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You are here: Home Schools Klein and Yusuf Elected to School Board, Budget Passes and Over 4,000 Mail-in Ballots Cast in Scarsdale Election
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Klein and Yusuf Elected to School Board, Budget Passes and Over 4,000 Mail-in Ballots Cast in Scarsdale Election

hagermanmatteymartinThomas Hagerman, Jeff Martin and Stuart Mattey at the vote count in the SHS Learning Commons.It could not have been a more unusual election for the 2020-21 Scarsdale School budget and two seats on the school board. Why was this year different from all other years? Let me count the ways:

First, the COVID epidemic prevented in-person voting, customarily held in voting booths at the Scarsdale Middle School on the third Tuesday in May.

With schools closed and social distancing required, the Governor ordered that schools hold their elections by mail. The election was delayed until June to give districts the time to design, print and mail the ballots to qualified voters, a complex process that had to be executed by the rules to prevent any challenges to the election.

Furthermore, traditionally, Scarsdale’s School Board Nominating Committee (SBNC) vets and selects candidates for school board and they are voted onto the Board in uncontested elections. However this year, a challenger, Mayra Kirkendall-Rodriguez, came forth and ran a vigorous campaign which spurred a highly active campaign to defend the SBNC candidates Amber Yusuf and Robert Klein.

The campaigns included mailings, email, and advertising and the candidates met at an online public forum hosted by the League of Women Voters of Scarsdale. Ironically, many were actively engaged in a highly partisan campaign in a community that is ruled by the non-partisan system.

Third, in most years, the proposed school budget is widely supported by residents who value district schools. Consequently in electioncamerasThe vote tabulation was live streamed for transparency.many years very few voters come out as the assume that passage of the budget is ensured. For instance, last year only 452 votes were cast, as compared to this year, when almost ten times that number of ballots were mailed in.

The Governor had originally mandated that all ballots be received by mail by the district by June 9, but later extended that date to June 16 and allowed receipt of ballots via a lock box for two days in June.

So this year, the combination of a contested election, mail-in ballots and a date extension drove unprecedented participation and 4,153 ballots were received.

Last, votes are usually tabulated by machine. But this year the school district was tasked with the overwhelming job of counting and tabulating 4,153 mail in ballots, again following strict protocols to guarantee that the election was valid. Village Clerk Honoree Adams, Superintendent Thomas Hagerman and the entire cabinet were involved in designing a tabulation system that was secure and could be cross checked for accuracy. The job was made even more difficult by unclear guidelines from the Governor that had to be submitted to counsel for interpretation.

Voting officially closed at 5 pm on Tuesday June 16, and the counting began immediately. The Scarsdale High School Learning Commons was set up for the count, scores of district employees were called in to tally the votes. They worked until 10 pm that night.

BerryAV equipment was set up on the mezzanine of the Learning Commons.Audio visual and broadcasting equipment was set up in the mezzanine of the Scarsdale High School Learning Commons and cameras recorded the action. The count was live streamed throughout the evening and the next day so that it was transparent to the community.

When we stopped by the school on the morning of June 17, about 3,000 of the 4,000 ballots had been opened, checked against the voter roll, numbered, tallied, cross checked, totaled and filed for future reference. On the morning of the 17th, the last 1,000 were processed. The district then set up a noon time Board of Education meeting via Zoom to announce the results. The entire community learned the outcome simultaneously.

So what was the result?

The candidates nominated by the School Board Nominating Committee won the two seats on the board.AmberAmber Yusuf Bob Klein received 3,035 votes and Amber Yusuf received 2,994 votes. However the independent candidate, Mayra Kirkendall-Rodriguez performed surprisingly well, receiving 1,531 votes.

The $162,696,316 2020-21 school budget passed with 3,256 yes votes which is a 78.4% approval rate. The budget is 1.19% higher than the prior year and translates to a 1.5% increase for Scarsdale residents and a 2.31% increase for those in the Mamaroneck strip. The initial proposed budget was 3.86% above 2019-20 but was scaled back after the COVID crisis hit, the economy became uncertain and schools closed. To reduce the budget, plans to completely overhaul the Scarsdale High School auditorium were scaled back, funds were taken from reserves for an initial upgrade and the district realized savings from the school closure.

What does the vote mean for Scarsdale?

Mail in ballots were at least partially responsible for improved voter participation. Will voting by mail be considered for subsequent years now that the experiment was successful? This is something that may be considered by the state after the crisis abates.

Another conclusion we can draw is that partisan politics may be here to stay and that contested elections will become the norm rather than the exception. Though the non-partisan system was formed to prevent contested elections, frequent challenges are forcing the non-partisans to organize just like their political opponents. Considerable time and money were spent on both sides and this could be our new reality.

Here are a few comments on the election:votehistoryThere was the highest number of votes cast in recent memory.

Board President Pam Fuehrer said, “On behalf of the Board, I’d like to thank our District employees who participated in this year’s extra-complicated budget vote and BOE Election process. Since the Executive Order on May 1, the tasks that fell to Honore, our District Clerk, have been especially complex. We appreciate all her efforts through these many weeks to become fully informed, seek clarifications, and to develop, coordinate, and oversee a confidential and secure process for collecting, canvassing, and counting the votes. We also are grateful to those who arranged their schedules to be available to count the votes yesterday evening and this morning; you’ve been essential employees in many ways, thank you. Thank you, as always, to Dave Berry and the Technical Support Services Department for providing live stream coverage of this work. We thank Dan Petigrow, our legal counsel, for being available and responsive, and we are grateful to our Cabinet, for your guidance through this process. To our voters, we are pleased to see such impressive participation; thank you for taking the time to exercise your right to vote, and thanks to our community organizations which helped with communications and information. Finally, we’d like to thank Nina Cannon, for her willingness to serve the District again, this time as our Chair of the District Budget Vote and Election.

Diane Greenwald and Art Rublin who co-chaired the Coalition for Scarsdale Schools in support of Klein and Yusuf said, "
We are thrilled about the overwhelming community support for the school district budget, which ensures Scarsdale’s students will continue to benefit from the quality public education that people move to Scarsdale for. We are also grateful to the community for electing School Board Nominating Committee nominees Bob Klein and Amber Yusuf by a decisive 2-to-1 vote. Bob and Amber will serve Scarsdale and the Mamaroneck Strip with open-minds, integrity and dedication, and we wish them good luck in this important work. Our large, diverse and hardworking campaign committee came together quickly in face of a contested election, and we are proud of the entire team, which engaged with positive energy. We wish Ms. Kirkendall-Rodriguez good luck in her endeavors and commend the District for their professionalism and focus on safety while running an election under difficult and unique circumstances. Again, thanks to the committee and the entire community for this wonderful outcome. We continue to be in this together."

Newly elected Board Member Bob Klein said, “When I decided to submit my application for the opening in the school board, I knew that Scarsdale has a pool of impressive residents that are civic minded, so I am very humbled by my selection and support when the election became contested the very last minute. I am now focusing my attention on the role of supporting our schools and students and all the related stakeholders during this very unusual period when all the norms are up in the air for discussion and debate. I feel very prepared to participate in a thorough and consensus-driven process of decision-making.”

BobKleintjpgAmber Yusuf commented, “I am honored to have been elected by the Scarsdale community to serve on the Board of Education with Bob Klein. Thank you to all of the District staff, and especially District Clerk Honore Adams, for their thorough efforts conducting this unusual election. I look forward to having the opportunity to support our students and staff, and maintain the excellence of our schools in the upcoming years. I expect this year will present new challenges for all of us and I am grateful to be a part of the solution.”

Independent candidate Mayra Kirkendall-Rodriguez said, “Congratulations Amber and Bob. My family and I wish the new board and the Scarsdale school administration the best of luck in helping Scarsdale residents navigate these uncertain times. I thank the 1/3 of registered Scarsdale voters who participated in this election, and I am humbled by and grateful to the over 1,500 residents who voted for me. I look forward to trying again in the next election.”

What are your thoughts on the election and vote by mail? Please comment below.

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