BOE Meeting – April 12, 2022

SSCSD Board of Education Meeting Notes (SEEN)
April 12, 2022
Notes by Sue Kessler and Rebecca Lynch
View the meeting. Read the Meeting Agenda.

Trustees present: Anjie Emeka (President), John Brueggemann (Vice President), Erika Borman, John Ellis, Amanda Ellithorpe, Dean Kolligian, Tony Krackeler, Natalya Lakhtakia, and Connie Woytowich (with Connie attending virtually). 

7:03    

Motion to enter public session – passes unanimously

Approval of Minutes – Recommend the Board approve the minutes for the January 18 and February 3, 2022 regular Meetings of the Board of Education. Copies of the minutes were previously distributed to Board members.

Acceptance of agenda – passes unanimously

Public Comment #1

  • Jason Mazotti: He read some questions regarding sexual behavior that students were asked on a survey (RL comment: the survey being referenced is the CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which is administered every year in schools nationwide and is completely voluntary). His opinion is that the questions were inappropriate and called upon the administration and board to take action (RL comment: interestingly, he did not mention any concern about the questions on various other topics, such as drugs, guns, violence, etc. Only the questions regarding sexual behavior are concerning, apparently.).
  • Mark Crockett: He is a grandparent of elementary school students. He states that it is almost impossible to find out what is being taught about what he deems to be “controversial” topics, such as racism, political brutality (sic), and gender confusion (RL comment: we would not deem those to be controversial, but matters of human rights). He states that parents were not allowed to opt their kids out of what he calls the “sex” survey (RL comment: see previous comment above. Additionally, the front page of the survey states: “Completing the survey is voluntary.  Whether or not you answer the questions will not affect your grade in this class.  If you are not comfortable answering a question, just leave it blank”.). He believes that too many resources are allocated to the Equity and Inclusion Committee and that because he is paying school taxes, students should not be “indoctrinated”. 
  • Mary Marcolin: She is also wondering about what she calls the “lifestyle” survey (RL comment: this is the same survey the previous commenters mentioned). She notes that the survey is supposedly for the CDC, or what she likes to call the “Seed-y C”. She is not sure when “data harvesting” has become a thing in our schools and thinks that we have come a long way from our original plan of teaching reading, writing, and arithmetic. She states her daughter is afraid of the bathrooms at school, because of vaping, drug dealing, and smoking. She is hopeful that the district is not considering implementing CSE (RL comment: she is referring to Comprehensive Sexuality Education, which follows evidence-based international standards), and says that if we do, it will be public school suicide and lead more parents to homeschool. 
  • Carmela Frias: She wants to talk about violence. She talks to kids when cutting their hair as a barber (RL comment: she works in Ballston Spa). She has been reading articles about this and doesn’t think the violence is entirely the school’s fault. She was once a troubled youth and had to do a lot of community service. She suggests that we should assign these students community service rather than suspending or expelling them. She also thinks we need to foster a trust of authority and shouldn’t be calling to defund the police (RL comment: neither the SSCSD school board nor the district have called to defund the police). 

Board Committee Reports

  • Property Administration Advisory Committee: DK provides updates
  • Superintendent Evaluation Form Committee: TK provides updates

Student Representative Report – provided updates on highlights from each school building

Administrative Reports & Presentations

  • Superintendent’s Comments
    • Spring Recess: April 15-22
    • WSWHE BOCES Budget Vote and Board Election: April 26 at 8:00 am. The budget will be shared with the public.
    • Meet the Candidates Night: May 4 at 7:00 pm. Hosted by the League of Women Voters – this will be in person and streamed.
    • Integrating Board docs online platform- improve timing, efficiency, transparency and compliance
    • New website / redesign should happen June 1, Board docs will be implemented July 1
    • No school May 27 – able to meet requirement of 180 days fulfilled, this will be announced soon
  • Budget Development Update
    • Timothy Hilker, Assistant Superintendent for Business, and Joseph Greco, Director of Budget and Program Integration, provided final updates and details of the 2022-2023 proposed budget for board feedback. Notable: expanding co-teach program to grades 2 and 3 at all 6 elementary schools, extra $ for UPK will be sustaining funds, cost per pupil is just below the average when compared to other districts in the region.
    • Questions from board members – EB: Can we allocate funds to go towards addressing the “crisis” in our schools regarding vaping, etc? Response: Yes, we are already allocating resources to address social-emotional needs (RL comment: which is the root problem) and there are a number of things already in the works. 

Approved consent agenda at 8pm

Question from EB on Policy 9620-Child Abuse in an Educational Setting (in consent agenda as a proposed new policy for the first read): the policy refers to “indecent or inappropriate materials” and she wants to know if there are examples of what that would be. TK: he believes the policy says “as defined in the NY penal code”, which would give more information about what would constitute those materials. NL: she will bring a summary of that policy to read during the board committee reports at the next meeting to provide more information. 

Public comment #2

  • Peggy Clancy (with son Owen Clancy): Parent of UPK student (Owen), she thinks that the extra UPK funds in the budget should go towards teachers’ salaries, because they deserve proper pay. She thinks teachers in the UPK program should be in SSTA.
  • Isabelle Pipino: 12th-grade student at the High School. She appreciates the humanities classes that they have an opportunity to take. She knows some have said that the humanities classes aren’t as important as the core classes, but she thinks they are very important. They foster overall learning and help students form their own opinions. They provide students with critical thinking skills. She says that students are not being indoctrinated, but are being taught how to think so that they can become well-rounded students and citizens.
  • Michele King: She is here to address the email and video about increasing violence. Violence is on the rise, not just in Saratoga. She thinks we have lost accountability because of the focus on equity (RL comment: equity and accountability are not incompatible). She thinks we need to be honest about the problems and not hide them. She says that indoctrination is happening at all levels and it’s causing this (RL comment: that doesn’t even make sense). She believes the responsible students should be expelled.
  • Lisa Adams: She is a High School parent and is furious that the administration has not addressed the violence in the HS. She demands a full report from the SRO and hall monitor seen on the videos (RL comment: this may violate student privacy rights). She says that they “better take care of it”. 
  • Sachiel Chuckrow: He is a senior at the High School. He has noticed and appreciates the increase in humanities classes being offered. He says we need to focus on analytical thought and have the ability to figure out the world around them. He thinks these classes should be opened up to students in lower grades, and not just to seniors. He thinks this might lead to tamer learning environments. 
  • Katie Sheffield: Her child is in an honors English class where SEL is happening, but not learning (RL comment: SEL is, by definition, learning). She says her daughter has seen fights where the principal was pushed to the ground. She is upset that her daughter was given the “sex” survey even though she had opted her out. 
  • Erin Leary: She agrees that having more information available on the district website about the roles and responsibilities of the board would help provide clarity to the community. Many recurring topics and complaints by parents don’t fall under the purview of the board. She thinks it would be helpful for the board to be able to return to its original responsibilities and not have to focus on the ‘controversy dejour’. 
  • Jason Mazotti: He is now calling for the board to be responsible w/ taxpayers $ and not treat the budget like a slush fund. He is referencing the proposed purchase of front-loaders for snow removal, which is projected to save the district $650K over 25 years. He thinks that if we have a surplus, it shouldn’t just be spent (RL comment: at a recent board meeting, the budget priorities were discussed in depth and agreed upon by all members of the board). 

Agenda Planning

  • JB requests for the district to do a presentation for the board within the next year on the vaping issues at the high school – where things stand and what the best practices are to address the issues. 
    • Amanda supports this and would like to see this presentation sooner rather than later. 
    • EB thinks it’s a great idea and also supports it. 
    • NL supports it, and also suggested that we shouldn’t just focus on high school – education/prevention should start as early as kindergarten to be most effective. 
    • CW echoes that vaping isn’t only a HS issue, and the presentation should cover the entire district. 
    • JB restates that what he is asking for is a presentation from administration regarding what they understand the problem to be and how to address it. He is asking for that to happen by the end of 2022. 
    • Patton: Yes, we can make this happen. 
    • CW wants to know if they can also share what the funding needs would be and if we need more monitors for the bathrooms, etc. 
    • Amanda says this goes beyond vaping, and that there is a drug issue also. She says we need to understand this better and to solve it. 
  • Amanda requests a more comprehensive report on the violence, vaping, and drugs that’s being talked about. She wants the report to include what disciplinary actions have been taken and what action plan is in place to mitigate these issues. 
    • EB says that it would only help students and faculty for this report to include everything. 
    • Anjie cautions that they need to be careful about what falls under the role of the board and what is Operations and falls under the district. Discipline and specifics of disciplinary actions are under the purview of administration and the board doesn’t oversee operations. The board can ask for presentations, but they generally do not get to request specific reports from the administration.  
    • JB says that we already get presentations on discipline, SEL, etc. from the administration which include the funding that goes to those areas. He is content to keep his request focused on vaping. If the presentation is too broad, it wouldn’t help solve anything. Let’s be specific in what we ask the administration to do.
    • NL pointed out that these issues are also community issues, and they don’t exist solely in our schools. For her, any presentation on vaping should also include social-emotional and health/wellness perspectives. 
    • DK appreciates both requests and also likes CW’s request of seeing where our budget money can go. He thinks we should put a dollar figure on how much it would cost to completely eliminate all violence, drugs, vaping, etc. (RL comment: we have not been able to solve these problems on a community, state, or national level, even with tons of money being thrown at them). 
    • TK said before we get too far ahead of ourselves, we should look for evidence to determine if the violence is actually occuring at crisis levels, because reports from administration indicate that it has not increased over previous years. If there is evidence of the issues being at crisis level, then he would support a presentation focused on this. 
    • Anjie agrees that it would be helpful to see the evidence and data first. 
    • Amanda wants to know if Anjie thinks our teachers are scared, and says this is the most important issue right now and that she has information to share. 
    • CW reminds the board members that schools already report their discipline and incident information and this information is available publicly online in the DASA and VADIR reports. 
    • Amanda wants to know if any of the board members feel that teachers are concerned. She says that the teachers union is upset and they are asking the administration for help. She repeats that the staff and teachers are scared (RL comment: I have talked to a number of teachers at both Maple Ave and the High School who say they are not personally scared and haven’t heard of any teachers who are scared). 
    • NL asks Amanda if the teachers union went to her with these concerns (RL comment: it would be highly irregular for the teachers union to approach a board member individually with communication of this nature). 
    • Amanda says that teachers have come to her and shared communication that the union sent out. 
    • EB says that teachers are upset and are afraid to speak up, and this is all very upsetting to her. 
    • Anjie says that if teachers or members of the community approach individual board members like that, it is the role of the board member to direct them to the appropriate channels. 
    • Amanda claims to feel she doesn’t have a voice, and it made her stomach churn to see those videos. She asked Patton about them, and he said he was gathering information. She states that Anjie then told her she shouldn’t contact Patton like that. Anjie says the method and way of contact was appropriate, but what Amanda asked of Patton was not appropriate in her role as a board member. Amanda directly addresses Patton to ask him how she should contact him. She starts “crying”, and says that she lives in America and who is Anjie to tell her that she can’t ask someone a question. Patton replies to Amanda and says that this topic has been discussed at length at every board workshop, and that everyone is familiar with how contact should occur – board members can contact him directly and copy board leadership on those communications. 
  • Patton shares information about the Youth Risk Behavior Survey. He notes that the survey is administered by most districts in the state and has been administered in Saratoga for more than 20 years. He reiterates that the surveys are not required and that anyone can opt out. He is going to review the communications process around opting out to ensure that all teachers administering the survey are aware when they have students whose parents have opted them out. 
  • Amanda asked for a vote on her motion for her agenda planning item (RL comment: she hadn’t actually made a motion at that point). Anjie noted that a motion wasn’t made. Anjie asked for support around the table, and support was given unanimously.

Adjourned 8:57

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