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You are here: Home Section Table Village Voices LWVS and SHS PTA Provides Comments on the Proposed 2020-21 School Budget
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LWVS and SHS PTA Provides Comments on the Proposed 2020-21 School Budget

volunteerBelow find comments from the Board of Directors of the League of Women Voters of Scarsdale and the Executive Committee of the SHS PTA on the proposed School Budget 2020-21.

The League of Women Voters of Scarsdale Board of Directors, (the “League Board”) acknowledges, with appreciation, the substantial time and effort that goes into developing the proposed 2020-21 Scarsdale School Budget (the “Budget”). We thank members of the Board of Education (the “Board”) and District Administration (the “Administration”) for the detailed, rigorous work and discussion involved in the budget process. The League Board is appreciative of the District’s leadership, focus and the complicated work undertaken during this uncertain and challenging time. As mentioned in a previous League Board comment, the League did not hold its annual membership and consensus meeting on the School Budget this year due to the COVID-19 crisis. Therefore, the following comments are the views of the League Board of Directors.

Revised Proposed Budget Overview

At the April 20 Board Meeting, in response to the COVID-19 health and economic crisis and following community input and Board discussion, the Administration revised the proposed Budget, reducing the Budget initially drafted in February from $166,850,850 to $162,508,332. On May 4, the Administration presented a further reduction of $110,000 due to a decreased projection in student enrollment, revising the Budget to $162,396,316. These reductions in proposed expenditures signify a budget-to-budget increase of 1.00%. According to Board President Pam Fuehrer, this is “among the lowest in our peer group,” and represents the second lowest percentage in the Scarsdale School District’s school budget growth in 10 years. The corresponding revised proposed tax levy now represents a 2.08% increase. The Administration’s current proposed Budget includes all but one of the spending reductions presented at the March 23 Board meeting. The early payoff of a computer lease is the sole potential Budget reduction discussed on March 23 that was not included in the April 20th proposal. However, this possible reduction of an additional $406K would have served merely to defer by one year, not eliminate, this expenditure item.

The League Board understands that the economic impact associated with the COVID-19 health crisis has affected Budget revenue projections, including an anticipated reduction in State Aid, sales tax, and investment earnings, warranting significant revisions to the Budget initially proposed in February. We recognize that the COVID-19 crisis has altered the financial reality of the Scarsdale community, and we acknowledge the importance of responding to the complex and challenging economic environment in a manner that recognizes the potential continued impact on Scarsdale residents, while prudently planning for additional future budget uncertainties in years ahead.

At the same time, the League Board seeks to ensure that our students continue to receive the high level of education that will best enable them to meet the challenges of an uncertain future. The League Board supports and encourages the District’s continued pursuit of forward-looking curricular initiatives and program enhancements that provide opportunities and environments to stimulate innovation and educational excellence for both students and teachers. The League Board further recognizes that our local schools are the product of decades of consistent community investment and urges the Board to maintain Scarsdale’s long tradition of educational excellence.

The League Board offers its views and recommendations regarding certain budgetary items as well as the budget process, and we hope that our comments and recommendations will be considered.

Assigned Fund Balance/Reserves

The League Board supports a general approach to budgeting to ensure the stability of school finances, and the current proposed Budget’s prudent level of reserves and assigned fund balance. Such an approach could prove critical to the community’s ability to sustain its commitment to educational excellence in what are likely to be even more challenging budget years ahead.

The League Board understands that the District’s credit rating can also be negatively affected if either the undesignated reserve or total fund balance drops below a certain threshold, an important factor in the District’s ability to issue bonds in the future. The League Board further notes that, as recently as 2015, the District, with the support of the community, took measures to rebalance and stabilize the budget and thereby address a 2014 Moody’s downgrade that was related to the District’s declining fund balance and over-reliance on non-recurring revenue.

SHS Auditorium Project Deferral

While the League Board understands the Administration’s economic rationale for eliminating the $1.9 million in proposed expenditures for the SHS Auditorium renovation from the initially drafted budget, we hope that the District will consider alternative means to finance the project. The auditorium renovation project was originally included in a Bond proposal approved by voters in December 2014. That Bond proposal provided funding to resolve water intrusion issues, as well as to install a variety of seating, light, and sound upgrades. Since the actual cost to resolve the water issues far exceeded the estimates on which the Bond relied, the District was not able to complete any of the other auditorium renovation projects included in the Bond. Although subsequent voter-approved school budgets included proposals to fund individual aspects of the auditorium renovation, the majority of the voter-approved renovations remain unaddressed.

Security

The 2020-21 Budget line for Security is $1,220,071, which is an increase of $103,040 over the current year due primarily to an increase in funding for the purchase of security-related supplies and equipment. The League Board reiterates a past request that benchmarking information and other research be made public to educate and contextualize Budget funding in the area of security. The League hopes that through this information, the community will have the opportunity to better understand how similar schools in Westchester and beyond have approached increased security. Further, by viewing District recommendations within the context of benchmarking and research, the community would be able to understand which measures have been considered and found to be most appropriate and effective for districts like Scarsdale.

The League Board recommends that the Board create a means for the community to gauge not only whether implemented security measures incorporate best practices but also whether they reflect and connect to the values of the entire Scarsdale community. We continue to encourage the Board to engage in broad community outreach in order to understand how the community at large views the complex issue of school safety and increased security measures.

Staffing

The League Board notes that the Administration and Board continue to support the elementary class size policy and the Middle School house structure. The League Board continues to recommend supporting traditional class sizes and norms at all levels in order to ensure a classroom environment most conducive to student learning and the achievement of the District’s educational goals as outlined in the strategic plan.

The League Board believes that the inherent flexibility required to meet student needs and the ability to reassess student needs are essential components of a Scarsdale education and that both are time- and labor-intensive for teachers and guidance counselors. Furthermore, the League believes that individualized instruction and the opportunity for student research are hallmarks of a Scarsdale education. To create and promote these opportunities for students, the League Board acknowledges the importance of protecting class load and scheduling for teachers and guidance counselors as well as preserving class size.

The League Board reiterates that classroom teachers are the first line of defense in regard to observing student social/emotional issues, and a teacher’s ability to detect and address problems or refer the student to a counselor must be supported by appropriate staffing. The League recommends that the Administration and Board continue to provide appropriate staffing to protect the high academic standards of the High School. The League believes that staffing should be reflective of an underlying high school culture that supports academic choice, allows each student to forge a personal connection to an educator and provides a safe, healthy environment in which students can develop and grow.

The League Board continues to encourage the Administration to communicate proactively and clearly with the parent community and the community at large regarding the importance of supporting special education students in Scarsdale Schools. We would like the Administration to continue to address appropriate staffing needs as current elementary-aged special education students move through the Scarsdale school system.

Budget Process/Community Input

The League Board commends the Board for creating the opportunity, in the past several budget study sessions, for continued public input into the Budget. The League believes that a more complete picture of community feedback, combined with relevant expert opinions and research, will serve to enhance Board decisions on complex issues and their implementation as well as facilitate community understanding and appreciation of Scarsdale Schools.

We commend the Administration and Board as well for voicing support for advocacy at the Board table and for including the parent community in initiatives to advocate for legislation that directly impacts Scarsdale Schools and public schools in general.

The League Board further commends the Administration for creating a Budget Book; initially on February 3, and in a revised form on April 20 and May 1. The Budget Book allows a comprehensive view of the myriad components of the Budget and through this tool there is an enhanced understanding of the Budget itself. We thank the Administration as well for posting League questions from the budget process on the District website. The League Board further commends the Administration for the detailed, thorough and difficult work of planning for anticipated economic changes as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.

Budget Vote

On March 29, Governor Cuomo issued Executive Order 202.13 postponing any School Board Election that had been scheduled for April or May until at least June 1, and stating further that such an election is subject to further directive as to the timing, location or manner of voting.

On May 1, Governor Cuomo issued Executive Order 202.26 stating that School Board/Budget Elections are scheduled for June 9 and will be held via mail with return postage included. Each district will send out a postcard notice which details the date of the election, date of the Budget hearing, the definition of a qualified voter and an absentee ballot.

Thank you for taking our comments and recommendations into consideration.

Sincerely,
Board of Directors, League of Women Voters of Scarsdale

Scarsdale High School PTA

The Scarsdale High School PTA Executive Committee appreciates this opportunity to comment on the proposed 2020-2021 School Budget. We hope everyone here and in the Scarsdale community is doing well. We also appreciate what a difficult time this is, and thank the members of the Board of Education and both the District and the High School Administrations, and our faculty and staff for their commitment to the education of our students and for their time, expertise, and responsiveness during the budget process.
The High School PTA Executive Committee stands by its previous statements of support for all of the High School administration’s requests, but we acknowledge and agree that some of those requests, while necessary, are more appropriate for future budget cycles.

We fully support the District’s recommendation against personnel cuts in the 2020-21 school budget. We expressly do not support reductions to faculty or staff at the high school that would increase class sizes, decrease curriculum offerings or negatively affect critical support resources for our students.

With respect to the high school auditorium project, we continue to support the full project as necessary for the safety and education of our students and community members who use the space. We disagree with the board’s decision not to transfer from Debt Service the approximately $730,000, earmarked in the 2014 Bond for the auditorium, to the project fund to at least start some of the most critical items on the auditorium project list in the coming year. There are glaring safety and curriculum-related issues in that space that need to be addressed; to ignore them is to put our children at risk.

We remind the Board and the community of the following facts:

● Our schools are the crown jewels of Scarsdale.
● The well-being and success of our children, not to mention our property values, directly correlate to the quality of those schools.
● This proposed budget is for the ​entire ​upcoming school year-- a year in which we hope our students and faculty will enjoy using our educational facilities to their full potential.

With those facts in mind, we must develop and pass a budget that can support optimal learning and maintain the educational excellence of Scarsdale schools, even in these uncertain times. Again, we appreciate your time and efforts on behalf of Scarsdale High School, our students, and the larger community, and 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

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