More than 120 viewers tuned in to the school board’s virtual special meeting on June 17 to hear results of the 2020 school election. With an unprecedented 4,161 absentee ballots submitted, it was the largest turnout since 2013 when more than 3,200 went to the polls and 56% voted against the 2013-14 budget.
This time around, the district’s $162 million budget for 2020-21 passed by a 78.4% margin, with 3,256 voting Yes, and 897 No votes.
In the school board election, Scarsdale School Board Nominating Committee candidates Robert Klein and Amber Yusuf were voted onto the board, with 3,035 and 2,994 votes respectively, besting independent candidate Mayra Kirkendall-Rodríguez.
“With the challenges of the COVID environment in this next year I think there’s going to be a lot to navigate,” Yusuf told the Inquirer. “I’m excited to be a part of the solution.”
Klein and Yusuf will fill seats held by Scott Silberfein and Chris Morin, who are both stepping down after finishing two three-year terms on the board.
Kirkendall-Rodríguez, who garnered more than 1,500 votes, congratulated Klein and Yusuf on their electoral victory and said that barring unforeseen circumstances, she “definitely will run again.”
“It’s a lot of work to run independently,” she said. “On the other hand the advantage of being independent is that I’m not beholden to anybody. I had quite a diversity of people who supported me and … it means I now have more friends and acquaintances than I did when I went into this process.”
According to Nina Ledis Cannon, the chair of the district budget vote and election, there were 56 write-in votes for the board of education election.
“It’s nerve-wracking to be awaiting such a vote, so I’m obviously relieved about the outcome and now I’m excited to roll up my sleeves and get going,” said Klein.
This year all school budget votes, normally held in mid-May, were postponed March 30 by executive order with a vague indication they would be rescheduled in June. Then on May 1, Gov. Cuomo announced the new date, June 9, exclusively with mail-in balloting. The short notice and by-mail ballots made school districts scramble to put together legal notices, print and send thousands of paper ballots with two envelopes, and prepare and send all required budget information to the public. Complaints about delayed ballots led the governor on June 7 to extend the deadline to June 16 for mailed ballots.
According to Superintendent Thomas Hagerman, Westchester County was unable to provide voting machines to the district. With limited state guidance on how the district should count and verify the sudden influx of absentee ballots, district officials spent hours brainstorming a process for voters to have the utmost confidence in the system. Officials eventually drew up a five step approach that included a double verification system to make sure ballots were counted correctly. After a minor technical difficulty on June 16, which delayed the start of a special board of education meeting held virtually to initiate the ballot counting process at 5 p.m., district staff began opening ballots in the high school learning commons at 5:12 p.m.
In one area, 10 district staff members, who were socially distanced and wearing masks, opened and separated the outer envelopes from the ballots in order to anonymize the votes. Once a set of 25 ballots was collected, a district staff member took the batch into the learning commons where eight district staff members sat at separate desks. The batches of 25 ballots were placed on four of the eight desks and staff members numbered the ballots to correspond with a voting tally sheet. Once numbered, a staff member recorded the votes onto the tally sheet. Once the tally sheet was completed, the sheets were handed to other staff members at the other four desks, where they would check and verify that the staff member at the previous station made no recording errors. Once verified, the ballots went to a smaller room within the learning commons, where the count was put into a Google Excel spreadsheet for further verification after the process was completed. Finally, staff took the ballots to another room within the commons for storing and filing.
The staff tallied about half of the more than 4,000 ballots by 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, and continued the process at 8:30 a.m. the next day, wrapping up around 10:30 a.m. The announcement of final results was made over Zoom at noon.
"Like most aspects of school life this spring, there was nothing normal about this process this year,” said Hagerman. “The proposed budget needed to go through many iterations in order to best reflect the district's needs, as well as garner the support of Scarsdale voters. We believe the budget that was unanimously adopted by the board did strike the right balance, and we deeply appreciate the community's continued support of our schools.”