The protracted and sometimes contentious discussions about the proposed 2013-14 Scarsdale School Budget reached the finish line on Tuesday night May 7 with general consensus that the Board, administration and community has reached a compromise that provides funding for the continuance and enhancement of Scarsdale's educational program. The final $145.2mm budget is only 2.47% above the 2012-13 budget but still exceeds the NYS Tax Cap by $700,000 and will require a 60% approval by voters on May 21. The budget-to-budget increase is the lowest in 30 years. Due to reduced reliance on reserve funds, the tax increase will be 3.91% for Scarsdale residents and 4.00% for those in the Mamaroneck strip – numbers that are far lower than the 6.88% tax increase originally proposed by the administration in February.
The Board and community groups who attended the May 7 session seemed to utter a collective sigh of relief that the budget had been put to bed and most advocated for its passage. The highly debated Wellness Center, aka Center for Fitness and Learning is included in the budget, but funded through use of funds from previous year's budgets and the repair reserve. In order to educate the community about the planned renovation, Assistant Superintendent Linda Purvis made a video tour of the space to demonstrate why the new facility was needed. In an unusual move, the administration utilized YouTube
to communicate with skeptical residents.
Tuesday's session provided time for each Board member to reflect on the budget process and the final product, which was approved unanimously at their April 22 meeting. Here are their comments, which ranged from lukewarm to passionate.
Board President Liz Guggenheimer reflected on a weekend walk where she had seen "dozens of kindergarten and first grade students -- plus their families -- on the Fox Meadow baseball fields." Seeing their "appetite for fun, fitness and learning," left her "even more determined to do what (she could) to ensure that these and other rising students benefit from the programs, people, buildings, grounds - and the vision -- that make Scarsdale Schools so special. "
Board member Mary Beth Gose was more cryptic with her comments and advised residents to "define your educational priorities, follow the money, decide whether this budget reflects your priorities and express yourself on May 21. Lew Leone commended the "group of smart, thoughtful, caring Board members that took time and energy to put forth the best that we could," while Jonathan Lewis was more effusive in his praise of the process and end result. He said, "I am proud of the board who came up with a budget that reflects our values. We have tightened our belt and with significant community input crafted a budget that reflects inevitable compromise. It is the best package of fiscal conservatism and investment in our future."
Suzanne Seiden, Vice President of the School Board took a more direct approach and said, "I strongly support the budget which is good for kids in grades K-12 and the entire community. We could always improve the process but this year we had more community meetings than in the past, we offered tours and the process worked. I look forward to continuing to improve education, having a new fitness center and developing a master plan for much needed improvements.
Jill Spieler looked back on her six years on the Board, saying, "each year the deliberations have become harder. This year, the Board had more open discussions, more meeting, and late hours. We al listened carefully and balanced what we heard. Though we are one of few districts in the region with a budget over the tax cap, our increase is the 13th lowest in Westchester and Putnam counties. I am firmly of the belief we have put forward a sound budget."
Commenting on the budget process, Sunil Subbakrishna said, "While our budget discussions have sometimes been rancorous, I think we are better off for having had them. As my grandfather, an electrical engineer, used to tell me, you can't generate light without heat."
Statements followed from representatives for the Scarsdale PT Council, Scarsdale League of Women Voters and the Scarsdale Middle School PTA. All were in favor of the budget and commended the Board and Administration on the process. Some of these groups failed to reach full consensus for their statements so they named the individuals who concurred and noted that the budget was a compromise that balanced the priorities of diverse factions of the community. Rather than read a statement aloud at the meeting, the Scarsdale High School PTA published a letter from PTA President Jacquie Walter on the Scarsdale Schools website and the full text of the letter is printed below along with the statements from the League of Women Voters, PT Council and Middle School PTA.
Absent from this final session were critics of the budget who had frequented many of the budget meetings. Robert Berg who was outspoken in his criticism of the Board for exceeding the NYS tax cap took a pass as well as PT Council Vice President Vivienne Braun who had questioned the decision to move forward with the new Wellness Center without curriculum and staffing plans. In the past, the Scarsdale Forum had also weighed in on the school budget but no statement was issued this year.
The school budget in its entirety as well as budget FAQ's are available on the Scarsdale School website here. The budget vote will take place on Tuesday May 21 at the Scarsdale Middle School gymnasium from 7 am to 9 pm. If you are not registered to vote, click here for full instructions on how to register.
Statement from the Scarsdale PT Council:
I am Gayle Hutcher, President of the Scarsdale Council of PTA's speaking on behalf of executive committee members Karen Brew and Lauren Mintzer, PTC Officers and PTA Presidents Melissa Berridge-GA, Olga Eligulashvili-H, Pam Fuehrer-SMS, Stephanie Glaser-FM, Kim Goldban-QR, Laurie Medvinsky-E, and Jacquie Walter SHS.
The Scarsdale Council of PTA's Executive Committee has followed the budget process with great interest. As our mission statement notes, we advocate for the education and well-being of every child. Members of the PTC executive committee, which includes the 7 Scarsdale School PTA Presidents and Council Officers, have been elected to represent all of the school communities. We have attended BOE meetings and met with the Administration throughout the year. We carefully analyzed budget line items, and we thank the Board of Education and the Administration for responding to our questions through out the budget study process. While our opinions on the budget details vary, we do feel the 2013-2014 Scarsdale school budget overall maintains what we value and hope to preserve in our schools: favorable class sizes and a wide array of course offerings at all grade levels, as well as comprehensive extra-curricular, sports and arts opportunities for our students at all district schools.
Members of the PTC Executive Committee hope all residents will look at this budget as one year of a multi-year plan for the future. Join with us on May 21, 2013 to vote YES for the proposed Scarsdale School Budget for 2013-2014 school year.
With the "to do list" of maintenance projects growing each year, we appreciate the Board's particular focus this year to look ahead and to create a long-term plan for our schools. Investment in the security of our schools will bring the district up to the new standard protocols. A relocated Fitness Center at SHS will allow the District to move ahead improvements that have been in discussion for many years, and open space for future capital projects to meet student needs. Funding for program improvements, while reduced in this budget, keeps our curriculum at the forefront of education practices and focused on innovation for the future – all of which are well-regarded worldwide. We trust that the District and Board will continue to monitor the student/teacher ratios at SHS as low class size is very important for student success.
The District's school budget growth of 2.47% is the third lowest in 30 years. We must remember the largest portion of this growth – 1.9% is due to NY State mandated increases in the retirement systems that we have no control over, leaving .57% growth for programs and services in our schools. This translates to a tax levy of 3.93% for Scarsdale residents and 4% for the Mamaroneck strip. With the proposed school budget over the NYS Tax Cap allowance by .55% the budget will need a 60% majority vote to pass.
It is also important to educate our community about the potential impact of voting a school budget down. Should less than 60% of the voters approve the current budget, a second budget will be presented which may or may not involve revisions. Voting a budget down twice results in severe NYS mandated across-the-board cuts to our programs and staff that will have long-range disastrous implications , which have not been experienced in Scarsdale before.
We encourage the community to come together as we guide our students and the schools to a future of meaningful success. Vote Yes on May 21st.
Statement from the Leauge of Women Voters of Scarsdale – read by League President Mary Lou Green:
The League of Women Voters of Scarsdale (the "League") supports the 2013-14 School Budget dated April 22, 2013 (the "Budget").
While individuals may disagree on select items in the $145mm Budget, the League believes that the Board of Education (the "BOE ") and Administration have developed a Budget that, taken as a whole, attempts to reflect the values of the community. The BOE has sought to maintain the excellence of our schools and to also preserve the financial strength of the school district in the face of significant pressures wrought by, among other things, a continued weak economy and a state-mandated tax cap.
The League's support of the Budget comes with the expectation that the Administration and BOE will move forward aggressively with master planning for expanded cafeteria, library and collaborative learning spaces including the new Health, Fitness and Learning Center in the high school.
The League acknowledges the efforts of the BOE and the Administration to reach out to the community since the Preliminary Budget was prepared, including the offered site tours, informational postings on the District website, community meetings and written and oral responses to questions. Further, we appreciate that the BOE and the Administration have been responsive to other issues raised by the League in our March 22nd statement. The League expects that the BOE and Administration will continue this level of community involvement and communication as the Master Plan and timeline are developed and implemented.
Community participation in the upcoming election is crucial. We urge all qualified citizens to vote on Tuesday, May 21st in the School Board election and to vote YES for the Budget.
Finally, the League appreciates this opportunity to comment on the Budget and thanks the Vice President of the BOE and the Assistant Superintendent for Business for attending the League meeting held on April 29, 2013. This statement is based on that meeting and reflects the consensus of League members on the topics included in this statement.
Statement from the Scarsdale Middle School PTA Executive Committee read by Pam Fuehrer:
The SMS PTA Executive Committee supports the Final Budget (Budget) and asks all residents to Vote Yes on May 21st. Because the tax levy is over the tax cap, we need 60% of the voters to approve this budget, and so we urge residents to find the time to express their support. We believe that the Administration and Board of Education (Board) have been diligent and fiscally prudent in their budget creation process. Many line items originally requested by the Administration were removed. Views and questions from residents and local organizations have been welcomed and addressed. Comprehensive materials have been made available. We are extremely appreciative of the efforts of all those involved in this process.
We are pleased that elementary class sizes will be maintained and that the fitness center will be updated and relocated to allow for further capital improvements that support Scarsdale's Education for Tomorrow. We look forward to being regularly informed of the Board's progress as aspects of a Facilities Master Plan are discussed and as the Wellness Curriculum is developed. We appreciate the investment to bring security to industry standards and to increase the high school eating space as a resolution for current and anticipated overcrowding. We are grateful that two librarians remain at the high school, and we urge the Board to review the effect of reducing librarians from 2 to 1 at the middle school throughout the year.
We also recognize that difficult choices had to be made to get here and regret that certain aspects were compromised due to fiscal conservatism. We refer specifically to the loss of a middle school librarian, the potential for more classes at the high school to contain 25+ students, the elimination of a math teacher at the middle school, and a reduction in arts and aesthetic instruction. Hopefully, the Board will reevaluate the elimination of these integral programmatic items next year.
We urge those voters who are thinking of voting No on May 21st to consider the potential outcome of a failed budget. If this Budget fails, the Board may find that it has no choice but to cut further into the critical structure of Scarsdale's education to create a second budget. Such cuts could have dire consequences not only to our educational system and the opportunities afforded to our children, but also to Scarsdale's overall reputation.
People move to Scarsdale for its educational system. Many residents hope their grown children return so that their grandchildren can also benefit from this school district. We value Scarsdale's reputation and support this family tradition. This Budget supports the deeply held belief that we should invest in our schools. Education is at the core of Scarsdale's identity as a community, and our real estate values are closely tied to the quality of this education. These thoughts are communicated year after year. As a community, Scarsdale has always given education priority and should continue to do so.
Please Vote Yes with us on May 21st to ensure that Scarsdale will remain a place where academic, artistic and athletic experiences remain strong.
Respectfully submitted by The Scarsdale Middle School PTA Executive Committee:
Pam Fuehrer – President
Joan Frankle – Director of Programming
Seema Jaggi – President-Elect
Jennifer Gross – Director of Membership
Karen Ceske – Secretary
Ansu Thomas – Director of Hospitality
Nancy Brady – Treasurer
Letter from Scarsdale High School PTA President Jacquie Walter as it appears on the Scarsdale High School PTA website:
Dear Scarsdale High School Families,
The executive committee of the SHS PTA has, as always, paid close attention to the Board of Education's budget development proceedings. Early on, we identified four areas that directly impact the high school experience. Those areas are as follows:
• Enrollment at the high school is expected to significantly increase over the next two years, and then remain steady for a few years. This increased enrollment will negatively impact the current student/teacher ratio and teacher availability to students in many departments
• Given the current schedule and enrollment size, SHS struggles to meet the needs of the student body with regard to space for lunch
• While feeling that the high school is generally safe, the high school community expects that some basic safety and security issues will be addressed
• Renovations to the fitness center have been discussed, budgeted and approved by the community at least twice in the last five years, but the only improvements made to date have been achieved through private donation
Throughout the process, we continued to ask questions and monitor the developments. We asked the Board of Education to address these key issues, and to that end, our expectations have been met. Here is how:
• In order to accommodate the projected enrollment and keep class sizes in line with what we have come to expect, the proposed budget includes the addition of a faculty member in the English Department, and a part-time position in the Science Department. Additionally, the current part-time Performing Arts teacher position will become a full-time position. Special Education will lose a faculty position, but will remain within the state mandated ratios. Please note that while no course selections have been eliminated, availability of certain classes depends on demand and space constraints, as always.
• The school will continue to have two librarians. Librarians not only supply direct assistance to students in the library, they also assist faculty in all disciplines in course development and research.
• The overall number of hours worked by aides will increase at the high school, primarily due to the addition of the security "greeters." Other aide positions have been cut or redirected based on the needs at the school.
• A full-time administrative assistant position will replace some of those "aide hours" in the Physical Education/Athletics office.
• After exploring and rejecting multiple non-budgetary improvements to overcrowding in the cafeteria, including changes in scheduling (starting lunch service at 10:30am, having a third lunch period that would split a class into two parts) and "freshman only" lunch periods, it was determined that additional seating could be arranged in the "commons" area, and the existing cafeteria was re-assessed for capacity. There are funds for construction and equipment expenses in the budget to expand the capacity by 80-90 seats BY SEPTEMBER, when the need presents itself.
• Additionally, food service will be available for extended periods of time (i.e., not just during fifth period). As the food service operation was outsourced a while back, this should not involve any increased expense.
• While SHS will maintain an "open campus" policy, the points of entry will be (and to a large extent already have been) limited.
• Three points of entry will be monitored by security "greeters" during the school day. All individuals seeking access to the school will be required to show identification, including students, parents and staff. All other doors will be unavailable for entry.
• Interior classroom door locks that meet all code regulations and allow staff to lock them from the inside will be installed where they do not exist now throughout the district.
• The fitness center will be moved from where it is now to larger, more appropriate space. This move involves the development of currently uninhabitable space, which is the majority of the cost associated with the project. While there has been much discussion about the grand plan for not only the use of this space but also the eventual use of the space which the current center will vacate, for now, it is simply the relocation of a fitness center from one place to another.
• Discussion about the curriculum improvements that the new fitness center will support, the development of a "wellness"center or a center for "health, wellness and learning" is ongoing.
• The development of a plan for the space that the current fitness center will vacate is ongoing.
We asked that the final budget proposed meet the immediate needs of the high school. We believe it does that. We have also asked that the Board of Education develop plans for its long term, curriculum-based capital projects that continue to fulfill the mission and vision of the district and our expectation is that those plans are underway. We will continue to pay close attention to those plans and will inform our members of the developments.
Regarding the Budget Vote:
The executive committee of the Scarsdale High School PTA recognizes the value this community places on education and have approached the review of this budget from the perspective of maintaining that which we have come to identify as fundamental to the high school experience.
We also understand the impact of this budget vote. Since the final calculations put it over the tax cap, state law requires that the vote must pass by more than a 60% majority, not the 50% required if it is under the cap. This is the first year our community has faced this. It is important to note that capital expenditures, including funds spent on the fitness center, are exempt from the tax cap calculation, so taking that project out of the budget will NOT bring the budget under the cap.
If the budget should not pass by that 60% majority, the Board of Education may re-present a budget for a second vote in June. If the second vote fails, the district is held to the same levy as this year, which means currently that nearly $4.99 million would come out of this adopted budget.
SHS PTA President