Briarcliff Schools Propose $10 Million Bond

Board OKs capital-spending plan and proposes natural-turf solution as cap at contaminated field.

Addressing a different three Rs in their schoolhouse, Briarcliff Manor voters will be asked in May to approve some $10 million in spending on infrastructure repairs, replacements and remediation.

With projects as varied as a leaking roof above students’ heads and contaminated earth beneath their feet, the extensive to-do list covers all three district schools and calls, among other things, for computer-lab upgrades, door and window replacements and wholesale athletic-field improvements beyond the contaminated sites.

The capital-improvement bond—all told, $10,525,000—capped a marathon meeting Monday of the . Over a span of more than four hours, the board also heard details of a proposed $1.3 million technology budget for 2012-13; debated the role, if any, of building principals in budget-making; and approved a contract settlement with Briarcliff’s 19 clerical employees.

Projects make up most of the capital spending. The committee’s report was presented to the school board late last month and can be downloaded from the district’s website.

It calls for more than $9 million in capital projects in four specific areas:

energy, including indoor and outdoor lighting upgrades; instructional/technology, linking technology and curriculum goals;

instruction and infrastructure, with recommendations from each school principal; and site improvement, examining, among other things, the district’s athletic fields and playgrounds.

The facilities panel had recommended covering some of the fields with artificial turf. But the citizen panel left open the decision on whether to use recycled crumb rubber—called styrene butadiene rubber (SBR)—the most commonly used synthetic turf infill, or a more-expensive alternative. Superintendent Neal S. Miller opted for the higher-priced, but potentially safer, spread.

The athletic-field cleanup, a separate project, will tackle a long-awaited attempt to rehab two fields built years ago atop potentially contaminated waste. The sites, a softball field behind the middle school and a practice field near the high school, have been off-limits, the object of environmental fears, since January 2010.

After hearing an environmental assessment Monday, the board recommended a natural-turf solution to address the festering problem of subsurface contamination at the so-called practice field. It directed Henningson, Durham & Richardson Architecture & Engineering (HDR), the district’s environmental advisors, to submit the remediation plan to the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). The board adopted a similar solution last month for the middle school’s contaminated softball field. In both cases, the approach represented the least expensive of several alternatives for sealing off pollution, including covering over it with asphalt or artificial turf.

The natural-turf plan calls for a barrier layer of clean earth, about 20 inches thick and tested for sanitary compliance, to be placed over the potential contaminants, then topped by a 4-inch soil layer for growing the grass.

Some have called, however, for adding a more-substantial layer to set the clean earth apart, even to seal it off hermetically from the contaminated fill with a concrete or other impenetrable barrier.

Longtime board critic Mike Valenti has indicted both sites as a wellspring of serious, even fatal illness and dismisses their proposed remediation as “grossly inadequate.” In an email on the eve of the board’s cleanup vote, he insisted, “A responsible remediation plan would include capping the contamination with an impervious cover.” Valenti attended Monday’s meeting, but did not address the board.

Michael Musso, a senior project engineer with HDR, the district’s environmental consultant, said the sorts of shields Valenti and others have urged were more often found above solid-waste landfills, more toxic than the construction debris on which Briarcliff’s athletic fields were built in the late 1990s. In any case, he said in response to a question from Trustee Sal Maglietta, state DEC inspectors will decide on the adequacy of the contaminants’ barrier.

Standing up for their principals

In November, just before budget-making turned serious, the parents who gathered at for a preview had a message for school officials: get the building principals involved.

Specifically, they asked that the principals at each of Briarcliff’s three schools assess the impact of any proposed budget cuts and report their “unfiltered” findings to residents before the school board adopted a final budget.

Today, as next year’s proposed spending plan heads into the home stretch, the principals have yet to be heard from. But the voice of the parents remains unchanged.

Dina Brantman, who co-chaired the facilities committee, told the board Monday that she was disappointed at the lack of input from the principals into the budget process.

“How else can you gather information for a budget other than talking with the people who live with—and manage—that budget every day?” she asked.

Jan Fisher said simply, “Our principals have been cut off to the community. That is not transparency.”

For his part, Miller said he wanted principals to appear before the board—but not on budget matters. “I do want principals to present,” he said. “I’m just not sure it’s going to be within the budget [process].”

Technology spending rises

Erica Beasley, the district’s chief technology and information officer, led the board in a review of her proposed technology budget for next year.

At $1,298,657 million, the budget represents an increase of $200,440 over current spending.

“You are just so valuable to us,” Trustee Rosella Ranno told Beasley after her presentation.

McKey Rivers March 28, 2012 at 03:18 PM
Spotlighting the schools' principals in the budget process is a bad idea. The Superintendent is the administrator by law responsible for formulation of the budget in consultation with district administrators and staff. The suggestion that school principals make “unfiltered assessments” in a Board meeting suggests that the Superintendent (i) has not consulted with school principals in formulation of the budget and/or (ii) distorts a principal’s evaluation of a budget action in public budget presentations. I for one have no reason to believe either has occurred during Superintendent Miller’s time in Briarcliff. The School District benefits by having an atmosphere where the principals can be completely candid with the Superintendent in the budget formulation/consultation process and not inhibited in exploring options on how resources will be allocated, without having to worry about whether those consultations will be the subject of public presentation. What other line manager in any organization is required to be placed in the middle of a public “tug of war” between their boss and a small group of extremist who haven’t been happy since the Board of Education ended illegal practices in Briarcliff School District finances and corralled run away spending and Westchester/Putnam counties leading tax rates? This group needs to stop trying to micro manage the work of the Superintendent and wasting the Board’s time with counter-productive propositions.
Marc London March 29, 2012 at 07:42 AM
McKey, Our principals are not line managers. Clearly you join the current board in dismissing the value they bring to our district, which is especially ludacris at a time when so much change has gone unexamined and when the superintendant is brand new to the district. The board doesn't want principals in the public eye because, as we say/heard last year at Todd, they are closest to the problems that the board doesn't want discussed in open forum. This is just another way in which this board has squashed community discourse. Until there is a board that respects diversity of opinion, openly discusses differing as well as their own points of view in the public eye (that is not the same as repeating prepared political campaign speeches containing erroneous facts over and over again), and approaches their duty with intellectual honesty rather than political pandering, the number of "extremists" you reference above will grow. You may not recall that the "small group of extremists" you refer to formed spontaneously last year and within two-three weeks grew to be 500 strong and sent a deafeningly loud message of around 900 votes in the last election. That, my friend, is no small group of extremists and maybe, just maybe you will see that in education and in running a business, a public tug of war is a healthy, constructive exercise which ensures optimal outcomes. Only those afraid of personal embarrassment and/or interested in personal gain would shut down such a process.
Merriam Webster April 12, 2012 at 07:11 PM
We obviously need an improved English curriculum so that misspellings of words such as "ludicrous" do not proliferate in the rarefied atmosphere emanating from Briarcliff's playing fields...
Gargamel April 19, 2012 at 11:49 AM
Merriam I am glad you used your dictionary. Have you looked up VANDALISM yet? The need for good Enlgihs is very important but the schools should be fostering COMMON SENSE with our kids. Time to refocus!


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