers. It is tasteful. I don’t think any student would feel left out by not having a paver. I think it’s a tasteful way to say thank you. I agree there should be use policies and guidelines. I look forward to continuing to working with you and the community on this.”

The Board agreed to do more outreach to community groups on donor recognition and to continue to discuss the wording of the gift policy at their April 8 meeting.

Watch the meeting here: