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You are here: Home Section Table School News From the Board of Ed: School Election Via Mail, Concerns About Elementary School eLearning and Installment Billing for Taxes?
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From the Board of Ed: School Election Via Mail, Concerns About Elementary School eLearning and Installment Billing for Taxes?

May4BudgetAfter technical glitches prevented some of the participants from accessing the Zoom meeting, the Scarsdale Board of Education got off to a late start for their May 4, 2020 meeting online.

On the agenda was the proposed 2020-21 school budget, new mandates from the state to hold the school board and budget election online, e- Learning and a discussion about allowing installment payments for school taxes.

The proposed budget was reduced slightly from the April 20 meeting, due to the elimination of one full time teacher in response to decreased enrollment projections and savings from the extension of the school closing to the end of June.

The $162,396,316 proposed budget represents a 1% increase over 2019-20 which means a 1.92% increase in taxes for Scarsdale residents and 2.73% for those in the Mamaroneck strip.

The board plans to adopt the budget on May 11 and hold a hearing on June 1. What’s changed is that the election will be held by mail rather than in person and the state is requiring that the district mail absentee ballots to all eligible voters. A property tax report card must be delivered to the NYS Education Department by 5-18. Completed ballots will need to be received by the district by June 9 and the district is required to pay for this return postage as well. Assistant Superintendent Stuart Mattey commented on the difficulty of complying with the new law, and printing and mailing the ballots while the administrative staff is not working onsite due to the COVID crisis. There will also be additional expenses to conduct the election by mail.

District Clerk Honore Adams said that eligible voters can be defined as follows:

A United States citizen
· at least 18 years of age (as of the date of the election)
· a resident of the school district for at least 30 days before the election
· who is otherwise not ineligible to vote under Section 5-106 of the NY Election Law.

Budget Discussion

In a discussion about the budget, Board Member Chris Morin asked if expenses in the 2020-21 could be further reduced by delaying the hiring of staff for the fall. Given the uncertainty about re-opening in September he asked if the district could defer hiring even if it meant that that a class might not have an aide, a class might be a little larger or that every elective would not be available.

Assistant Superintendent Andrew Patrick responded, saying “When we talk about class sizes – or not offering electives – that is something we can do. But we’re not going to recommend that without having some dialogue…. we do have flexibility with attrition…. We could delay or not hire…. If we don’t have lunch supervision in the fall, we could not hire lunch aides.” He continued, “We are faced with tremendous uncertainty. My instinct is based on knowing that we are typically not nearly as successful in hiring in September, October or November as we are now.”

About school opening in the fall, Dr. Thomas Hagerman appeared more optimistic, saying, “NYC will be the last to decide about the fall. I don’t think we’re in the same boat as NYC schools. I don’t think we’re going to be on the same schedule.”

Scott Silberfein raised the question of using more of the district’s fund balance to reduce the tax levy. The board had already decided to increase the fund balance contribution to the proposed budget from $1.1 million to $1.45 million. He said, “I would still be in favor of using additional funds as assigned fund balance for 2020-21. I would be in favor of reducing the tax increase.”

Mattey said, “It’s ultimately the board’s decision and it’s my job to give you the warning signals”

Alison Singer said, “I feel comfortable where the budget is now. We have made appropriate cuts … significant cuts – but also maintain the high quality of a Scarsdale education. I think that our taxpayers would not want us to put the future into jeopardy by using more fund balance now.”

Karen Ceske said, “I am also hesitant not to make changes to that line.”

Board President Pam Fuehrer concurred, saying, “I think the $350,000 that we already put in is enough to have to make up. I think we have gone as far as we can go.” Carl Finger agreed, saying “I don’t like to evaluate our entire philosophy when we’re under the gun. In terms of fund balance, a modest amount is not going to have a significant impact on this year – so I am fine with keeping it as is.”

Scott Silberfien replied, “We owe our fellow taxpayers as much as we feel comfortable doing. I am concerned what our budget vote might be in this new environment. It is possible that we as a board will be under a different type of scrutiny this year because of the environment and because of who is eligible to vote…. I think ever $100,000 or $200,000 might make a difference to them…. If this budget was to fail we would be under a contingency budget.”

Carl Finger said, “We don’t have any information about the consequences of the vote at this point”

Responding to Finger’s question about how much an $200,000 from the fund balance would lower taxes, Stuart Mattey said, “A $200,000 increase in the fund balance contribution would drop the levy increase to 1.94% and mean an extra $30 for the average homeowner.”

Chris Morin commented, “We should be taking a tougher line now, especially on hiring. We do need a tight story now for taxpayers. This environment is not what taxpayers had expected. I think it would be good if we could demonstrate that this budget reflects the change in teaching as well as economic conditions.”

Pam Fuehrer reported on Scarsdale’s proposed budget in comparison to peer districts. She said, “Our budget to budget (increase) of 1% compares to our local peer group of eight school districts which are at 2.57% in Westchester-Putnam. Our tax levy increase is at 2.08% compares to our peer districts at 2.50%. We are in a very good position.”

Chris Morin said, “The ten-year graph is a very good long-term story for taxpayers… School districts are pretty inflexible… I think we need the tightest story we can have this year in anticipation of next year.”

The Board agreed to stick with the proposed budget as presented by Stuart Mattey. However at the end of the meeting, Scott Silberfein suggested using $730,000 that is currently in reserve to begin work on the high school auditorium next year. The Board agreed that they would like Stuart Mattey to provide information on phased work in the auditorium and determine if any work could be done in 2020-21. Mattey explained that this would increase the budget, but not the tax levy, as these funds would be taken out of reserves.

Public CommentsGreenacresPrincipalsGreenacres PrincipalSharon Hill and Assistant Principal Sharon DeLorenzo were onsite Tuesday so that parents could pick up children's belongings from the school to facilitate the construction.

During public comments, Leah Dembitzer spoke on behalf of the Board of Directors of the League of Women Voters and Deb Morel spoke on behalf of the Scarsdale High School PTA Executive Board.

You can see their full comments here:

Former member of the Board of Education Art Rublin said, “One thing that is keeping Stuart (Mattey) up at night is concern about what will be required when students return to school in the fall. We could need more custodians or nurses. If money is not in the budget it will not be available for whatever might come up. If we need to make many upgrades to open school, we will need to have the funds in the budget to pay for it.”

Mayra Kirkendall-Rodriguez questioned comments about “peer districts” made by Board President Pam Fuehrer. She said, “When conducting a peer analysis in finance, assembling a good, relevant peer group is very challenging, and sometimes impossible….it would be good to know more about the school districts in Westchester and Putnam that you mention? Is this a reasonable group of towns to compare Scarsdale and its budget?” She raised concerns about the increase in the village and school budgets saying, “At each board meeting from both sides, I keep hearing from some board members and residents, loosely paraphrasing, the rise is only $30, $60, $90 ….. While these two budgets are separate, for us residents, expenses come from one household budget.”

She raised concerns about equity saying, “the tax level depends on your property assessments, whether you are fairly assessed or not. Last couple of years, as the effects of changes to federal tax regime, that is SALT, some of the very large owners have been able to grieve, while smaller ones may not have as much. Hence for some who were already impacted by vertical inequity, that will continue to be exacerbated.”

GreenacresLostandFoundGreenacres Lost and FoundAbout e-Learning she said, the teachers, “were not trained for e-Learning. A good part of my profession is conducting workshops and training. And I know that there is a big difference between my live delivery and those conducted via Zoom and Adobe Connect.” Last, she asked what the district would do if there were a power outage, saying, “As hurricane season approaches, what will you do if power outages hit our very stressed grid. Just a couple of years ago, my household was without power for two weeks.”

Bob Harrison again stressed the economic impact of the crisis on residents and seniors. He asked for district administrators and teachers to freeze their salaries, calling for shared sacrifices. He reminded the Board and administration that in 2009 Superintendent Michael McGill and five top administrators took a pay freeze. Teachers offered to forgo 1% of their 2.5% pay increases in 2010-11. He advocated for more use of the fund balance to reduce taxes and called the 2% proposed budget increase “shameful.”

e-Learning

Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum Edgar McIntosh gave an update on e-Learning at the elementary school level. He said that parents had sent communications to the district about differences across classes, assessments of learning outcomes, the balance of synchronous and asynchronous learning opportunities and cohesion of learning across the district.

He said there is a continual learning process going on as e-Learning is so new. He called elementary school parents “partners in this endeavor,” and said that the epidemic has affected the staff, some who have their own children at home.

He announced a district-wide elementary planning day for teachers on May 6 to enhance their practice.

The goals for elementary e-Learning include:

-More sharing among teachers across the district
-Enriched use of synchronous learning platforms
-More cohesion of effective practice
-Cohesion of concept, skill and content coverage

He said this was an unprecedented time without models to support learning.

A follow-up survey on e-Learning will be sent to Scarsdale families at the end of the week.

In the discussion that followed, Board members conveyed comments they had heard from the community.

Chris Morin said, “I liked what you said, but we are receiving real time feedback from parents who are having a different experience. What would you say to them?”

McIntosh replied saying, “We are learning and evolving and we need some opportunities to share feedback about e-Learning.”

Alison Singer said, “You talked about standards and expectations being aligned by grade level. We hear from parents that this continues to be an area of concern for them. They are not aware of the standards or benchmarks and I think it would easier to manage expectations if they were aware of the benchmarks.” McIntosh said, “That is something that has been done but we can look toward more transparency.”

Carl Finger said, “I also had someone say I have a fourth and fifth grader getting two completely different experiences. Is one teacher lagging or is the other exceeding expectations?” Karen Ceske asked if faculty who are having difficulties work in teams to share the load?

McIntosh confirmed that this was already happening and that teachers with special circumstances were being supported.

Ron Schulhof asked, “What is the timeline for rolling out what you discussed to address parents’ concerns?” McIntosh responded, “It will start out with your chance to share best practices and then parents will see us adapt to incorporate these practices.” Schulhof asked for tactical responses and concrete answers. He said, “The feedback we’re getting from the community is very different from what we are hearing about here. They will want to know when they will see these changes.”

Alison Singer said, “Parents are seeing considerable discrepancy across their grade and across schools.”

Tax Installments

The Board had previously asked Stuart Mattey to gather information about allowing residents to pay their school taxes in two installments, rather than pay the annual tax in one payment in September. He said, “Revenue comes to the schools at the beginning of the school year which allows the district to meet all obligations and invest the balance. …Towns are permitted by law to collect in two installments.”

The decision would need to be approved by the Village who might require additional personnel to collect the second round of payments.

Chris Morin said, “It seems just and right to do this in two installments.” Ron Schulhof asked, “What would be the impact if we just did it this year?” Carl Finger pointed out that it would be confusing to people if this was implemented this year and then removed as an option for next year. He said, “When you take it back it will be resented.” Dr. Hagerman pointed out that “taking on these challenges when people are in in the office is difficult.” The Board agreed to keep this on the agenda for further discussion next year.

Facilities Update

Stuart Mattey announced that contracts for facilities work had been awarded for general construction at the high school including the roof, floor replacement and water mitigation as well as work at Dean Field. He also said that the lights at Butler Field would be installed earlier now that school is closed.

At Greenacres work continues inside the school and parents were invited to come it to pick up items from the classrooms this week. The project is scheduled for completion in August.

Food Service

Prior to the closing of school, Stuart Mattey had been working with the food service committee in order to competitively bid out food service for the district. However, the district learned that they can rollover their contract with the current provider without bidding. The committee agrees that would be best to do as things are so uncertain and they would like to continue to work with Chartwells.

Mattey reported that the district is serving meals to families who requested them and also supplying meals to ten Eastchester families.

The next meeting of the Board will be on Monday May 11, when the board is expected to adopt the proposed budget for 2020-21.

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