Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Security and Safety Community Norms, Expectations and Options


A public school’s highest mission is to provide a Free and Appropriate Public Education for all of its students. In Chappaqua, not only do we provide a FAPE to all of our students, but we seek to go so much farther than the minimal standards.  And we succeed.  We provide one of the top public school educations in the country. 

Having said that, we are trusted daily with our community’s most precious asset, our children.  Almost 4,000 of them on a daily basis.  It is irrelevant what education we provide if we cannot do our best to ensure the safety of our students and staff. 

To paraphrase a great poet, Robert Zimmerman, the times and expectations they are a changing.  Over the course of my 11 years on the board, our district’s efforts at safety have changed materially.  Following Columbine and then Newtown events that were once incomprehensible became events we had to contemplate from a planning and safety standpoint.

Now, with Parkland and to an extent the construction of a retail, commercial and residential complex across the street from the high school, we must once again contemplate safety at our schools.  Safety is such a strong emotional concept at and in a school district.  It means different things to different people.  Of course, who would not support the concept of safety?

But safety is much more complex than simply building “man traps” and attempting to create a single point of entry for a sprawling spread out high school campus.  It involves prevention, it involves planning, it involves social and emotional efforts, it involves different levels of security, it involves spending money, it can be so varied and can cost so much money, that it really should not be a binary proposition put to a ballot on an extremely hasty time schedule.  It should be first a community discussion about what it means to the consensus of the community, it should be a discussion about cost benefit analysis, it should be a discussion about expectations, risks, costs, and obligations.

The discussion should also recognize the other changes that result from these proposed construction plans.  It is more than the cost in dollars and cents.  There is a cost in culture.  There is a cost to the students and staff in terms of mental approach to being in a locked down school all day.  The changes at the high school effectively attack the open campus, college like atmosphere the school was designed for and for which this board and this district has always taken pride.  It is one of the selling points of the district, the way we give our students a lot of responsibility for themselves and prepare them for college and the so called real world.

The discussion we are having tonight is a small fraction of what we as a district should be embarking upon.  It appears as if we are about to put to a vote whether to put a plan to accomplish ONE thing, a single point of entry to all of our schools with a “man trap” for the cost of approximately $8 million.
 
I think before we rush this bond proposal onto a ballot we need to do so much more work with the community.  More work than a homemade survey, more work than one or two meetings and more work than hearing from one consultant/security “expert”.  We need to have a plan for security and safety for the next 5 or 10 years.  To rush a proposal onto the ballot in order to get construction done in the summer of 2019 is short sighted. 

One, we do not know if the SED will even approve of the plans in time to bid out and go to contract on the work in time for summer of 2019.  More importantly, we do not know what the community wants.  And, we have not had time to explore all of our financing options.

We should not and cannot keep going back to the community for another bond or with another plan year after year.  Putting up this bond now, presumes that this is the step and the only step we need to do to ensure safety.  It presumes that this is our only option for accomplishing this one goal.  It assumes that we as a district and a board know what is best.  Who is putting their thumbprint on this as the correct, best and right plan?  Is it the consultant? Is it the architect? Is it the administration? The board?  Or, are we trying to throw it back on the community by saying, they voted for (or against) it so they made the decision?  

As it turns out, legally, it is a board decision.  We can get input from experts, consultants, the community, law enforcement, clergy, etc. but we make the final decision.  We have final say in what measures we put in place.  We are responsible for school security.  I, for one, am not comfortable doing this on a rushed ad hoc basis.  I think it is incumbent upon us to do research on community expectations, on available measures we can take, on the costs of those measures, on the time line for deliverables, and on what other non-physical or non-structural measures we can take.  We need to have a clear 5-10 year plan.


I propose an alternative.  I think we should set a different time line.  A time line that fully incorporates community input.  A time line that fully incorporates our staff input.  A time line that incorporates more than one security consultant.  A time line that gives us adequate time to listen, to learn and then to propose a course of action. 

In the short-run even before a best case construction schedule of summer of 2019, we should continue with the steps we have already taken.  Keep the three additional security guards at the high school.  Keep all the additional cameras.  Start aggressively implementing some of the social and emotional training and intervention.  Start educating our students on what to do in a crisis.  Start educating our staff.  Add internal changes such as changing the locking mechanisms on all of our classroom doors.

I propose we aim for a late October or early November date for putting a bond on a ballot if one is appropriate and necessary.  Before that date we need to have a community discussion on safety and security.  We should hold public forums with professional moderators and include multiple experts on security, include experts on mental health and other measures that are not physical, include law enforcement, include architects and engineers, and include the administration and board.  I am willing to personally find a broad cross section of experts/consultants to participate in the public forums.

Let’s discuss what the community thinks is appropriate and necessary after hearing from the various panelists and after hearing about costs and alternatives.  If we have two in May and two in June, we can then survey the community for what the standards should be and what they think of the various ideas brought forth.  We can spend the summer researching and planning and coming up with several alternative plans and then in September have another forum to discuss the two or three alternatives, to discuss the long-term goals and plans and to discuss the costs.  All this would then culminate in a final proposal, most likely requiring a bond and voter approval that we as a district and as a community can get behind and support. 

We need community input.  We need to understand what the community wants.  We need to understand what the community is willing to spend.  We need to be able to go to the community not with just one option and one plan to accomplish a singular goal, but we need to have a long-term strategic safety and security plan.


Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Thanksgiving Message

Today, Acting Superintendent Eric Byrne sent out a message to the community that said,

Dear Chappaqua School Community,

With the Thanksgiving recess upon us, we take this time to contemplate the things for which we thankful.

We are thankful for our wonderful students who are always eager to learn, for our dedicated staff tasked with educating the whole child, and for your continued support because a school district without strong community support cannot survive.

Poet Wilbur Nesbit once said, "Forever on Thanksgiving Day the heart will find the pathway home." So, whether you are traveling to be with loved ones or are hosting right here at home, during this holiday may your family and friends be the source of great joy and enough cherished memories to last a lifetime.

On behalf of everyone here at Chappaqua schools, we wish you and yours a Happy Thanksgiving.

Eric Byrne


Due to legal regulations about putting out a statement from the Board without a public discussion, several sentences were left out of that message and the individual members of the Board were not able to sign it as Board Members.  I would like to add a few things to that message here.

First, we are thankful for the opportunity to serve you as members of the Board of Education.  Democracy can be messy as we have seen on both the national and local levels.  We are volunteers as Board Members and truly seek to serve the students and residents of the community.  We are grateful for that opportunity.

Second, we are thankful to the community members that have recognized us in ways both large and small.  From the community member that sent us flowers with a heart-felt note to the many that have thanked us personally, we say thank you.

Thank you to the community for your continued support for the students, the District and the Board.

Have a safe and joyous Thanksgiving holiday.


Friday, September 2, 2016

JSM Statement Intended for the CCSD 09-01-2016 BoE Meeting


Below is the text of a statement I intended to make at the Chappaqua Central School District Board of Education meeting of September 1, 2016.  I was unable to attend the meeting due to a death in my immediate family.  While I intend to make a public statement at our next meeting on September 13th, I post this here as I believe it to be timely.


I have served nine years on the Chappaqua Central School District Board of Education. I was recently re-elected to my fourth term.  In my long service on this Board I have come to appreciate the uniqueness of our board.  It is set apart from other boards by our collaborative and transparent practice, by our collegial nature, and by our single-minded focus on our students and community.

This board has historically been very successful because of our collaborative nature.  We don’t always agree, but we have always discussed issues, courses of action, and strategy openly among us as a group and come to consensus.  I am making this statement today because I am quite concerned that we continue this practice.

A PR firm was recently re-hired by our attorneys at the district’s request.  To be honest, I am not sure exactly to whom I refer when I say “at the district’s request”.  I do know that I was not consulted, and I did not have a say in the decision.  To be clear, my concern is not in the legality of the hiring but in the process or lack thereof.  I think it important that all board members have an opportunity to go on the public record as to their thoughts.

There are certainly good arguments to be made on both sides of the merits of hiring a PR firm.  One, it allows the administration to focus on their task at hand, educating our children in a safe and educationally challenging environment. Two, as we are not commenting on any pending legal matters, it helps the district address what I believe to be some inaccurate, incomplete and biased reporting and posting on social media.  However, I happen to think that hiring a PR firm sends the wrong message, we should be able to do whatever a PR firm can do for us internally, and we should use the money for other direct educational expenses.

But that is not the point.  I strongly believe that we should reach these decisions as an entire Board and in a transparent manner.  I want to be part of a Board that reaches consensus collaboratively and transparently.  Being on the wrong end of many a 4-1 vote in my service, I have come to appreciate our board because we followed a collegial process, and we all have had our opportunity to have our say.

I certainly appreciate that the district, the administration, and the board is in the middle of a legal situation that we have never faced before and have no road map with which to navigate. However, that is the very reason why I believe that a collaborative, transparent process for work on the board, and between the administration and the board is so critical.

The entire board asked to see a draft of any legal filing before it was made.  This has not been the case though. Speaking for myself, I have yet to see a draft of documents prior to them being filed.  That concerns me greatly.  I first found out about the legal filing in the media.

While I know that filing to be legally appropriate and much more nuanced than what was reported, it was inappropriate in its form.  While I am not a lawyer, common sense and good judgement says that it certainly could have been worded differently to both protect our legal position and reflect that our focus always has been and always will be on supporting our students whether that support is academic or emotional.  To be clear, while I am quite confident the administration and my fellow Board Members feel the same way, I can only speak for myself that I do not believe it is appropriate to blame a victim of abuse, alleged or proven.

Finally, let me end by saying that the health and well-being of our students remains our critical mission. The Board, the Administration and our entire staff have made every effort and will continue to make every effort to provide support to all of our students and families.

While we will continue to protect student privacy and will not comment while litigation is ongoing, I believe that the community is smart enough to know that we do put our students first and that what they read in the media and on social networks may be incomplete, inaccurate and said with an undisclosed agenda.

Thank you to the entire community for your help and support.

Jeffrey Mester

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Former CCSD Board Member Gregg Bresner Letter to the Community Re: $42.5 million Bond

Here is a clean copy of former CCSD Board Member Gregg Bresner's letter to the community regarding the CCSD bond:




The CCSD $42.5 million Bond

First, the usual disclaimer.  I am writing as an individual and as an individual school board member with his own ideas and opinions.  I do not speak for the Chappaqua Central School District nor do I speak for the entire Board.  I speak for myself only.

The tl;dr is that I support the proposed bond and I am asking you to support it to.  I ask that you go to Horace Greeley High School on Tuesday June 14th and vote yes.  Vote yes for the students, vote yes for the community, vote yes for youth sports, vote yes for education.

Having said that, while I support the bond, I am not ignorant to the fact that this is not a perfect bond. Know that the initial "wish list", the list of all the projects both infrastructure and educational started at around $55 million.  However, the Board of Ed, in its charge to the administration, was very clear that any bond proposal would have to be tax neutral.  That is, using various offsets, the maturing of existing debt and cost savings would have to pay for the bond.  The board was adamant that it would only put a bond before the voters if it was not going to increase taxes in and of itself.  It won't.

What doing the bond now does for the district is it gives us financial flexibility and improves our facilities.  The district has spent years driving the curriculum towards this point and years working with our teachers through professional development including during the summers to train them so that we can take advantage of collaborative education.  Now, we need the facilities to catch up with the research and training.

What this bond does is support education and support the youth in our community.  As it turns out, by supporting education, by working to remain at the forefront of education and the latest research and thoughts on successful education, we help support property values in the district.  Maintaining our infrastructure and improving our fields to be on par with virtually every other district in Westchester also helps property values.

I could go on for a while, but my former fellow Board Member, Gregg Bresner wrote a letter to his friends and neighbors and to the community that I think sums it up much better than I could.  I support the bond.  Vote yes on June 14th.

I copy his letter here.  (Any formatting errors are mine.  My knowledge of html and embedding documents is limited, but I try.)




Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Thank You to the Residents of the Chappaqua Central School District

Thank you to all the residents of the Chappaqua Central School District for once again putting your trust in me.  I am humbled by being re-elected to the CCSD Board of Education for a fourth term.  I very much appreciate the faith you have shown in me.  I pledge to once again work tirelessly on behalf of the students, the parents, and those without children in the district.

Congratulations to Warren Messner for also being re-elected. I consider the re-election of two incumbents to be confirmation of and a mandate for the past and future direction of the district.

Also, thank you to Rhonda Kaufman for her willingness to volunteer.  It is not easy and not something that comes naturally to run for public office.  Hopefully, she will start attending Board meetings and contribute her time and effort to helping the district.

Thank you,

JSM

Sunday, May 15, 2016

CCSD Board of Education Election 2016 Follow-Up

The Examiner article, linked here, resulting from the questions posed to the candidates  has been published.

For my complete answers, see my previous post here.  In the Examiner article, my opponent, new comer Rhonda Kaufman, seemingly endorses the school board, the direction in which the district is heading, the budget, the bond and everything else about the CCSD.  I can only take it as a ringing endorsement of the sitting board.  Thank you Rhonda for your endorsement.  Thank you for the good things you had to say about the district.


Here is a copy of the full text of my opening and closing statements from the League of Women Voters Candidate Night:

Opening Statement:
I would like to thank the League of Women Voters for sponsoring and arranging this debate, everyone in the audience for participating and my fellow candidates.
 
It has been said that one definition of a volunteer is someone who didn’t understand the question. This is my fourth time running for the Board of Ed and I know what it takes.

When I first ran for the Board, I was warned about the time commitment and the incredible learning curve.  I was warned about the volumes of reading, the additional committee work and the public scrutiny.  I can safely say that no amount of warning prepared me for the reality of being a board member.

Being a Chappaqua school board member is not a ceremonial position.  It is not something that you can show up to when it is convenient.   There are only five of us and we are all expected to be prepared and to participate.

For the past nine years I have worked tirelessly on behalf of the members of this community.  The role demands a person with a passion for education.  It requires a person with an extensive and detailed knowledge of the district, a complete understanding of the budget and the structural budget issues the district faces, a person who can make practical and reasoned decisions, a person who is flexible and can build consensus, a person who can balance competing community interests, and a person with vision and conviction.  It is recognizing we have a fiduciary obligation to all the tax payers, not just the ones with students in the schools.

I am quite sure that all three candidates will agree tonight that the major challenge facing the district and the Board in the next 3 years is finding a way to maintain academic excellence while continuing to exhibiting fiscal discipline and responsibility.

With respect to that, I point to the previous 8 year’s budgets.  For the fifth year in a row we will not exceed the tax cap.  In fact, this year there is ZERO increase to the tax levy, yet we have maintained or expanded our core programs at all three levels of the district.  We continue to be highly ranked both within the state and nationally by countless publications.  Going forward, I will continue to work for ALL members of the community to reach responsible budgets.  I will continue to support openness and transparency. 

I also believe that experience plays an important role in being a successful Board Member. Intimately knowing the district, its policies and practices, having a good working relationship with both your fellow Board members and the administration, understanding NY State Ed law, NYS rules and regulations is a material positive attribute to bring to the table.  I have experience and a track record.  I proudly stand behind it.

As a candidate, I uniquely offer the community my experience, knowledge, district expertise, and time. I offer consensus building skills, concrete suggestions and practical solutions.


I offer common sense with an uncommon commitment.


Closing Statement:
Again, I would like to thank the League of Women Voters, the community and my fellow candidates. 

I’m glad that I had the opportunity to talk about my experience as a Board member, my years of service and all of our accomplishments. Even Rhonda has publicly acknowledged that the Board has produced a good budget, that the bond makes sense from both what is in it and how to pay for it, she supports turf, and she thinks the district is on the right path academically.  For that I thank her.

Our school district serves our children, but we cannot ignore our role in the community. I never have. The strength of our schools is a direct function of our property values.  

The community needs to have the proper balance between fiscal austerity and maintaining our academic excellence in order to support the premise on which our community rests.  I continue to be unwavering in my belief that the community we serve is the broader community of not just parents with children in the schools, but residents without school children too. 

I applaud Rhonda for running, but I believe that any candidate should not run on a platform of change for change’s sake. Rhonda said she brings new ideas, yet she has presented none of that.

And if Rhonda believes that the board is homogeneous in thinking, she clearly hasn’t been to very many meetings. As anyone who had attended our meetings or even watched them on TV knows, I am on more sides of a 4-1 vote than I care to remember. 

I offer not just rhetoric but actionable suggestions.   I offer nine years of direct experience and a deep knowledge of district programs and personnel.  I offer leadership and consensus building skills. 

I offer common sense with an uncommon commitment.

Thank you.


Experience matters.

Common Sense with an Uncommon Commitment.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Running for a 4th Term, FAQ

After much thought and consideration, I have decided to run for a 4th term on the CCSD Board of Education.  I think the best way to explain this decision is to post my responses to both the League of Women Voters (LWV) and to Martin Wilbur editor of the Northern Westchester edition of the Examiner.  Both posed a few questions to all the candidates.  I have co-mingled the questions below for continuity. In parenthesis after each question, I indicate who asked it.  I note that the LWV imposed a 100 word limit to our answers to each of their questions.

I have been advised by the district’s counsel that I can comment on both the budget and the bond if I make it very clear that I am speaking as an individual, as a resident and that I DO NOT speak for the district or the board when answering these sorts of questions.  So, any answer I give here is my own opinion.  While these opinions may or may not be consistent with district or board opinions, I do not speak for the board or the district.  I am speaking only as an individual.  


Why did you decide to run for another term on the Chappaqua Board of Education? (Examiner)
The first time I ran for the CCSD Board of Education, I said I chose to run for four fundamental reasons.  Those reasons remain true today. I wrote then and I repeat now, I am passionate about education and its importance to our future.  I believe in the obligation to serve or contribute to your community.  I believe my life experience, professional experience and education give me a unique but fundamentally important viewpoint needed on the Board.  I (continue to) want to give voice to the silent majority; to those who live in the community but are not part of the 1,200 who typically vote for the budget and the Board.  I want to represent the interests of the students, the parents and as important, those without children in the schools.


I also believe that experience plays an important role in being a successful Board Member. New York Education Law says that the only qualifications to being a school board member is to be able to read and write, you must be a resident of the district for one year prior to the election and you cannot be employed by the board on which they serve.  Not a very high bar.  Intimately knowing the district, its policies and practices, having a good working relationship with both your fellow Board members and the administration, understanding NY State Ed law, NYS rules and regulations is a material positive attribute to bring to the table.  I have experience and a track record.  I proudly stand behind it.


What experiences and skills do you have that will enable you to be an effective member of the School Board? (LWV)
For the last nine years as a Board Member, I have worked tirelessly on behalf of the community.  It requires an extensive knowledge of the district, a passion for education, a complete understanding of the budget and its structural issues, a person who can make practical and reasoned decisions, who can build consensus, who can balance competing community interests, and vision and conviction.  It is recognizing we have a fiduciary obligation to all the tax payers, not just ones with students in the schools.  There is no experience like direct experience and a proven track record.  I stand on mine.


What do you consider the main issue(s) facing Chappaqua and how would you address it (them)? (LWV)
We must ensure the quality of the education remains at a superior level while maintaining fiscal discipline and responsibility, we must continue to challenge unfunded mandates and non-productive state testing, as well as ensuring that we continue to invest in our operating plant through maintenance, repair, and upgrade.  We need to continue to invest in teacher professional development.  We need to facilitate student challenges, not limit them.  We need to continue to have fiscally responsible budgets such as this year’s zero tax levy increase while expanding educational and extracurricular programs. We need to be transparent and responsive to the community.


Chappaqua has a well-earned reputation for education excellence, but are there any areas in the curriculum or educational experience that you would like to see added or changed in the next few years? (Examiner)
By almost any measure, Chappaqua schools are continuously ranked among the top districts in the county, the state and the country.  Without question, overall, we provide a top notch education to our students.  That, however, does not mean we cannot improve or change.

In general, I think we have to always be evaluating our educational offerings to ensure that we are at the forefront of both curriculum and methods of teaching that curriculum.  The major asset of any district, and certainly here in Chappaqua, is the teachers.  What I appreciate about our staff is that as a whole they all are lifelong learners themselves.  The teacher’s contract addresses professional development.  It is a mutual, two way section.  They want us to guarantee opportunities for professional development and we want to require it.  I think we are on the right path with that, but we need to continue to provide opportunities such as with our Innovation Fellows and the other summer programs where all the teachers in the district have an opportunity to explore and incorporate the latest ideas and methodologies in teaching.

More specifically, I think we need to look at the barriers we impose on student course selection.  For example, we have a combined objective and subjective hurdle to a student signing up for AP American History (AHAP). We say that we only want students to be in a position to succeed, yet we do not give a definition of success nor do we consider other factors.  Structurally, because of what I believe to be artificial criteria, rather than asking students to challenge themselves, we are doing the opposite and telling them they should not strive to reach for higher goals.  It seems to me that the goal of the schools should be to challenge the students to learn, not quash that desire.  To me, we should be encouraging our students to try, to challenge themselves, even if that means they ultimately fail.  If we are about holistic learning, there are many lessons learned in trying and failing, maybe more than in unchallenged success.

Finally, as always, we need to constantly be reminded of our mission to educate all the district’s students whether that means students with special needs, students who need extraordinary additional challenges, or that majority in the middle that risks getting lost as we focus on the two distributed tails.


I'm not certain if you would care to share your thoughts on the upcoming June 14 referendum, or even if it would be appropriate to do that. However, what was the rationale for presenting the bond to the voters and do you believe this is the best way to realize the improvements the district believes is necessary to make sure the schools are equipped to handle how education is evolving? (Examiner)
First, let me state up front that I support the bond.  I do think it is the best way to realize the improvements the district thinks necessary to be able to be at the forefront of education for years to come, and I also think it is necessary to be able to make the appropriate repairs, perform needed maintenance, and to upgrade various parts of our operating plant. It will help us comply with the State mandated Building Condition Survey (BCS).

The rationale for and the timing of the bond is clear and simple.  One, unlike the town or county, we are required by law to present it to the voters for approval.  Two, the timing is right based on both need and ability to pay for it within the constraints of a tax capped budget.

Is the bond perfect? No.  The decision by the board to limit the bond to one that creates no marginal increase in taxes is a fiscally responsible decision but one that necessitates tradeoffs.  As a community, we need to appreciate that we are neighbors and that while we may not approve of every item in the bond or may wish there were something else included that is not, overall, the bond does a very good job of addressing the needs of so many of your friends and neighbors.

While taking advantage of historically low interest rates coupled with the district’s AAA credit rating, NY State 30% capital cost reimbursements, maturing debt, and the sale of district property, the district is able to address infrastructure and educational needs while also addressing the needs of the library, youth sports teams, the downtown merchants, and the tax concerns of the community.


What are your opinions on the Bond being proposed? (LWV)
I support the bond.  I think it addresses our infrastructure needs as well as helps us stay at the forefront of education, all in a fiscally responsible manner.  Is it a perfect bond? No. The decision by the board to limit the bond to one that creates no marginal increase in taxes is a fiscally responsible decision but one that necessitates tradeoffs.   As a community, I think it important we appreciate that while we may not approve of every item in the bond, the bond does a very good job of addressing the needs of so many in this community. 


What are your impressions of the 2016-17 district budget that is going before voters on May 17? Anything that you would have liked to see added or taken out from the budget? (Examiner)
I think this year’s budget is a terrific budget. It both supports education and the taxpayer.  The district continues to expand and enhance our offerings while maintaining fiscal responsibility.  This year’s budget includes ZERO increase in the tax levy.  In the aggregate, the taxes collected from our residents will not increase.  In this budget we were able to include everything the administration thought appropriate while not only remaining below the tax cap, but also having no increase to the tax levy. 

For the sixth year in a row, for every year the tax cap has been in effect, the district’s budgets and tax levies have come in under the tax cap constraints. This compliance has given our taxpayers, those who qualify for the STAR exemption, NY State rebates on any increase.


Given the tight fiscal constraints that the tax cap and other factors place on school districts, what, if anything, could the board or the district can do to lend its voice and lobby for greater mandate relief for public education? (Examiner)
 First, the district is very active in lobbying for mandate relief.  We work on many levels to effect change or mandate relief.  We lobby to address both educational mandates such as state testing and financial mandates such as unreimbursed aid.

One, the administration has a very good working relationship with our local state representatives. Second, the administration has met with and continues to discuss with members of the board of regents and the NYS Commissioner of Education various issues that affect us negatively here in Chappaqua. 

Two, the Board itself has written letters, passed resolutions and spoken directly to our representatives regarding the various mandates. We have teamed up with other local Boards, with the Westchester-Putnam School Boards Association (WestPut) and are a member of the NY State School Boards Association (NYSSBA) which itself seeks to use our collective influence to lobby state legislators, the NY State Education Department and the Governor himself.  We have also worked with the Town’s mandate relief committee.

Three, Victoria Tipp, a sitting Board Member is the Board’s Legislative Advocate.  She sits on the Board of the WestPut which is very active in lobbying for mandate relief.  She is a member of the NY Suburban Consortium for Public Education.  She also coordinates with the PTA which is itself very active in lobbying for mandate relief.

Finally, I think the Board and the district need to continue our lobbying efforts, but know that our most effective voice would be one whereby the residents also participated directly by writing letters, calling and contacting our legislators.  We will continue to fight, but we need your help.


Again, speaking toward fiscal issues, is there anything Chappaqua could do to work with other school districts and/or the Town of New Castle to share services that is not being done now? (Examiner)
Let’s start with the premise that anywhere we can legally save money while maintaining services, we will explore.  To be clear, we currently do work with other districts and the town to save money.  For example, as a member of the Putnam/Norther Westchester BOCES, we work with BOCES and the other 17 component districts to aggregate our buying power for goods and services. The list of items we purchase through BOCES that reduces our costs are too extensive to list here, but know that the very premise of a BOCES is for districts to join together to aggregate purchasing power whether that is for goods, services or even teaching.

Also, for the past several years, the district has worked closely with the Town of New Castle Administrator with the cooperation and support of both the CCSD Board of Education and the New Castle Town Board to increase our cooperation in areas in which we can support each other. We have jointly bid on paving contracts and other similar types of contracts.  Both Boards have publicly stated and proven through action that we will continue to seek ways to join together to both cut costs and to provide services to all members of the community.


Just some brief biographical information: age, occupation and the number of years that you've served on the board? (LWV, Examiner)

From what I submitted to the League of Women Voters, Voting Guide:

Current Office: 
School Board Member, Chappaqua Central School District.
Parent, 3 children.

Education:
Kellogg Graduate School of Management, Northwestern University:  MBA, Finance and Real Estate.
University of Virginia: BA, Economics

Residence: New Castle

Occupation:
Self-Employed equities and derivatives trader

Prior Civic and Volunteer Service: 
·         9-year School Board Member, Chappaqua Central School District.
·         Volunteer Coached over 20 teams, Chappaqua AYSO, CYSC, NCYBBA, NCBSA.
·         Participant in New Castle Roundtable Forum regarding Empty Nesters.
·         CCSD representative to the PNW BOCES.
·         Member of the CCSD Facilities Committee
·         Past Board of Ed representative to Horace Greeley Scholarship Fund
·         SHARE Midnight Run participant/chaperone.
·         Father of two Chappaqua Fire Department Firefighter/Volunteers
·         Commissioner, Billy’s Basement Boys.


Thursday, May 7, 2015

Comments From May 6, 2015 Meeting Regarding COSA Contract Vote

Last night, I voted "No" on item 5.7 on our agenda.  It was approval of an MOU for a new contract with members of one of our four bargaining units, COSA.  Below is the text of my statement, but I want to be clear that the vote "No" was not in any way indicative of how I feel about the unit or the individuals that make up the unit.

After a years of negotiating, I believe we came to an agreement in line (in every way but one) with our other three units, and consistent with our belief that we as a district are partners with our staff in providing a top-notch opportunity for our students to get the best education offered to a public school student.  The "no" vote was because all five Board members were clear in their instructions to the administration negotiating team that we would not accept retroactive pay.  I am not willing to compromise on that.  It violates my principles.  While I accept that the other Board members are willing to back off that stance for reasons they have, I see no good reason to do so.  To be clear, I suggested that the amount of the retroactive pay be included in a raise for next year rather than paid retroactively for this year.  That would have made the contract value the same, but for reasons that were never made clear, that was rejected.

Also, the retroactive pay encompasses a term where the bargaining unit had step increases in force as per the Triborough Amendment to the Taylor Law.

Here is the text of my remarks:

I will be voting no on this agenda item.  As we got closer and closer to tonight’s meeting, I have to admit I wavered on this vote.  I seriously considered voting yes.  I was thinking I could justify a yes vote by saying that the total finances of the deal over the life of the contract was fair.  It is. I could justify it as the fastest way to get the teacher aides a much deserved raise that brings their salary more in line with their work product and other similar TAs in districts throughout Westchester. It is.  Or, more easily, I could separate the collective bargaining unit from the individuals.  Individually, I know ALL the members of the unit to be hard working people and more importantly, to be good people who care about our district and our students.

Separating the individual from the unit is not my role as a fiduciary to the district when negotiating with a bargaining unit.  In fact, it pained me that for several years we could only look at COSA as one unit.  While they stand together as a unit, not all were similarly affected by the lack of agreement. Some had step increases because of the Triborough amendment while others were off step or as is the case with the Teacher Aides, had no steps whatsoever.

I can only speak for myself here when I say that I would have loved to settle this contract sooner.  I would have readily voted yes on a contract years ago that was consistent with what the other bargaining units agreed to, mainly the recognition that we are partners that must weather the good times and the difficult times together.

One of the primary terms we stated we would not agree to was retroactive pay and a retroactive contract.  According to the legislature, the Triborough amendment to the Taylor law fairly compensated for a unit’s inability to legally strike.  That amendment has been interpreted to say that step increases in the previous expired contract would continue in force.  So, they did.

The district has very little leverage in negotiations.  One possible lever is not agreeing to retro pay increases.  We were very clear both formally and informally that we would not agree to a retroactive contract and that the average 2.9% or so step increase raise would not only be it, but it, on average, exceeded what the other bargaining units agreed to.

Yet, with this agenda item, we are being asked to approve of a contract that includes a retroactive pay increase to the beginning of the school year.  It also for some reason encompasses the past 4 years.

As somebody who negotiated in good faith, as someone whose word is his bond, I think it inappropriate to vote yes on this contract.  Simply put, despite my personal appreciation for the individuals who compose this bargaining unit, I will not compromise my principles and approve a contract that includes retroactive pay or one that encompasses a period that has already passed.  

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Reflection Given at the June 18th Board Meeting

First, I want to thank the administration and Theresa.  It is they who make the job of being a board member that much easier.  Without their expertise, competency and good nature, not only would the job of being a Board member be much more difficult, the district would be so negatively affected by it.

I don’t have a full presentation like Lyn, but I do want to take a minute or two to thank my fellow board members for all their support of and dedication to the district.  Being a school board member has its good moments, but it also has its drudgery.  The time commitment is enormous.  Whether it is going to board meetings, committee meetings, doing research, answering resident’s inquiries or simply stopping by the Ed Center, there is never a time when you can say I have nothing to do.  Each of us has our own reasons for why we do it, but I think it is safe to say that service to the community and dedication to the children of the district are primary reasons for all of us.  I think a lot of times the community loses sight of the fact that we are volunteers, working hard to do our best.  Of course, we are human, so we make the occasional mistake, but what I appreciate most as an insider is that all, every single one, of the decisions we make and the actions we take are done so with good intentions trying to help the district and the community.

As important, as this is my last scheduled meeting as President, I would like to thank my fellow board members for your support of me throughout the year.  If one appreciates being a board member can be a thankless job, being President magnifies that.  Without the support of all of my fellow Board members the job of President would be next to impossible.  As a group we work well together.  That is a testament to their civility, collegiality,  and temperament.  To a person, they are all good souls.  I consider them all my friends.  Thank you.

JSM

It's Been a while...

since I last posted.  Part of the job of being President of the Board is to speak for the Board.   Regardless of how many or how strong of a disclaimer I might make indicating that what I am about to say or do is me speaking or acting for me and not the Board, it falls on deaf ears.  So, I have tried to take the precaution of not doing a lot of public speaking unless it was on behalf of the Board or the District.

My term as President is over shortly.  That does not mean I will necessarily be posting more or at all, but it does give me the ability to do so should I chose.

JSM

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Snow Days

It appears as if tomorrow, February 13th will be our final "free" snowday.  If we are unable to open on Friday, the day must be made up.  That day will be May 23rd.  After that, we start heading to the April vacation (February 21 and 20 are off the table because they would have required us to have used 3 days over the 5 "free" ones and they will have been passed if we need them.

Here is a link to the district calendar on which it gives the algorithm for make-up days.  See the bottom of the calendar for the explanation.


Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Thank You!

I want to thank the community for supporting both the budget and my candidacy.  I very much appreciate the confidence shown in me.  The budget passed with 80% of the voters voting yes, the 2nd highest total in Chappaqua in at least 25 years.

Thank you.

JSM

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

PLEASE VOTE TODAY!!

Complacency is the enemy of victory!

Please go out and vote today!  In a low turnout election, every vote does count.

Voting is from 7:00 am to 9:00 pm today at the Horace Greeley Gymnasium.  Parking available for voters in the second lane close to the gym.  Once at the high school, voting only takes 5:00 minutes or less.  No excuses.  Go vote.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

CCSD Letter to the Town of New Castle Regarding the Chappaqua Crossing Proposed Change in Retail Zoning

On Thursday May 16th the CCSD BoE submitted a letter to the Town of New Castle for inclusion in the Chappaqua Crossing property DSEIS detailing our concerns with the proposed retail zoning change.  Here is a copy of that letter.

Patch Candidate Q&A

The Patch asked the candidates for the school board to respond to several questions.  The Patch has not yet published them, but I expect they will sometime before the election.  Below are the questions and my responses. (This was cut and pasted from an email so apologies for any formatting errors.)


What are the school district's biggest challenges? 

The biggest challenge facing the district is creating a sustainable educational model that is both fiscally prudent and sound as well as adaptive to the changes in how education is designed and delivered in the 21st century.  Our students need to learn to be creative risk takers and critical thinkers not just memorizers of content knowledge.  I think we need to adapt to the rapidly changing technology and learn to use technology for actually improving the educational experience. We need to continue to move towards a sustainable budget model including addressing structural (mandates) and contractual issues.  We also need to find alternative ways to engage our students in their learning process. 

Academically, as always, our biggest challenge is reaching the middle of the bell curve.  We need to find a way to challenge and motivate the students that fall in that huge range that is the middle student.  One way to do that is to allow the students to decide how much to challenge themselves rather than have strict numerical cutoffs.  For example, I believe that a student that wishes to take an AP class at the high school should be given that opportunity to challenge themselves rather than there being a bright line cutoff.  In the event the student is not keeping up at the end of the first quarter, then have that student drop into a non AP section.  Reaching the middle students is essential not only at the high school, but more importantly is reaching out to those students at both the elementary and middle school levels.

I also think a major challenge facing the district is expanding community involvement.  We need to find ways to get more of the residents involved in education whether that is through attending Board Meetings, sending emails to the Board, voting in the election, voting on the budget, helping to fight unfunded mandates or simply being more involved in the different buildings. 

Finally, I think that with natural turnover in our administration team especially at the building principal level, we need to ensure that they have and develop the necessary leadership skills to drive their buildings to both academic and social success.  Leadership is critical to having thriving students all striving to reach their potential.  Our central office administration is actively involved in taking a lead role in support of the new school administrators.



State-mandated employee pension contributions have been a significant driver of higher costs for the district in recent years. What changes, if any, would you like to see to the pension system?  

The State mandated pension plans, Teacher's Retirement System (TRS) and Employee Retirement System (ERS) are Defined Benefit Plans.  The State of New York taxpayers are guaranteeing a market rate of return to the plan.  I would support a change from a Defined Benefit Plan to a Defined Contribution Plan whereby districts know their obligation is simply a straight line function of the number of employees.  The plan itself and the members of the plan would be taking the investment risk, not the taxpayers.

Pragmatically, I would accept a transition period as well as protections for staff employed more than a certain number of years.  Without compensation, I think it is wrong to retroactively change the system to someone who is well on their way to retirement and has relied on the expectations of the current plan. This transition could also include the unionized staff having to make contributions to their own defined benefit plan.  I think it is imperative from a fiscal standpoint that benefits and their associated costs are brought in line with the private sector. Or, let the State of New York take over payments to the pension systems that they mandated.



Do you support repealing the Triborough Amendment to the state's Taylor Law, which preserves terms of expired union contracts until new deals are in place? 

First, it is important to understand what is the Taylor Law and the Triborough Amendment to that Law.  In short, in New York State, the Taylor law prohibits policemen, firemen and teachers from striking. Without the ability to strike, the legislature felt that these groups lost all leverage in negotiations, so they amended the law to protect against cities, municipalities, school districts, etc from unilateral cuts to compensation in the event a contract expired without an agreement on a new contract.  What the amendment says is that in the event of a contract expiring without a new contract being agreed to, that the terms of the old contract would continue.  In theory, that is a reasonable right to exchange.  The groups are prohibited from striking, but the employers would have to live under the terms of the existing contract.  

Where I diverge from this thought process is in the interpretation of what should be continued in the event of no agreement.  To actually repeal the entire Triborough Amendment would be a mistake.  But, I believe it should be modified so that so called "step" increases do not continue in the absence of an agreement.  What I think is fair and appropriate is for the actual compensation to stay exactly as it was at the end of the expired contract.  No unilateral cuts by employers and no automatic step raises to employees.  This change will create a more level playing field in contract negotiations.  The real issue for me behind the Triborough Amendment is automatic step increases. 

Finally, I think it is only fair to point out that locally, in the CCSD, so far, 3 of our 4 bargaining units have agreed to new contracts that give them lower raises than they would have gotten under the Triborough Amendment.  That is, they accepted raises that were less than their natural step increases.  I believe that is a strong show of good faith and an indication that our staff recognizes and appreciates that we are partners whose primary focus is on the students.


What are your thoughts on tenure for teachers and administrators? 

First, tenure is a state mandate.  The concept of tenure is not something we can control locally.  What we do control is the granting of tenure.  In general, with a few exceptions, if a teacher or administrator is to be employed in the district beyond their three year probationary period, then they need to have been granted tenure.  That is a State law, not a locally negotiated provision to our contracts.  The history of tenure was to provide for academic freedom and teaching without the fear of reprisals.  It also protects against arbitrary firings.  However, the system as it is designed limits performance based hirings and firings.  The 3020-a process is so expensive, time consuming and fraught with peril as to make it almost irrelevant.  (See NYC and "rubber rooms"). The system severely limits the district's ability to make personnel decisions based strictly on current work product or merit. 
So, if I were king, I would change the system.  I do believe there needs to be material protections for the staff.  What I would do would be to give staff 5 year contracts.  In the event the district fired a teacher for anything other than enrollment reasons, the balance of the contract would be paid or one month severance pay for every year worked, whichever is greater.  This would give protections to teachers and allow the district to make decisions on hiring based on merit.


The district is facing academic mandates from the state, such as continued administration of a new teacher and principal evaluation system and a shift to what are called common core standards. How do you think the district is doing in responding to these requirements? What else, if anything, would you like to see done?

I believe in local control of public education.  I think the core standards are a knee jerk reaction to outdated data and a misguided attempt by the federal government to create minimal standards that will, in effect, bring the top performing schools down to the core standards when our local expectations are much much higher than theirs.  Essentially, we are forced to waste time and money being in compliance with standards that are below our own.  Similar things could be said about the APPR.  

I believe we as a district do a much better job of evaluating our staff than does the APPR which is 25% mandated to rely on standardized test scores.  So, I think the federal and state government should stay out of local education or at the least provide for exemptions for high performing districts such as ours. 
As to how the district is responding to the requirements, we are making the best of what I think is a bad situation.  The district, in partnership with the CCT and the administrators, has created APPR criteria and measurements that are far and above what the State is suggesting.  We will continue to evaluate personnel with more than checked off boxes and standardized test scores.  Evaluating a teacher's effectiveness is part art and part science.  We need to use both quantifiable measures as well as observation.  In fact, we as a district have had our APPR held up as a model for other districts around the state to emulate.



Most of the district's budget revenue comes from property taxes. Would you support creating new revenue streams for the district? If so, what would you propose? 

Of course I support creating new revenue streams for the district.  Who wouldn't?  I have made some specific proposals at Board meetings.  For example, if our biggest asset is our teachers and our rigorous academic program, with technology advances and districts throughout the New York facing financial pressures, why not sell our classes to other districts?  Through technology, we could easily package our classes, use Skype, etc to deliver first class learning to other districts that cannot afford to offer certain classes.  Another possible revenue source is selling physical district assets.  The Facilities Committee on which I sit is currently exploring the sale of several parcels of district property we deem to be not needed for future use.  In general, I think it is incumbent upon the district to find its own sources of revenue.  However, know that the district is restricted by NY State law from many types of revenue sources including taking any kind of financial risk, using taxpayer assets such as facilities to profit or to rent them to for profit groups.  Any ideas along those lines are restricted. 

I also support continuing and expanding the public-private partnership between the district and such groups as the Chappaqua School Foundation, the Sports Boosters and the Turf Committee.

Currently, Chappaqua Crossing developer Summit/Greenfield has a proposal for the site, which is across the street from Horace Greeley High School, before the New Castle Town Board to rezone the property to allow for 120,000 square feet of retail, including a supermarket of 36,000 to 66,000. Summit/Greenfield has also stated that it could create more tax revenue for the school district. Do you support the plan, oppose it, or are you undecided? What are your concerns, if any, with the proposal as it currently stands?

If you are asking me as a current School Board member and hopefully future School Board member, I neither support nor oppose the retail plan directly.  It is not the role of a School Board member to support or oppose the plan any more than it is the role of a Town Council member to tell us whether or not we should have an SRO in our schools. 

I do have some serious concerns about the plan that, for the most part, mimic the District's submission to the DSEIS.  Mainly, first and foremost, the safety of our students and staff.  Second, I am very concerned about traffic.  Third, I am concerned about the intersection of the first two.  That is, I am concerned that emergency first responders have the ability to respond to any emergency in the district, particularly at the high school in a timely and appropriate manner.  Will the addition of a retail zone and the ensuing increased traffic negatively affect first responders ability to respond to the high school? Fourth,, I am concerned about other general matters such as underclass students parking across the street, non-authorized students leaving the campus, and especially the accuracy of the tax projections.
  
I think that both the developer and the Town, before proceeding need to clearly outline for the district how the traffic and safety concerns will be addressed.  I also remain concerned about the residential student enrollment versus the residential taxes paid.  To the extent that a market rate dwelling is not taxed as at a fee simple rate, there is concern that the other taxpayers in the district will need to absorb the costs.  I would also like to better understand the tax projections from the retail zone.  What are the assumptions that underlie those projections and could the Town and the developer, as part of a tax certerori settlement on the current outstanding grievances agree to a set tax number going forward for a period of years that will allow the district to make long term revenue plans and assumptions. 

As a resident and School Board member I would hope and expect that our Town representatives clearly detail for New Castle residents the logic and reasoning behind their proposed changes to the zoning code and how they think the benefits of such a change out weigh the negatives before they approve of the plan if they do. 

In fairness, I would add that Summit Greenfield has reached out to the district and expressed a willingness to both address these issues and be a good neighbor.  I hope actions speak louder than words.


The issue of personnel status disclosure came up last year when longtime Greeley football coach and physical education teacher William Tribou was suspended and then resigned with a settlement with the district. The school board did not disclose details because it was a personnel matter, with a reason given that disclosure was not allowed. Is it appropriate for districts to not disclose personnel status when an individual is facing discipline or leaving, and would you support repealing limitation of school officials disclosing details of employee suspensions, terminations or resignations?

If you are asking if the exception to the open meeting law statutes of NY State should be revoked legislatively to allow for public discussion of personnel matters, my short answer would be, no.  I think that in personnel cases there are competing and often conflicting interests.  Mainly, the interest of the employee and their privacy versus both the public's right to know and the potential safety and welfare of students in the district.  That includes educational, physical and social welfare. 
The presumption made by both the exception to the open meeting law and by the rules and regulations governing a 3020-a hearing is that a staff member has the right to privacy at least until any allegations are proven, AND that the Board members through their sworn oaths and fiduciary obligations as Board Members are protecting the public's interest in personnel cases.  In the cases where the personnel issue is performance and not conduct, I think that the APPR process and the fact that those records are publicly reviewable, at least by the parents of children in the teacher's class, makes that part both public and accountable. 

Ethically, I am uncomfortable making what are allegations public until they are proven or stipulated to or agreed upon.  I ask a simple question, how does the employee get their good name back if the allegations are not true?  


The state-mandated cap on annual tax levy increases will expire in June 2016 unless if it is renewed. If elected, this would happen near the end of your term. Do you support allowing the cap to expire or should it be extended?

Again, this is a simplified question to a complex issue.  The June 2016 renewal is tied to rent control laws.  As per your link to a power point presentation, page 2 slide 6 last bullet point, "Expires June 15, 2016 unless rent control extended"  If rent control is extended, the tax cap will be as well.  While I would never rely on a political outcome, I would be very surprised if a deal to extend rent control did not happen. 

However, in short, without the benefit of seeing how it continues to work in the next 3 years, I support extending the tax cap.  I think the best case for the district would be for the tax cap to be extended while at the same time the state starts funding many of its own mandates such as pension plans.  But, even if the State were to continue to ignore the burden they shift from themselves to the local taxpayer and not address mandates, I would still support extending the tax cap.