Tuesday, Jun 25th

Opinion: Donor Recognition Plaques Have No Place In Our Schools

shsberke1(This opinion piece was sent to Scarsdale10583 by Ray Cooper)
What has compelled me to write my first commentary on Scarsdale10583.com? It is the news that the Board of Education is allowing two engraved plaques, at a cost of $38,000, to be placed inside the Scarsdale High School. These plaques will list the names of donors who gave $10,000 or more to the Scarsdale Schools Education Foundation (SSEF) to supplement the 2014 taxpayer funded school bond. Allowing these plaques inside our schools is simply wrong. I, along with most residents, moved here to provide our children with a high quality public school education. Elevating the status of some families has no place in our public school system, especially where the school’s motto of “non sibi” (not for self) is at the core of our school values. Moreover, no child should be left to feel bad that his or her family name does not appear on a recognition plaque in school, or that a family could not afford a high level donation. It is remarkable to me that the BOE does not see this concern.

Back in 2014, when Scarsdale developed plans to bond new facilities in our schools, I was wary but not opposed to private donations through the SSEF for school improvements. I followed the issues back then and I was satisfied that individuals were not being singled out with praise as donors. Fast-forward 4 years to March 19, 2018. I learned that the BOE appeared to approve designs for plaques containing recognition of high level donors, and that these plaques are to be placed at the entrances to the new SHS fitness center and design lab. The BOE’s approval was made in the middle of the night, without public discussion among the board, and without input from the community.

In 2014 the BOE entered into a memorandum of understand with the SSEF “to support an appropriate means of recognizing donors.” There was no mention of engraved plaques or singling out individual families for recognition. On March 15, 2018 the SSEG wrote a letter to the school superintendent about proposed donor plaques “seeking Board of Education approval of both the preliminary designs and the cost estimates.” This item made its way onto the BOE agenda for its March 19th meeting; however, its inclusion in the agenda was quite obscured. While I received the notice for the BOE March 19th meeting, wholly absent from this notice was any reference to the plaque proposal. In fact, the BOE notice listed 5 separate items on the agenda that night, including the meeting’s featured purpose: the upcoming school budget proposal. Buried in the bowels of the on-line “board packet” and brought onto the floor at the BOE meeting after 11:00 pm were the proposed plaques. I am perplexed reading the quote from school board president Bill Natbony claiming that the schematic in the board’s packet posted on line was sufficient to obtain public buy-in. (Also problematic is that the posted design schematic is not legible.) I watched on replay the BOE’s “middle of the night” discussion of this issue. The BOE discussed the odd way for funding the $38,000 for the plaques but did not discuss at all its rationale for listing high-level donor names. It also did not discuss the steep price tag for these plaques. Can’t we spend this money in a better way? Perusing the current proposed school budget, for $38,000 our high school can hire two new varsity coaches. It is not difficult to find other meaningful expenditures for this money.

Additionally, I wonder: if these donor recognition plaques were mentioned upfront as part and parcel of the SSEF agreement, would our community have supported our school’s partnership with the SSEF? I suspect most donors provided funding to the SSEF because they wanted to support enhancements to our school’s facilities, and not for individual recognition on a plaque. I am sure the SSEF and the BOE can come up with other, more reasonable ways to recognize the SSEF and its donors. The BOE is on a course for a very unsettling precedent: will more donor recognition plaques make their way onto our school walls the next time the SSEF has a capital campaign or a large gift is made to our schools? Perhaps a forward thinking BOE policy is warranted, as this issue will again appear as we continue to strive to improve our school facilities. The BOE should add these plaques back onto the agenda for a future BOE meeting and (1) provide the public with full and fair notice of it, (2) provide the public with a full BOE discussion on the issue, and (3) provide the public with a reasonable opportunity to give input.

I grew up in a family of life-long public school educators. While I no longer have school age children, I still strongly believe in the importance of a public school education and the values of our Scarsdale schools. I do not think the BOE is acting in the best interests of our children here. I hope this ship has not sailed and that the BOE reconsiders supporting the proposed plaques. I encourage other residents to let the BOE hear from you on this important topic.

Ray Cooper

(From the 3/19 Board of Education Meeting Agenda)


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