Thursday, December 9, 2010

Race To Nowhere

Just a quick post to thank the PTA, Leslie Kuhn, Leah Barth and Victoria Goodman for the multiple screenings of the movie that is sweeping the country, Race to Nowhere.  The real appreciation goes to them not for just screening the movie, but for raising the issues in the community, for pursuing real discussion and change and for focusing their concern where it properly belongs, on our children.  At tonight's screening, Ms. Goodman mentioned that over 750 residents had seen the movie.  It was also mentioned that all the high school staff watched it and have begun their own dialog on how the staff and administrators at the high school can address the issues and concerns raised by the movie.  The central office administrators have also viewed the movie and are actively participating in the discussion.  

Lyn McKay, the Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum, has been instrumental in addressing a lot of the concerns of the testing and teaching through her work district wide with the curriculum maps and answering the School Board's strategic question: "How can the District ensure that all students think deeply, support their thinking, apply problem-solving skills, and actively participate in their learning as they acquire content knowledge?"

I expect to participate in what has to be a community wide discussion on addressing the pressures, primarily academic but also social and athletic, that is an overwhelming constant part of our children's lives.  A stop gap solution while we work to make true social change is in the mirror.  We as parents set expectations for our children.  Within that expectation needs to be time for kids to be kids; for our children to make mistakes without fear of retribution, to try new things that may later be discarded and to explore their own interests.  

Not everyone is going to get straight A's.  I ask one thing from my children.  I ask that they maximize their potential.  If the best you can do is a B, then get the B.  If it is an A or a C then get that too.  I ask them to recognize that they have choices and they need to make those choices.  The decision to go to sleep at midnight rather than keep working is a very valid decision, but only one they can make.  As long as they recognize the potential outcomes and can live with those outcomes then they can make that decision.  

The only competition I want my children to have is against themselves.  Only they can look in the mirror and know if they reached their potential, followed through on their priorities or have regrets.  I am very confident that there is no standardized test designed by or mandated by the federal or state government that is truly going to measure their learning and knowledge.



Thursday, November 18, 2010

Cupcakes, Kids, Volunteers, Civility and Respect

You would have to be living in a cave to not have heard the story about Michael Wolfenson, the New Castle Town Councilman/cupcake vigilante. I know Michael, and I am quite sure that if he had to do it over again, he wouldn't; or at least not the same way. I would like to think that the boy’s parents would handle it differently next time too. The family friend who called the paper 5 weeks later too. Everyone would take a mulligan on this one if they could.

The national and even international media has made this into a story about the big bad politician picking on the little kids. To me, that is not what this story is really about. This is a story about civility and the public reaction to the story. Michael Wolfenson, regardless of your political leanings, regardless of your opinion on his local votes, regardless of where you stand on the Reader’s Digest site and regardless of where you stand on the great cupcake capitalism debate deserves to be treated with respect and civility. (Make no mistake about it, the boys also deserve respect, civility and whatever accommodation is appropriate for 13 year old boys.)

Michael Wolfenson is essentially a volunteer trying to help his neighbors, friends and town residents the best he can. Michael Wolfenson got involved in town politics because of an overwhelming desire to honor local residents killed in the September 11, 2001 terror attacks. He spent years fighting for a singular cause because he knew in his heart it was the right thing to do. If you have been to the 9/11 memorial at Gedney Park, the very park in which this incident took place, you would agree his efforts were well worth it. He simply wants to help the community. You may not always agree with him on what is right, but his intentions are good.

I have said this in the past, but it is worth repeating here. I can assure you that neither he nor the other town board members are in it for the money. Town Board members are paid less than $10,000 a year. (The Supervisor gets approximately 5 times that amount.) My guess is that that works out to way less than minimum wage when you factor in the time they contribute.

We need people like Michael Wofenson in this town. We need volunteers. We need people to be on the School Board, the Town Board, the Zoning Board, the Planning Board, the Board of Assessment Review, the Board of Architectural Review, the Conservation Board, the Downtown Steering Committee, the Environmental Review Board, the Millwood Task Force, the Sustainability Board, the Recreation Commission, the PTA, New Castle Cares, LWV, the Horace Greeley Scholarship Fund, the Chappaqua School Foundation, the boards and coaches of AYSO, CYSC, GYL and NCBSA, and all the other ways in which neighbors volunteer to help neighbors and contribute to the community.

Who in their right mind would want to volunteer for the community when the reaction to all they do is personal attacks? Playing “gotcha journalism” with local volunteers does nothing other than to dissuade them from continuing public service. I know, I am one of those volunteers. I am a member of the CCSD Board of Education. I have also coached countless of my children’s sports teams. I have gotten the emails from the parents who use stop watches to track their children’s playing time or from the parents say, “I don’t want to tell you how to coach, but…” and then proceed to tell you how to coach.

During the difficult budget discussions of the last few years I have heard residents call the teachers names, the board members names and each other names when they disagree with their point of view. How is that going to help the situation? Ad hominen attacks are unnecessary and counter-productive. There are no "bad guys" in the budget debate. There are differing groups that need to recognize that the collective long-term success is contingent upon short-term sacrifice. By all.

Heck, I have seen residents of New Castle make anonymous comments picking on students for making Cum Laud, for making speeches at graduation and for their sports efforts. Why? These are kids, not much older than the cupcake entrepreneurs simply trying to find their voice, to plot a way through this crazy thing called life.

Last spring, I thought long and hard prior to filing to run for re-election to the School Board. The primary reason I hesitated at all was the consideration of being a public figure in this day and age. Heaven forbid you make a mistake, and look what happens. Add in the people who hide behind the anonymity of the internet to make personal attacks and you too would question your decision to volunteer.

Know this, to be a public figure, even if it is just a volunteer here in Chappaqua, means having to endure and come to terms with personal attacks. But it should not have to. If we as a community want to continue to attract residents to our community and, as important, to attract volunteers from among those residents, we need to treat each other and those volunteers with respect and civility. Challenge the ideas; don’t attack the person.

The sense I get is that in our rush to judgment, our rush to attack, our desire to bring down the person we fail to recognize that the system is strengthened by having multiple and alternative candidates, multiple and alternative volunteers. We are chasing those potential contributors away. You can’t “vote da bums out” if you have no alternatives bums for whom to vote.

Let us as a community rise above. Let us find a way to recognize and applaud these children’s entrepreneurial spirit and let them continue to dream big while also appreciating the good intentions, the time and effort that Michael Wolfenson and all the various organization volunteers give to the community.



Monday, November 1, 2010

Town Law 265

The usual disclaimers apply. I am not speaking for the School Board, I am speaking as an individual. (Refrigerate after opening. Shake well before each use. Your mileage may vary. Past performance means bupkis.)

To some this may sound odd or not be obvious, but I believe the decision on whether or not to sign this petition in support of Town Law 265 is potentially a very big decision with far reaching implications, some not so obvious and some not so direct. I am not aware of the Board of Education ever having signed a petition. Should we decide to sign this petition, we should do so aware of all the issues, not just, "do we support this petition?" Are we setting precedent, are we overstepping our charge and are we meddling in the town's affairs? Having said that, I also believe that there are times to make exceptions, times to set precedent and times to make long term decisions that are not necessarily in your short term best interest. And, as my board colleagues know, as a Board member, former business owner and father, the phrase I rail against more than any is, "Because that is the way we have always done it."

When considering this vote this morning, the first thing I had to consider was the basic question of the merits of the petition. Regardless of any other implications, if I did not agree with the petition's premise, there was no need to waste time on other considerations. What is this petition asking? As I understand it, and as I considered it, we were simply being asked to sign a petition as a landowner who falls within certain boundaries (100') in relation to the proposed zoning change at the former Reader's Digest site. In essence, this petition asks if we support imposing a requirement of a super majority vote from the lead agency (the Town Board) in order to approve the zoning change. It is not asking for our opinion on the zoning change.

As a school board member this entire process with respect to the proposed zoning changes and redevelopment of the former Reader's Digest site has been in one sense surrealistic. I ran for the school board not the town board. I could easily have decided to focus my volunteer efforts in support of this community by helping to govern the entire town, not just the school district. While I may decide to do that at some point in the future, I prefer to focus on our schools, our children, their education and by proxy, the real estate values that are driven in large part by the excellence of our schools. That excellence does not come without significant cost.

The converse is true too. The Supervisor and members of the Town Board chose to run for the Town Board for their own personal reasons, and not the school board. Yet, here we both find ourselves mired in each other's business.

Parenthetically, I would like to add that whether I agree or disagree with all the decisions made by the Town Board from garbage pickup to Gazebo building to their efforts to revitalize downtown is irrelevant. This to me is about one issue, the district and its taxpayers to whom I owe a fiduciary duty. I would also like to go on record as stipulating that regardless of agreement, I believe the Town Board has always acted with the best of intentions and tried to do what they thought was best for the town. While their role is not purely voluntary, the small amount they are paid will never be just compensation for the efforts they put in and the inappropriate personal attacks they take. Challenge their positions if you wish, but do not question their integrity. Do not lose sight of the fact that like the School Board, the Town Board members are our neighbors.

So why is this surrealistic? Because, with this decision, the Town Board is actually, in addition to affecting the Town of New Castle, having a direct affect on and potentially creating long term cost and therefore program affects on Chappaqua Central School District residents. If the project gets approved with its present proposed structure, essentially what is happening is the Town Board is voting to have the CCSD taxpayers take the risk of significantly increased costs, potentially millions of dollars. So, while the town's upside in terms of dollars is, by their own estimates, $200,000, there are very likely scenarios whereby the town would increase its net income by $200,000 while at the same time the CCSD taxpayers would have increased costs in a rollover budget (all programs and offerings remain the same as previous budget) of MILLIONS of dollars. To the taxpayers that overlap the CCSD and the Town of New Castle the Board they elected to represent them on town issues is also acting counter to their interests with significantly more at stake. An overlapping taxpayer could have additional costs that are significant while the Town can rightfully claim that they lowered their portion of the bill. I firmly believe that the one of the primary factors the Town Board should consider when deciding the zoning change request is its potential effect on the CCSD taxpayer.

One way to look at this, and to me the appropriate way to view this as a school board member, CCSD taxpayer and resident of New Castle, is that a vote by the Town Board to approve this project in its present form is simply saying that they have not considered the CCSD taxpayer. But to do that is to ignore the fact that 90% of the CCSD taxpayers are New Castle residents.

And, what has yet to be mentioned through all this is that the 10% of CCSD taxpayers who are in the town of Mt. Pleasant essentially are having their taxes potentially raised without representation. That was sort of the problem 240 years ago. Who but the Board of Education is looking out for the Mt. Pleasant taxpayers in the CCSD?

I recognize too that the Town represents those who live on the West side of town who are not residents of the CCSD. To a west sider who does not live anywhere near the project and will not be affected by the traffic, the noise or any other change, this is simply about money. Their money. They want the project approved because it may have a positive effect on the tax levy for them. If I did not want to factor in some sort of value in helping my fellow New Castle townies, I would feel the same way. One thing I am not really sure of though is the direct effect on any one west side taxpayer, or for that matter any New Castle taxpayer.

Assuming that the discussion regarding twice a week trash pickup is a good proxy for the amount of money benefiting the town, on a per resident basis, if the redevelopment of the former Reader's Digest site yields an additional $200,000 of revenue to the town, that would be approximately $37 per household if allocated consistent with the trash savings. But, I do not think that is actually how it would work. I am pretty sure it is a function of the assessed value of the house and the equalization rate. Simplified, the higher the value of the house, the greater the savings. Lower valued houses would save less than the $37.

So part of the surrealistic aspect of this is that there are residents of New Castle who are not part of the CCSD who have interests that are not necessarily aligned with the 90% of CCSD taxpayers who are also New Castle residents, and there are 10% of CCSD taxpayers in Mt. Pleasant who are potentially greatly affected by this that have no representation on the New Castle Town Board making this decision.

Make no mistake about it, there is a risk to the CCSD taxpayer that this zoning decision could have significant negative financial impact (raise taxes or cut programs or both) on the schools. To me, the only question is how to mitigate the risk or return the risk to the developer and not place it on the taxpayer. Some might argue that the risk is not great. Some that it is unbearably immense. While this Board has indicated it believes the risk is immense and likely to happen, our primary concern is on whom is it appropriate to place that risk.

Let me be clear about that. Speaking for myself, but I think consistent with the consensus of the board, the opposition is not to the project per se. The opposition is to the project in its present form. Until the risk of the remaining 119 units that are not either fee simple or part of the settlement stipulation for low income housing is mitigated and assumed by the developer or someone other than the CCSD taxpayer, we are opposed. Quite frankly, while I believe even the stipulation housing should be fee simple, if the units are held to the 20 already proposed or less, I will not oppose it.

Having said all of that, this is clearly a very important decision that needs to be made by the Town Board. I would argue that this is the most important decision made by a New Castle Town Board in generations. This is a decision that will have ramifications and affects, some good and some bad, for years and years to come. It could potentially change the entire character of the town. It could have significant financial impact on residents.

The sudden availability of 179 houses priced between $500,000 and $1 million will certainly have significant impact on current single family homes priced in that range. Town services could be affected as well as local merchants. So, while on the face of it, this is a zoning change request, it is so much more important and far reaching than that. Regardless of what side you fall on, I am safe in assuming you agree that this needs to be considered carefully, thoughtfully and completely.

This, in a long and roundabout way, leads me back to the decision to sign or not. I have previously established that the petition is not asking us to opine on the zoning change, but rather is asking for the Town to have a super majority needed for passage, that in its present form there is significant financial risk to CCSD taxpayers without any offsetting gain and that this is the most important decision the Town will make in generations.

To me, the next step in the decision is to consider any implications to the district itself by the simple act of a signing a petition. Our attorneys have indicated there is not any legal impediment to signing. This is such a unique and special request that our decision either way here is not establishing a precedent other than the board's willingness to consider this request. Finally, I ask myself if there is good reason to sign or not that can be supported either way. As a fiduciary to the district, is either alternative action, sign or decide not to sign or is punting the decision supportable or appropriate.

I am voting to sign the petition. It appears the district falls within the legal boundaries for this petition, we are directly affected by this decision from a financial standpoint as well as the traffic and other logistics of being across the street from this type of development, and I think it is reasonable to ask that a super majority of the Town Board be needed to make such a significant change. We are establishing no district precedent and as a fiduciary to the district including its students and taxpayers, I think I have to act within reason to further the district's interests or to prevent significant harm to our district taxpayers even if we have never done it this way before. To me, taking no action or voting against signing this petition would be proactively not taking a step that can be taken without harm to the district and that would be protecting the district's taxpayers.

Finally, this decision did not come lightly, but ultimately it comes in support of the people we on the School Board represent, the students and taxpayers of the Chappaqua Central School District.


Friday, October 29, 2010

Interesting Article in the Patch

Here is a link to an article in The Patch that quotes a rep of Donald Trump indicating a more than passing interest in the former Reader's Digest property.


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Follow-up to "Just the FACTS Ma'am"

The usual disclaimers apply. I am not speaking for the School Board, I am speaking as an individual. (Refrigerate after opening. Shake well before each use. Your mileage may vary. Past performance means bupkis.)

In trying to understand the point of view of the report commissioned by the town board by FACTS Presentation Services, Inc., I thought I would Google search the firm and find out what their area of expertise was. I searched on the string using quotes "FACTS presentation services". These are the results. Most of the results came from this report itself. I could not find a website nor do they list a website on their letterhead. Mr. Paul K. DeMay lists an AOL email address for his company email. That in and of itself means nothing other than it appears as if there is no company domain name or web presence.

From the search results, I found this page on which is part of Martindale-Hubbell. It lists the areas of expertise as, "Medical Experts & Consultants, Mental Health, Psychology - Educational Matters". It does not list real estate expertise nor does it list anything having to do with demographic projections. Certainly, M-H could be an incomplete list.

I also searched on "Paul K. Demay" and found even less information. All 10 results were related to the Reader's Digest project. Maybe my google-fu is failing me, but at the least FACTS Presentation Services, Inc. is not an easy firm on which to gather information and credentials.

Maybe the Town Board can point to other studies Paul K. Demay or FACTS Presentation Services has completed or other work he has done in the area of demographic projections.

If anyone has any information on this firm such as a website, promotional material, a list of clients, a list of reports, etc, please send it to me at



Friday, October 8, 2010

1X/wk Garbage Collection

The Town of New Castle recently re-considered changing the weekly garbage pickup from two times per week and one recycle pickup to one garbage and one recycle pickup per week. While I would prefer the twice weekly schedule, I would happily accept the once per week if the Town took that $200,000 per year savings and returned it to the taxpayer.

Granted, it would only be $37 per household, but if we all pledge to take that $37 reduction and spend it in town with one of our local merchants, the entire community would be better off. I would much prefer our local merchants get some stimulus spending than a corporate garbage hauling operation. Also, it seems more appropriate to spend the money in town than to just reallocate it in the budget. I would be disappointed if the savings is used to mask other issues in the budget or to pay for something else.

Let's applaud the town for finding savings and a method to help stimulate the local economy. What other services can be cut and the money returned to the tax payer? I would pledge to spend that locally too.



Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Horace Greeley Homecoming Dance

Some residents have talked to me about the recent Homecoming Dance. The general issue was the limited number of tickets. Some also complained about "scalping" going on with the tickets.

First, congratulations to the student council and the administration for the successful incident free event! We are a victim of our own success. There are limits to the number of tickets we can sell to a dance as there are fire code restrictions as well as a protocol to have appropriate coverage or ratios of students to chaperons. For the first time in recent years, we reached a level of sales that would consider the dance as "sold out".

So how do you properly allocate the scarce resource of tickets in the future? Right now it is done through time. First come first served. Many students, wanting to wait until they could confirm plans, waited until the Friday before the dance to try to purchase tickets. I suggested to my children that paying the $10 (their money) early in the week was like buying a cheap call on their Saturday night plans. (Full disclosure: One of my children is on the student council and was required to be there and help setup as well as take a shift working at the dance.)

Following the dance, this week, I suggested to the administration that they consider two changes to the ticket selling protocol for next time. One, when tickets go on sale, make the first day of sales exclusive to seniors, the second day for juniors and seniors, the third day for sophomores, juniors and seniors, and the fourth day for freshman and sophomores only. Then, open ticket purchases up to the entire school.

Second, in order to prevent scalping and the older grades buying tickets in bulk, have every ticket numbered and a name logged with the sale. At the dance, only the person whose name is listed with the ticket number will be allowed to use that ticket.

These are just suggestions. I am sure there are many other good ideas that would make sense. I know the administration is considering many solutions to what is, in my opinion, a good problem; too much student participation.



Friday, October 1, 2010

Just the "FACTS" Ma'am?

The usual disclaimers apply. I am not speaking for the School Board, I am speaking as an individual. (Refrigerate after opening. Shake well before each use. Your mileage may vary. Past performance means bupkis.)

I had the chance to briefly review the report put out by "FACTS". My first impression was that Paul DeMay had a lot of guts staking his firm's reputation and future business on the numbers he used and the tone he took.

On closer review, DeMay has several "inconsistencies" with the submissions by both the developer and the Chappaqua School Board to DEIS and FEIS. It is not surprising to me that the Town's demographer came up with the numbers it did nor is it surprising to me that the developer came up with their number. The school district has hired counsel who in turn has hired experts to come up with its own projections.

I have never expected all the experts to be in concurrance. These projections are based on numerous asumptions and estimates. The concern was and is, what if the developer and now the town's numbers are wrong? I believe the risk of the estimates being wrong is great, while, at the same time, the outcome is financially significant.

I believe the appropriate party to take the risk is the developer, NOT the Chappaqua or New Castle taxpayer. As noted the other night, the developer must also believe the risk to be great as its lawyer stated they would not be willing to assume it. No monies would be put in escrow he said. As another speaker said at the town hall meeting, put your money where your mouth is.

That leads me to one question. Why should the taxpayers assume the risk if the developer won't?


Wednesday, September 1, 2010

School Year 2010-2011 About to Begin!

Tomorrow, September 2nd, is the official start of the school year. It is sort of like spring training where the pitchers and catchers report first. Tomorrow is opening day for teachers and administrators. The rest of the team, the students, report on September 7th. Tomorrow will be opening day speeches by Ellen Pincus head of the teacher's union, John Chambers Interim Superintendent, Janet Benton, School Board President, Leslie Kuhn PTA President and other introductions.



Sunday, August 29, 2010

Follow-Up to 5095 Web Publishing Policy

Recently, in your back to school mailing that has information from the district and PTA, was included the form (link to form here*)to fill out regarding our changing the Wed Publishing Policy 5095 from an "opt-in" to an "opt-out". (See this post for details.)

I strongly suggest that you read this mailing carefully. I have chosen to "opt-out" by checking the second option. This is the option that will give you back your rights to control your child's privacy.

Read the paragraph just above where you fill in your child's name. Know that what is not written in that paragraph is that if you do not return the form by September 17th, the district, as per paragraph one of the form, WILL ASSUME that you DO give permission to print your child's picture anywhere on the web as long as the picture or the work is not identified by name. If you do not want the district to have that right, you need to proactively "opt-out" by checking the second choice.

* Careful, clicking the link will force open a pdf file either in your browser or in a separate Adobe Reader window.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Web Publishing Policy 5095

(Usual disclaimers. I speak for myself, not the entire School Board. Your mileage may vary, etc.)

At the School Board's August 10th regular meeting, by a 3-2 vote, the Board approved changes to its Web Publishing Policy 5095. (Benton, Kiesel and Bresner for, Mester and Katchis opposed.) This is not simply a wonkish change to an obscure policy. This change has significant implications on student privacy rights. Before I elaborate on my reasons for voting "no", it is important to note that in my four years on the School Board, this is the first time I can recall there being a 3-2 vote. While there have been several 4-1 votes, rarely is the Board this split on an issue.

First let me outline the issue as I see it. In its simplest terms it is "opt-in" versus "opt-out". One of these methods is the default that to change requires proactive action. An example of this would be when you sign up for a website, they will send you "special offer" emails until you "opt-out". You must proactively tell them to stop. Or, they send you no emails until you proactively "opt-in" or ask for emails.

But not every case is that simple. In the case of the school board the issue is not emails, but privacy. More accurately, student privacy and who has the rights to use that student's image and classroom work product. What is the District's (Board's) policy about publishing student photos, class room work product, video and artwork? Up until last night, the policy was opt-in. In order for us to use a student's image or work, even without a name, we had to have that student's parents permission.

Last night we went to a two-tiered system. We will remain opt-in for the cases where we want to use full first and last names on a district wide website, and first name and first initial of last name in a password protected classroom website. We will now be opt-out if we want to use without names or identifiers a student's pictures, videos, artwork or even classwork. That is, we assume the right to use those unless you tell us otherwise. As long as we don't use a name or identify the student we can use that work anyway we see fit on the web.

This is the new section of the policy:

Examples of student work which does not identify the student (such as artwork, written work or verbal statements) may be published on the web unless a parent/guardian or eligible student indicates in writing that they do not consent.


Photos and videos of students without names may be published on the District or school websites unless parent/guardian or eligible student refuses permission in writing...

So why did I vigorously oppose this change and vote no? First let me start with the assumption that once published on the web, it is in the public domain forever. Just as you cannot unring a bell, it has been shown that once published on the web, with caching and mirror sites and people simply copying and pasting whatever we put up will live on somewhere on the web.

By making it opt-out rather than opt-in by default, we are making the decision to potentially post items on the web without informed consent*. If a parent does not check off a box and return a form sent prior to the school year, that parent is essentially agreeing to let us use their child's likeness and work product as we see fit (without names or identifying information).

One example of the type of potential item we can post is a child's classroom work. We could now, for example, redact a student's name from a test and publish that test on the web as an example of good or bad work. We can film a student in a classroom as they work to learn some skill and publish that on YouTube as long as we don't identify that student and that student's guardian has not opted-out. We could take a elementary school book report and publish that with name redacted. Previously, before we would post something like that on the web we would have to ask for permission from the student's parent or guardian.

This policy has changed the rules from, we ask before we publish to we publish unless you proactively returned a form at the beginning of the year and told us not to. In fairness, presumably you may opt out at any time.

Why did we make the change? The answer I have received to that question is because it is easier for us to be able to post pictures and such on the web. As told to me at an earlier public meeting, previously we had to get permission from everyone in a picture before we published and that was time consuming and difficult. Parents would not respond. I do not in any way doubt that to be true; it is time consuming and difficult. Parents have so many other things to worry about that maybe this is not a priority to respond.

With this change, we do not need the permission, we presume to have it. Why do we need to publish student pictures and classroom work on the web? For learning purposes. To be able to demonstrate certain teaching techniques and methods of evaluation and learning. We would love to be able to post examples of student writing. And/or, for marketing purposes. To show what great work we do in the schools.

One of the operational flaws in this change is that it will not significantly reduce the workload. For example, prior to publishing a work of a photo someone still must identify all those in the picture or the work's author and check a database to see if that person opted-out. We will not have to wait for permission now for those that did not opt out. Contacting the parents to ask permission will be the only time and effort saving area.

While I am very proud of the work we do in our schools, I do not think our desire to toot our horn should trump a student's right to privacy. I certainly do not think that we should make this change for our expediency. We have made it opt-out so that we can more easily use student's pictures and work for our benefit. Efficiency over privacy and ownership.

There is no doubt that we as a district are hampered in our efforts to get the word out to the community of all the terrific work being done in our schools. Our teachers and administrators are doing great work in the schools!! I would love to be able to show the district's residents they are "getting their monies worth" for their tax dollars; they are. But not at the cost of privacy rights.

I believe that as a default you own your right to privacy and you own your image and work product. We should have to ask for your permission to waive that right. Name or no name. I do not think that we (the District) should take that inherent right and presume it to be ours unless or until you proactively take it back.

I am opting-out.


*This is not meant as a legal term if there is such a legal term. I am quite confident that the new policy as well as the old is legal and appropriate and within FERPA regulations. That is not the issue.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


I recently had someone attempt to post an anonymous comment. While the comment in and of itself was certainly not provocative, it was not consistent with my stated policy of no anonymous comments.

In the "Welcome" post I state my policy with respect to comments to this blog. First, I will be honest in saying I reserve the right to post or reject any comment for any reason. My blog, my prerogative. Second, I will not ever publish an anonymous comment. I put my name out there on the line and so should you. If you are not willing to state it publicly, then I have a hard time accepting it as legitimate. Third, my standards for publishing are accuracy, civility and relevancy. I recognize these rules and criteria may be stricter than you wish or think appropriate. With all due respect, feel free to start your own blog or post your comments in one of the other town blogs such as The Patch or NewCastleNOW.

This is all new to me so I reserve the right to change the entire process as well. I am also considering having any comments only made through email and I will then post those comments (and responses if appropriate) as inline blog posts. Sort of a mailbag feature.

If you wish to ask a question directly or to comment, feel free to email me at I do not guarantee a response, but time and desire permitting I will do the best I can.

Having said all that, the anonymous commenter asked how to view a video of the proceedings or get a transcript. I do not know the answer to that. I do know that News 12 appeared to be taping the meeting and at least one very public private citizen did as well. I strongly suspect it will be posted to YouTube at some point soon and linked to by a local blog other than this. I do not know if the Town typically makes transcripts available, but the microphones on the table were for the tape recorder that I believe is used by a Town stenographer. The commenter also asked why the Town and School boards were surprised by the turnout. I cannot speak for the entire school board, but I was surprised because we are not the lead agency and have not experienced the passionate reactions to this project. At school board meetings - even contentious ones such as the budget - we rarely get a crowd over 45 or 50. Typically there are 7 or 8 people there most of whom have to be there anyway. Also, it is important to note that the board in our electronic blast of July 29th and I here on this blog strongly suggested that the public turnout to voice its concerns, comments or compliments, but we do not know who is listening.

Because the meeting was held in Town Hall, the School Board had no control over the recording issue. I cannot speak for the Town, but it is my understanding that the Town, as a matter of course, does not typically record or broadcast work sessions. This was a work session. It is also my impression that the Town established a date in September for public comment and expected to have the big turnout then. Typically in August all meetings are sparsely attended and it was felt that rather than shut anyone out who was on vacation, the Town would schedule an evening in September to hear public comment. Those are not unreasonable assumptions.

The commenter also seemed to imply that there was something to be read into the reasons for moving the meeting after the initial reluctance. Regardless of the reason why, Barbara Gerrard chose to do the right thing and move the meeting into the largest space available. Why question her motives?

Response to Developer Spokesman Claim

I do not speak for the District or the School Board. I am speaking from my own recollections.

In an article in the Patch today, spokesman for the developer Geoff Thompson said, "...that the school board has only met with them one (sic) in the past few years, and that they have made unsuccessful attempts to talk with them."

As School Board President from the time of our submission to the DEIS in September of 2009 thru the end of my term in 2010, I was never contacted by Mr. Thompson or any representatives of the developer. If a request to meet with the School Board was made in July or August of this year, I was not made aware of that request. To the best of my knowledge, since July 1st of this year, no attempt was made to give the School Board a look at any draft new proposal nor did we have the opportunity to comment to the developer (or Town) in advance of this joint session. And, in fact, the School Board did meet with the developer early in the process (I would need to look back at old agendas to get the specific date) which I believe is the one time to which he refers. Edit: The developer did ask to meet with the School Board in the summer of 2009. We felt after being ignored previously that additional meetings were unnecessary.

Quite frankly, I am not sure what a meeting would accomplish. Was Mr. Thompson implying that in a meeting, if we had only told them of our concerns, they would have addressed them? If so, the developer can certainly proactively choose to implement any one of my 4 suggestions at any time.



August 10 Town-School Board Joint Work Session Thoughts

(The usual disclaimers apply. This is my opinion. I do not speak for the entire School Board. Your mileage may vary, etc.)

First up was the joint Town-School Boards work session. I arrived at 7:01 and boy did I miss the early fireworks. Quite frankly, I was surprised at the turnout and it was apparent so was the Town Board. Give credit to Supervisor Gerrard who after an initial hesitation due to time and procedural concerns, made the appropriate executive decision to move the meeting to the larger auditorium, although that space too proved to be too small. I only wish there was time for the official video recording equipment to be turned on and used.

Thank you to all the residents who showed up to voice their opinions. As a School Board member I can tell you that I put the most weight on opinions from people who are willing to show up in person, in public, and voice their opinion. Although there was no time for public comment tonight at the work session, the very number of people who took the time to come watch and insist on being able to see a public meeting was impressive and speaks for itself. I obviously was unable to remain for the balance of the Town meeting, but I am sure I will get to read an account of it in the media. Or watch it on NCCTV.

In the event you were not at the joint session, I thought the meeting was productive for three reasons. One, I was able to learn more about the latest proposal and to understand much more about the process and the Town's issues. The Town's consultant methodically and meticulously walked the School Board through the history of the project leading up to the latest proposal as well as detailing the latest proposal including relevant to the CCSD numbers and facts.

Two, I was able to voice the issues and concerns I made in my previous post. Namely that the risk of the revenues not exceeding the expenses of new students (in the development itself or in houses vacated in town as a result of the development) should be borne by the developer not the district taxpayers. Also that the projected declining enrollment of the district is an asset of the district in the form of lower costs to the taxpayers and should not be given away or traded off by anyone other than the BoE or the district taxpayers themselves.

I offered 4 solutions (I added one to the list in previous post) They were to tax all residential development as fee simple, to do a town wide revaluation and invoke the Homestead Act, not approve any change in the residential zoning, or to require the developer to post a bond in escrow that would be used to offset any additional expenses above tax revenues by the district. It is also important to recognize that the CCSD taxpayer may be better off losing the current taxes paid rather than taking a larger loss if the new additional taxes do not support the new students. The lesser of two evils.

Three, I think that the Town Board genuinely wanted to hear our concerns and will take them into serious consideration. Although most of what we said was already said in the DEIS submission of the School Board and other earlier submissions or at earlier meetings, we were able to reiterate the importance of our issues. I also want to believe that the Town Board respects and appreciates the turnout as a statement itself.

I also asked what the Town stood to gain from approving the project. You will need to view a videotape of the meeting or read a transcript to be able to get the answer. Most of the response was a discussion of the legal issues (which are a legitimate genuine concern). I am unable to simply list the benefits as they were not presented to us in that form. Quite frankly, I am not sure I understood what they were if there were any above the 6.5 acres of land that the Town would have to pay to improve.

(Gregg Bresner, Alyson Kiesel and Randy Katchis also voiced their significant concerns. It is not my place to detail them here, but they either reiterated or expanded upon my comments. None were in opposition to my comments. I had the benefit(?) of going first after Janet Benton as President or I would have been echoing theirs.)

The School Board then moved to the High School to have its regularly scheduled meeting. That meeting had some serious issues discussed too. I will make a separate post on the issues from that meeting.

Relevant to this post, at the regular School Board meeting we spoke about the next steps as a School Board to take with respect to giving the Town more information and a submission to the FEIS. I will go into more detail in a later post, but there was general agreement to consider engaging an expert to help with projections specific to Chappaqua and this market as well as to write a submission to the FEIS. In that submission we expect to use data from the expert, to reiterate what we said tonight and to add other data and information as requested by the Town.

I strongly suggest that our submission to the DEIS be re-examined as it is clear in its concerns.



Monday, August 9, 2010

Joint NC Town Board CCSD School Board Work Session Pre-Meeting Thoughts

Friends, neighbors and community members:

I am writing as an individual Chappaqua Central School District Board (BoE) member; I do not speak for the entire School Board. I don't speak for anyone but myself.

On Tuesday August 10th, the New Castle Town Board and Chappaqua Central School District Board of Education are having a joint work session. The purpose of the session is for the Town Board to present to the School Board the latest proposal by the developer of the former Reader’s Digest property. I expect that New Castle’s consultants will present the facts that are relevant to the CCSD.

I am posting this prior to the meeting because I found out that there will be no recording of the meeting, no live broadcast, no time for audience questions and it will be in the smaller conference room next to the main room at Town Hall. Because the meeting is at Town Hall, the BoE has no ability to tape the meeting. If you want to see the meeting, but not participate, come to Town Hall on Tuesday August 10th at 7:00pm. Because the meeting will not be broadcast or taped, I am posting my pre-meeting thoughts now. Of course, I will reserve judgment until I hear the presentation. There is certainly a chance that my concerns are addressed proactively by the Town at the meeting.

First, I want to clear up a few misconceptions. I have communicated with many residents in the last few weeks about the former Reader’s Digest Property. I as a Board member and fiduciary will vigorously make our concerns known just as you should too. Quite frankly, the only proper forum to voice your opinions on this matter is to the lead agency, the Town Board themselves. It is where I expect to voice my concerns too.

Let me be clear on that. Many of the people with whom I spoke suggested that the School Board “do something about the project”. The School Board cannot approve of the proposal, turn down the proposal or alter the proposal in any way. The Town Board is the lead agency on this. They and they alone will make this decision. The School Board can only voice its support or concerns to the Town Board just as any citizen or group can and should.

I have been asked what took the BoE so long to send out it recent memo outlining its concerns. Our recent statement on July 29th was not breaking new ground. It was a reiteration of our public comment to the DEIS. I was in favor of making the statement because it was clear that our response to the DEIS was either being discounted or misinterpreted even with the latest proposal.

Our submission to the DEIS makes very clear in both the last paragraph of introductory letter, in the conclusion as well as in the body of the submission that the BoE had significant concerns with the tax basis of the proposals. That has not changed with the latest proposal by the developer as far as I can tell prior to this joint work session.

I think it unfair to present problems without offering solutions. Although it is not the School Board’s charge to provide solutions I intend to propose three possible ways to keep the risk with the developer and not put the risk of a shortfall in tax revenues versus additional costs on the CCSD taxpayers.

One solution is to require that all the units be taxed fee simple. I do not know if that can be done legally unless all dwellings are single family homes. Another is to do a town-wide revaluation which could serve the purpose of putting all properties with equal value whether they are single family homes or condominiums on par with each other for tax purposes. The third way is to simply deny the part of the zoning change that requests residential development.

Finally, I plan on discussing the use and proper interpretation of the BOCES data. BOCES made projections on enrollment for the district assuming there was no development of the property as well as under the various scenarios of development known at the time of the DEIS. The district wide projections showed declining enrollment.

Declining enrollment, assuming most of the district’s costs are variable, is a benefit that should accrue to district taxpayers. It is an asset of the district taxpayers that should not be transferred to the developer by anyone other than the School Board. I happen to believe that government savings or in this case the CCSD savings should be returned to the taxpayer not transferred to the developer or spent by the school board. Regardless of your opinion on that, it is the BoE and the district’s taxpayers who should decide the budget and proper spending for the district.

I will also be pointing out that the BOCES projections for the student enrollment at the development were based on state-wide averages that did not in any way account for historical data here in Chappaqua or even in Westchester. It included the entire state. Real life experience has shown that in Chappaqua condominiums as much as three times as many children live in the units as the BOCES projections assume. That is a number that is too large to ignore.

All my concerns about this development as a School Board member have the same solution. To me, as a district and district taxpayer fiduciary, I have no opinion on the proper number of additional students either in the development itself or those who move into homes vacated by current residents who move there; we will educate them all and do it well.

My concern is for the district taxpayer and not shifting the risk of potential additional costs above new tax revenue from the developer to the current taxpayers. Simply focusing on the town of New Castle’s taxpayer effects without considering the effects on the district’s taxes is deficient. The equitable solution is to tax the units so that they pay the same taxes as single family homes of the same monetary value.

Jeffrey Mester



As a CCSD School Board member, I am frequently contacted by district residents with questions, comments, concerns, support and requests. While some of these contact points are very individual and specific to that person, most are not. Most are concerns, questions and comments that many of you share.

With this blog, I hope to create a sort of FAQ of my (NOT the entire Board's) position, point of view, response, etc. I have no regular timetable for posting. I welcome your feedback and comments. I plan to moderate any comments you wish to post here. As editor, I will have final say on all decisions. My standards are accuracy, civility and relevancy. I also require a real name. That is, no anonymous comments

You may also wish to send comments directly to me at or leave a voice mail for me using the below link.

Also on Twitter: @JSMCCSDBoE