The PT Council Executive Committee and the PTC Budget Study Chairs would like to express our gratitude to the District Administration and the Board of Education for all your time and energy this past year, especially for your extensive work around our most recent bond, securing a better future for our District. We also thank you for your continued efforts in making the budget process more collaborative and for taking steps to encourage more active engagement and dialogue though we would like to see improvement on the timeliness of community outreach efforts and the posting of the detailed agendas at least a few days prior to the Monday Board meetings. Overall, we support the 2018-19 draft budget proposal and have the following comments:
We appreciate the administration’s very conscious effort in drafting a budget that is mindful of the constraints and uncertainty that our community faces with the new federal tax legislation. However, we do support budgetary increases for items that reflect the needs of our District and community. At the final budget study session, the Administration presented the Board with a post-draft budget book request for an additional $250K for security, introduced in the wake of the Parkland tragedy, with half of that money allocated to unspecified infrastructure expenditures and the other half to the creation of a Director of Security full-time consultant position.
We support the proposed addition of a consultant position that focuses on security but we ask that this candidate also be responsible for prioritizing safety concerns, which may occasionally be at odds with school building security. We recognize that security enhancements and restrictions may also bring unintended consequences that likewise impact our children’s overall well-being. For example, physical barriers intended to limit entrance into school buildings may likewise slow down or impede mass exodus in the event of higher incidence events such as a fire evacuation.
Challenging as it may be to find the right balance between safety and security, we need those two realms to work in concert with each other. With the additional funds to implement some of Altaris’s recommendations, we trust that the District and Board will be proactive rather than reactive or reactionary, will solicit input from all affected parties before implementing new protocols, and will promote the adoption of changes to staff, parent, and student behaviors and patterns that will improve the security and safety of our schools so that our students can continue to learn in a nurturing and open environment.
We hope that the full time Director of Safety and Security can also offer some new ideas and concepts on changing how transportation and traffic is handled at our schools. For years, transportation, parking, and traffic congestion during arrival and dismissal times have been a prevailing problem in our District. Parents have asked to broaden the eligibility of District bus transportation and to reroute traffic to increase efficiency during high-traffic volume timeframes. Other school districts have implemented universal busing, staggered arrival and dismissal times, and increased pedestrian walkways and bike paths, but we have yet to find a solution to issues surrounding traffic in our school neighborhoods. We hope the District Administration and Board can offer parents some new concrete ideas in the near future and give thoughtful consideration to this persistent safety concern.
The Butler Field and the Fox Meadow Elementary School playground renovations are plant improvement projects in this year’s budget that also have safety implications. In last week’s budget forum meeting, two community members expressed deep concern about synthetic turf and rubber crumb fields. We hope that the District Administration and Board will make every effort to make the most informed and data-driven decision about what type of materials will be used to replace the existing field. Fox Meadow parents have also raised concerns about using the circular driveway in the front entrance as a play area during recess when the upper playground is unable to be cleared of snow; we support renovating the existing upper level playground area as to render this arrangement unnecessary.
Recognizing that air cooling and/or conditioning was not addressed in the 2018 School Bond Referendum, the PT Council Executive Committee and Budget Study Chairs are looking forward to hearing what the future plans and timeline may be for improving air circulation, repairing and/or replacing air conditioning units where they exist, and addressing temperatures in student spaces that currently do not have air conditioning, from both an environmental and budgetary perspective. As indicated in the building-level committee reports generated in 2015-16 during the initial phases of development of the 2018 Bond, many of the building-level committees have prioritized this issue, particularly for those classrooms that are most impacted by sun and heat in the beginning and end of the school year. We ask for continued attention to this matter as well as expanded communication efforts to gauge community support for funding any proposed solutions in a fiscally responsible and environmentally sustainable manner.
The PT Council Executive Committee and PTC Budget Study Chairs also look forward to hearing additional future facilities plans and projected upfront costs that may result in long-term savings, such as solar panels for the roofs. We support the referral of those discussions to the District sustainability committee for further development and analysis. As stated previously with regard to the 2018 Bond, we agree that the question of whether to fund such projects with an energy performance bond or through some other mechanism merits further inquiry. We encourage the District to continue building-level and district-wide discussions designed to determine whether and how to address any of the remaining items that have been identified as building-level or community facilities priorities. As the Board has previously suggested, the district has a long “wish list” of facilities and other projects -- not all of which may be appropriate for a public school district to undertake at taxpayer expense. We would like to see a detailed timeline and cost estimate of those long-term facilities projects that were not addressed in the 2018 Bond or next year’s budget. Those wish lists need to be assessed and prioritized in a comprehensive manner for their relative importance and impact. For example, and in no particular order, we recognize that the following facilities projects have been raised at various times: air conditioning, the A-School and CHOICE buildings, the need for large group multipurpose space at SMS, the utility of constructing bathrooms at SMS that would be accessible to students practicing on the field, learning resource center and administration room renovations at SHS, fitness center expansion at SMS, the need for spaces in the elementary schools that can accommodate collaboration between classrooms and co-taught or bridge classes, and replacing classroom casements and storage units with solutions that are portable and adaptable to different needs. Further community education and engagement are appropriate to determine how to prioritize, further explore, incorporate, or eliminate those items from the district’s future plans. Next year, though the arrangements may be budget neutral, our District will be assuming full responsibility for school lunch programs, including food transportation and other logistics, in Edgewood, Fox Meadow, Greenacres, and Heathcote, while continuing to provide school lunch at SHS, SMS, and Quaker Ridge. We understand that the District has assessed the capacities of the existing kitchens and cafeterias at SHS, SMS, and Quaker Ridge and has determined that the District will be able to implement food service next year at all seven schools without the need for any significant facilities work or budgetary additions -- despite the fact that four elementary schools do not currently have kitchens or cafeterias. Our hope is that the District Administration and Board increase their attention to gathering feedback from the maintenance and facilities teams in each of the schools and from the student body and parents, as appropriate, to make this transition smooth and operational.
The PT Council Executive Committee and the Budget Study Chairs would appreciate continued support around improving nutritional offerings, food quality, and choice while also focusing on efforts to address issues of long lines/wait times, shortages of popular menu items, and implementation of online pre-ordering systems for students in all seven schools.
Thank you in advance for taking our comments and feedback into consideration and for being open and willing to hear our suggestions. We thank this Administration and Board again for your remarkable 2 dedication and time in ensuring that our children continue to learn in a district that is at the forefront of educational excellence and innovation and for always raising the bar in securing a brighter tomorrow for our children.
The 2017-18 PT Council Budget Study Co-Chairs:
Susan Lee Foley
The 2017-18 PT Council Executive Committee:
Diane E. Baylor, PT Council President
Amber Yusuf, PT Council Vice President
Isabel Finegold, PT Council Secretary
Dana Matsushita, PT Council Treasurer
Beth Zadek, Scarsdale High School PTA President
Olga Eligulashvili, Scarsdale Middle School PTA President
Samantha Carter and Sara Farnsworth, Edgewood PTA Co-Presidents
Aidan Cassidy, Fox Meadow PTA President
Megan Simon, Greenacres PTA President
Gina Waldman, Heathcote PTA President
Suzie Hahn Pascutti, Quaker Ridge PTA President