NPC Annual Open Meeting, Tuesday, November 15, 2022
Susan Conniff, President of the School Board,
Dr. Roy Montesano, Bronxville School Superintendent
Dr. Rachel Kelly, and Assistant Superintendent
NB: The following is a only an edited summary of the proceedings as the attempt to record the meeting was unsuccessful. Please send any corrections or questions to our email at firstname.lastname@example.org
NPC: Wendy Halley (Chair), Chris O’Gorman (Vice Chair) and Jim Cherundolo (Treasurer), Laura Busker, Michael Girimonte, Mike Ching, Sandra Borducci, Don Bringle, Alexandra Remmel, Jamie Powell Schwartz, Tracy diBrino, Elizabeth Kiehner, Anne Marie Heine, Jose Rodriguez
NPC ARC: Michele Antonini, Jane Moynihan, Jane Devereux, Steve Krause, Aaron Shafer, Will Fulton
Additional BOE Attendees: Michael Brandes, Michael Finley, Eddie Lennon
Other Attendees: Amy Krause, Jennifer Leavell, Lia Gravier, Dale Frehse, Jimmy Walker, Delphine Quieti, Steve Kraemer, Christine Tormey, Rekha Waggoner, Teresa Brady, Carolyn Mattson, Beata Farber (and additional attendees)
NPC INTRO (Wendy Halley) Hello and welcome to the NPC’s Annual Open Meeting. I’m Wendy Halley, the Chair of the NPC this year. Along with my fellow officers, Chris O’Gorman, Vice Chair and Jim Cherundolo Treasurer, and Tatiana who is Secretary, as well as all 21 members of the NPC, we want to thank you all for coming tonight to hear from our school’s leadership. We want to give a warm welcome to Susan Conniff, President of the School Board, Dr. Roy Montesano, the Superintendent and Dr. Rachel Kelly, and the Assistant Superintendent, who will in January, serve as the Interim School Superintendent while the Trustees continue the search for a permanent replacement.
Before hearing from our school district’s leadership, just a quick note about the NPC. The NPC was formed in 1936 - and is a volunteer organization of 21 elected representatives. Our purpose is to support the excellence of our school district by ensuring that qualified candidates run for the school board. So, the purpose of tonight’s meeting is to give NPC members and the community the opportunity to learn more about what school trustees do, and how they work with school and school leadership to address the issues facing the school district.
One additional note for everyone is that, every four years, the NPC asks additional outside volunteers to conduct a feedback process to ensure that the NPC’s rules and procedures are working well. I want to thank our volunteers: Michelle Antonini, Jane Devereux, Lindy Devereux, Will Fulton, Jane Moynihan, and Aaron Shafer, who will be reaching out over the next couple of months across the community to get constructive feedback on the NPC. [NB: Steve Krause has also joined the ARC].
Now we’ll turn to Susan Conniff who has an overview of key issues for the Board:
Susan Conniff: opened with Board’s goals for the year, including thoughts on future needs for Board of Education members as we begin the process of thinking about the two seats that will open up in the spring.
Susan turned to the challenges and issues coming up this year. We began the Board year with the reorg meeting in July where they welcome new Board members. First order of business is to sit down with Roy to set goals and then we communicated the goals after the August meeting [see 8/23 Message].
(1) Superintendent Search: The first goal for the Board was very busy over the summer with “people decisions”, the most important role of the Board is with respect including the Superintendent Search the Board decided to create the interim superintendent to enable the search process to move forward. The District has the good fortune to have Dr. Rachel Kelly with Dr. Montesano supported the successful transition to the interim superintendent which he has. Dr. Montesano continues to support the superintendent search process, he speaks with prospective candidates about the district and his ideas, helps the Board to understand the superintendent market and priorities for candidates. (NB: More info on the Search is on the School Website)
(2) MS & ES Principals: Next the Board addressed the changes in school leadership at MS & ES levels. The Board learned about how good a job the school has done with leadership and hiring since they were able to work with existing personnel to fill spots. Lucky to have internal candidates and make changes effectively.
(3) Curriculum & Communication with Community. Set a goal to continue to improve communications to the community about curriculum worked with Dr. Koetke – she’s created timelines which are on the school website. The Board also put out summaries in plain English updates as opposed to formal minutes, although they also have those. Also conducted a survey to better understand how people want to receive communications about the Board and district. The plan is to present the results to be announced at this Thursday's meeting
(4) Participate and support the District’s 100th Centennial Anniversary Celebration. Hope to do more celebrating this year - as you know, Homecoming Weekend there was a lot of activity. Rachel and Roy have been very active in that. We appreciate that.
(5) Budget Planning & Long Range Planning. Considering feasible early planning and had two sessions on that. Early sessions on Annual Budget planning – they’ve discovered need . We’ve learned more about other districts in the search process. Other districts have long term and 5 year plans and while we have it to some degree, we need continuous improvement and need to have better articulation of long range goals though the planning process. Lastly we spoke to Roy about continuing to moderate the advisory discussions with constituencies.
Dr. Rachel Kelly: Worked at the district since 1995. Over the 28 years, her role has grown. It’s been special to be here in her 28th year. Her role has grown over the years. When she started at Bronxville, we did not have Special Ed, so she was part time administrator and also taught special education. Over time, this developed into a full-time position and it grew as our programs grew. When she started in the mid-90s, they had 65 children in the graduating class, now we have 145 or so students that graduate. So we’ve seen enrollment double over the course of her career at Bronxville School.
Rachel’s position also grew over time and she is very proud of our programs we run. Seven years ago became Assistant Superintendent, her role is in Pupil Personnel, which includes, Special Ed & Support Services, the Health office, psychology-related service and she oversees human resources. She believes we do an outstanding job of reaching every student regardless of how they present. We have an inclusive community with a culture of acceptance which is very important and the one of main reasons she’s been here so long.
Susan Conniff: “What does the Board do?” Results of the survey show that a significant percentage don’t know what the Board actually does or its role. So the main elements of the Board’s role are to
Hire guide and evaluate with superintendent and set goals
Adopts policies - oversee program and curriculum
Work with the leadership team to make recommendations on curriculum and strategy. A recent example is the HS Health textbook. The BOE’s Strategy & Curriculum committee reviewed the text book before it was approved for use in HS
Board reviews and adopts annual budgets before they go to annual district wide vote
Oversees facilities issues
Adopts collective bargain and votes on tenure recommendations
The Board has various committees - some more active than others in different years where different issues arrive. This year the most active committees are the Finance Facilities, Curriculum and Safety/
Next, “What the Board of Education doesn't do” The Board does not manage or participate in hiring for anything below superintendent. There may be a perception that the BOE is involved in picking teachers. But they do not, they do vote on tenure for teachers after they have been recommended by the school's leadership team, i.e., the school principals make recommendations on tenure. That has also already begun with a call for community input, there is a vote in the Spring.
“What skills needed for Board of Ed” - two BOE trustees will be completing term this spring. We are heavy in business and finance experience on the BOE, which is a great thing. We do need and could benefit from BOE members with expertise in Legal and human resources because of our contract Bronxville Teachers Association. We are beginning the lengthy process of negotiating this contract. In addition, facilities and construction project management experience - always helpful to have people with that experience.
Susan observed that the year she ran there was interest in getting representation on the board of people with younger children. Now, it’s important to understand that there’s been many years in the district where it’s tough to get anyone to run for the Board at all, so we had people in the role with older kids or no kids in the district. We now have two Board members with ES kids, one has a MS student, another with HS students and Susan will be an empty nester after this school year.
So recapping that Looking ahead for what we’ll be focused on going forward: (1) we hope to identify a permanent superintendent starting July 2023l (2) we have a new negotiation with Bronxville teachers association next year and (3) building maintenance and capital improvements. We hire a consultant who comes up with a laundry list of improvements to do a survey to identify every potential project or improvement that may be necessary. And to prioritize them,the way we get approval from the state, it has to be identified on the list. We spend a lot of time prioritizing because we cannot do everything on the list, it’s a very long list. We look at the most urgent.
Longer term planning for program and budget, great discussion in the last budget workshop. Rachel will speak more about some of the longer term strategic stuff and Roy can answer anything - Susan welcomed Michael Brandes and Michael Finley also present and thanked them for attending since it has been an incredibly busy week for the Board, with a meeting last night as well. Meeting with search consultants lastnight -to review the candidate pool. We have a Thursday meeting as well.
Chris O’Gorman - thanked Roy for his tenure - community has come together with leadership and Board - seen the benefit of Covid period. We are number one in the state, and credit the leadership team for that. Thank you very much.
Chris posed to Roy - What makes a good board member and what should they be engaged in going forward? Is there Expertise that we should consider for the BOE member, whether as the NPC or as a voter?
Dr. Montesano: We’ve been very fortunate to have great board members, during his time and prior to that as well. A lot has to do with understanding the role of the Board, as Susan alluded to before what they can do and shouldn’t get involved. For those working inside the building, Board members appreciate that and let us do the job we’ve been hired to do and at the same time be held accountable. So understanding that balance is very important for us. Communication between the Board, Superintendent and leadership team is crucial. We want to be a team and it’s been a partnership and give and take - challenging at times - as with any situation like this. Board members who will listen and understand the community. And bring that back to us and let us do our work, while holding us accountable at the same time. It’s been fortunate that we have people who have served on corporate boards and those skillsets are transferable, so people who have that experience serving on a board before always helps.
Someone who understands the legal issues, we’ve lost that over the past cycle and election. We have our own outside attorney certainly to help us with education law but it’s always helpful to have someone on the board who has that expertise and can identify legal issues - has been one of our strengths. A former Board member Jack Bierwirth had education administration experience which was very helpful - so that kind of balance - which Susan also has. There are public versus private nuances in education that it’s helpful for a BOE member to appreciate and understand.
Chris O’Gorman - Most people in this town don’t have that educational experience. They have other valuable experience and skills … we want to commend the Board for its communications efforts with plain english summaries
Question from Audience Member - Jimmy Walker: I’ve lived here since 1978, and have a very simple question, is the Non-Partisan committee relevant?
Chris O’Gorman: That’s a very fair question. The reality is that we are in a cycle, where people are interested in being in the Board and that’s not always been the case. One of the NPC’s roles is to draw people out. The role of the NPC in the past cycles was to bring skills onto the board and ensure that candidates that we supported weren’t only focused on one issue. Right now we have a lot of [residents] focused on being on the Board, but will that cycle change? It's an enormous expenditure of time to serve on the Board, look at the Superintendent Search. Talking about 20-30 or more hours per month or more this year.
Jimmy Walker: How many candidates did the NPC field last year. How many were former NPC candidates? And what happened to the other two?
Chris O’Gorman: We selected three candidates, one of whom was Michael Brandes who had applied the year before as well. The other two NPC candidates lost to candidates that ran: one who had not applied to the NPC and one who had.
Jimmy Walker: Does/doesn’t that show the NPC is not needed?
Dr. Roy Montesano: Let me speak from my experience, I’ve been a Superintendent in four different districts and this is the only one with a non-partisan committee in place. I think it adds a tremendous value to the process of selecting Board members. Because it’s a focused search. And it helps quantify skills necessary for Board members to be successful. It doesn’t stop anyone from running in the election, but helps to move away from single issue candidates. It can be that people want to run and come into the role to go after a particular person or program, or are concerned only about something that happened with their child. I’ve seen that happen in other districts and [that system] doesn’t work as well as it does here.
Michael Brandes (BOE Trustee): Yesterday was the first substantial meeting with our search consultant where we discussed our candidate pool. We have some very strong candidates who are very secure in their jobs. We asked the consultants, why would they consider coming here other than we are a great district, with a great culture and so many advantages. But again and again, applicants say that dealing with Boards, some are appointed, Democrats or Republicans, and as Superintendent (which I’ve never done) but to get things done, to accomplish anything from the Board's mandate (and these are candidates from top districts that’s who we are looking at) the idea of going through the selection process with an independent body that can get ahead of the issues and think through [challenges is a big advantage and we benefit from that which these candidates appreciate greatly].
Chris O’Gorman: I want to point out that we have the Advisory Committee Review process in place this year, which is to draw out from the community the things that the NPC might do better or things that they should not do. I would recommend that you participate in that process. While they could recommend the dissolution of the NPC or recommend changes that would engage the community better. Happens every four years, designed to be an institution that changes.
ARC Member - Will Fulton / Aaron Shafer: We are actively soliciting feedback on the NPC and kicking off this process.
Delphine Quieti: I arrived [to Bronxville] the year before Covid, and heard about the NPC, but how much did the new community that arrived during Covid hear about the NPC - do they know?
Chris O’Gorman: That question has been raised to us - how well does the community understand the NPC? Mike Ching can tell you that last year [he had to build the website because we lost the domain] so we’ve been through a long process to rebuild and improve the website [see bronxvillenpc.org]. NPC has never been a “public relations” committee - it’s meant to bring in well-rounded people [as candidates for election] including with human resources and legal experience. These two candidates from last year [who had such experience] lost, but the fact is we brought forward people who would not necessarily come forward on their own because they don’t have an agenda other than the betterment of the community and want what’s best for all of our kids. Not all those people want to be in an election, so sometimes you have to recruit and talk to them, bring them forward. Susan was very active and served on Boards, not everyone has done that in the past. So that was the role of the NPC. We could communicate and publicize that better - Looking at possible recommendations. And that’s part of the ARC process to make recommendations on how to do it better. That is why we have community review
Jennifer Heathwood from PTA: (paraphrase) what is the policy or procedures of NPC in contested elections?
Chris O’Gorman: I’ve been on the NPC for two years. The year before last the election was uncomfortable with things that went on the election like rumors, innuendos, negative posters etc. so there was a feeling that we needed to stand up as a community and say this isn’t who we are. Fast forward in the past year, we were trying to avoid that kind of negativity that might come out of “campaigning”. But going forward we are going to ask candidate applicants to commit to certain minimum campaign efforts - and ensure they’re really willing to be in a contested election - understand what’s really involved because the NPC is not playing the role of campaign staff. We certainly will put forth the candidate selection and the reasons we believe the candidate is an excellent candidate -the bios of of course - and have conversations It’s a different time a much more engaged time - as a group we may have gone in the past cycle but we we’ll step back to
So last year the community did not choose our two candidates- perfectly in the realm of what’s happened. And it’s happened before. It’s a function somewhat of Covid and we changed what we had done in the past
Michelle Antonini: Should the NPC give the town more than the allotted spots than are open? If you don’t campaign for a candidate - your goal is not to campaign on behalf of candidates
Wendy Halley: The goal of the NPC is to recruit, interview and vet candidates and then to announce our selection to the community. I don’t think it would make sense for us to try to select candidates who are then going to go on to oppose each other. And of course anyone in the community is welcome to run and the fact that we sometimes have a contested election shows the process is working too
Chris: Each year we have multiple people who come forward to apply.
Question from Beata Farber Audience about DEI?
Dr. Roy Montesano: : paraphrasing [Committee made up of administration, faculty, students and parents. Still working on this. ]
Dr. Kelly added that they had an agreement with an advisory committee meeting on the Bronxville Promise which allows us to stand apart from other schools. Most schools have mission or vision statements but we have the Bronxville Promise – we live that - our students understand what it is to be engaged citizens, to think critically, to be innovative and to be leaders.
Everyone agreed we have to be strengthening the Bronxville promise and ensure that students who graduate HS are prepared for the next chapter – we spent one meeting really looking at issues of DEI and how we already have the DEI framework in our Promise already; in terms of being kind, being inclusive, being accepting, that was really important since given the various opinions on the committee – the decision is now up to the board as to whether they want to create a policy that speaks to DEI or strengthen the promise to ensure it’s hitting on all areas important to our community.
Question: What does the state require on DEI?
Dr. Roy Montesano: The state does not require DEI policies they only encourage a DEI policy
The state has a set of frameworks that are not mandated – nothing we are beholden to.
Dr Rachel Kelly:: she has seen the school double in size in 28 years, over the next 3-6 years what are the biggest challenges for the school.
A couple of things weigh heavily on us is inflation. Tax cap restricts us from increasing our budget beyond the cap. Need a supermajority to override – board and leadership doesn’t have the stomach to do that. But then we may have to make tough decisions. Human capital – teachers and staff make up the vast majority of the budget from year to year – to make personnel/program cuts would be hard.
Enrollment is a factor we keep a close eye on – projections are not a perfect science going out more than 5 years hard since those children haven’t been born yet. Districts nearby have decreasing enrollment but we have been pretty steady – we have gone down to 5 sections from 6 sections in two grade levels in ES – so we look very carefully at that – tough decisions for Boards to make – having 22-24 students becomes difficult
Strong working relationships between the Board and leadership which is very important, people who consider coming here in everyone from superintendent positions look at that – they watch our board meetings that’s very important to keep in mind
Roy added Capital projects 100 year old bldg. in constant need of repair – a capital improvement just done but it’s been 8 years
D wing brick and steel behind it needs replacement – looking at a significant capital project plan and board face with blacing (?) financially with the last one LRP what makes us distinctive – trade offs to achieve – prioritizing can’t just always add on
Jim Cherundolo – tuition based students – can we tap that? We do have tuition students - $250k+ per year – Board has heard from critical community members due to paying taxes people can pay $28k getting the same benefits – challenge – take them when we have room but will not take a student if it requires a new section. If populace were to decrease will they look at this to enhance –
Susan - Board reviews tuition students as year – not that much as people thing 8-10 students in k-12
We are capped on what we can charge by the state law formula
Carolyn Mattson: = how much is private school busing cost?
Rachel: $700-$800k per year. State law requires us to bus private school with 15 miles
Chris: note that other districts have had many have challenges with this issue –let’s say your school is sinks (?) in ratings and students leave for private schools, and then you have to spend a ton of money on busing
Carolyn Mattson– I have a child in MS and noticed that many of MS school teachers have been teaching for 25 years plus, how does school handle teachers aging out. And
how do you handle retirement – also how are we keeping teachers engaged since we’re all tired and been through a lot with Covid? How does the superintendent deal with that?
Dr. Rachel Kelly – We are keenly aware of teachers' ages and how long they’ve been in the school and in their role. We find that it works out
well to have seasoned teachers who are still open minded and still open to professional development. This is part of what we discussed in the Long Range Planning workshop. Overall, we handle this quite well. And coming out of Covid, we are consistently performing well compared to other schools. Recent news came out that we are ranked Number one in the state with ELA and Math scores – that said, we are not resting on our laurels and continue to put forth our best. For Teachers that reach a point in their career and if we’re in a budget crunch, the board can consider offering a teacher incentive to retire – pay them to retire – some advantages to this – allows us to hire new teacher or sometimes we don’t need to hire – we can achieve savings – very thoughtful decision and based on the individuals needs.
Susan Conniff– this is not a direct correlation with age – wonderful experienced teachers that we hope will stay forever
Chris O'gorman– last question – Roy, what are your top accomplishments that you are most proud of?
Dr. Roy Montesano: First, Roy says great team -leadership and staff with support of the community – resources of the Bronxville School foundation gives us ability to do things other places cannot do. For Roy, it always goes back to kids and what they accomplish when they graduate. The Bronxville Promise ….the proof it is working is what our kids go on to do and how much they accomplish.
Chris O'Gorman Final comment: We are always looking for board members who want to put the kids first, above personal agenda above personal desire whatever that might be – ultimately that is the goal not the other stuff that goes on – turning out kids that can go out in the world, be successful and have a solid background education.
ARC committee will take what we discussed and follow on with survey and collecting community feedback