Bittersweet Goodbyes for the 2021-22 Board of Education
- Wednesday, 22 June 2022 15:03
- Last Updated: Thursday, 23 June 2022 16:23
- Published: Wednesday, 22 June 2022 15:03
- Joanne Wallenstein
- Hits: 1486
It was a bittersweet ending to the 2021-22 school year for the Scarsdale School Board who confronted COVID, issues with the IRS and the resignation of the Superintendent. As several noted in their departing remarks, they may have held more meetings this year than in the last three combined as they weighed thorny issues, hired consultants and met with legal counsel.
But what emerged from their comments was a sense of camaraderie, mutual respect, admiration and pride in their work.
School Board Vice President Amber Yusuf, who hopes to serve as President next year, told President Karen Ceske that she was “so grateful to have served with you,” and noted Ceske’s years of volunteer work from Greenacres to the high school, PTA’s and PT Council. She credited Ceske for her “Zen demeanor,” calling her “A calm and steadying force as we weathered a myriad of surprises.” She marveled at Ceske’s “continued kindness to everyone, “ and her “commitment to the whole child.”
Offering thanks to Carl Finger who is also completing his service, Bob Klein said, “I didn’t know Carl that well but now we have shared a lifetime of trials and tribulations to support the Scarsdale School District. We have ended up serving far more hours than I would have imagined. All the board has struggled together… Carl’s attorney brain and gentle touch of humor will be missed. He taught me to add a little humor to every comment. His perspective and knowledge will be missed.”
Board member Ron Schulhof said, “Karen and Carl, it has been quite a three years. While the pandemic was at the forefront, we dealt with so much more. Carl we have worked on so many volunteer projects together…. Karen you have kept students, education and the community at the forefront of our discussions. Thank you for your tireless dedication. It has been a pleasure serving with you both.”
Jessica Resnick Ault told Carl, “Your presence will be missed. You have shown us it is possible to juggle a busy career with board service. I appreciate your lawyerly advice. You are Scarsdale through and through. You have seen both the village and school board operation – a perspective that will be missed. And you’ve shown me that the secret to managing all these priorities is drinking enough Diet Coke!”
To Karen she said, “You are one of the most gracious and kind people that I know. You have faith that everyone has a soul. You are able to view everyone’s soul in a pure way. We are so lucky to have had you sitting in that chair during this tumultuous year.”
Jim Dugan said, “ I agree with everything that was said and I will miss both of you.”
Carl Finger made his parting remarks, saying, “I generally try to be candid and I have had four months to think about what I wanted to say. I am so appreciative of this board and all of you – it has been a great experience to serve with you. I am sorry that I will not be able to serve. A variety of issues, personal and professional, caused me to reconsider. Negative comments from the community impacted my family. Scarsdale is not immune to the broader discourse in the country. It is important that the Board hears the positives outside of the board room to get a full sense of the community.”
“I am appreciative to the community for giving me the opportunity to serve. I thought I was well prepared but the volume of information thrown at board members is more than I could have imagined. I owe a debt of gratitude to the cabinet for my understanding of issues that come before the board. The teachers have taught me that they are the backbone of the district. We owe them a debt of gratitude.”
Turning to the board he said, “We have disagreed but worked through all of that time and again to arrive at excellent decisions for our students. This board had greater capacity to express disparate opinions. The vast amount of times we hit the mark. Jim and Jessica were invaluable. Bob was on point and helpful – more than once he has convinced me to change my thoughts. Ron, Karen and I joined the board three years ago happy go lucky with no idea of the hurricane that was coming our way. Karen you had the ability to manage a seemingly unmanageable series of crises.”
“Thank my partners in law for covering court appearances so that I could do my work – and thanks to my wife and daughters.”
Karen Ceske said, “I have been here a long time. I can’t believe I am leaving but I am. I have learned that schools are vital and those who work here are essential. Our students are our true north. We work hard and together on their behalf. It has been an honor to work with all of you, (naming each board and cabinet member individually.)”
She continued, “It is impossible to adequately thank all of you who have helped my along my school board journey. And thank you Rob too! (her husband)
She turned to her VP and said, “I wanted to spotlight Amber. You have worked shoulder to shoulder with me. You are always thoughtful, calm, prepared. You read a million words a minute. You have been my rock. I feel so fortunate to have had you here this year. I wish you all well.”
Interim Superintendent Andrew Patrick had parting words and orchids for Karen Ceske and Carl Finger. He said, “In these extraordinary circumstances you have done the work of 5 terms in 3 demanding years. The community is lucky to have had such strong stewards of the schools.” Discussing what they both have in common he said, “You both ask thoughtful questions. You listen intently and seek to understand. Your decisions are informed by what’s best for our students.”
“Carl I thoroughly enjoyed working with you. Teaching and learning is our mission and I have learned from you. If you were to win an award it would be, “Most likely to make or second a motion – you waste no time.”
“Karen, you will always be my first Scarsdale parent On the day of my last interview you took me on a tour of the Scarsdale Schools in your car and showed me your pride in the district. You conjure our students vantage point. I have learned so much from you and I will remain forever grateful. Your contributions have bettered the lives of our students.”
Superintendent Search Firm
The Board voted to sign a letter of agreement with Hazard, Young, Attea Associates to conduct a search for the next Superintendent of the Scarsdale Schools. The agreed upon fee is $23,500. See the letter of agreement here.
Budget Transfer from Reserves
The board agreed to cover a shortfall in the 2021-22 school budget by transferring $2.8 million from reserves: with $1.3 mm from the undesignated fund balance and $1.5 million from the health insurance reserve.
Increases in expenses were as follows:
Home Bound Tutors - $482,130 – the district paid for tutoring during COVID when students could not attend school. $33,00 went to contractual tutors and $449,000 went to Scarsdale teachers who tutored students at home.
Legal Services - $237,316 – some of these costs were due to legal help with the IRS tax issue.
Personnel Office - Consultants - $279,668.20 – these funds were primarily for consultant Ellie Drago-Severson from Columbia Teacher’s College who assisted the district with professional development and executive coaching. Drew Patrick said that this was a one-time expense that would not recur next year.
Custodial Overtime - $279,649 – for extra cleaning during COVID and flood clean up at SHS.
Safety/Security - $204,000 for new lockdown systems purchased via BOCES.
PPE Equipment and Supplies - $150,000 for COVID supplies
Health Services - $51,720 – This is a bill back for health services at private and parochial schools attended by Scarsdale students.
Fuel Oil/Natural Gas - $102,000 – due to increases in gas and oil prices.
Interscholastic Athletics - Supervision of Athletic Events - $62,000 for supervision of athletic events during COVID and supplies.
Health Insurance - $1,500,000 – due to a one time claim of $1.2 million that was filed after the stop loss coverage period by a third party administrator. The district hopes to recoup some or all of this expense.
With these transfers, the district’s undesignated fund balance will fall to about $4.4 million or only 2.4% of the budget which is far lower than the recommended 4%.
The district will have to consider raising revenues or cutting expenses to refill their coffers next school year.
The Board accepted two gifts from the PTA:
-The SMS PTA gave a gift of $38,229.89 to purchase and install library shelving and circulation tables for the SMS Library.
-The Greenacres gave a gift in the amount of $3,000.00 for the upgrade of the Greenacres faculty lounge.
The Board will next meet on Friday July 1 for their annual reorganization meeting where they are expected to elect new officers.