At its reorganization meeting on July 1 — also its first in-person meeting in well over a year — the Katonah-Lewisboro Board of Education extended Superintendent Andrew Selesnick’s contract. The board also heard continued criticism from parents about the district’s special education program.
In an item included in the consent agenda passed by the board, they approved a “Sixth Amendment to the employment contract dated February 9, 2015 between the Katonah- Lewisboro School District and Andrew Selesnick, its Superintendent of Schools.” The amendment extended Mr. Selesnick’s term of appointment from July 1, 2021, to June 30, 2026.
The extension is significant at a time when news reports have indicated there is a large turnover among district superintendents. The Journal News reported July 2 that 13 out of 54 school districts in Westchester, Rockland and Putnam counties are going through superintendent changes in 2021, and The New York Times reported in April that the same trend is occurring across the country. Stresses associated with the pandemic were said to be a contributing factor.
Last week, neighboring Bedford Central School District announced it was beginning to conduct a search to replace Joel Adelberg, its current superintendent, who will retire June 30, 2022.
As part of its annual organizational meeting when officers are elected for new one-year terms, Marjorie Schiff and Julia Hadlock were elected as president and vice president of the board, respectively, and sworn in to their positions.
New faces who were sworn in were trustee Elana Shneyer, who was elected to the board in May, and Abigail Stobin, who will serve as student trustee.
In other business, Mr. Selesnick asked the board to consider the possibility of creating a facilities committee. He noted that several months ago, the district’s architect had presented a building conditions survey indicating that, while buildings are still in “good shape,” substantial work may be needed in the coming years. He said it was advisable to consider forming a committee that would include experts and others from the community to review potential plans for updating the district’s buildings. He pointed out that other districts have formed such committees and found their contributions helpful.
Trustee William Rifkin asked about the proposed committee’s scope. Mr. Selesnick said a good first step would be to review the items in the architect’s report and prioritize them. Trustee Rory Burke suggested that the buildings committee include a member of the finance committee as their work would likely overlap.
During the public forum, KLSD parents Mark Abrams and Oksana Aranov continued a discussion that had begun with a letter writing campaign at previous virtual board of education meetings. They were part of an ad hoc group of parents whose allegations about the district’s treatment of autistic students were the focus of a June 28 article in The Record-Review.
Mr. Abrams repeated charges made in earlier letters about the use of restraints in self-contained classrooms. He was adamant that such use was inappropriate, and contended that the district had been cutting the special education budget for years. Despite claims by administrators that the cuts mirrored a reduction in services required, said Mr. Abrams, “the facts on the ground simply do not support what you have been telling us.” He called for the district to work collaboratively with the parent group to bring change to the special education program.
Ms. Aranov said she was a mother who had “not slept in six months” because of mistreatment her son had been subjected to “at the hands of ‘educators’ in this district.” She revealed she was the mother whose son had been restrained over 30 times at John Jay Middle School before she was notified. She accused the district of failing to address problems that had been brought to light.
“What do you call a situation where you knowingly, and repeatedly, put a child in harm’s way?” Ms. Aranov asked. She repeated allegations made by a number of parents about children being locked in bathrooms and subjected to other forms of mistreatment. “This program is broken,” she said. “The ball is now in your court. It is time to act on the diversity and inclusion initiative, as opposed to paying lip service to them.” She asked that the district follow its promise to exceed state requirements for special education.
Following the forum, Mr. Burke said he wanted to acknowledge the speakers. “I believe the district is taking steps to review the policy,” he said. “It’s important that we don’t just ignore our community members who have come here, but it’s also important to state that there is ongoing work in this area.”
Mr. Rifkin responded that the district was at a disadvantage. “Anybody hearing this has to bear in mind that the school district is not allowed to reply; we’re not allowed to blow-by-blow respond to things like that,” he said. “Because we’re not immediately jumping up and down doesn’t mean that we’re not paying attention and not doing things, but it’s hard to look at the tip of the iceberg and make a judgment.”
Trustee Elizabeth Gereghty acknowledged it was difficult for parents to stand up and speak at a board meeting and not receive an immediate response. She thanked the community members for sharing their concerns. Mr. Rifkin agreed with Ms. Gereghty about the difficult situation the parents faced that night, but went on to say that, just because there is a public forum at which people can discuss issues, it did not mean that those issues should become part of the meeting agenda.
Mr. Selesnick concluded the comments, saying, “I just want to reiterate the message that we always try to send, that any family that has any concern about their children, we would ask that they bring that concern directly to us. We would always want to hear it, and we will always work our hardest to address it.”