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Letter to the Editor: "Greenacres School Process is a Sham"

constructionThis Letter to the Editor was sent to Scarsdale10583 by Andy Taylor:

This whole GA school process has been a sham. It has not been open and I truly believe that this process has been strong armed to get to what is believed/perceived as a lower risk bond vote. As a tax payer I know the community is getting a truly poor value given the proposed GA renovation - it's just a poorly designed and scoped project. Way too much cost for way too little benefit. I'd happily pay higher taxes if we got value, I'd prefer to save vs. this option. As a father and member of the community I truly believe that the school board is shifting an unacceptable amount of risk and burden on the GA community because of its lack of leadership. Here is a simple truth - Scarsdale is an old town with old schools and will have to eventually figure out ways to truly upgrade/replace the facilities through time. This won't be easy, but dumping a significant sum of money into a bandaid and retaining huge facility shortcomings doesn't work. This is further compounded by ignoring the sprawling open construction site that children are intended to navigate daily and learn in. If I hear another inane quip about how we have kids in school during construction regularly in Scarsdale I might lose it. The community of Scarsdale has never tried construction of this scale and scope on such a tight site, in this proximity of children, for such duration before. This is a real issue for parents that has largely been ignored.

The board seems to have gone out of its way on multiple occasions to minimize or hamper community involvement. Waiting until the end of school board meetings - close to midnight on weekdays before opening up public comment on GA school (personally experienced this 3x - once sitting there waiting while the school board finished a decision about font size on wall plaques - sure seemed like they intended to wait out GA parents - trying to thin the crowd). Having final "deliberations" on Greenacres school on a weekday morning at the end of summer is a nice way to help ensure less involvement from busy families with young children who are out of town prior to the start of school. Nothing about this process has appeared to be done in good faith: last minute meeting announcements, limited disclosure of detailed plans, no discussion weighing complete costs of options at public meetings. The "open" discussions truly appear to be a show, devoid of any real analysis and evaluation - despite constant community requests for just that. This whole process has made me cynical about our educational infrastructure and truly saddens me that the reps of our community refuse to have an adult conversation with the community. I have had a few private conversations with members of the school board, and they have acknowledged and validated much of my concerns. It is as if there is some invisible momentum to get a specific result. I and a large number of GA families that I am in touch with will be voting no on the bond because of the way the school board (and superintendent) have attempted to strong arm this process.

Andy Taylor

Scarsdale Forum’s Downtown Revitalization Committee Launches Merchants Survey

forum survey imageThe Downtown Revitalization Committee of the Scarsdale Forum is launching its Merchants Survey this week in downtown Scarsdale, with the objective of conducting live interviews with all merchants in the Village downtown, including Scarsdale Avenue and Garth Road.

The survey will be used to measure merchants' perceptions of downtown, including availability of parking, infrastructure, use of public spaces, variety of retail stores and nightlife, to name but a few topics. The results should begin to paint a picture of how local employers feel about the area in which they spend so much of their week. They also will be used as a benchmark to measure the change in merchant perceptions of downtown during the course of the downtown revitalization initiative. The results will be published and provided to participants as soon as all of the data are compiled and analyzed.

Alex Harrison, who is coordinating the Merchants Survey, reported, "The merchants and business owners of our downtown are important stakeholders and members of our community. They have been directly impacted by the decline in pedestrian traffic, the changing retail mix and the increase in store vacancies. Committee members would like to interview each one of our merchants. Through the Scarsdale Forum, we hope to make their concerns, opinions and voices heard."

Mayra Kirkendall-Rodríguez, who is coordinating the Downtown Revitalization Committee's Consumer Survey, provided this update, "The Consumer Survey will be completed the evening of September 12. Over the next month, we will be compiling the results and preparing a report. Before releasing the report, it is important to obtain the independent and unbiased perspective of our merchants and business owners. Only by understanding both sides of the buy/sell decision can we make solid recommendations."

Susan Douglass, Chair of the Downtown Revitalization Committee, put the Forum's Consumer and Merchants Surveys into perspective, noting "Good market research will provide an important foundation for the Forum's recommendations for revitalizing the Village downtown. However, it is important to bear in mind that market research is not an exact science. It won't give us a detailed blueprint for improving the downtown, and it won't give us a list of priority actions to pursue. Market research is simply a tool to help us make educated guesses about the potential success of various development strategies. More precisely, market research is a set of measurements which, when used together, provides a snapshot of current market conditions and trends that could affect the downtown's potential for growth and change."

Any questions regarding the ongoing projects of the Downtown Revitalization Committee may be referred to Susan Douglass at susanudouglass@gmail.com.

Local Leaders Respond to Violence In Charlottesville

KlanIt's difficult to believe that white supremacists, neo-Nazis and members of the Ku Klux Klan would stage a violent protest in an enlightened college town and that the U.S. President would fail to condemn them. But that's exactly what happened this week in Charlottesville, VA, and many I spoke to in Scarsdale are shocked, offended and even more worried about the fate of our nation than they have been in previous weeks.

Here are comments from local leaders:

Representative Eliot Engel: "The white supremacists and eliotengelnationalists who lined the streets of Charlottesville inciting violence the past few days are domestic terrorists. Calling them anything other than that is not just an affront to our values; it's dangerous. These men and women are filled with hate and have displayed a willingness to use violence as a means to push their racist, anti-Semitic beliefs. They represent the very worst of our country and every good citizen should stand against them in this critical moment.

"Today, I mourn the loss of life in this despicable display and pray no more innocent people are harmed or worse. The President condemned the violence 'on all sides' of this conflict, but there is only one side that deserves his condemnation. There is only one side spreading hatred and that side, the side of David Duke and the white supremacists, must be denounced in the strongest possible terms. The President should have done that yesterday in his remarks. He did not."

jeffreybrownRabbi Jeffrey Brown from Scarsdale Synagogue: "Like you, I am still reeling from the news of this past weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia. The senseless death of Heather Heyer, who was present to protest the "Unite the Right" rally and its message of white supremacy, is only our most recent reminder that our society continues to suffer from racism and anti-Semitism (to name just two symptoms of the disease).

Tweets from Senator Chuck Schumer

"By saying he is not taking sides, Donald Trump clearly is. When David Duke and white supremacists cheer, you're doing it very, very wrong."

"Great and good American presidents seek to unite not divide. Donald Trump's remarks clearly show he is not one of them."

Tweets from Senator Kirsten Gillibrand:

"Wow, what a disgrace. There is only one side. No one, especially not the leader of the free world, should ever tolerate violent racists."

Gillibrand"We must not remain silent or accept the hate and bigotry brought to Charlottesville, VA—or anywhere in this country."

"The images out of Charlottesville are some of the worst I've seen in America in my adult life. White supremacy and neo-Nazism have no place in America. Domestic terrorism like this cannot be tolerated."

"I know we are better than this, but we must all speak out against this hate. Silence is not an option."

What do you think? Share your views in the comments section below.

Letter to the Editor: Greenacres: Unrealistic Plans Ignore Need to Relocate Students Off-Site

Construction-Hard-HatsThis letter was sent to Scarsdale10583 by Chris and Lynn Marvin: The Scarsdale School District has recently attempted to address widespread safety concerns with the massive $35 million renovation of Greenacres Elementary, Scarsdale's oldest school, by proposing to limit interior construction to two summers. As the parents of three Greenacres students, we agree that interior construction should only be done when the school building is unoccupied, however, we believe that the District's current proposal offers false hope that the Greenacres project can be accomplished safely without the need to relocate students off-site for a longer period of time. Worse yet, it may even exacerbate safety issues.

The current District proposal hinges on the feasibility of completing an extensive interior renovation of half of the school building in just ten weeks, the length of a typical summer break. Those ten weeks must necessarily include sufficient time for, among other things, removal of classroom furniture and supplies, extensive asbestos abatement, removal of flooring in classrooms and corridors, interior demolition, framing of new walls, doors and windows, installation of new electrical wiring and plumbing, installation of flooring, finishing of new walls, painting of classrooms and corridors, replacement of classroom unit ventilators and the reinstallation of all furniture and supplies (with time for teachers to set up their classrooms for the new school year). Of course, the school would also have to be thoroughly cleaned and new flooring and other materials given time to completely off-gas before it would be safe for students to be admitted back into the building.

Can the District really accomplish all of that in just ten weeks? Their recent track record suggests otherwise. The District experienced construction delays this year with summer projects at the High School and Edgewood that left them scrambling to finish before the start of the school year. Reasons for those delays included the discovery of asbestos in areas where none had been anticipated, a significant risk in a school like Greenacres, Scarsdale's oldest, and errors made by the District's contractors, a risk with any construction project, particularly one as extensive and complex as what's been proposed for Greenacres. Even just a few years ago, a planned move of the Greenacres office was postponed from one summer to the next due to delays involving asbestos abatement. That work involved only the renovation of two rooms; the proposed project would involve half of the school building at a time!

As the District may argue, despite their ultimate responsibility for these projects, some reasons for recent construction delays may have been out of their immediate control. But that's precisely the point. The District cannot always anticipate or control the causes of construction delays. Accordingly, the School Board should not attempt to address significant safety concerns by focusing solely on a scenario in which interior construction must begin and be completed in the summer when recent experience suggests that scenario is unlikely to be realistic.

What would happen to Greenacres' students in the event of a construction delay? In that case, as the District scrambled to react, it might try to continue construction with the children back in the school building, putting them in harm's way. Or the District might pressure its contractors to finish the work before the end of the summer by any means necessary, thereby incentivizing them to cut corners wherever possible just to get the job done. The resulting punch list of unsatisfactory work would likely require school-year construction to resolve. Either way, Greenacres' students would lose.

The solution is to relocate Greenacres' students off-site for the duration of the construction project, an idea supported by a majority of the Kindergarten and First Grade parents at Greenacres during the last school year (i.e. parents of children likely to be affected by the renovation).

We urge the School Board to find a way to move Greenacres' students out of the school building and harm's way for as long as it will take to complete the entire Greenacres construction project. We also encourage all concerned Scarsdale residents, whether Greenacres parents or not, to let the School Board hear your concerns. Their e-mail address is: boardofed@scarsdaleschools.org.

County Executive Rob Astorino Vows to Veto Legislation to Protect Undocumented Immigrants

astorinoA bipartisan bill to protect immigrants in Westchester County was passed by a vote of 10-5 by the Westchester County Board of Legislators on Monday August 7.

The new law would protect the confidential information of all residents, regardless of their immigration status and ensure that the county does not work as immigration agents. The bill would prevent the county from providing federal immigration authorities with money or equipment when trying to round people up solely because of their immigration status.

The bill would bar county police from communicating with federal authorities solely on civil immigration matters. Immigration authorities would need a judicial warrant to question people in the county jail and it allows targeted immigrants to get legal counsel.

The bill was the first of its kind to be passed by a county in New York State.

Though immigrants and immigrants' rights advocates cheered the passage of the bill, County Executive Rob Astorino has vowed to veto it and he has ten days to do so.

In a press release issued by his office on Monday, Astorino said he objected to the bill because, "it would jeopardize public safety, particularly those in our immigrant communities, would cost taxpayers millions of dollars and would be nearly impossible to enforce." He feared that the county would lose up to $13 million in federal funds as it would become a "sanctuary county" ... at odds with the federal government."

Astorino was joined by Hector Lopez, President of the Westchester Hispanic Law Enforcement Association who said the new law would endanger law abiding residents and provide safe haven for undocumented immigrants who have broken the law. He said, "The passing of this Act opens the doors for undocumented immigrants involved in criminal activity, such as the ruthless MS-13 gang, to migrate to Westchester and prey on other immigrants, many of whom will not report crimes committed against them for fear of retribution... This act is placing handcuffs on our law enforcement officers, not the criminals."

County Legislator Ben Boykin who represents Scarsdale co-sponsored the bill. He urged residents to support the legislation, saying, "The fact is, no matter how much fear mongering those opposed say and no matter how loudly they say it, this legislation simply ensures county law enforcement focuses their attention and resources on protecting public safety in Westchester - while complying fully with federal law. The federal government has plenty of resources to use on federal issues, our County coffers are already stretched far too thin. It is now time for the County Executive to do the right thing for all of those who call our community home instead of cozying up to the anti-immigrant agenda coming from Washington. Now we need YOUR help again - call the County Executive's office and tell him you support this common sense resource allocation and public safety measure."