First Look at 21-22 School Budget, New Quarantine Rules, Staff Vaccinations and More from the Board of Education
- Category: Schools
- Published: Wednesday, 13 January 2021 13:43
- Sammy Silberberg
At the same time that the school district is experiencing perhaps the biggest COVID outbreak of the school year, the first meeting of the Scarsdale School Board in 2021 was filled with hopeful news about teachers receiving vaccinations, new protocols that will reduce the need for quarantines, the possibility that grades 3-5 could return to school full time and the launch of a summer enrichment program for Scarsdale’s elementary school students.
New Quarantine Rules
Additionally, the district received some hopeful news with regards to mandatory quarantine guidelines. The requirements for close-contact quarantine will remain the same – someone who is less than six feet apart for more than 10 minutes from a person who tested positive for Covid-19 will have to quarantine regardless of whether or not one or both parties were masked. Under the old guidelines however, a person would also have to quarantine if they shared a room with a person who tested positive (masked or unmasked) for more than 10 minutes. Under the updated rule, a person will only need to quarantine if they shared a room for over 10 minutes with a person who tested positive and they did not wear a mask. It is anticipated that this update will significantly reduce the number of students and teachers who will need to enter quarantine, and it may affect some of the mandated quarantines that came into effect this past week. This change was made based on conversations with experts at the New York State Department of Health and the Department of Health’s contact tracing patterns.
Stuart Mattey, the Assistant Superintendent for Business and Facilities, presented the Board with a first look at the 2021-22 school budget and staffing recommendations. While there are still many unknown factors at play, such as to what degree and how soon are students and teachers vaccinated, and what safety mitigations will need to continue into the next year, Mr. Mattey clarified that in terms of the budget, there will not be any Covid-19 related recurring expenditures. The preliminary budget includes $800,000 in budgetary appropriations from the fund balance, for relevant Covid-19 related expenses that may arise during the year.
This first draft is for a preliminary budget is $166,616,462 which represents a 2.41% budget-to-budget increase from last year. This represents a 2.38% increase in the tax levy which is slightly above the projected tax levy limit of 2.25%
Staffing and School Enrollment
Next, Dr. Drew Patrick, the Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources and Leadership Development reviewed the decreased student enrollment trend that Scarsdale Schools is experiencing. While there is always some decrease in student enrollment in a typical year, this year there was a particularly large drop, with 211 students withdrawing from Scarsdale Schools during the 2020-2021 school year. The district believes that the Covid-19 pandemic and related challenges to in-person education are a primary cause for this decline.
Next, the Board reviewed the staffing recommendations for the school year. Staffing needs must be justified by clear alignment to one or both of the following principles:
• Student educational outcomes and achievement
• Mandates and best practices
The Board heard the staffing recommendations for the elementary, middle, and high schools that aligned with these values. For example, in the high school, the district is requesting an additional 1.0 FTE (full-time equivalent) high school special education instructor for the Learning Resource Center. In the middle school, the district requests 0.20 FTE psychologist secretary to meet the goal of improving the curricular and co-curricular approaches to health, wellness, and wellbeing in the school. At the elementary level, the district is requesting 5 additional cleaners, one for each elementary school, to maintain the high standards of hygiene and cleaning that has been undertaken during the pandemic.
In addition to these primary requests, the district also reviewed three carryover requests from the 2020-2021 school budget. These staffing requests are:
• 1.0 FTE middle school computer science teacher
• 2.0 FTE high school freshman team teachers
• 1.0 FTE freshman dean
When specifically discussing the request for increased high school special education instructors, board member Alison Tepper Singer made an important point and stated that "the fact that more elementary students are moving to special education in the middle school and that more middle schoolers are moving to special education in the high school represents a success in our long term strategy of keeping special education students in Scarsdale instead of (them choosing to) move outside the district. This increased need for teachers is representative of the success of this strategy.”
The district also proposed the addition of summer enrichment program school for elementary school students on an elective basis. This would be focused on literacy and math and would be offered to help students who may need additional support due to the cutbacks in in-school time this year. The administration proposed the addition of $250,000 to the budget for this program and is hopeful that state aid might also be available to fund it.
After review and thorough discussion of the staffing recommendations, the Board of Education moved on to a Restart Update presented by Mr. Eric Rauschenbach, the Assistant Superintendent for Special Education and Student Services.
Mr. Rauschenbach opened with the hopeful news that as of January 11, 2021, teachers, education workers, and all school employees have the approval from New York State to sign up for a Covid-19 vaccine. While some staff members had difficulty requesting an appointment on the state website, many others succeeded in securing an appointment in the coming weeks. Mr. Rauschenbach also announced that the district is working with Dr. Holly Gilbert, an infectious disease specialist, to secure additional vaccine doses for Scarsdale School staff. While she has ordered the doses, it is currently unclear how long it will take to receive them due to the complicated logistics of the vaccine and the limited supply available from the state.
Mr. Rauschenbach updated the Board on Scarsdale’s Medical and Nursing Task group, which is working to answer some complicated and important health questions that the district must answer. For example, the district needs to know how the vaccines will affect the health and safety practices of the schools, and how the vaccines will allow us to increase in-person instruction. Mr. Rauschenbach also provided the Board with an update on the district’s COVID testing strategy and said that New York State is pleased with Scarsdale’s plan.
The district is grappling with the possibility that Scarsdale will become a mandated testing zone in New York State. In this case scenario, the district is looking into how we would set up testing groups, what the timing of testing would look like, and what the procedure would be for handing out and collecting the testing kits. Currently, 50% of students and staff would volunteer to participate in Covid-19 testing if Scarsdale becomes a mandatory testing zone.
The next agenda item for the Board was to review the long-term planning and the pathway forward that the district is charting for students. Superintendent of Schools Dr. Thomas Hagerman presented “Our Journey Forward: A Learning Plan For Scarsdale Schools.” The main categories he reviewed were What We’ve Done, What We’re Working On, Next Steps, and Long-Term Goals. Here are some of the highlights from each category:
In addition to these broader strategic goals, Mr. Hagerman also presented specific current goals for the elementary, middle, and high schools. For both the middle school and high school, the district aims to increase in-person instruction. For the high school, accomplishing this could involve implementing a full day schedule on an alternative basis, cohorting students into a daily AM or PM schedule, and including Wednesdays as an instructional day. The middle school is also considering including in-person instruction on Wednesdays as a way to increase in-person instructional time.
For the elementary schools, the district has two specific goals: Improve instruction for homebound/quarantined students and increase in-person instruction. To improve at-home learning for quarantined students, the modifications being considered include dedicating district personnel for at-home synchronous learning, live streaming of homebound students to in-person class, exploration of creative options combining various platforms, and increasing time allotted for home instruction. To increase the in-person instruction time for students, the district is considering having grades 3-5 return to the classroom full-time in mid-March.
New District Website
In response to calls for a more centralized information source on COVID communications, protocols, health and safety and more, the district developed a new website to be used as the central hub for ongoing developments. Dr. Hagerman and Mr. Jerry Crisci, the Director of Instructional Technology and Innovation, presented the website: Our Journey Forward: Our Plan for Scarsdale. Expected the launch within the next few weeks, the website has several categories for information including Innovative Practices, Student Progress, Health and Safety, School Schedules, Guidance and Statistics, and the Archive.
Under the Innovative Practices category, the website will show users the successful efforts that teachers made and advancements that were achieved during this period of remote learning. Under Student Progress, users will find statistics and stories of academic success in the district. Under Health and Safety, information will be available on the district’s guiding principles as well as updates on Covid-19 testing, the restart plan, cleaning efforts, food service changes, and Scarsdale mothers and doctor’s safety guides. Under guidance and statistics, information about the pandemic in New York State will be available. Finally, the archive will link users back to older models of the Restart Plan.
Sharon Chesler from Brewster Road said she has two children in the schools in kindergarten and second grade who are both in school full time. She asked why some classes are split and others are all together in the classroom. She asked why third graders cannot return to school, even if all students in grades three through five cannot be accommodated. She asked the district to think about adding individual grades. About the testing consent form, she asked, “If parents won’t sign the testing agreement, will their kids be permitted to attend school?” And last, discussing the district’s Medical task force she said, “I strongly encourage you to invite doctors from the community to join your committee.”
Anirudh Bansal of 40 Birchall Drive said, “I am relieved that the district plans to open full time and in person in September. That will be helpful for parents who are trying to decide to keep their kids in Scarsdale next year. Virtual learning is virtually worthless. The American Academy of Pediatrics advocates that all plans should start with having the children physically present in school. Social distancing should be weighed against the risks of keeping kids home. The weather will be getting warmer. Please plan for outdoor education in the spring.”
Bob Berg of Black Birch Lane referenced a BOE meeting in December when, he “asked how much Stuart (Mattey) expected the budget to be reduced.” He said, “Instead we have a 2.38% budget increase and that will exceed the tax cap. This is a disturbing start to the budget season.
The withdrawal of 221 students from the district reflects dissatisfaction – and they might not be coming back. Most troubling is the cost of the cleaners for $350,000. Five cleaners is too much based on economic realities this year. I urge you not to test the tax cap this year. That will not end well. Will the district require all teachers and staff to get the vaccine?”
Teresa Harpster from Post Road asked if home COVID tests could be used by the district to meet testing requirements if named a yellow or orange zone. She also asked if there was a section about sports on the new district website.
Mayra Kirkendall-Rodriguez from Fox Meadow Road continued to press for a long term financial plan for the schools. She also said that she and her husband are concerned about the cyber attacks on the district website and said, “We would like to know what you are doing to combat these.” She said she is “Looking forward to a summer program, as is done in other countries.”
Irin Israel of Stratton Road questioned why third to fifth grade cannot return to school full time. He said, “There is room for the third grade and probably the fourth grade too.”
Responding to public comments, Edgan McIntosh answered the questions about split vs. whole classes. He said, “Since the spaces are different, various recommendations were made school by school…. Smaller cohorts allow for focus, larger sections allow for increased pace… either way, all students will reach their learning goals by the end of the year, despite the model.”
Rauschenbach said that “At home COVID tests can count toward the testing goal of 20% for yellow zones and 30% for orange zones.” About the question, “Can we mandate the vaccine?” Rauschenbach said, “According to our attorneys, we cannot do that now, but the NYS legislature might mandate it for all New Yorkers.”
And last, about consent form Rauschenbach said, “If they don’t sign, they can still come to school. Testing cannot be mandated.”
They also responded to the question about more grades returning to school, saying “No other grades will return to school before March”
In the discussion that followed, Board Member Carl Finger addressed continued calls for more children to return to school full time. Turning to the administration he said, “Is there any reason that the administration does not want to get as many kids back into school as safely as possible.? The answer is no! The architects reviewed Israel’s plans, as well as teachers, physicians, and the combined experience of educators and collective bargaining units. If there was a better plan to get the kids in, we would have done that.”
Drew Patrick announced the following retirements as of June 30 2021
James Andreski, MS English Teacher who served in the district for a total of 49 years.
Katharine Leary, Teacher at Heathcote Elementary School who served in the district for a total of 26 years.
Douglas Rose, MS Computer Teacher who has served in the district for a total of 41 years.
Jane Strobel, MS Special Education Teacher who has served in the district for a total of 23 years.
The Board approved a plan for Simon Bandsma’s Eagle Scout Project to add two additional fitness stations adjacent to the Butler Track and Field. This will extend the work that is brother Ward Bandsma did last year.
The Board approved the use of Brit Bennett’s novel, The Vanishing Half, in SHS English classes.