Sunday, Apr 21st

Tax Matters, Board Succession, Security and a Tree Falls at the Scarsdale Schools

treeheathcote2With just a few weeks left of the school year, and a transition of board membership in sight, Board President Karen Ceske presided over one of her final Board of Education meetings on Monday June 6. She congratulated incoming board members Colleen Brown and Suzie Hahn Pascutti and returning board member Ron Schulhof on their recent election and thanked the current board for their work and dedication during the past few months.

Both Ceske and Board Member Carl Finger will complete their service at the end of June. Ceske announced that the Board will hold a transition meeting on July 1, 2022 and that current Board VP Amber Yusuf is interested in serving as Board President, and Schulhof has indicated that he would like to be Board Vice President.

Later in the meeting, Interim Superintendent Drew Patrick notified the Board that Assistant Superintendent for Business Stuart Mattey would retire in August 2023. Patrick expressed his gratitude to Mattey for helping him come to the district, get up to speed and for all his work on behalf of the Scarsdale Schools.

Tax Issue

In their continuing work to resolve the district’s payroll tax issue, the Board sent out an RFP and interviewed firms to conduct testing and an audit of the payment process for withholding taxes. At the meeting they announced that they received six proposals, interviewed two firms and decided to retain Nawrocki Smith to do the work.

Ceske also provided an update on the ongoing appeals to the IRS to recoup penalties and fines for the payroll errors in 2020 and 2021.

She reported that the district received a letter on June 1, 2022 from the IRS concerning an adjustment for the penalties assessed for Q3 2020. The district requested a refund of $147,151.39 for the penalty for that period. The IRS communication said that $100,244 would be refunded and that $46,907 remains outstanding. The letter had some inconsistencies and the district reached out to the IRS for clarification. If the district is unable to recoup the $46,907 they can pursue the matter in court. Ceske indicated that there is no word yet on appeals from Q1 2020, Q4 2020, and Q2 2021.

Prom Scheduling

During public comments, several parents and students came to the mic to express their disappointment in the scheduling conflict between the prom and athletic events this year. They urged the district to look for a solution in subsequent years so that students would not have to make a choice between playoff games and prom attendance.

Vincent Franco of Edgewood Road said “I am here on behalf of students who had to choose between prom and sporting events. It was so unfair. We heard the complaints from a lot of the parents… We landed a man on the moon but we couldn’t coordinate sports and prom.
It seems that it just was not that important. I think it’s not fair and we have to be able to do a better job than that.

Debby Franco held up a petition and said, “We have over 400 signatures from parents asking you to change the prom for the seniors. That’s a lot of parents and kids asking for help here. We can do better. Don’t make the seniors make that choice again.”

Rose Hooey of Sprague Road said that he daughter is a senior and the captain on the lacrosse team. She said, “The kids have had a rough two years. I am a school psychologist. I know Ray wanted to move the game. The girls didn’t want to let down the team by not playing in the game. It was difficult decision to think about not going to the prom. The younger girls played and lost 11-10. Our season ended prematurely because of this. This is important -- well beyond physical education.”

Tara Greco of Tompkins Road said, “"I am here tonight to speak on behalf of my 3 spring athletes who will be Seniors in 2023, 24 and 27. I wrote to you earlier. My daughter’s team had 8 girls who BOE2had to choose between the quarterfinal and the prom. If circumstances were different, would they have advanced. My son’s team went to prom and had to play the next day. Softball also had to play a game on prom. Please do not create conflicts that the students cannot change. Don’t make seniors choose.

Four students also addressed the board. They said, “We had to make a very difficult choice.” (Without the seniors) we lost by only one goal. We could have continued but we did not have the opportunity.” Another senior said, “What if I had been there for the team – I was put in an awkward position to miss another big opportunity in my life. I do not want my sisters to go through the same thing.”

Calling in remotely, Moira Crouch said, “I would like to avoid any conflicts next year.”

Safety and Security

Interim Superintendent Drew Patrick introduced a discussion of school security in Scarsdale in light of the recent shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde. He said, “ Uvalde was the third worst school shooting in our country and has caused us to reexamine what we do to keep our students safe and what else we can do.” He continued, “We have developed deep and sustained relationships with police, fire, SFCS, consultants and contractors… We understand our charge.
Preventing school shootings by implementing systems, procedures and protocols to save as many lives as possible and implements systems, procedures and protocols to foster recovery from an event like these.”

He continued, “What is the correct balance between safety and the student focused experience? On one end its fences, barricades and on the other there are those who think there is nothing we can do so let student life happen. …We have created programs to address mental health and belonging and addressed physical safety and security at all buildings.”

preventionHe then turned to Assistant Superintendent Eric Rauschenbach who presented a detailed report on what the district has done to address security issues over the past few years. He opened with the sad truth that school shootings “represent the worst nightmare for parents and for education professionals.” Prevention efforts are focused on:

- Community, climate and inclusion
- Monitoring and assessment
- Physical deterrence

The presentation outlines everything that has been done since 2016 and you can review it here

After reviewing all the systems that are in place, Rauschenbach discussed current initiatives.  He said, in light of what happened at Uvalde, we are currently focused on:

-Increased clarity and encouragement around the report of threats and the development of an anonymous reporting option.

-Re-evaluation of entry procedures and door monitoring across buildings.

He said, we are “looking at the balance between safety and the open campus at the high school.”

In the question period that followed, Board member Jessica Resnick-Ault asked, “Is there any effort to do drills and lockdowns during unexpected times when students are not in class? Rauschenbach said, “Yes. We do throw some curveballs so teachers and kids can understand what can happen at any point in the day. Our police are fully equipped to address an incident of school violence.” She followed up by asking, “Do teachers have a one pager that they can grab in case of an emergency? Rauschenbach responded, “We have trained with the simple six – six different procedures and drills that can be easily understood by teachers and kids.”

Amber Yusuf asked, “How are you making decisions about the high school? He responded, “We involve students, teachers and administrators to balance the open campus and a safe environment. There are ways to reduce vulnerability during different times of the day. But drop off, dismissal, lunch need to happen. It is all a balancing act.”

Bob Klein said, “There was a nostalgia about parents flowing in and out of the schools with their children. I think there should be an examination of parent access to schools and the sense of loss. We don’t’ want our kids to be in prison. There is a risk reward. What is that balance?”

Drew Patrick said, “We shut everyone out of the schools for two years during COVID. We need to engage with our community to gage that. It has been joyous to have the parents back in the schools. One of our goals this year is the question of community. How do we engage the community?”

Karen Ceske said, “I think it is great that we can now text students who may not be in the building.” Jerry Crisci added, “We are researching cell phone service at the high school and in Fox Meadow. We have switched carriers for the district.”

Rachel Mosely said, “Within the buildings where we have Wifi. It is the same as having cellular service. We are working on Wifi expansion to remedy the dead spots in all the buildings.”

Facilities and Budget

Tree Falls on Heathcote Schooltreeheathcote1

In other news, Assistant Superintendent Stuart Mattey said that the top of a large white pine 100 foot tall tree fell on a breezeway at Heathcote School on May 22. The damage caused the school to relocate fourth grade students in Wing C, as these classrooms are now out of service. He said, “We are working with architects BBS to do the repairs.” Commenting on the damage, Heathcote Principal Maria Stile said, “The wing is closed for the remainder of the school year out of an abundance of caution. We were able to accommodate the classrooms in other locations immediately. Amazingly it all went extremely smoothly. The teachers, students, and custodians were amazing. They will repair the roof and ensure that the structure is completely sound over the summer. We will be fine for the start of the school year.”

High School Auditorium

Discussing the high school auditorium renovation, Mattey said, “We are coming up with a new scope for the work at the high school auditorium.”

Food Service

About food service he said, “We will have a new contract for Chartwells. We anticipate a double digit percent increase due to food prices and the cost of labor. We hire entry level servers --they work minimal hours. So we may have to increase their pay more than the CPI. (About price increases he said) Unfortunately we are all experiencing it – and it is real. We will have to phase in food service next year as we will have new employees and have not served for a few years.”

Bus Drivers Needed

Mattey reported that “Transportation needs have now slowed down. We had a great safe year. We are actively recruiting drivers. Please refer anyone you know – it is a great part time job.”

Healthcare Costs Rise

About the budget, Mattey reported, “We will have to transfer $1 million from the undesignated fund balance to cover health insurance claims for the 2021-22 school year. There is an uptick in higher cost claims including surgeries and Covid related illness expenses.”

Praise for Staff and Board Members

During Public Comments, Alissa Baum, President of the League of Women Voters of Scarsdale offered praise for retiring staff members and members of the Board of Education. Here are her remarks:

The League Board wishes to thank outgoing Board of Education members, Karen Ceske and Carl Finger, as well as Cabinet members, Jerry Crisci and Rachel Mosley, for their dedicated service to the Scarsdale School District.

Your grace and thoughtful demeanor helped our school community get through continued difficult times. You demonstrate true empathy and gratitude for all and are able to use those qualities to bring people together. When you speak at the Board table, your words come after careful thought and listening to others.

Your extensive experience as an educator and as a school volunteer was invaluable in considering everyday teaching and learning in our schools. We appreciate your dedication in ensuring a school environment that fosters academic engagement and lifelong learning.

You are an open and honest Board member who did not shy away from difficult topics. You have a direct style which enables you to engage in discussion where others can hold differing views while still being able to reach agreement. You have a special ability to break down complicated issues to more easily make decisions. Your keen legal mind was essential in considering many of the issues before the district.

We appreciate your service, both in your prior position as Village Trustee and now as School Board trustee.

Your vision for instructional technology brought the Scarsdale school district to the forefront of the movement to build 21st century skills in our students. Thank you for ensuring that our students and teachers have all the tools necessary to keep up with these continually changing times, especially during the past two years which challenged us all to up our technology game.

Although you may be one of the less visible members of the cabinet, you are arguably the most essential. You have been on call 24/7 and respond immediately no matter what time of day, to keep the school system running. Thank you especially for your hard work the past two years to make the many technology adjustments needed to accommodate the challenges posed by the pandemic.

You all have demonstrated a commitment to maintain and enhance the quality of the Scarsdale school system. You all should be proud of the legacy you leave behind. We are so grateful to have benefitted from your expertise, insights and wisdom. We wish you all the best in your future endeavors.

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