BOE Meeting – August 25, 2022

SSCSD Board of Education Meeting Notes (SEEN)
August 25, 2022
McFadden Administration Building
Notes by Erin Leary
View the meeting. Read the Meeting Agenda

Trustees Present: Tony Krackeler (President), Natalya Lakhtakia (Vice President),  Erika Borman, John Brueggemann, John Ellis, Anjie Emeka,  Dean Kolligian, Connie Woytowich. 

Trustees Absent: Amanda Ellithorpe

Administrators Present: Michael Patton, Lisa Cutting, Dave L’Hommedieu, Tim HIlker, Joe DiGrecco, Abigail Adams-Snell, Hilary Brewer, John Theuner; Lucas Manny (videography and sound) 

Public Comment Period #1

  • Speaker: Jim Montagnino, Commissioner of Public Safety for the City of Saratoga Springs. States he is “ready, willing, and able to assist” in security and safety needs. Noted there are 3 certified SROs on the SSPD and they are currently training many more. He is “not open to debate” and strongly supportive of both the SSPD and of the SRO program. Suggested SSPD SRO standards are higher–NYS requires only a course and 2 years of previous police force service; SSPD requires 5 years in addition to the course. [Notetakers comment: SSPD has fewer education requirements than the majority of law enforcement agencies (LEAs), and also is one of the only local law enforcement agencies that is not accredited by the state. Most other LEAs running local SRO programs are in compliance.] 
  • Speaker: Christine Einzig(sp?). A graduate of South Glens Falls, she was present to request adjustment and proximity tax waiver for her three children with special education needs to attend SSCSD schools, despite being zoned for Corinth schools. Transfer is possible with both districts approving. 
  • Speaker: Jennifer Taylor. Here again tonight to speak about SROs–view in support of SROs is “unwavering.” The District rightly celebrates Officer Barrett, and he is “idolized by parents and students.” Would like the Board to show engagement on issues around school safety, and lack of “substantive discussion” is “disconcerting going into September.” Must be able to address the challenges of this, because recognizing this is not as straightforward for others, but these should be seen and then “addressed on an individual basis.” Notes that her children are walkers and there is a lack of check-in and check-out processes at Lake, and has seen children walk away unattended, and also seen doors propped open. “News media is very good at playing both sides,” but we should not “demonize a profession.” Rather, we should “recognize them as individuals” and provide positive opportunities rather than scary ones. [Notetakers Comment: The Speaker is a personal friend, and her children are friends with my children. I emailed her prior to this meeting. Here I want to note that people can disagree and that polarizing issues should be mitigated by facts, not by affection for individuals, and should not divide communities. As for the issue of addressing issues with SROs on an individual basis, 25% of district students are economically disadvantaged, 12% are not “white only,” and 12% are special education students, all of which are at higher risk when SROs are present in schools. So are queer kids, which could be as high as 40%, given that 50% of Gen Z adults identify as part of LGBTQIA+ community. We are talking about half of kids being at higher risk from the decision to add SROs, despite the lack of data to support the addition improving safety of the others. This could be up to 3000K students.]
  • Speaker: Jessica Todtenhagen. Has already come before and voiced reasons why she is advocating for SROs. Since Columbine, 300K students have experienced gun violence in school. Makes the claim that since 2012, 27 mass shootings at schools, 70% of mass shootings have been at elementary schools. [Notetakers Comment: This is categorically false, and demonstrates poor references as described below].  Notes that teachers are in charge of teaching and in keeping children safe. There is no school security staff, and we can only hope there are locked doors, etc. Started a petition 9 days ago and more than 900 people have signed in those nine days, and reads select comments from signers. SROs should be at all schools. “Can you look at parents and argue zero minutes response time” is not better than minutes? “Doesn’t matter what they learn if kids cannot be kept safe.” 

[Notetakers Comment: Her claim that 70 percent of school shootings since Sandy Hook took place at elementary schools reads false on the surface. The only place this can be found is in an ABC7 (LA) story about school shootings. In the text, they introduce the Gun Violence Archive research on school shootings and provide the 27. In what is clearly a rhetorical mistake and poor editing, there is a sentence that puts “elementary and secondary schools” in one category, and “colleges and universities” in the second. In the next sentence, the writer drops the “and secondary schools” to say “elementary schools,“ but the graphic makes clear that the 70% encompasses both elementary and secondary schools. This is also clear from data in the Rockefeller Institute report she’s referenced. 

Here, Todtenhagen also moves the goal posts, as the previous meeting she stated desire for a shared SRO for City elementary schools–Geyser, Division, Lake, Caroline–adding to each school would be adding 6 SROs (7 if recognizing size of DN as equal to two elementary school), or $525,000 to the budget, equal to almost 6 instructional positions. An SRO on campus does not reduce response times either, as handguns without additional protection like the ballistic shields used by SWAT and emergency response teams are not adequate. I have also not been able to find the source or data to support her claim re: percentage of mass shootings at elementary schools. Jessica is Director of my son’s former preschool, and she’s passed BUffalo Bills hand-me-downs to my son. I had also emailed her prior to this meeting] 

  • Speaker: Erin Leary. Coming to speak against the expansion of the district’s RO program to elementary schools. Firstly, the petition referenced here today and which has been circulating in the community inaccurately references the findings of the Rockefeller Institute Report. Reads direct quote that threats to elementary schools are from outside the school, and then notes SROs’ police duties are policing children in school, and elementary students would be better served by having police in neighborhoods and in schools only occasionally. Cites 2021 JAMA Network study that shows, when accounting for school size, demographics and income, school shooting deaths are 283% higher in schools with SROs present because of “weapons effect.” Going back to that same Rockefeller Institute report, only 3% of failed shootings were stopped because a person physically stopped them, and makes no mention of who did it or if it was an SRO. Also notes that of the people who provided public comments to the petition, 42% are not District residents. We rely on our schools to be partners in teaching students critical thinking, please use those skills on this issue and do not add shared or designated SROs to elementary schools. [Notetaker’s comment: I obviously know and agree with myself.]
  • Speaker: Sharon Dominguez. Agree with parents supporting RSOs [sic]. Has HS students, but would absolutely want more RSOs at elementary level. Interested in reading studies mentioned by Erin, but “shocked” parents and teachers would oppose RSOs. [Notetaker’s comment: I also know Sharon on a personal level, and am on shared text chains with her. I texted her to forward the research in the meeting.]
  • Speaker: Mark Crockett. Congratulates new officers of the Board and wants to thank everyone for their service. Apologizes for coming late and that he heard no one else’s comments before speaking. “One child’s life is worth whatever it takes.” Looks at RSOs [sic] as like life insurance for children–no one wants to buy or use life insurance, but you do. Doesn’t know why anyone would oppose it. “We know, the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” 

Board Committee Reports

  • Finance Advisory Committee
    • ANEM notes that the Finance & Audit Committee has not yet met, but as former President [Notetakers Comment: She is also current Committee Chair, which is why she’s giving this update ], she did come in to meet with auditors and answer questions, and that work is continuing. 
  • Property Administration Advisory Committee
    • DK shares that summer projects are wrapping up, including District-wide closet upgrades. Boilers at Lake Avenue and piping are installed, 4 vents are delayed; MAMS boilers and pipes are complete and vents ready to install. This was part of Legacy Project

There were no Student Reports at this meeting. 

Superintendent’s Comments

  • District Safety Presentation scheduled for September 13 meeting as a follow up to the DERT meeting in July.
  • Following discussions about costs of additional SROs, there have been meetings that he and Dave L’Hommedieu (DLH) attended with the County and City.
    • County: There is no negotiating with the County. Any additional SRO would be $75,400+
    • City: The current contract with the City is for two years, this being the second year. Contract calls for SRO cost of $74K+. The City–through Commissioner Montagnino–has offered that if the District hired two additional SROs, they would commit to a total of 3 SROs for the 2022-23 school year for the cost of two. Emphasized this is just for this school year.
  • Congratulations to the most recent members of the Class of 2022, who graduate this August.
  • Completed new faculty orientation today, with 24 new instructional staff.
  • NYSSBA convention will be in person this year, October 27-29, in Syracuse. Has requested replies to Lisa Cutting (LC) by August 31. 
  • Superintendent Conference Days taking place September 6 & 7 and eager to welcome students back on the 8th.

Notetaker’s Comment: Mark Crockett and Sharon Dominguez excused themselves to the hallway to converse.

District Pathways Presentation

  • Presented by: LC, DLH, Patton (MP)
    • Full slide deck is available on BoardDocs as part of the detailed agenda. The annual presentation includes updated information regarding the four pathways or pillars of education in SSCSD: Equity of Opportunity, Collaboration, Community and Personalization. For SEEN purposes, highlights include:
      • Equity of Opportunity: touchpoints throughout the year including use of iReady so can catch where people are struggling earlier; adding courses in which students can be enrolled concurrently for HS and college credit; instituting a culturally responsive framework and have honed in on creating a welcoming and affirming environment.
      • Collaboration: encouraging students to be innovative, productive & creative; DLH adds that technology has improved because of or in response to COVID, including Canvas (secondary) and Seesaw (elementary), which is improving communication with families.
      • Community: Thinking through best practices, looking at feedback on best practices, especially with communications. Cites work of Maura Manny. Seeing a return to and revitalization of the continuing education program in collaboration with SUNY Adirondack. 
      • Personalization: Addressing need for academic and mental health supports and multi-tiered systems. Working through this on District, building and grade level with respect to SMARTIE goals and progress monitoring, ESSA accountability and reporting, and Academic ROI. 

Questions/Comments on Presentation

  • ANEM: Thanks for succinct presentation and thank to help filter this back and provide a framework for all presentations moving forward.
  • JB: appreciate discussion about improving communication in addition to or in response to feedback. Would add that sometimes it feels like one is entering a conversation that’s been going on for much longer and so would like to provide much more information to the general public about those discussions, and help socialize the community on how to access information.
  • TK: Increasing opportunities for students to share feedback is really important, and hopes to see continued opportunities and venues.

Notetakers Comment: 6 people in the audience left after the Pathways Presentation. 

Discussion: Consent Agenda

TK provided an introduction to the purposes of the consent agenda, how it works and that it allows the Board to vote on a number of motions at the same time unless not allowed by law. Board members receive the consent agenda days before as well as all supporting documentation so that they may perform all due diligence on business and daily operations of the district. A vote to approve the consent agenda is a vote to approve all parts of it. 

Notetaker’s Comment: Typically, there are modifications to the Consent Agenda, but now with Board Docs, these are adjusted on the agenda you see. We will only add significant changes, as in this week’s meeting when the decrease in the tax levy required a roll call vote, which was unanimous (Amanda Ellithorpe absent). 

  • NL makes motion to accept the consent agenda as modified. CW and EB opposed, consent agenda approved by vote of 6 to 2 (Amanda Ellithorpe absent).

Public Comment Period #2

There were no speakers for the public comment period. 

Agenda Planning

Notetaker’s observation: Mark Crockett and Sharon Dominguez return early in CW’s motion, exact time unclear. 

  • CW made a motion to discuss adding SROs and impact on the current budget of an additional $225K on SROs, noting that the BOE creates positions as part of the consent agenda. After considerable discussion about the motion (must be specific, actionable & measurable), and clarification that they cannot add discussion to New Business after the meeting, and review of failed motions from July BOE meeting, CW amends motion to discuss adding SROs and impact on the current budget at the next BOE meeting. EB seconds.
    • Questions arose about the discussion about waiting for the NYSIR report in December. EB asked a question about where NYSIR gets its data from and how they make those assessments, and also how to implement the recommendations or how to decide which to implement. ANEM discussed her experience last time, and also history of voting for a second SRO exactly because of the NYSIR recommendations, but that “we have to have bigger picture to make the best impact.” NL noted that this type of motion is unsustainable as any Board member could ask about any one item and delay work. DK notes that NYSIR will provide a “laundry list” and we “leave it to DLH,” and then clarifies what he thinks CW said in terms of not asking for a vote on SROs until NYSIR, but just that it’s possible, and it is it too early to start thinking about this? When being offered a “2 for one,” there’s an opportunity to pilot a program to see how it works. [Notetaker’s comment: piloting a program requires knowing measurements and evaluative terms prior to the pilot, and these would not be possible to determine before the start of the school year, or develop the tools to implement continued evaluation of the pilot over the course of the school year]. NL notes concerns about offering a “one year deal” to public schools because we need to recognize we might not have money and then need to take something away. TK agrees and thinks it’s safe to say in the strictest sense that “we have ability to pay based on the unrestricted fund budget,” but the question is if it is desirable to support when the aim is to maximize safety. 
    • CW then inquires about how to make something a referendum the public votes on. Tim Hilker (TH) discusses the process of legal documents and the Board approval of a proposition. CW says it’s “unfortunate” this is a “politicized issue” and wants to “make it apolitical” and “get politics out” of the Board of Education [Notetakers comment: Woytowich engaged the City Republican Committee in her 2021 election. Per the NYS Board of Elections records, since our school board became “politicized” in 2019, Woytowich has donated more than $2700 to partisan committees and political campaigns locally and at the county level; her husband another $3K.] ANEM notes that only school boards can approve firearms on campus under S101A, so complicated for this to be a referendum vote, and might not be possible. CW restates motion.
    • TK calls vote: CW, EB, DK in favor; ANEM, NL, TK, JE, JB opposed; motion fails, 3-5.

Note; Jen Taylor leaves, briefly speaks to Mark Crockett, and Mark Crockett spent most of the discussion above making disparaging remarks about individual trustees and literally calling “bullshit” under his breath, but audible to all in the audience. 

At this time, DK notes he “learned something tonight,” and it’s about proximity tax codes. MP notes that both districts would need to approve of such a shift and Corinth does not approve, and any changes would need to be contracted through District Special Ed Directors. DK is reminded this is more appropriate for Board Comment than Agenda Planning and Agenda Planning is closed.

Board Member Comments

Notetakers Comment: Before Trustee Comments, Mark Crockett and Sharon Dominguez ask why there was no second public comment period with a sense of injustice or failure on Board’s part and are told that full rules of public comment were read and no one wanted to make comment. They were in the hall for the entirety of the business meeting and therefore did not know when the second comment period began or closed. 

  • CW inquires about teaching of firearm safety and MP says not really, LC notes there is some in character education, and had been more discussion in Family Life lessons that have been cut. CW notes that she voted against the consent agenda not for lack of respect or appreciation for all the work done [on Building Safety plans], but because she is also concerned, because: (1) not fair to ask teachers to fight; (2) not all schools have an SRO, and (3) everyone is concerned about mental health and talking about mental health as a priority, but some might feel safer with an SRO. [Notetakers Comment: By voting no to the consent agenda, CW voted no to all teacher and instructional appointments, CSEA appointments, contracts, budget expenditures, and all work done on those issues, not just Building Safety, and by speaking only about the Building Safety Plans, neglects to acknowledge that work, which is the work of the district]
  • NL: Comments that her district Superintendent sent out an email to everyone about secure and safe gun storage and she found it very helpful. Would like to discuss this further as a Board, because it would address up to 80% of school shooting risk and protect kids out of school. Is concerned about safety being reduced to one comment or area when school safety is “full spectrum.”
  • EB discusses her feelings about her vote on the consent agenda. Yes the Building Safety Plans are following NYS requirements but there are times that “requirements do not meet up with conscience.” Also wondering how some of the changes to Building Safety Plans are from COVID to a “post-COVID” safety plan. Also wants to note that when people speak about supporting or promoting SROs and their value, this is not seen as an either/or with respect to social workers and mental health and hopes to discuss this more after the NYSIR report. [Notetaker’s Comment: Within the school budget system, which starts at a deficit, adding SROs will always be a request with sacrifice as the tax base is finite. Further, when people suggest adding expenditures on SROs and do not address the Counseling Team’s repeated requests for more resources, it is not either/or. Its only support for SROs.]
  • TK: He has not talked to one person who does not put safety first, though he does disagree with the statement that it is political, because safety can’t be. Just because a motion is voted down doesn’t mean the topic will not continue to be part of conversation. 

Notetaker’s Comment: During this time, Mark Crockett continues to say “bullshit” in the audience. 

Board Governance Retreat scheduled for August 30, dinner will be served.  LC would like RSVP re: NYSSBA by 08/31. Has heard desire for a social outing of some sort and wants to see if that would be desirable. Proposes to investigate a mid-year NYSSBA-led retreat. There are a couple of extant issues that remain to be discussed–Fair Campaign Practices form, and the length and structure of meetings–they have not been forgotten. 

  • MP: September 13 is annual safety presentation, askes BOE for questions in advance of it.
  • DK: recognizes spoke earlier, but no one else said–kudos to Mike, Dave & Lisa and the presentation tonight. [Notetaker’s Comment: See above in which several Trustees did during the question period.]

Meeting ends.

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