Thursday, September 29, 2011

Tuesday's with Morrie; Wednesday's with the BoE

At our September 20th meeting, the Board voted unanimously to move our meeting date to Wednesdays (from Tuesdays) starting with the 2012-2013 school year.  Here is a link to my original post on the issue.  I would like to thank my fellow Board members for moving this idea forward for the next school year.

At that same September 20th meeting, Christine Yeres, editor and blogger for NewCastleNOW, asked if we would also move the meetings to New Castle Town Hall.  Without looking at the tape of the meeting, I recall my response was along the lines of, "That makes no sense whatsoever".

The more I think about it, it makes even less sense than that.  I think the reason Christine asked it was as a way to backdoor going live since the town is already set up for that and it would cost the district close to $10,000 to set up.

Here is why it makes no sense.  One of the issues that became clear during the Reader's Digest/Summit Greenfield development debate was that too many people equate the Town of New Castle with the Chappaqua Central School District.  We are very different.  First, the CCSD has a budget almost 3 times the Town's.  Second, only 90% of the people in the CCSD are also in the Town of New Castle.  Mt Pleasant is about 10% of the district.  Third, only about 80% of those in the Town of New Castle reside in the CCSD.

Second, we are the school district not in anyway associated with the Town.  We should be using district facilities.  Third, the most centrally located facility for residents of the CCSD is the Horace Greeley High School.  Town hall is at the south end of the district.  HGHS is also convenient for the Administration that has offices yards away from the meeting place.  Finally, HGHS give us the flexibility to change the location from the academic commons to the auditorium if there is a need based on attendance.

To me, the only issue remaining with meeting dates and locations is the production of the district calendar.  It was clear in April when this first came up and again the other night that producing the calendar is a burden for the PTA.  They are doing it as a favor at our request.  I do not think we should continue to place that burden on the PTA.  I strongly believe we should take that back in house.  It is not fair of us to burden an outside organization.  And, it brings control of the decision making with respect to the calendar 100% with the district.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Follow Up to Turf Post

The following are some questions I received and my answers.  These are my answers only.  I do not speak for the entire Board.  If you would like to send an email to me, I can be reached at the link below ( or  Emails you send to my district email or to the Board's email ( are subject to Freedom of Information Act requests.  To call me, click on the link on this page.  If you block your caller ID, I do not see the number.  Leave a message if I am unable to answer.

Q. Will the Board us district funds for the turf field?

A. No.  The Board and the district has said repeatedly that we will not use district funds for the turf when we have academic priorities that take precedence.

Q.  Then why was the Board voting to sign the contract with the Engineering firm before it had the funds in hand from the turf committee?

A.  First, we tabled the motion initially and approved the motion at our September 8th meeting contingent upon having the funds in hand from the TCTC or them demonstrating that it was placed in escrow for the district.  Second, the turf committee is a community group and is made up of members of the community, natch.  Quite frankly, I trust them to honor the legally binding MOU we signed with them.  I do not think we should treat them any differently from other community groups that use our facilities.  For example, the PTA currently owes us $40,000 for a program they run.  We have not said, "No, you cannot have that program until you paid."  That makes no sense for many reasons.  One, we asked the PTA to be a conduit for the program.  Two, they are a community group whose word is their bond.  They told us they would pay and we know they will without doing a D&B report on their credit.  Why should we treat the TCTC differently than the PTA?

Another reason why I think we could have and should have signed the agreement prior to having the actual funds in house is that there are other issues that arise that are critical to the timing.  As this is district property, the district has to sign the contract.  In order to actually undertake the work on our fields, believe it or not, Albany (Dept. of Ed) needs to approve of the work.  If you have ever asked for government approval on a construction project, you know that it takes time.  A lot of time.  So, in order to install turf in the summer of 2012, we need to file in the early fall and we need to submit an engineering study as part of that filing.

Also, if we file in a timely matter and meet certain criteria there is a chance that the state will give us matching funds for up to around 23%.  Why not try to get that money?  It was taken from us as tax payers.  Let us get it back.

Q. Why is the PTA and others in the community saying that you are rushing into this without public input?

A. Again, I have no idea.  That simply is not true.  There were significant meetings on this two years ago.  Again in the spring , the Board of Ed's Facilities Committee announced and held (June 1st) a public meeting on the issue.  There were approximately 30 people in attendance.  Of those who attended, some were neighbors with concerns, some were community members with other concerns and some were supporters.  We stayed and answered every question and gave anyone who wanted to a chance to speak.

In fact, that meeting was announced by the PTA!!!  Below is the relevant section from a copy of the email they sent announcing it.

Artificial Turf
The topic of artificial turf in Chappaqua will be on the agenda of the Facilities Committee when they meet on Tuesday June 1 at 7:00pm at the Education Center.  Consider attending if you would like to learn more about private fundraising to bring turf to Chappaqua and how the process of gaining approval for a turf field will work.  You are also welcome to attend the meeting to raise any other questions or concerns about the facilities of the Chappaqua School District.

For the PTA to claim that we are doing anything hastily is simply incorrect and disingenuous.  The PTA tried to make some point that the September 8th meeting was not on their precious district calendar, but the September 1st one was and they chose not to attend.  In fact, in response to concerns a Board member expressed, the motion was tabled until those concerns could be addressed one week later.

Additionally, the district did not announce the meeting two hours before it began.  The PTA sent out their own email.  The district posted the meeting on its website and sent out an announcement to everyone on our mailing list that has asked to receive such emails.  Ours was sent on Tuesday, a full 52 hours in advance.

And, I personally sent emails to both The Patch and NCN to let them know about the meeting.  I certainly would not characterize sending an email to local bloggers to get the word out as anything but full transparency.  I cannot control their publication schedule or their editorial decision on what is worthy of being blogged about.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Schools Open!! Email, Turf and more

Schools Open!! Congratulations to Dr. McKay, the administrative team, the teachers and the entire staff on a terrific first week of school. Also, thank you to Joe Gramando and his staff for the outstanding job they have done over the summer and this past two weeks dealing with the terrible weather conditions that has affected so many of us and our neighbors.

 I received more calls, texts and emails tonight about the schools than I did in the past two months combined. Apparently, many residents read the email (copied below) sent out by the PTA late this afternoon and had questions and concerns about the email. First, tonight, the Board approved an amended motion to accept the contract with the engineering firm for preliminary work on the potential turf field contingent upon either receiving the actual funds from the community group spearheading the effort, TCTC or TC2 or their demonstrating that the monies have been put in escrow on behalf of the district. Tonight's 5-0 vote reiterates that the Board never intended nor will spend district funds on a turf field. For those who attended the September 1st meeting and those who took the time to inquire with the district, that fact was never in dispute.

To respond to your questions about the PTA email, let me reiterate that I do not speak for the entire Board (our President, Alyson K does), I speak only for myself. 

I regret that the PTA sent the email to the community prior to asking for and understanding the facts of the issue. As they did not attend the September 1st meeting, their decision to rely on published media reports for their information lead to their own hasty email filled with innuendo and inaccuracies that in the end reflected poorly on the PTA. I am quite confident that going forward the Board and the PTA can and will resume our terrific working relationship with the common goal of helping the children of this community.

I also want to publicly thank the Sports Boosters and Jim N for all their efforts especially in coordinating the many various town and school related groups to make this effort a true community project. For the first time, Jim has managed to get five local youth sports organizations to work together in addition to several school organizations. At tonight's meeting he also extended an olive branch to the PTA to join the group effort on turf and noted his regret that they had not communicated sooner.

Should this fundraising effort prove successful, the gift of a turf field will reduce district maintenance costs by around $50,000 annually, will benefit all the district's high school JV and Varsity teams and will significantly increase the available fields for local youth organizations both in terms of hours of availability and with the current weather related closings. This is a win-win-win all around.

Let me also make it clear that the monies sought are not being siphoned from monies that would otherwise go to the district. These are completely private funds. The TC2 is working with the CSF to find ways to benefit both groups without diverting contributions from the CSF. The TC2 intends to make in clear in their fund raising efforts that they are only seeking donations for the field and do not want to affect any other donations a contributor may make. They want this to be incremental giving not replacement giving.

The Board's next regularly scheduled meeting is on September 20th at 8:15 in the HGHS academic commons. See you there.

Here is a link to the email and below is the text.

The Chappaqua Board of Education will be meeting at 6:30 tonight, Thursday, September 8th, at the school district Education Center, 66 Roaring Brook Road. This special meeting is not on the district calendar and was scheduled hastily, mainly to consider an action tabled at the Board's September 1st meeting. The action under consideration is whether the Board should approve advancing approximately $141,000 in taxpayer funds to pay for an engineering study of what has been promoted as a privately-funded effort to build a lighted turf sports field at Horace Greeley High School. Private fundraising efforts by the Chappaqua Turf Committee have just begun and the Board of Education is considering advancing the cost of the engineering study until such time, if any, that sufficient private funds are raised to reimburse the school district. Please consider attending tonight's meeting if you'd like the Board of Education to hear your views before it decides whether or not to approve the use of school district funds for this purpose during a time of severe fiscal constraint.