Monday, Feb 26th

Panelists Respond to the Questions of the Day at Legislative Breakfast

PanelistsWhat can our lawmakers do to address anti-Semitism and Islamophobia? What steps can they take to improve student mental health? Are there funds available to ameliorate local flooding?

These were just a few of the questions posed to a panel of local officials at a breakfast sponsored by the PT Council on Friday February 2, 2024 at Greenacres Elementary School. Students from the AT Public Policy Class at Scarsdale High School were invited to question the panelists who included:

State Senator Shelley MayerMintzSinghJoshua Mitts and Rachana Singh
State Assemblywoman Amy Paulin
NYS Regent Francis Wills
Scarsdale Schools Superintendent Drew Patrick
Westchester County Executive George Latimer
Westchester County Legislator Ben Boykin
Scarsdale Mayor Justin Arest

The event was hosted by Joshua Mitts and Rachana Singh who chair the PTC Legislative Advocacy Committee. Topics included budgets, climate change, hate crimes, testing and more, and the informed panelists had much to share.

To a question about anti-Semitism Amy Paulin said, “When October 7 broke out many of us knew it would just be a matter of time before anti-Semitism broke out and Israel would be seen as the aggressor not the victim….. Last week our office joined with others in the Village to fight back (to an incident at the Golden Horseshoe) immediately. As a community we showed this is not appropriate in our home. That was a spontaneous reaction. We as a community are fighting back.”

George Latimer said, “The Golden Horseshoe is the most recent manifestation of anti-Semitism. We should speak universally against hatred.”

Regent Frances Wills said that education should be used to fight hatred. She said, “We have to be vigilant and we have to find ways to educate and teach about this. Education is the key.”

AmyandFrancesAmy Paulin and Frances WillsBen Boykin noted that the county has a Human Rights Commission with subpoena power to investigate incidents and bring in individuals.” He said, “We will not allow this to take place in Westchester County. We will investigate incidents like graffiti and the incident at the Leffel School.”

To a question about funding for mental health in schools, Paulin said, “Here we enjoy lots of support – but that is not true of most districts across the state. Schools can’t even afford nurses, or a devoted mental health worker. I just filed legislation to allow for telehealth in schools – which is not permitted now. This would be more affordable.”

To a question about cuts in state educational funding for schools, Latimer called on the federal government to provide more school funding. He said, “The missing piece in educational funding is the Federal Government. It falls on the states to equalize the disparities between districts. The state is being pulled in multiple ways because the federal government does not fund education in urban areas.”

What about local flooding? Scarsdale Mayor Justin Arest said, “Infrastructure is a huge priority for the Village. We are looking at $13 mm for stormwater remediation projects for the next three years. Our stormwater system was designed over 100 years ago. We are working with the schools, county, state, federal government on this. We have a dream team to partner with. But we do need more federal funding. I wish we could have someone like minded in Congress.”

And can something be done about weather related disruptions to school. What is the role of the county and state in addressing the flooding around the high school?”LeahandShelleyLeah Dembitzer and Shelley Mayer

Superintendent Andrew Patrick got to the heart of the issue; the parking lot on Brewster Road which often floods when the stream running through it overflows. Patrick said, “Some of the responsibility for the parking lot has to be addressed by the district. You will see some discussion about the stream in the parking lot to see if we can increase its capacity.”

Paulin added, “We secured $6 million to deal with the flooding on the Hutch. The real cost would be 20 times that. We can’t do it without federal help. We need mega bucks to impact the flooding.”

The discussion turned to the NYS Regents tests. Regent Wills said, “We are looking at multiple paths to graduation. A standardized test is one way to measure student accomplishment. Students demonstrate what they know in multiple ways. Performance based assessments also work. We are also looking at technical education. Every student has a different way of demonstrating what he or she knows.” She added, “We have to have a diploma that allows special needs students to go onto to college and succeed.”

Senator Mayer spoke about Governor Hochul’s proposed budget. She said, “I am strongly against the Governor’s budget – all types of districts will be hurt. We are not in a recession. The cuts are not justified. I believe the Governor should have put additional money in the state budget to address anti-Semitism and islamophobia.”

Finally the students asked, “How do you address issues that are in conflict among your constituencies?”

Paulin said, “I grew up with the League of Women Voters of Scarsdale who worked through consensus and everyone got something they wanted. When I got to the legislature I worked on issues that the Republicans would agree to. Part is being a pragmatist and knowing what you can get done in the current climate. Another part is being nice and building friendships that will allow you to push the boundaries. You can build momentum slowly as i have done for a bill I introduced in 2017 and hope to get passed this year.”

The event was well attended in a sign of keen interest among residents in our local schools and government.

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