What initially was a three-candidate race for two seats in the Bedford School District, quickly became an uncontested affair.
Vice President Edward Reder is poised to be elected to a third full term while joined on the ballot by first-time candidate Alexandra White. Elizabeth Baum had submitted a petition before the May 11 deadline but withdrew from the race shortly afterward. The other incumbent, William Canavan, has opted not to run again.
Voting is being done exclusively by mail with paper ballots having been sent to all registered voters. Ballots must be received by the district clerk’s office no later than Tuesday, June 9 at 5 p.m., although there is currently proposed legislation that was introduced on June 2 by state Sen. Peter Harckham to extend the voting period by a week because there have been reports of residents in multiple districts in the area and throughout the state who have failed to receive their ballots or they were late in arriving.
Reder is in his seventh year on the board, having initially been appointed to fill a vacancy before winning two full terms. He has served during some of the district’s most challenging moments, most notably the 2015 fiscal crisis when the district was forced to cut more than 50 positions, while contributing toward its rebound.
He is currently the board’s most senior member and believes that his experience can be a stabilizing force on the board.
“I think experience matters and that’s what drives me,” Reder said. “I know education right now is so important and I think this closure period has been really challenging, but the approach that we have for next year and the next few years is really critical, so I want to be part of that.”
While virtually all districts are facing fiscal concerns this year, particularly if the state aid is reduced, the board and administration assumed a 20 percent aid reduction and built that into its recently adopted 2020-21 budget, Reder said.
Officials also juggled the pressures on taxpayers with students’ needs by preserving programs and maintaining class sizes that are within the contractual guidelines. The board also refrained from using all of its operating surplus and any unused transportation funds toward next year’s budget while trimming the tax levy increase from more than 2 percent to 1.85 percent.
“We have a very balanced and thoughtful budget and also we’re looking to take some surplus this year to smartly fund the operating budget next year,” Reder said.
He said the district is working to refine remote learning, understanding that it may still have to be used for a portion of next year, or depending on state guidelines on capacity, may have to be used in conjunction with in-person classes. Technology may have to be updated to create a synchronous school day for students that are in class and at home, Reder said.
Bedford has also established an academic task force to address the reopening plan for September and what that may entail. Reder expects a learning gap for some students, pupils who are not where they should be heading into the next grade.
“I think the challenge is going to be the gap,” Reder said. “There is a gap in this closure period that’s happening with distance learning. We need to assess that gap; we need to have strategies to mitigate that gap. That’s not so much a preservation discussion, but what do we need to advance to help this generation of students advance in the next few years.”
Reder opposes closing any of the district’s five elementary schools as a cost-saving measure in response to declining enrollment, which had been forecast to continue through much of the next decade. The district should explore other strategies, Reder said, and believes that suburban school systems like Bedford may soon experience a surge in enrollment from families leaving New York City as a result of the pandemic.
“My personal opinion is that closing a school is not something that makes financial sense right now or academic sense for students and their families,” he said.
Reder is also pleased with how the district has resolved the previous controversy of the Dual Language Bilingual Education program at Mount Kisco Elementary School. Response from non-Spanish speaking families to enroll their children was so great that parents of the relatively few children who did not sign up felt their kids were being shortchanged.
Opening up the program to elementary-age children from elsewhere in the district and allowing parents whose children who were not enrolled to choose one of the district’s other elementary schools turned out to be the correct decision, Reder said.
Like many districts, Bedford is keenly focused on the social and emotional well-being of its students, which will be even more critical in the year ahead. Reder said to deliver the proper support for students, all school personnel must be involved, not just psychologists, social workers and teachers.
“This extends to coaches and a chorus or band coach,” he said. “Everyone needs to be involved in this because everyone is missing out on the glue that binds students to their schools.”
Reder expects that during next school year the district will take up its search for a permanent superintendent. Dr. Joel Adelberg has served in an interim capacity since the abrupt retirement of Dr. Christopher Manno because of health reasons.
White moved into the district four years ago, and with her son in kindergarten at Bedford Village Elementary School and her daughter in pre-school, she plans to be involved in school affairs for a while.
White said she brings a new perspective that would work well with the more experienced members of the board.
“I think it actually works in my favor because I come to the board very fresh and I come to the board with a sensitivity of what’s going on with the parents of younger children in our district,” said White, a certified lactation specialist and a post-partum doula at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility.
It had been a challenging budget season for the board, but White commended the current trustees for balancing the impact on taxpayers and preserving programs.
There are too many unknowns to surmise where any further reductions would come from but she was confident that the district will make its priority helping students.
“Through collaborative discourse we can figure out creative ways to give our children both a strong academic education and social/emotional education, but I think we have to think in terms of worst-case scenarios,” White said.
White applauds the district for taking steps to prepare for the possible continuation of distance learning in the fall and to address the potential for some students to regress more than usual because of this year’s closure.
While she has been against the district’s proposal whether to close one or two elementary schools, White said she is committed to small class sizes and would prefer to look elsewhere to save money.
The diversity of the Bedford School District has made the Dual Language Bilingual Education program an important feature, White said. She is pleased with how the controversy has apparently been resolved, where the families of the students at Mount Kisco Elementary School who did not enroll had the option of sending their children to one of the district’s other elementary schools and students from elsewhere in the district could participate.
“It gives students an opportunity to be fluent in two languages at an age where your brain is limber, you’re able to build those neuro connections,” White said. “That really is the time to do it and I appreciate that the district had to advance the needs of a small but important cohort of students in Mount Kisco who thought that the dual language program wasn’t working for their children.”
The social and emotional well-being of the students has been a top priority in Bedford, particularly for next school year when children return from the prolonged closure and summer break, White said. The board and administration have been planning to have a successful transition back to school in the fall while also preparing for continuing distance learning or a hybrid situation.
White said that Adelberg has done an excellent job in taking over from Manno as the interim and that the new board will address the superintendent search during the upcoming school year.
This article has been update to clarify candidate Alexandra White’s position regarding the elementary school closure issue.