Tuesday, Aug 09th

Dr. Andrew Patrick Steps Into Role of Interim Superintendent and Confers Tenure to 10 Teachers and 2 Administrators

tenureHow fitting it was that May 9 was Interim Superintendent Andrew Patrick’s first meeting in his new role. Why? On Monday, the board conferred tenure to ten teachers and two administrators. In his role as Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources and Leadership Development, Patrick had championed them through the process of achieving this distinction. Patrick was speedily thrust into the leadership role when Scarsdale School Superintendent Thomas Hagerman suddenly vacated his position on Friday, May 5, 2022.

The previous week was also Teacher Appreciation Week and National School Nurse Day and Patrick took the opportunity to laud the entire staff.

Visibly pleased, he said, “Welcome honorees, there is a packed house tonight and it is excellent to see everyone." He continued, “I want to acknowledge the work of our teachers and nurses and colleagues. What you do, how you do it and why is noticed and deeply appreciated. Your work is essential to enabling the children in your care to reach for their full potential.”

He then discussed the ten teachers and two administrators who were recommended for tenure, saying, “It is significant accomplishment for the work of an educator…they complete a trial or probationary period of employment, a period of evaluation. We use the Charlotte Danielson framework which includes multiple observations by supervisors and evaluators, mentoring, a portfolio of artifacts, feedback from parents and children and an administrative review panel.”

He then read quotes from a few of the applicants:

In response to the question, “Why do you teach,” one wrote, “I teach because I believe there isn’t a more rewarding occupation when one can give children the confidence to become anything they desire. As a teacher I get to help children achieve their goals daily. Every day I have the chance to inspire a child and I do not take that opportunity lightly.”

And another applicant answered, “How do you create a culture and climate for learning?” by discussing their experience during Covid. They said, “This year, my student’s happiness was my motivation. Faced with a pandemic, students were asked to navigate technology and rely on executive functioning skills that are still developing. All of this while mourning the loss of peer interactions and grappling with increasing academic demands. I attempted to be a constant for those students who I have worked with over the past three years. I found that in order to do this, I needed to not only show up, but also rise up. I greeted all of my students at their classrooms to make a connection. I made sure they could see my smile, hear my laugh and feel success. Even on the darkest days they needed to feel seen and heard. That meant making time for check ins and small talks in our sessions. It meant reaching out to families and hearing what was needed at home. It meant making students feel that behind the mask there were people rooting for them here at school.”

The following teachers and administrators were recommended for tenure and the Board passed a resolution to grant it. Each staffer was given a rose, and after tenure was conferred, Dr. Patrick left the dais to go out into the audience to shake hands with each of the newly tenured staffers.

They are:

Jennifer Giustino, Edgewood Music
Jill Rappaport, Remedial Speech
Christin Palladino, Quaker Ridge Special Education
Shannon Smith, Quaker Ridge Special Education
Kaitlin Nolan, Quaker Ridge, Edgewood Physical Education
Talya Holtzer, Scarsdale Middle School Science
Benjamin Turner, Scarsdale Middle School Science
Kimberly Summerfield, Scarsdale High School English
Meredith Dutra, Scarsdale High School Special Education
Shoshana Gliksman, School Psychologist
Chris Welch, Assistant Principal at SHS
Dr. Edgar McIntosh, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment.

Board President Karen Ceske then welcomed Patrick in his new position as Interim Superintendent. She cited his “excellent credentials, leadership expertise, interpersonal skills, understanding of our work and the culture and values of our schools, and his true passion for education.” She said, “You are already familiar with so many members of our school community. We want to express the great confidence we have that you will provide leadership and continuity in the months to come. We recognize that a change in leaderships is significant and the board is committed to supporting you in this transition.”

School Budget

Ceske then turned to financial matters and assured the community that the outstanding IRS issue would not affect the proposed school budget which will be voted on May 17, 2022.

She explained that the Board held a meeting with their external auditors who ”provided an overview of how the IRS penalties and tax payments impact the district’s financial statements, proposed budget, and fund balance and confirmed that the IRS matter does not affect the tax rate, the tax cap, or the educational program proposed for our students in the 2022-2023 budget.”

IRS Matter

Ceske provided the following update on the status of the district’s abatement appeals to the IRS:

Tax counsel has provided the following update on the Q2 2021 matter: The Revenue Officer confirmed that the District’s request for abatement of the Q2 2021 penalty has been assigned to the appropriate representative in their office and is making its way through the stages of the review process. In addition, the Revenue Officer confirmed that their request to hold any determination on the lien action until a determination on the penalty abatement request has been granted. The Revenue Officer has requested from the appropriate representative a resolution on the penalty abatement request within 30 days and told the District’s tax attorneys to follow up with her after Memorial Day if they do not hear from her earlier.

Tax counsel has provided the following update on the Q3 2021 matter: The same Revenue Officer confirmed receipt of the District’s tax attorneys’ letter bringing to her attention the Q3 2021 matter and enclosing both the IRS Notice and the District’s response regarding the same. Because the response was not submitted directly to the Revenue Officer, she was unable to confirm at this time the status of the processing of the response and, more importantly, the Form 941 Schedule B for Q3 2021.

However, the Revenue Officer offered to conduct some research and see if she could locate the District’s response and request that the enclosed Form 941 Schedule B for Q3 2021 be processed as soon as possible. Again, the Revenue Officer told the District’s tax attorneys to follow up with her after Memorial Day if they do not hear from her earlier.

In addition, both the Revenue Officer and the District’s tax attorneys have again recommended that the District begin e-filing its Forms 941 and the District is and has been looking into options regarding the same.

Tax counsel has provided the following update on the Q4 2020 matter: The same Revenue Officer noted that the District’s account for Q4 2020 still showed a balance of what the Revenue Officer presumed to be the remaining penalties and interest. The Revenue Officer was not privy to any information other than that and, as such, could not expand upon the same. Recall, though, that the Appeals Officer indicated that her final request and approval for penalty abatement would take approximately two to three weeks to process, and we have not yet exhausted that timeframe. Tax counsel will continue to follow up with the Appeals Officer on a regular basis.

She said, “Please know that the Board will provide further updates to the community as we continue to work on this matter and the investigation into it.”

Meeting with High School Students

Ceske reported on a meeting the Board held earlier in the evening with representative students from the high school where they discussed “moving forward after the pandemic.” She said, the students “said their teachers have brought them to a good place and engaged them and that they continue to use technology such as Google Classroom to help them with organization. They talked about how great it is to have spaces reopen and that they are engaged in activities that promote community.”

She continued, “We spoke about creating a sense of wellness here at SHS. They talked about how important the little things are like supportive gestures from teachers, funny jokes, the therapy dogs that visit, and snacks. They spoke of the importance of resources like the library, the LRC and the math center and about the new mental health awareness club.” She thanked them for “openly sharing” their thoughts.

Public Comments

Art Rublin, Chair of the Coalition for Scarsdale Schools thanked the board for exceptionally hard work over the last few months. He offered congratulations to Dr. Patrick, saying, “We are appreciative that you are willing to do two jobs for the district at once. This is a new chapter of collaboration and communication and curriculum development for the Scarsdale schools. We are confident in your communication skills with the board and the faculty -- and this is after you had to negotiate two contracts with the teachers, so that speaks volumes.”

About Patrick, Rublin said, “He has a human touch with the faculty and we saw it tonight when he came from behind the dais to congratulate newly tenured faculty. He will be dedicated to robust communication with the community. He exudes accessibility…I am confident he will move forward on teaching and learning initiatives. So too will it be important for the community to engage with him. The Coalition for Scarsdale Schools will support the district budget and vote on Tuesday May 17 from 7 am to 9 pm.”

Mayra Krikendall Rodriguez said the following: “Pages 59-63 in the proposed 2022-23 budget documents which are almost 170 page are about the fund balance. The amount of the fund balance matters. It impacts budgets. As the District states on page 59, schools and other municipalities create a Fund Balance for example, 'when expenditures are less than revenues' as is the case in this proposed budget, and to be ready for uncertainties.

"So if we are starting with a lower fund balance in 2022-2023, this will influence what revenues and expenditures can be in coming years. This in itself is a big and old challenge in Scarsdale. The District creates annual budgets without the context of long-term planning. I would get fired if I did not ask my clients to think of annual budgets in the context of long-term planning.

"As many residents have often stated, good communication and transparency with residents is important. It would be good to know when exactly were internal auditors, external auditors and the District’s lawyers first made aware of the penalty and lien issues? 2020, 2021, or this year? Were they completely unaware of what was going on? If they had known, then it is time to clean house.

"In early April, the District said that it would book the penalties as a receivable and that auditors had said this was acceptable. Please let us know which auditor told you it was okay to book an expense as a receivable? Was it the external or internal auditor? Do you need independent verification that this is acceptable under GASB 34?

"Also at the May 5th, the External auditors repeatedly said they were meeting with management? With whom precisely? Are there conflicts of interest if External Auditors are speaking to management which means the Administration, some of whom may be under investigation by Brock. It is difficult to know since key parts of the contract are redacted.

"Out of curiosity, why did the Board of Education have a meeting with External auditors without allowing any public comment? We have all kinds of accounting, auditor and finance professionals in town. You could have really benefitted from being transparent and inclusive of the great diversity of skills and expertise we have in Scarsdale.”

Bob Berg of 17 Black Birch Lane called in from an interstate in Western Montana. He said, “I am concerned about a cover up of the cover up. Who authorized the tax payment as an account receivable? This has not been answered. The Board agreed not to approve the internal auditors to do the review. Is the NYS Comptroller doing an investigation of what went on here? I think the public wants the answers.

Internal Audit

The board had a lengthy discussion about a resolution to hire internal auditors Cullen and Danowski to review the district’s payroll processing procedures in the wake of the mistakes in filing that led to the IRS penalties, fines and a lien. The discussion centered around retraining the current firm to do the audit, versus hiring a new firm to take a second look at district procedures. The existing firm could begin the work right away, while it would be necessary to post an RFP to get a new firm, and the process would take longer.

Carl Finger said, “I support an audit. In past years they did not audit the payroll process so this is an important first step toward preventing anything from happening in the future.”

James Dugan said, “I have no reason to believe Cullen and Danowski LLP missed something. My concern is that through the passage of time auditors get too comfortable with the clients they are auditing and don’t look with a clean set of eyes. This is simply a best practice. Companies switch auditors every few years simply for that reason. I would be more comfortable securing another firm to do this work."

Ron Schulhof said, “This internal audit is important – I would lean toward bringing in a third-party auditing firm for this project. There are other firms that are familiar with Westchester.”

Assistant Superintendent Stuart Mattey added, “We would need to do an RFP and wait for proposals. It would probably take three weeks. Cullin and Danowski would send Don (the principal of the firm)."

Jessica Resnick-Ault said, “I am torn between having a third party auditor and being expedient. The thought of not getting the results until the end of the school year is a concern. Maybe we can rotate who we use as auditors in the future. But if we do hire them, let’s ask them to expedite the process.”

Bob Klein said, “Because of the limited scope of the investigation, my bias is to expedite this as quickly as possible. I would like it done in a week using this group and then we can revisit who is doing what for the long term. If we can expedite an oral presentation of findings before a formal report, it would be helpful.”

Amber Yusuf said, “I would like this done as quickly as possible using this firm. A new firm would not be done until the end of July. Let’s use Cullen and Danowski now and put out an RFP for another firm for the future."

Stuart Mattey added, “This audit will help us identify things we can do better. Give us the best practices.”

Karen Ceske said, “I struggle with why we would not wait and put in someone new when we’re not even sure we can get the report before June 30.”

After considerable back and forth, the Board ultimately voted down the motion to hire Cullen and Danowski. The board will look for other options and asked Mattey to draft an RFP to other auditing firms to do an auditing of the payroll process as soon as possible.

Watch the meeting here:

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