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School Board Considers Budget Process, Staffing and 2018-19 Calendar at Feb. 12 Meeting

Public-CommentsThough voters approved a $64.9 million Scarsdale Schools bond, the words of the League of Women Voters, who opposed the bond, are still on the minds of some members of the Board of Education. In a statement made before the vote, the League concluded that "the process for the development of this Bond was flawed and thus undermined the League's confidence in the result." 

At the February 12, 2018 meeting of the Board, Board member Art Rublin, who has decided not to run for a second term said it was a "good thing" that the bond passed, but had reservations about how the Board engaged with the community.

He said, "I think we would be making a mistake if we interpreted last Thursday's vote as a community endorsement of how we went about putting the bond package proposal together, or a community endorsement of how we have been conducting our business with respect to our treasured Scarsdale school district. As an initial matter – I think it is noteworthy that over one-third of voters – almost 700 voters – voted No. That No vote is larger than many of the total Yes votes Scarsdale has seen on budgets. But holding aside the number of No votes: I share many of the concerns that Mr. Morin has raised regarding the process we undertook with respect to the bond proposal – and I believe many other Yes voters do as well. While I reached a different conclusion than the League of Women Voters of Scarsdale with respect to supporting the bond proposal, I believe that the League raised some good points regarding flaws in our bond development process. And I believe that the recommendations that the League made for a new bond process if the bond failed are well worth our taking seriously with respect to all of the work we do."

He continued saying, "I think we can do a much better job reaching out to the community and working to incorporate input. To be sure, we always have two period of public comment at our business meetings; we had a number of public fora regarding the bond proposal; and we invite people to write to us. But I don't think we should rely on formal settings like our Board meetings, when people have to make childcare plans and such to drive here and then have to speak on television for no more than 3 minutes. And I think that too much of our outreach beyond Board meetings – for example, the Greenacres Building Committee and District-wide Facilities Committee convened in the middle of last year -- came too late in the process, when arguably the die was cast. Using the budget we are discussing right now as an example – I think it would be good if we could find ways in the short term to do outreach outside the Board room to solicit community members' views BEFORE we propose a Budget to the community. Another example – just as focus groups were used for the Superintendent search before Dr. Hagerman was brought on, perhaps focus groups should be organized to solicit community members' views regarding the District's search for a new Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction – to supplement the survey sent to parents last week."

Rublin's comments sparked considerable discussion among the Board members and Dr. Hagerman about whether the agreed upon budget planning schedule allowed ample opportunity for public input. During the public comments section of the meeting, Leah Dembitzer, speaking for the League of Women Voters of Scarsdale asked, "Do you have any board meetings schedule between March 19 and April 16? She was inquiring about whether there would be any opportunity for public comment between the last budget study forum on March 19 and the formal adoption of the 2018-19 budget on April 16.

Board members had varying opinions on the need for more outreach. In a long discussion, here are some of the comments that were made, however, you can watch the discussion yourself here

Lee Maude suggested that Board President Natbony send out an email asking for input, and he agreed, saying, "Perhaps this is the time to let the community know that we look forward to hearing from individuals. At these forums we hear the same people speak, and they speak for themselves." Chris Morin said, "We should solicit input. There is not much that is controversial. I will be surprised if there are hot button issues here." Nina Cannon said, "We have our meeting tonight – we don't meet again until March 5. There are ways to get input. The community would like the opportunity to speak before we say this is set in stone." Pam Feuhrer thought that in the weeks between the March 5 meeting and the March 19 forum, groups like the LWVS, Scarsdale Forum and PT Council would have time to formulate their statements and present them on March 19. Commenting on the need for more meetings, Board Vice President Scott Silberfein said, "We have been here for two hours talking about the budget. I think we've already had two hours of discussion."

Dr. Hagerman believed that the budget recommendation already represented the views of the community and was concerned about receiving comments about a budget that was not yet finalized. He said, "For us, the budget discussion starts as soon as we pass the prior one. We talked about food services for the better part of two years. These pieces represent the larger community view. We feel like this represents the best thinking of the community after internal vetting."

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The conversation than turned to the 2018-19 budget which has now been modified and is currently estimated to go up 1.98% for Scarsdale residents and 3.53% for those in the Mamaroneck strip.

A question arose about including $220,000 in the budget for two provisional elementary school teachers to maintain class sizes at 22 students for grades K-3 and 24 students for grades 4 and 5. As it stands now, if enrollment rises between the time the budget is finalized and the August 15 deadline and more teachers are needed, the expense would have to be absorbed from other budget lines.

Rublin commented on the fact that there was the potential for five elementary school classes to go above the cap next year and said, "In terms of additions, I think it might be good to have some extra full time employees (FTE's) to maintain class sizes.... I am concerned about a tweak in our policy that permits co-taught classes to go 2 students over. I am concerned about going over 24 in these classes. ... We would need to come up with $220,000.... Mr. Mattey doesn't recommend using the surplus to fund additional positions. I would hate to spend money on Butler Field if we don't have $220,000 to fund teachers."

Commenting on the two contingency FTE's, Chris Morin said, "I have no concerns." Pam Feuhrer said, "Stuart – you will take that money from somewhere else –if it's (the enrollment) is more on August 15. I don't want to put the $220,000 in if we don't have to. But I don't want to adjust the facilities budget to hit a specific budget number.

Lee Maude objected, saying, "I have seen sandbagging – or very conservative budgeting with reserves in some areas. I have seen us have to find the money, and the money is there. I have seen some transfers. There always seems to be enough. I am concerned about over taxation and creating these "phantom positions." Once they were in, they got used. In terms of co-taught classes going above the cap, I am comfortable with that. The children are going at their own pace. There are two teachers in the room. I don't share Art's view."

Bill Natbony said, "Keeping class size is a priority. I understand Art's concern about adding contingent positions, and added, "I share Ms. Maude's view on class size."

In other business, the administration proposed a second version of the 2018-2019 school calendar which you can see here:

It calls for the staff to return to school on Wednesday August 28 and Thursday August 29, with school opening on Tuesday September 4, the day after Labor Day. Since school would not end until Wednesday June 26, 2019, there would be a long winter break, extending from Monday December 24 through Monday January 7, 2019.

Proposed 2018-19 School Calendar
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School Bond Referendum Passes with 65% Voter Approval

results1After a protracted and contentious community debate, the $64.9 million bond to finance a renovation and expansion of Greenacres Elementary School and infrastructure improvements at all district schools passed with 65% voter approval.

Participation in the referendum was high, bringing out a total of 1,920 votes, with 1,253 voting yes and 667 voting no. These counts include100 absentee ballots.

Voting was brisk, especially in the evening hours when a PTA presentation about vaping brought parents to the school.

Scarsdale School Superintendent Dr.Thomas Hagerman and six of the seven board members were present along with PTA leaders, Stuart Mattey, John Trenholm, Eric Rauschenbach, Jerry Crisci, Rachel Moseley and Vicki Presser. Former School Board President Suzanne Seiden supervised the vote. All appeared relieved and pleased to hear the results. Dr. Hagerman thanked the volunteers "from the bottom of my heart" and said he appreciated their efforts on behalf of the children of the district.

Board President Bill Natbony thanked everyone who worked hard and said there were "tough projects in front of them" and that he "looked forward to working with all community stakeholders in the spirit of making Scarsdale Schools better."board2-8

This was Dr. Hagerman's second bond referendum in his three and a half years in Scarsdale. In December 2014, the community passed an $18.12 million referendum with an 82% approval rate on 908 votes. This year, more than double the voters turned out to vote on the largest bond referendum in Scarsdale's history, which passed by narrower margins than usual.
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Teachers to Retire, School Budget Planning, Food Service and More from the Scarsdale Schools

schoollunchHow much will school taxes go up next year? Which teachers are planning to retire and what's the plan for food service at the elementary schools? These were just a few of the topics discussed at the Board of Education meeting on Tuesday January 22, 2018, in addition to lots of talk about the proposed 2018 bond initiative.

The January 8, 2018 estimate of the proposed school budget for the 2018/19 school year shows a budget to budget increase of 2.43% and a tax levy increase of 2.88%, which is below the projected tax cap of 3.31%. In total, the draft budget stands at $157,423,353. However Assistant Superintendent Stuart Mattey noted that this increase may go down as a group of veteran teachers will retire.

Enrollment and Staffing:

Assistant Superintendent Andrew Patrick provided information on enrollment and staffing history as part of the budgeting process for the 2018-19 school year. The graph showed relatively steady enrollment over the past nine years, with a low of 4,663 students in 2009, a high of 4,821 in 2015 and 4,769 students now enrolled in the Scarsdale schools. This year, staffing rose from 448.7 certified staff to 456.5, to accommodate the new steam curriculum and two additional elementary class sections for a total of 106 and for co-taught classes.

For next year, the district anticipates that the two provisional elementary school teachers that were added last year due to enrollment will be needed again in addition to one more special education teacher. In addition, there might be a need for a .4 FTE STEAM teacher for courses in the D-lab and on entrepreneurship, based on course enrollment.

Board member Nina Cannon questioned why staffing was going up when enrollment was flat and Patrick said that some staff members had been reclassified as certified from non-certified and that the district was building its STEAM program.

Art Rublin asked about the district policy to increase class enrollment in the co-taught classes to 24 students in K-3 and 26 students in grades 4 and 5. He said, "I don't think we ever discussed going over the class caps. Is this appropriate – we never discussed it. Many are concerned about the numbers going up."

Lee Maude questioned the addition of the .4 STEAM teacher saying, "In 2014 we were asked many times about the head count that would be needed to staff the STEM program and the new facilities at the high school. (About class choices) she said, "At what point do we tell students to try next year? We promised that to the people who supported that bond.. There are a lot of art classes that people want to take – they know they won't get it – but they'll get it later." Referring to the projected budget increase she said, "When I look at the 2.4% number it concerns me. We added a lot of staff over the last two years. I am not saying I don't want .4 staff. Where else can we do something to make up for that increase? Better use of staff? ... Have we sought reductions in other areas?"

Chris Morin added, "I would hate to see us save $44,000 for the steam program. I think we are well within what taxpayers expect to spend --2.4%."

Budget study sessions will be held on February 5, 12 and March 5. The budget will be reviewed at the March 19 meeting and the budget will be adopted at the April 16 meeting of the Board of Education.

Food Service:

Prior to the business meeting, Assistant Superintendent Stuart Mattey reviewed the progress of the district wide food service committee that is discussing how the district will assume food service at all schools beginning in September. He said that they have been working with a consultant as well as Chartwells, the existing supplier for district schools, to analyze space and equipment needs. A subcommittee has been formed to look into menu planning and a communications committee will work on plans to get the word out to parents about this change. The committee is analyzing how parents will order and pay and the sustainability committee is considering reusable utensils and food containers and how to minimize waste and maximize recycling.

The food service operation has its own funding and operates like a small business. Revenues come from the sale of the food. They currently have a fund balance of $400,000 that will be used to purchase equipment, carts, trays, servings pieces and tableware, though more funds will be needed for the start-up. Plans call for the lunches to be prepared at a central kitchen and delivered each day to the schools that currently have no kitchens.

Retirements:

Assistant Superintendent Andrew Patrick announced the upcoming retirement of many veteran faculty members at the end of this school year.

Here's the list:

Dace Aperans, Music Teacher at Quaker Ridge Elementary School
Jeanne Conlin, Special Education Teacher at Scarsdale Middle School
John Cuk, Music Teacher at Scarsdale High School
Maggie Favretti, Social Studies Teacher at Scarsdale High School
Linda Fisher, Art Teacher at Scarsdale Middle School
Barney Foltman, Physical Education Teacher at Scarsdale Middle
Marjorie Najac, fGuidance Counselor at Scarsdale Middle School
Chris Renino, Assistant Principal at Scarsdale High School
Susan Silver, English Teacher at Scarsdale High School.
John Waters, Math Teacher at Scarsdale High School
Christine Gillaland, Science Teacher at Scarsdale Middle School

Elena Costas Fiorella, Speech and Language Teacher at Edgewood
Karen Stieffel, Nurse at the French American School

Tax Certioraris

The district approved payment of tax refunds to the following residents as the result of tax certiorari proceedings:

Greg Soldateno, Farragut Lane, $14,993
Greg Soldatenko, 9 Lenox Place $4,585
Elena DiGiovanni, 14 Colonial Road - $4,119

In a discussion about the tax certiorari reserve, Assistant Superintendent Mattey said these payments were just the "tip of the iceberg" and represented about 20% of the payments the district expects to make this year. For the 2018-19 school budget, the district expects to hold $625,000 in reserve for tax certiorari payments.

Mandarin at Scarsdale Middle School

Lynn Shain, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum announced that a pilot Mandarin program at Scarsdale Middle School had been suspended as of Friday January 19 when enrollment in the program dwindled to 18 students. The class was held during the "zero" period, or before school.

She also announced at foreign language at the elementary schools was now being taught three times a week, at one 40 minute period and at two twenty minute periods. Shain shared information on a trip that teachers, computer teachers and librarians will take to the Parkway School in Greenwich to see how they use their learning commons and explore how the use of these new spaces will be incorporated into the curriculum.

Still Wondering How to Vote on the Bond? Read this.

GreenacresAerialViewAs we come to the finish line of years of debate about the proposed $65 million bond for the Scarsdale Schools, those who have not followed the discussions may be wondering which way to vote on Thursday.

Many of you have historically voted "Yes" for investments in the Scarsdale Schools ... but you're wondering if that's the right thing to do now.

As the publisher of Scarsdale10583, I have followed every meeting and forum and even served on one of the many building committees. I no longer have a personal stake in the issues but I have sought to marshal the facts to present to the community. Though some have called me biased, I'd say I am informed.

Here is how I see it:

What was the bond supposed to accomplish?

Though the district never clearly articulated their goals for Greenacres School, most agree that the school had been neglected and was inadequate for 21st century learning.

Why?

The classrooms, built in 1916, 1920 and 1929, are cramped and stuffy. The foundation and dirt crawl spaces underneath the school have chronic problems with water infiltration resulting in mildew and mold that the district had tried unsuccessfully to remediate for years. 

More multi-purpose space for lunch, music and programming is needed. However, we were told that the building site was maxed out on the footprint and no further expansion was possible.

The kindergarten playground in back of the school is on top of a steep hill where there have been accidents. Though it was suggested that the playground be re-graded and leveled this work is not included in the bond.

The main playground is across the street from the school, requiring traffic monitors and aids at the school all day.

The lack of a driveway or pick-up area makes access to the school for drop-off and pick up dangerous.

So, does the proposed plan address these issues? You decide:

Classroom Size: Classrooms for grades K-3 will remain as is – too small, too cramped and too hot.classroom sizes No walls will be moved to make more spacious classrooms. Current national standards call for 45 square feet per student, meaning that a classroom for 22 children should be 990 square feet and the current classrooms are around 700 square feet. The district claims that removing casework and purchasing modular furniture will help, but I visited one such classroom that already has the new furniture --- and four children are sharing the teacher's desk.

Mold and Air Quality: The district does not seem to know what to do about the chronic water and mold problems, proposing to install stronger dehumidifiers and move kids out of the basement. Furthermore, after public pressure, when the district finally did air quality testing in October 2017 they found mold on all three levels of the school. In fact, the humidity level on the lower level of the school ranged from 63% to 71% and the humidity in the gym on the first floor measured 65%. According to the report, "Humidity levels greater than 30% increase the potential for mold growth and high humidity, 60% or greater can cause biological contamination." 

To make matters worse, the large windows in the gym (which also serves as the school's auditorium) will be covered up by the new construction, and no air conditioning will be installed. What will be the humidity level after the construction?

Lead: Also revealed during the process was the fact that the school has lead in the pipes and that filters are required on drinking fountains and sinks. The filters need to be changed every six months, which is expensive, and if not properly monitored, the lead poses health risks to the staff and children. These pipes, which are presumably over 100 years old, will remain in the building. How much longer can they last? 

Parents are also concerned that during construction the lead and asbestos in the walls will be disturbed and exposed. Testing did find the presence of lead in the walls, and this can be very harmful to children.

Playground Access: The large playground across the street will be even more difficult to access during construction, because students will have to walk around the construction site to get to the field. One of the architects even suggested that kids would be walking under "swinging steel." After construction, the main entrance to the school will be a three-story stair tower, which may make access to the school even more challenging.

Parking and Traffic: No parking or traffic solutions have been included in the bond. Plans call for the school to actually lose a few of the existing parking spaces and the building will extend so close to the curb that there will be little space for kids to congregate outside. A plan to build a second row of parking along Montrose Road was requested by the building committee and approved by the Village. However, it was shelved by the school administration.

The superintendent has called this a "health and safety bond," and excuses all the shortcomings of the plan by saying that other district schools have some of these same issues. Is this a valid excuse? For $35 million, isn't it possible to get a safe, healthy, sustainable space that meets current building code? In fact, district architects BBS did a gut renovation and expansion of a school in Hempstead for 600 students for just $18 million, so why can't they do the same in Scarsdale? 

In short, does the plan address the key issues at Greenacres? Sadly no. And I am not the only one with serious reservations about this proposal – read what the League of Women of Scarsdale and the Greenacres Task Force have to say.

To those who say this is Greenacres last chance, and that if the bond goes down Greenacres will get nothing, here is my response.

The district is required to provide adequate educational facilities for the children. If this bond fails, the district and administration will need to come up with a plan that achieves their goals and wins the consensus of the community. Until that's accomplished, the $5 million in debt service that is now in the budget can be carried forward and used for infrastructure repairs and improvements. This was suggested by Assistant Superintendent Stuart Mattey at a Board of Education meeting on September 12, 2016.

We came here because of the excellence of the Scarsdale Schools. Even those who are backing this plan admit it is mediocre at best and qualify their decision by saying, "this is the best we can do."

In my view, we're a community of achievers and believers who earn "A's", not "F's" Let's use our critical and design thinking skills to come up with a plan that's in keeping with the 21st rather than the 19th century. I'm voting "no" this time in the hope that we can work together to identify a plan that will makes us all proud to say we live in Scarsdale and continue to draw young parents here for decades in the future.

This is the opinion of site founder Joanne Wallenstein.

District Hosts Morning Bond Discussion

Public ForumSoon after the ribbon cutting ceremony at the high school Learning Commons, Scarsdale School District officials and Scarsdale Board of Education members took part in a community meeting to discuss the 2018 school bond proposal. In his opening remarks, Scarsdale Schools Superintendent Thomas Hagerman mentioned the new high school space and said, "(It) was a great example of the process we are engaged in right now. "

While school officials were there to provide a basic overview of the proposed 2018 bond planning process and scope, the primary purpose of the meeting was to address residents' questions about the referendum, scheduled for February 8. Hagerman also urged the public to reference the district's website for more detailed information on the bond planning process, the bond's financial implications, and district-wide and Greenacres bond projects, as well as answers to frequently asked questions and voting requirements.

Assistant Superintendent for Business and Facilities Stuart Mattey presented a brief overview of the bond development process, which actually began during planning for the 2014 bond project, when major work at Greenacres Elementary was deferred. He reviewed a timeline that began with the establishment of the Greenacres Feasibility Committee, and the building condition surveys conducted at each of the district's seven school buildings, leading to involvement of BBS Architects to perform comprehensive building studies, to the development of bond scope considerations. Last fall, the Greenacres Building Committee and District-Wide Facilities Committee conducted numerous meetings to discuss and refine bond planning, and the Scarsdale Board of Education adopted the bond referendum in December.

As many residents know, this three-year process led to identification of a variety of high-priority facility issues that would be addressed by the proposed bond, including heating and ventilation, roofs, boilers and burners, field and site improvements, electrical upgrades, building and structural repairs, ADA/door and handrail compliance, flooring improvements, base security camera installations and security vestibule improvements.

Mattey also reviewed the bond scope with regard to Greenacres Elementary specifically, including new construction, engineering and site work and interior reconstruction, along with improvements related to building systems, air quality and health, security and safety. In addressing the district's decision to renovate the existing building, he said, "In studying that building, we've come to the conclusion that (it) is very sound and can have a long life ahead of it. (We've) recommended renovation of the building for interior spaces, bringing it up to today's standards and looking ahead, and an expansion to address spaces that are undersized and provide spaces that the building doesn't have."

Mattey then discussed the financial implications of the 2018 bond, which is expected to be tax neutral. "Based on conservative estimates, we are projecting that the debt service to be taken on with this bond would be at or, perhaps even less than, where our current service is," he said.

Attendees were then invited to comment and/or ask questions. Marion Green, chair of the Council of People With Disabilities and past chair of CHILD, began the session by asking about ADA compliance at Greenacres, specifically in bathrooms. A representative from BBS Architects explained that all ADA requirements will be met at Greenacres. New ADA compliant toilet rooms for students and faculty members will be installed throughout new spaces, as well as various areas within the existing building. In other locations, existing toilet rooms will be renovated to be ADA accessible. Compliance also will cover water fountains, faucets, signage, ramps and other building features.

Green then asked about accessibility for people with disabilities at drop off and pick up during construction, and mentioned concerns about parking. She was assured that construction will be contained and that the main entrance will be relatively unobstructed during renovations. Green concluded by offering her assistance in helping the district meet ADA compliance standards. Hagerman also assured her that "We have no intention of taking shortcuts or doing waivers on things that are both required and that we know support the lives of all of our students." She responded, "I think, here in Scarsdale, what we do want to do is accomplish the best for... our community."

Bob Berg expressed his support for the bond, stating, "We have an opportunity... we have low interest rates, we have tremendous needs for infrastructure repair in the schools, to give Greenacres what's really due... We all should be supporting this bond. (It) is not perfect... it's a good compromise. Support our schools."

A Greenacres resident then asked the school officials to reiterate what would happen should the bond referendum be defeated. Board of Education President Bill Natbony responded, "If the bond does not pass, then you're not able to immediately take advantage of going forward with financing for the projects that are in the bond." He continued, "The board will have to go back to work, figure out what the priorities are and how to proceed from there... we have to figure out... where are we going to get the funds to do that necessary security, safety and infrastructure work. There's no question that it will delay things."

Hagerman followed up on Natbony's comments and said, "The needs have been clearly identified... The community needs to understand that bonding (provides) a mechanism to allow us to do a comprehensive amount of work and pay for it over a period of time."

Mona Longman asked about the district's estimated $60 million cost for a new building for Greenacres. "In other districts, buildings are being built for under $40 million; why is it costing us more than other suburban, high-performing districts?" Representatives of BBS Architects explained that the $60 million was based on cost per square foot, plus the cost of development of a new building, removal of the older building and related fieldwork. He and school officials then cited regional differences in costs, and requirements that drive expenses in New York, and not necessarily in other municipalities. Board Member Pam Fuhrer added that, "Related to these buildings built in similar areas, we're talking about 2019-20 dollars, which are very different from 2014, 2015 and 2016 dollars... We want to make sure we're looking at what it's going to cost us in three years, not what it cost them to build three years ago."

Longman also questioned why the proposal for additional parking on Montrose Road has not been included in the bond proposal. Hagerman explained, "We have parking issues at each and every one of our schools. These are small neighborhoods that... are not equipped for the kind of traffic that has developed. In terms of Greenacres... there was not a comfort level... for moving that forward without spending more time on the issue." He continued, "We know this is an issue; it doesn't have to be tied to the bond in order for us to continue working on it. The bond isn't inclusive of everything. "

Longman then asked about differing state aid amounts for renovations and new construction. Mattey responded, "There's more aid associated with renovations than new buildings because the state encourages you to fix your older buildings." She then questioned availability of additional aid that could be tied to sustainability provided in new construction. Mattey stated that the state provides a variety of grants for different efficiency features in both old and new buildings. Hagerman added that sustainability and related savings could be examined via the district's energy performance contract and sustainability committee.

Mayra Kirkendall-Rodriguez ended the public comment session by inviting the public to attend the Scarsdale Forum's event, "What is the School Bond and Should You Vote for It?" on February 1, at 7:30 pm, and encouraged voters to educate themselves about the bond proposal by reviewing the district's website.

Laura Halligan, a new contributor to scarsdale10583.com, is a local writer, editor and marketing consultant. She is principal of Pinch Hit Prose and provides communications services to entrepreneurs, small businesses and nonprofits.

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