Retirements Announced, COVID Counts, Budget Talk and a Report on Culturally Responsive Education from the Scarsdale BOE Meeting
- Category: Schools
- Published: Wednesday, 23 December 2020 17:53
- Sammy Silberberg
As 2020 finally comes to a close, the Scarsdale Board of Education convened their final meeting of the year to discuss their plans for the upcoming academic term. This business meeting was held on Monday, December 21, 2020, and the board members discussed updates with the district’s restart plan and COVID-19 testing, reviewed a personnel report and an education report on diversity and inclusion, and held a preliminary discussion about the 2021-2022 budget.
The meeting opened with Board of Education President Pam Fuehrer recognizing the difficult decision the district made to transition all schools to virtual learning for the last two days before the winter break (12/21-12/22). Next, Assistant Superintendent for Special Education and Student Services Eric Rauschenbach spoke about the current status of the district.
Scarsdale currently has 53 positive cases of COVID-19, and while the district physician is satisfied with Scarsdale's containment and quarantine measures, this shift to remote learning was necessary in light of the number of teachers, teacher's aides, and substitute teachers in quarantine or out due to seasonal illness. Mr. Rauschenbach noted that there is a substantial student absence trend, with 500 students moving to exclusively virtual learning leading up to the break. He anticipates that these numbers will decrease after the winter break. In response to questions about the utilization of school spaces, Mr. Rauschenbach stated: “the schools right now have students in every conceivable space that isn't being used for other necessary functions. That being said, we need to keep in mind population density, transitions, the ability to keep kids separated throughout the day. It's tough. As numbers come down and as we see an increase in effects of the vaccine, we may very well be able to adjust the switch [the model] because we think that’s the safe thing to do, which will allow us to reach bigger in allowing more kids and where they can be during the day.”
Mr. Rauschenbach also updated the board on the state of the district’s testing. Currently, Scarsdale is recruiting volunteers from students and staff members to get COVID-19 testing. In light of the new state Red and Orange Zone requirements, the district will need to test 25-30% of the population over an entire month. While it is no longer necessary to test 100% of the population, testing will not be an effective method of curbing vaccine spread if the same 30% of the population is re-tested over and over again.
The district currently has 1,500 student sign-ups for testing that is evenly distributed across grade levels. The administration is hoping for an increase in signups and plans to re-canvass and promote the sign-ups after the winter break. Additionally, 1/3rd of the staff signed up during this first window. Enough students and staff members must sign up for voluntary testing to have the numbers necessary for Scarsdale to increase and sustain in-person learning. Mr. Rauschenbach also announced that the administration will be launching a mid and long- term planning website “to inform the community on the thinking for the middle and long-term planning to bring us back to traditional learning.”
Andrew Patrick, the Assistant Superintendent for Human Recourses and Leadership Development for Scarsdale Public Schools announced that three of Scarsdale's long-term staff members will be retiring at the end of this school year. Richard Clark, a high school environmental science and biology teacher will retire after teaching in this district for 39 years. Jill Schultz, who taught music across the district will retire after 23 years in Scarsdale. Finally, Emma Wixted, who transitioned from a middle school teacher to a middle school house counselor and has spent 32 years with Scarsdale Schools will retire at the end of this academic year. Mr. Patrick stated that “we couldn’t be more grateful for their service” and noted that we will have more formal opportunities to thank these staff members as the year comes to an end.
Edgar McIntosh, the Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment for Scarsdale Public Schools presented the board with a fascinating presentation on the efforts Scarsdale is making to build more inclusive, welcoming, and culturally responsive schools. He opened by defining a “culturally responsive sustaining education” as an education that is “grounded in a cultural view of learning and human development in which multiple expressions of diversity (race, social class, gender, language, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, ability) are recognized and regarded as assets for teaching and learning.”
The presentation included multiple video clips of interviews with teachers and students about the efforts made to strengthen Scarsdale’s culturally responsive sustaining education plans. Liz Rosenfeld, a 5th-grade teacher, stated that "we must help students see themselves in characters and those who are different… the more we can use books as windows and mirrors the more educated and culturally responsive our students will be…. We need to address implicit bias and discuss it and open a forum with young students… as a community of educators we need to become comfortable with these uncomfortable conversations.”
In addition to promoting academic success, the Board of Education seeks to promote socio-politically and socio-culturally responsiveness amongst students. Dr. Karine Schaefer, who serves as the High School English Department Chair, stated that “it is essential for students to learn the history of inequality and injustice in this country and to engage with the lived experience of people who aren’t white, aren’t male, and aren’t straight.. part of the reason you read literature is because it fosters empathy with people who are different from yourself.” Dr. Schaefer noted that during the summer of 2020, the department reviewed its curriculum and looked for ways to increase the diversity of perspectives included in texts. In addition to assigning works such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letters From a Birmingham Jail and Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me, the department is piloting new novels and memoirs this year. Some of these new additions include Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson, The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater, Swing Time by Zadie Smith, and Born a Crime by Trevor Noah. Dr. Schaefer also shared that video content has helped increase the power and responsiveness of printed work and that the department has begun pairing important novels and biographies with films for students to watch. She gave the example of pairing Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison with Jordan Peel’s film Get Out or matching Fredrick Douglass’s memoir The Life of Fredrick Douglass with Ava Duvernay’s documentary 13th. Dr. Schaefer concluded by sharing that “our students genuinely want to talk about issues of race, police brutality, and social justice… while we may have confronted some apathy in the past, that apathy is gone and students have questions and they want to talk. They need teachers to take them through the complexity of the issues.”
Later in the presentation, middle school teachers Meghan Lahey and Will Malderelli and high school teacher Heather Waters discussed the effectiveness of the virtual exchange programs students participated in this year. Middle school students had the opportunity to connect with students in Mexico and Zimbabwe over webinars and learn about the experiences of teenagers across the world. One student commented that these webinars helped her learn about different perspectives and cultures and show her what life is like for people outside of her own lived experience. A second student stated that “we might think we are having a hard time [in quarantine] but so many people have [different] hard times and they can’t do so many things… it’s good to see other perspectives instead of thinking that only we have it the toughest. It’s nice to really engage with other people instead of just reading a textbook.”
The presentation also reviewed the Scarsdale High School Dignity and Inclusion Team, which is a group that was convened in the fall of 2019 after antisemitic and racist graffiti was found on campus. Every student was asked to reflect on the nature of inclusivity and the culture of the highs school in a survey, and the team gathered qualitative information from 175 students through focus groups. This team continues to meet monthly, review the data collected, and develop action steps for how to increase the inclusivity and safety of the school.
Some of the next steps for this project include:
• Prioritize assured experience in student experience (curricular and instructional) and educator training (awareness and methodology)
• Coordinate, mobilize, and engage the diversity within our schools
• Highlight the role and importance of critical thinking, divergent ideas, and multiple perspectives
• Continue to examine curriculum to identify implicit bias and ensure diverse representation
• Assess student understanding of the New York State Education Department framework
While it is evident that there is still much work to be done to make Scarsdale Schools the most inclusive and accepting place it can be, the Board of Education was impressed with the steps being taken thus far to advance these initiatives and improve the inclusivity of the district’s schools.
Budget Development and Financial Projections:
The last major item of the business meeting was the budget presentation by Stuart Mattey, the Assistant Superintendent for Business and Facilities. This budget process is especially complicated with COVID-19 considerations and expenditures, and the board anticipates it will take 4-5 months to finalize it. Many factors contribute to the final budget including resident input, federal and state-mandated costs, requirements of labor agreements, staff and student input, state and local program changes, and state aid and federal grants.
Mattey reviewed projected revenues and expenses for the 2020-21 school budget demonstrating how COVID had an enormous impact on this year’s finances. He expects revenues to be $947,985 higher or 1.69% than projected. Though there was over $2 million in decreased revenues from state aid and interest earnings, this was offset by an increase of $2.5 mm in revenues from the tax levy.
On the expense side, the district is projected to have an increase of $4.6 million in COVID related expenses.
Among the largest of these increases are:
-Personnel and related benefits from hiring nine cleaners and teachers: $1.536 mm
-PPE related expenses: $800,000
-Increased hours for Teacher Aides $895,000
-School lunch fund deficit: $220,0000
-Continuing losses to school lunch fund: $500,000
Mattey explained that the significant deficit of $220 million in the school lunch fund was due to the elimination of sales. Additionally, the district is projected to lose $500 million because of the continuing requirement to provide meals to students in-need across all grade levels.
There were also some COVID savings, totaling $1,157 mm from instructional programs, teachers’ salaries, interscholastic athletics, security monitors, transportation, travel and conferences.
All in, Mattey expected that the district will end the 2020-21 fiscal year with a fund balance of $22,885,349, which is $3.7mm lower than the end of fiscal year 2020. The unassigned fund balance, that cannot be more than 4% of the total budget, is projected to be $5,035,084, which is 3% of the projected annual budget.
This meeting on December 21, 2020, began the long process of developing, reviewing, and finalizing the budget. On January 11th, the board will take the next step in this process and will see a presentation on staffing recommendations. Additionally, three budgeting sessions have been planned for February 1st, February 8th, and March 8th. Finally, the board will conduct a budget forum and review at the Board of Education meeting on March 22nd and plans to adopt the budget at the board meeting on April 12th. Finally, the community will vote on the budget on May 18, 2021.