School board appoints Mark Berkowitz as PMHS principal, rejects bids for Prospect Hill work

School board appoints Mark Berkowitz as PMHS principal, rejects bids for Prospect Hill work

The Pelham Board of Education Wednesday appointed a new high school principal, voted to reject all bids for the work at Prospect Hill and heard updates from the district’s financial advisor on the state of the bond market.

The board voted unanimously to appoint Mark Berkowitz to the position of high school principal, replacing the long-time principal Jeannine Clark after her retirement in June. Berkowitz is currently the principal of the New Explorations into Science, Technology and Math (NEST+m) school in the Lower East Side of Manhattan.

“It has been an absolute honor for me to serve in the New York City public schools, and (I am) very, very excited for the opportunity to join the Pelham public schools and Pelham Memorial High School community,” said Berkowitz. According to Superintendent Dr. Cheryl Champ, the district is working on ways for the Pelham community to meet Berkowitz virtually. 

Assistant Superintendent for Business James Hricay recommended the board reject all bids for the construction work at Prospect Hill. Hricay said the full project ended up being too expensive, and after investigating if just doing the bathroom work was feasible, officials decided not to go forward with any work at this time.

Champ said that once the pandemic has ended, the district intends to go out to bid again and complete the projects, which will include an elevator and enhanced security at the main entrance.

Rick Ganci of Capital Market Advisors, the district’s financial advisor, provided the board with an update on the state of the bond market and the district’s transactions. Ganci said that the shift in the market happened very quickly. On March 9, some of the “lowest municipal bond rates in history” were observed, and by March 12, the market had become extremely volatile, he said. By March 20, interest rates rose two percent.

According to Ganci, conditions began to improve around April 10, and now the market has become relatively stable, with successful transactions being made with “normal” interest rates. The district’s $10 million bond sale, which came to the market on March 17, “priced as well as it could have” and received a bid from J.P. Morgan Chase Bank, Ganci said. He attributed the result to the district’s AAA credit rating, as current buyers are especially selective. Ganci said this will be an asset to the district since other strong clients have done well in the current market. According to Ganci and Hricay, the district’s original borrowing plan formulated in 2018 is still sustainable.

Champ said the district is waiting for more clarity from the state on what the end of the school year will look like before making final decisions about fourth quarter grades and finals. Information will be reaching families next week with more details on how the district is planning to make the end of the year special for seniors and their families.

President Jessica DeDomenico said the district was forced “to find some ways to cut about $600,000 to $700,000 in our proposed budget for next year.” She also said the district will likely have to advocate at the federal level in order to increase funding, as the amount of state aid to the district is uncertain as a result of the pandemic. The district’s advocacy committee is beginning to put together a letter writing campaign to lobby for increased funding. DeDomenico encouraged community members to be on the lookout for forms in the mail asking they participate to help the district.

Hricay recommended the board vote to transfer about $750,000 in unspent funds from proposition 2 of the capital bond project (field work) to proposition 1 (building work), as the field work has come in under budget and the building work has been more expensive than originally expected. The work at Hutchinson School has been moving forward according to schedule, he said. Glover Field has about three to four weeks of detail work left, and the tennis court work will be finished once the temperature is above 50 degrees. The work at the middle and high school has been interrupted by social distancing guidelines, requiring that the project timeline be adjusted. Originally expected to be finished in fall 2020, Hricay said he expects that summer 2021 is a more realistic end time for the project.

The board took time to honor Tom Imperato following his death April 9. Imperato was a school trustee and longtime Pelham resident. Board members shared memories of their experiences with him.

“His timeless dedication to Pelham was evident to anyone who knew him,” said Vice President Sue Bratone Childs.

Steven Garcia, assistant superintendent for curriculum, provided updates on the district’s distance learning initiative. Eight surveys were sent out last Friday to Pelham students, teachers and parents, all of which received a significant response. Garcia said that overall the feedback has been positive, specifically surrounding the new structures at the elementary level and scheduled classes at the secondary level. The survey results will be displayed on the district website in the district learning section.

Julia Chung, assistant superintendent for pupil personnel services, said the district has been working with Little Flower Yoga to put together mindfulness sessions for students. Teacher sessions will begin next week.

The board’s next meeting is scheduled for May 6 at 8:15 p.m., and will again be held through a remote video platform.