Low Turnout, High Margin Passes Byram Hills School Budget
May 20, 2015 The 2015-16 Byram Hills School budget of $88,689,957 was passed by 82.5% of voters with a margin of 577 to 122 votes. Of the 10,629 eligible voters, 699 voters turned out.
This is only 6.6% participation rate of eligible voters, a decline from 928 voters or 8.1% from the 2014 election, which was a decline from 9.2% of voters in 2013.
According to the New York State Association of School Business Officials' 2014 School District Budget Vote Results, since the implementation of the New York State Tax Cap in 2012, if a proposed school budget is under the Tax Cap, the voting participation has been down, while the approval rates of budgets have been up over 96% across the state.
Byram Hills’ budget was situated below its 2.2% NYS Tax Cap. The taxpayers will see a 1.8% tax levy increase for this year’s passed school budget.
“A low turnout vote is not surprising,” said Ira Schulman, President of the Board of Education. “The budget proposed is a solid budget which did not engender much controversy. But given the restrictions that the School Board has to operate with the Tax Cap levy, it becomes hard to justify a no vote when the proposed school budget is within the state budgetary guidelines.”
Superintendent Bill Donohue said, “I am pleased by the vote and the community's expression of confidence in the quality of the educational program. We have worked hard to create a fiscal plan that is prudent and will sustain us in the long term. We hope the vote, and maybe even the low turnout, are due to the success of these efforts.”
“It’s challenging to motivate people to vote with a 1.1% increase in an uncontested board election,” said Greg Carlson, Assistant Superintendent for Business and Management Services.
Throughout the budget process, Carlson said, “The Board had done a good job communicating with the public between the televised meetings, the Byram Hills website, the minutes from the Board of Education meetings, and the budget brochure. There was enough details provided to give a good sense of what the challenges are and where the proposals were to put money. Altogether, the budget gives the community a sense of good fiscal stewardship and attention to detail. Looking at the student outcome, it is exemplary.
“The Board of Education (BOE) has exercised its ability to control and lead in a thoughtful manner,” added Carlson. “This allows the administration to do what they are paid to do as the budget supports the education programs with an expectation of high achievements that is envisioned by the administrators.”
The state mandates that the voting polls are open for only six consecutive hours. If the voters’ schedule follows last year’s turnout, Carlson said, as he indicated from a charted graph, the last three hours of the day were the busiest with the peak voting time at around 7:00 p.m. when 112 votes were recorded. The last three voting hours before 9:00 p.m. averaged about 100 votes per hour. Another popular voting time was around 9:00 a.m. when students were dropped off at school. Carlson said that tracking the voting trends will help determine if it’s worthwhile to have Byram Hills School District polling hours open for 15 hours. Last year’s polls showed there wasn’t a big turnout before 8:00 a.m. In fact, during the first two and half hours of the 2014 election, there were only 100 votes registered. The original intent was to open the polls at 6:30 a.m. so that people who work in the city could vote early because it might be more difficult for them to vote at night. But that might not be the case any longer since many people who commute to NYC leave the area even before the polls are open.
The uncontested School Board elections also contributed to the low turnout, said Schulman. The two trustee elected candidates, Scott Levy and Michael Sanders, received 588 votes, and 608 votes, respectively. Schulman said the Board is confident that the newly elected BOE members will be successful. They will be sworn-in during the BOE’s Reorganizational meeting on July 7.
The six-year tenure of BOE members Leslie Blum (Cziner) and Ann Tedesco ends June 30. Schulman said, “They served two terms with distinction and will be deeply missed.”
Schulman, who has dedicated many years to the BOE, has served an unprecedented 16 continuous years. He has served seven terms as Board President. “The President’s responsibility is to assist the Superintendent, set the Board agenda, manage the Board meetings, and help the Board develop consensus on the issues,” he says. “But keep in mind that the President is just one Board member with one vote.”
Immediately after the vote Schulman concluded, “Byram Hills community has always been a staunch supporter of public education. The Board cannot be more pleased that the strong support continued tonight.”
Byram Hills BOE Candidates By Shirley Kaiser
May 6, 2015 On Tuesday May 19, the Byram Hills Board of Education budget and trustee vote takes place at H.C. Crittenden Middle School from 6:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. All About Armonk interviewed the two BOE trustee candidates Scott Levy and Michael Sanders.
Scott Levy “The current school administration and board have worked diligently to preserve our district's tradition of excellence,” says Scott Levy, a five-year resident of Bedford who has three children attending Byram Hills schools. “As a board member, I would focus on applying strong oversight and fiscal prudence to ensure that the district continues to be well positioned for the future.”
Levy continues, “The district's greatest challenge is navigating the recent New York State (NYS) school reform legislation, as it reduces local control, puts unnecessary strain on the district's financial resources and threatens to undermine many Byram Hills best practices. As a board member, I want to use my experience in public education policy to be a strong advocate for change at the state level. We need better policies that are aligned with the best interests of our students,” he concluded.
Levy enjoyed a 20-year career as an investment banker, most recently as a Managing Director at Barclays. Last year, he retired from banking to become a Senior Research Fellow focused on public education policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He has been a board member of the Byram Hills Education Foundation for the past four years, serving two years as Chairman. He also sits on the Blythedale Children's Hospital Board of Trustees. In that capacity, he serves as co-chair of the Investment Committee. He graduated with a degree in economics from Harvard College, and is a board member of the Harvard-Radcliffe Club of Westchester. The Levy children are in kindergarten, second and fifth grades.
Michael Sanders “As a member of the Board of Education I hope to utilize my critical thinking skills to support our district in maintaining our high educational standards & academic successes,” says Michael Sanders, a twelve-year resident of Armonk who has four children attending Byram Hills Schools. “I’ve been involved in the School Budget Information Committee and hope to add value to our district’s financial discipline, applying private sector policies where applicable in securing a strong financial position.”
Sanders continues, “I believe the district’s greatest challenge is maintaining programs outside of core mandates, as arts and athletic programs provide development for children that is more difficult to quantify.” On the issue of NYS school reform legislation, Sanders notes, “Change is necessary and empowering local districts will allow them to best fulfill their specific community needs.” He plans to use his expertise toward effecting that change.
Michael Sanders is the President & Chief Investment Officer of Clark Dodge Asset Management. He is responsible for investment strategy and overall management of the firm. Having held senior positions in financial services over the last 24 years, Sanders brings extensive investment experience to his career and public service pursuits. Sanders has served as Chairman of the Byram Hills Education Foundation for the last two years and has served on the foundation’s board for a total of six years. Sanders received a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from the State University of New York at Buffalo and a Master of Business Administration in Finance from Long Island University C.W. Post. The Sanders children are in first, fifth, eighth and ninth grades.
Board of Ed Members Prepare to Pass the Baton
April 20, 2015 Byram Hills Board of Education trustees Leslie Blum (Cziner) and Ann Tedesco have announced that they do not plan to run for re-election to the board next month. They have served two terms for the last six years as two of seven Byram Hills Board of Education trustees. Prior to their years of service as members on the BOE, both women volunteered for the PTSA and Byram Hills Education Foundation, contributing to the betterment of our educational environment.
Byram Hills parents Mike Sanders and Scott Levy have filed petitions to run as trustees for the Byram Hills Board of Education. The school district budget vote and the election of Board of Education members will take place on Tuesday May 19, 2015.
“As a (school) board, our role is that of a governance body,” said Tedesco. “It is our committed administrators who lead and manage the District. As is true in leading any organization, in addition to the planned, cyclical or ‘routine’ work we do, there are always unforeseen challenges and opportunities throughout the year, including human resources and curricular.”
Continued Blum (Cziner), “As trustees, our role is to work together in the best interest of the children. Our District is very fortunate to have a committed group of volunteers who donate their time to conduct the critical work of the School Board.”
In order to accomplish this overriding goal, the New York State School Board Association lists the following as BOE responsibilities:
• Create a shared vision for the future of education • Set the direction of the school district to achieve the highest student performance • Provide rigorous accountability for student achievement results • Develop a budget and present it to the community, aligning district resources to improve achievement • Support a healthy school district culture for work and learning • Create strategic partnerships with the community stakeholders • Build the District’s progress through continuous improvement • Adopt and maintain current policies • Hire and evaluate the superintendent • Ratify collective bargaining agreements • Maintain strong ethical standards
Blum (Cziner) said she is “extremely proud that we, as a group, continue to meet these responsibilities while respecting the tax levy cap and other unfunded mandates imposed by the State of New York; treasuring the wonderful teachers, administrators and other staff members who come to work every day for our children’s benefit; and maintaining transparency in all our work.”
In their six years, Tedesco said that she and Blum (Cziner) have seamlessly and successfully transitioned to a new superintendent, as well as several key administrators. She attributes these smooth transitions to active leadership development and succession planning. “The level of cooperation and collaboration, which was already solid, has strengthened.”
Tedesco and Blum (Cziner) have offered words of advice to anyone interested in serving on the Board of Education.
"The on-boarding process for a school board member is long and the learning curve is steep," said Tedesco. She suggested that potential candidates take advantage of the formal training offered and to tap into colleagues on the board for their substantial knowledge and broad perspective. “It is a process, so do the work and stay the course.
“When possible, participate in events outside of our district to learn about other districts and to meet their school board members. This ‘informal benchmarking’ will hit you right between the eyes: what so many individuals have created and continue to shape and redefine at Byram Hills is special and a testament to what great public education can be,” said Tedesco.
“The climate for public education in New York has shifted considerably in our six-year tenure,” continued Tedesco. “Without taking any kind of political or philosophical stance on the merits or efficacy of efforts at reform and standardization, we have seen many changes such as an increase in non-funded mandates. As a result, there are school districts (including our neighbors) that are struggling to comply with mandates and standards and whose fiscal stability, and ability to provide robust programming, is threatened. In fact, some have had to reduce and even eliminate the arts and music, as well as sports offerings. We are fortunate at Byram Hills to have maintained and even strengthened our offerings. This is undoubtedly attributable to the careful strategic planning and a commitment to our mission.”
Blum (Cziner) offered a short list of points for new Board members to keep in mind.
• Realize the mission of the school district: “In an environment of mutual respect, the Byram Hills School District and its community will provide students with the means, the knowledge, and the opportunity to excel in order to become productive and responsible citizens of the twenty-first century.” • Enjoy District achievements, and the smiles on the faces of the kids and staff in our well-kept buildings and grounds. • Listen to those who have a concern, issue or suggestion thoughtfully and with care, and refer them appropriately. • Invest time to prepare for meetings in advance by reading and becoming familiar with the relevant material. • Engage fellow board members in respectful discussion, ask questions, and be open-minded so that you can help build consensus. • Participate in fiscal oversight and governance skills training to improve your knowledge of public education and your responsibilities as a board member.
Concluded Tedesco, “Always keep in mind that what we do is all about our students and doing the best we can for them. They are who we serve." She continued, “The student programming has become stronger in all areas and at all levels, K-12, for all kinds of learners, thanks to our continued emphasis on the whole child and to continuous improvement.”
Blum (Cziner) said, “I now happily pass the baton to the next generation of community members to carry on the tradition of an excellent educational environment for all District children.”