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SHS PTA Executive Committee Urges Board to Include Funds to Renovate the Auditorium in 2020-21 School Budget

auditorium(This statement was submitted to the Scarsdale School Board by the Scarsdale High School PTA Executive Committee)
The Scarsdale High School PTA Executive Committee appreciates this opportunity to comment on the proposed 2020-2021 School Budget. We would like to thank the members of the Board of Education for their work, and we thank Dr. Hagerman, Mr. Mattey and both the District and the High School Administrators, especially Mr. Bonamo, for their commitment to the education of our students and for their time, expertise, and responsiveness during the budget development process.

The High School PTA Executive Committee stands by its previous statement of support for all of the High School administration’s requests. At the same time, we recognize that we are in a period of great personal and societal uncertainty and we appreciate the School Board’s efforts to trim the proposed budget to its essential elements. In light of this, we acknowledge and agree that some requests, including the staffing additions, the renovation of Art Room 215 and the Quiet Study Space in the library, while both worthwhile and needed, are more appropriate for future budget cycles.

Though we are neither blind to the problems and fears created by the COVID-19 pandemic, nor deaf to the sentiments expressed by our neighbors that the 2020-21 budget be free from excessive tax increase, we feel that the proposed budget as presented last Monday, March 23rd, reflecting close to a $4 million cut in spending, with the prospect of cutting significantly more, does not adequately support our schools and the excellence that a Scarsdale education embodies. Under the current circumstances, we certainly support meaningful reductions but we believe that the drastic cutback the board decided on during its meeting a week ago is unduly reactive and risks negatively impacting our students safety and education, our school facilities and our property values for years to come. Further, additional reductions to recurring expenses such as not replacing retiring faculty or staff or dismissing staff, will certainly negatively affect the safety and education of our children and should be considered very, very carefully. Please remember that you are not just talking about cutting dollars; those dollars represent teachers, aides, support staff, security guards and the resources they all need to be effective. We expressly do NOT support reductions to faculty or staff that would increase class sizes, decrease curriculum offerings or negatively affect the support our students get and need from resources like the Learning Resource Center, the Math and Writing Centers, the Counseling Department or College and Career Counseling Center. And so we support the Cabinet’s recommendation against personnel cuts in this budget.

With respect to the high school auditorium project, we remind everyone that the arts are where we turn in unsettling times like these, for distraction, entertainment and solace.
Moreover, the power of arts in education should not be underestimated. As stated in the study Champions of Change: The Impact of Arts on Learning 1:

Students can attain higher levels of achievement in all subject areas through engagement in the Arts. . .. The arts engage students of all abilities in innovative, creative and critical problem solving.

We continue to support the full auditorium project as necessary for the safety and education of our students and all community members who use it. We have consistently objected to the decision by every Board since the 2014 Bond vote to ignore that community directive, to use the money that was designated specifically for the auditorium project to fund overages for other projects, and to continue to fail to accomplish promised auditorium renovation.

Further, we disagree that any part of the high school auditorium project is unnecessary; rather we believe that the need for the repairs and upgrades proposed in the auditorium project is real and has only been exacerbated and made more urgent by the Board’s failure to attend to it for the past 6+ years. Those who have implied during this budget development process that the purpose of this project is merely aesthetic are either ignoring or unaware of the full rationale behind the project. We direct those folks back to the comprehensive presentations by Mr. Mattey during Budget Study #2 and by Mr. Mattey, Lisa Forte, District Coordinator of Music & Performing Arts, and Tobias Peltier, HS Theater Coordinator & Technical Director, during the public meeting on February 28, when members of the community were invited to hear the details of the project and tour the auditorium to see the need up close. In reality, every line item of the auditorium project wholly or primarily serves pressing safety and educational objectives.

We have already stated how much and how frequently the auditorium is used by our high school students, students from our other schools, and the community at large, so I won’t repeat that here, but I will attach a representative list of all the events that take place in the auditorium in a given year, compiled by Lisa Forte, so the Board has the facts in front of them.* We will also post this statement and that list on our SHS PTA website.

All that said, we do respect the Board’s decision to trim next year’s budget in response to economic concerns related to COVID-19. We strongly urge the Board to act on Mr. Finger’s idea, expressed during the March 23rd meeting, to use the approximately $730,000 that was part of the original 2014 Bond earmarked for the auditorium in the 2020-21 budget to accomplish at least some of the most critical items on the auditorium project list. Depending on what is most practical from an architecture and construction perspective, we would suggest any of (1) repairing the concrete floor and replacing the seats and carpeting to fix the numerous broken seats that must be roped off as dangerous and the tripping hazards caused by flapping aisle carpets, (2) upgrading the stage rigging so that lights do not fall to the stage as they did on two separate occasions this year, and so that our Theater Technology students can actually learn by doing rather than just watch their teachers work on outdated equipment, or (3) upgrading the sound system so, again, our students can learn by doing on modern equipment-- much like we did for STEM students with the iLab and the Design Lab-- and to include assistive listening capability so that our hearing-impaired students and community members can hear what the rest of us do during concerts, meetings and events.

The mission of the Scarsdale School Public School system is “to sponsor each student's full development, enabling our youth to be effective and independent contributors in a democratic society and an interdependent world” (emphasis added). The Board of Education’s responsibility is to make policy decisions to uphold that mission. We remind the Board and the community that this budget is for the entire upcoming school year-- a year, I sincerely hope, that our children can enjoy with each other and their teachers using our school buildings and grounds to their full capacity and potential. We must develop and pass a budget that can support that learning and activity. We must plan for our children’s educational future in a way that upholds the excellence of Scarsdale schools.

Again, we appreciate your time and efforts on behalf of Scarsdale High School, our students, and the larger community and for your consideration of our comments this evening.

The SHS PTA Executive Committee

Deb Morel, President,
Leanne Freda, President-Elect
Rokaya Hassaballa, VP Membership and Events
Jennifer Rossano, VP Programming and Volunteers
Seema Jaggi, Treasurer

Beth Cukier, Recording Secretary
Dana Matsushita, Corresponding Secretary

Delivered at Scarsdale Board of Education Budget Forum on March 30, 2020

The High School auditorium is a space that is used throughout the school year by students, parents and members of the community alike. This is a representative list, compiled by Lisa Forte, the District Coordinator of Music & Performing Arts, gave us a list of just some of the events, classes and other ways our schools and community use the High School Auditorium:

● School assemblies, multiple times during the school year
● Concerts for all SHS performance ensembles – 2 per year for each of the Chorus, Chamber Choir, Band and Orchestra
● SHS plays, including the annual musical, dramatic play, the student-directed
play, the drama department showcase, and senior class play
● All Studio and Theater Technology Classes
● Awards Ceremonies, including the Academic Awards night
● Jabberfest, an annual showcase of a large variety of our high school students’ talents
● Speech and Debate tournaments
● Student Government elections and other SO activities
● Shakespeare Festival
● The biennial Gap Year Fair, organized by the Counseling Department
● The biennial STEAM Day, organized by the PTCouncil, taught by many of our High School and Middle School faculty and students and attended by our elementary school students
● Student orientation meetings
● District-wide staff meetings, including the annual district convocation in August
● Parent meetings for a variety of school departments, like College Info Night for Juniors and their parents, organized by the Counseling Department
● Community organization events, like the Friends of the Library Spelling Bee
● Adult School speaker events
● And many others

1. Champions of Change: The Impact of the Arts on Learning, Fiske, Edward B., President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, (1999). The Champions of Change study also states, “The Arts reach students who are not otherwise being reached... while at the same time providing new challenges for those students already considered successful.”

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