Sunday, Apr 14th

BOE Restores Funding in 2024-25 Budget for Math Teacher and Safety

financial literacyAt a special Budget Forum meeting held on Monday March 25th, the Board of Education proved that community members really do have a say in how the school budget and schools are shaped. After reading over 140 written communications in regard to the budget, and listening to dozens of people and organizations speak at the forum, BOE members used the feedback to help them come to the decision to make adjustments to the current proposed draft budget from March 11th. After much thought and deliberation, the BOE agreed to add back to the proposed budget a .5 FTE teacher at the high school to teach both Financial Literacy and Multivariable Calculus; early morning safety monitors at each of the elementary schools, and funding to continue the roll out of “door ajar” sensors. The total increase to the proposed budget is $112,000.

With an expected proposed budget that exceeds the state-mandated tax cap, the Scarsdale community had a lot to say at the Board of Education’s special Budget Forum meeting on Monday March 25th. Before the BOE invited members of the public to speak in person or via Zoom, Superintendent Dr. Drew Patrick gave a brief recap of the District’s budget development process thus far including what the latest March 11th proposed draft accomplishes, a summary of the budget growth drivers, and a summary of the expenditure reductions. You can see the details of Dr. Patrick’s recap here:

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During public comment, it quickly became clear that most of those who spoke at the Budget Forum, are overwhelmingly in favor of the District’s proposed budget. It was also made clear however, that many of those who spoke, still have questions and concerns, and despite the fact that it exceeds the tax cap, many advocated for adding some of the reduced expenditure items back into the budget. As BOE President Ron Shulhof pointed out later in the meeting, most of these items fall into a few categories including support for adding a .5 FTE math teacher at SHS to teach Financial Literacy and Multivariable Calculus and a desire to keep safety monitors at our schools during all student related activities.

Support for continued use of safety monitors (and more):

Amy Frank and Moira Crouch spoke on behalf of Maroon and White and although they expressed their gratitude to the board for keeping funding for Varsity and JV “B” teams in the current proposed budget, they also expressed their concern for cutting an after school safety monitor at the high school saying that, “Safety is paramount to the Scarsdale Community and eliminating this could jeopardize our students and faculty members.”

Edgewood PTA Co-Presidents spoke next and reported, “Our community members widely expressed the desire for clarity around the budget decision making process and reasoning around items selected for reductions/elimination.” The duo went on to advocate for the following items to be added back into the proposed budget:

-Annual Indoor Air Quality Baseline Testing, particularly given the recurring flooding in the Teacher’s Lounge and the age of the Edgewood building.
-An early morning Elementary Security Monitor is critical to ensure the safety of the students attending morning band/orchestra which sometimes starts at 7am and typically at 7:30am.
-Maintain schedule for the roll out of door ajar alarms and outdoor security cameras.
-Maintain schedule for enhanced wifi access roll out– this may impact the hallways that are frequently used by students for small group work, independent study, bulletin boards with QR codes for research, etc.
-No reductions in textbooks to elementary school libraries.

See their statement here:

Quaker Ridge PTA President Erica German and Greenacres PTA President Jennifer Galeon, also spoke in favor of keeping early morning security monitors at our elementary schools in addition to maintaining funding for the roll out of more security cameras and “door ajar sensors.” German expressed that it is prudent that there are always security monitors when a school holds student related activities.

Support for hiring a .5 FTE at SHS to teach Financial Literacy and Multivariable Calculus (and more) :

In addition to advocating for a long range financial plan, an investment plan that would prioritize keeping our schools open during flooding events, and for more parking at Scarsdale High School, Jeffery Osterman expressed his strong support for hiring a .5 FTE at SHS to teach Financial Literacy. Osterman argued that many of the math classes taught in high school have limited utility in the wider world and caters to only a subset of students. Financial Literacy though, would benefit ALL students and provide an opportunity for a wide variety of students to be taught together.

SHS student Matan Davies also advocated for the District to offer a Financial Literacy course at the high school and explained that there are already 55+ students registered to take the course next year and over 181 people who have shown their support for the course offering by signing an online petition. In addition, Davies explained that there is already a New York State Bill in the works that would require a Financial Literacy course before graduation and urged the District to be prepared for when the bill becomes law. For more of Davies’ arguments in support of a Finacial Literacy course you can read his article in the SHS newspaper Maroon:

At the end of the article you can see that SHS Dean Michael Gibbs commented on the article and said, “...and had a surprisingly large number of students requesting this course, which appealed to students across the spectrum. Students were excited to learn pragmatic skills, and I was excited by the prospect of an academic course which offered students a heterogeneous setting to exchange ideas and learn important life skills. I hope your article and the petition will allow the Board to look again at the possibility of offering this rich opportunity to our Scarsdale High School community.”

Mayra Kirkendall-Rodriguez spoke via Zoom and among other things, argued that the District should offer more transparency to allow voters to understand decision making during the budget process. She also strongly advocated for a long term financial plan that offers scenario analysis and will help our District better prepare for surprise events in addition to evaluation metrics for new programs so we can understand their effectiveness. Kirkendall-Rodriguez went on to show her support for a Financial Literacy course and noted that numerous Districts in the state already offer the course.

Support for the current proposed budget (and more):

SHS President Beth Cukier spoke via Zoom to share a statement on behalf of the SHS Executive Committee. In the Statement Cukier expressed support for the current proposed budget but also advocated for the hiring of a Learning Resource teacher at the high school, a .5 math teacher to teach Financial Literacy, and continued use of security monitors after hours and on Saturday at the high school. You can read her full statement at the bottom of this article.

Dalya Khan read a prepared statement on behalf of the Scarsdale League of Women Voters. The statement began with, “The League supports the 2024-25 Proposed Scarsdale School District Budget with the comments made below, and recommends that, barring any significant revisions inconsistent with our comments before its adoption by the Board of Education, the community vote “YES” to approve the final proposed Budget on May 21, 2024 at Scarsdale Middle School.” Read the full statement here.

The statement went on to offer comments and recommendations regarding certain budgetary items as well as the budget process.

Manisha Marria, Scarsdale Middle School PTA Budget Co-Chair, read from a prepared statement saying, “On behalf of the SMS PTA Executive Committee, we join hands with the Board of Education and PTC in expressing our support for the Proposed Budget for the 2024-25 academic year, presented on March 11. This budget reflects a deep commitment to preserving the high-quality educational programs that are the hallmark of our district, recognizing the delicate balance required to maintain these standards within the fiscal constraints we face.

While this budget is, unfortunately, above the tax cap and would require a supermajority vote, we feel that this budget protects the core components vital for our students’ academic and social growth. A budget below the tax cap would require the elimination of core programmatic resources such as a SMS computer teacher, aides and Varsity B sports and would negatively impact our students’ overall experience.”

Joe Vaughan read a prepared statement on behalf of the Scarsdale Teachers Association strongly in support of the proposed budget draft. While the current proposed budget isn’t the “forward looking” budget that the STA feels would best support our students and uphold the optimal standard of excellence in our District, Vaughan appreciates that it balances fiscal stewardship while making a statement on our community’s shared value of education. To read the STA’s full statement see here:

PTC President Leah Dembitzer and PTC Budget Study co-chair, Ranjana Saini-Chandarana, read a prepared statement that both expressed their strong support for the current proposed draft as well as posed some questions and concerns. You can read that letter in its entirety here:

A few others also spoke at the Budget Forum. To hear hear their comments and all of the comments in their entirety you can watch a recording of the meeting here.

After the public had a chance to share their thoughts, comments, and concerns, the BOE took the opportunity to thoughtfully discuss the themes they saw emerge from community feedback. BOE President Ron Schulhof acknowledged that the themes were only a part of the 140+ written communications they received about the budget, but since these items had enough people advocating for them, he thought it prudent for the Board to explore them further.

First the members deliberated about the prospect of adding back into the budget a .5 FTE at the high school teacher to teach a Financial Literacy Course and a Multivariable Calculus course. After considering the overwhelming number of people, including parents and students, who wrote in support of offering these classes, the BOE decided to add this item back into the proposed budget. Amber Yusuf made the point that a sense of “belonging” is an integral component of our District’s mission and that the Financial Literacy class is an opportunity for all types of students to learn together. Suzie Hahn agreed with Yusef and added that it was really gratifying to see so many students write to the BOE and advocate for their own educations.

After hearing lots of concern about the District’s plan to save money by cutting the hours of the safety monitors at all the elementary schools and at the high school, members of the BOE discussed trying to maintain funding for the current safety protocols. Amber Yusef asked if shifting the early morning coverage by 15 minutes (from 7:30 to 7:45) was worth the disruption it could cause for families and the music teachers. Jessica Resnik-Ault added that any time there is an academic program that is required for students to attend, she believes there should be a safety monitor present. Suzie Hahn added that they heard broad support from every elementary school’s PTA to retain early morning safety monitors.

The members went on to discuss shifting some of the cost savings to the afternoon safety monitors. After learning that every elementary school would have two safety monitors until 3:45 pm and one safety monitor who stays until 4 pm, the Board decided to keep early morning safety monitors arriving at 7:30 am and shift the reduction in time to the afternoon still managing to save money and keep all elementary schools secure while there are students present.

In regard to monitors at the high school, Eric Rauschenbach clarified that there would be two safety monitors (one at the Brewster Road entrance and one at the Athletic entrance) every school day until 5 pm and on Saturdays, a monitor would be stationed by the Athletic entrance. Rauschenbach also made clear that there will be a monitor at Brewster Road entrance whenever there is a big event after school like the school play. After learning these details, the BOE agreed to keep the current recommended safety monitor reductions in place at the high school.

Board members also discussed a desire for the District to continue their roll out of improved security measures with the implementation of “door ajar” sensors and more security cameras at each of the schools. Robert Klein proposed that instead of eliminating the budget for these items completely, that we should reduce the funding so as to balance both fiscal responsibility and the community’s want for more safety measures. The BoE agreed to keep some funding in the budget to cover the implementation of the “door ajar” sensors.

The Board of Education plans to adopt the proposed budget at their meeting on April 8th. If you have questions or concerns about the proposed budget, you can reach out the Board of Education by emailing them at: BoardofEd@Scarsdaleschools.org.

Budget Statement from the Scarsdale High School PTA

Dear Board of Education,

The SHS PTA Executive Committee would like to thank the Board of Education, the Administration, and community members for the many hours that we have collectively spent developing a budget for the 2024-25 school year. We acknowledge the added challenges this year from a tight budget landscape, shrinking state aid, and being still early in our strategic planning process as a District. We appreciate that this work was approached in a collegial fashion, keeping in mind our shared values of providing an exceptional education while remaining fiscally resposible. We encourage the District Administration to publish elements of its strategic plan as they become available in the next few months, and encourage the Board of Education to engage the community in their deliberative process of response.ScarsdaleHighSchool

The SHS PTA EC believes that the March 11 budget, which has been endorsed by the members of the Board of Education, generally represents a good balance between fiscal conservatism and maintaining the educational experience for all of our students. We would, however, recommend that the Board of Education consider restoring several elements that have dropped out of that budget that would have a material impact on the high school community.

First, we would suggest that the 1.0 FTE for a learning resource teacher be restored. When looking at the high school cohort for 2024-25, there are projected to be only 4 open spots within the LRC program. If we don’t authorize additional hiring now, then any students who are newly classified after the start of the school year, are more likely to need to change their general schedule in order to access their mandated support. Current teachers may need to teach an overloaded schedule, thus reducing the time they have for team meetings, to collaborate with classroom teachers, and to liaise with parents. LRC provides vital executive functioning support to many families, and this change would dilute its effectiveness for all; creating more of a study hall environment. In the past, deans used LRC to support students who struggled upon transition to a new grade, especially incoming 9th graders, before and without a formal classification hearing. With no excess capacity in the system, these students would be left to flounder. Additionally, or alternatively, the school may try to fulfill the need using contingency hiring. However, the candidate pool for midyear hires is much smaller, and it would be difficult to secure a quality teacher at that point. If historic rates of new student classifications continue, and we have no reason to believe that they would be materially different in the future, then we can expect the LRC program to be oversubscribed for 2024-25. It would be prudent to budget for this now so that we can get the best candidate rather than just hoping that we can defer meeting the need for an additional year.

Second, we would encourage the BOE to reconsider the 0.5 FTE math position. This position would allow for the creation of a financial literacy elective that would be accessible to any 11th or 12th grade student. While it is difficult to consider the addition of new programming while also administering cuts to many areas of the budget, this is a program that warrants real consideration. Scarsdale lags behind many comparable schools in offering a financial literacy class. Financial literacy teaches both important “adulting” skills of personal finance, and also critical civic education so that students can engage in public finance debates such as this one. We have heard community support for this curricular offering here at Board of Education meetings, over Facebook and local media, from our students in the Maroon, and in bills considered in Albany.

This half position would also be able to support a growing cohort of students who exhaust the math offerings at SHS during their junior year. The landscape of STEM education has changed over the past decade. “BC” calculus is becoming the expected standard for incoming first years at elite science and engineering programs. In order to differentiate themselves, our students need to show a deeper engagement. More and more families are engaging outside mathematical enrichment for their students during elementary and middle school years, preparing them to take Algebra I before 8th grade. SHS and SMS math departments have increased awareness of opportunities for students to test into the appropriate high school math classes. We would encourage the District to look critically at the math sequence from 5th grade through high school graduation to ensure that all students have an awareness of and reasonable access to the onramps to accelerated study, especially as curricular support at the highest levels is expanded. In the past, students who complete AT Calculus during their junior year would need to turn to online courses or independent study to continue their education in mathematics. Additionally, the number of students who opt to take multiple math courses their junior or senior years, studying AT Linear Algebra or AT Statistics along with the traditional mathematics sequence in lieu of free’s, has increased. There is now a sufficient cohort of students at this level to make a class offering the more efficient, effective and equitable option.

Finally, the SHS PTA EC would ask the Board of Education to weigh the relative costs and benefits of reducing security coverage. While limiting the building access to a single point in the evenings and on weekends can be seen as merely an inconvenience, the impact would lead to having community members and visitors wandering through the building to reach evening events, Adult School classes, and creating more congestion for parking, drop-offs and pickups from a single entrance. We question whether the bottom line savings would be worth the cost in the inconvenience to the broader community.

The SHS PTA EC thanks the Board of Education for its careful consideration. We understand that it is not possible to include every worthwhile proposal in the 2024-25 budget. If any of these requests are deferred, we ask that they are considered for the following year.

Sincerely,
SHS PTA Executive Committee

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