March 15, 2013

The man who changed the school board conversation

Katonah’s Spencer Dvorkin, 88, died on Friday, March 1, at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center, with his family at his side.

After a long and illustrious career in education, and a position on the down-county Edgemont school board for 13 years, Mr. Dvorkin spent his later years in northern Westchester, where he resumed his role as an active and vital participant in the Katonah-Lewisboro School District.

Mr. Dvorkin was also a member of the Katonah-Lewisboro Board of Education for six years, from 1994 to 2000, and he was a volunteer at Meadow Pond Elementary School. “Spencer always gave thoughtful, considered advice and was a good listener,” said former school board member Michael Gordon this week. “It was obvious he had a real love for children and education. He will be missed.”

In his obituary, family members recalled that he “worked to ensure quality education for all students at the same time that he fought to maintain costs for taxpayers.”

That is an accurate way to describe Mr. Dvorkin’s role. At a time when budgets were often loosely conceived and problems pushed to the future, Mr. Dvorkin launched an examination of school costs. He poked and prodded in ways that annoyed some administrators — and parents — but he managed to draw attention to the problems that would shape our districts. Parents of high schoolers were positively irate in 2000 when, as a cost-saving measure, he clung to the triple-tripping bus schedule that saw kids getting to the bus stop at 6:15 a.m. (This single issue may have lost that board race for him.) Mr. Dvorkin, who continued to vigorously participate in district affairs even after he left the board, had what he described as the “audacity” to urge voters to vote no on a $50 million district bond project in 2002 (that bond, and that year’s budget, narrowly passed). That same year, Mr. Dvorkin was staunchly against a purchase of the Andes property, and led a successful campaign to stop the purchase. (The land was later bought by a private citizen and donated to the district. Mr. Dvorkin probably saw that as a better solution, although we suggest that he might have balked at additional costs to the district).

To some degree, Mr. Dvorkin accurately forecast the fiscal woes and out-of-control costs that most Westchester districts face today, with untenable benefits costs and out-of-reach capital goals. He advocated a citizens’ group comprised of administrators, board members and teachers, a group that “will work to define what is necessary — not just what would be attractive to have.”

In later years, he helped usher in a district board that included Bob Meyer, Bob Dixon and others who challenged the district at a time when the Katonah-Lewisboro School District was to come under investigation from the state comptroller’s office, and be charged by the New York State attorney general’s office, with lax accounting and financial practices.

“Spencer was tough but fair,” recalled Katonah’s Don Scott, who ran against Mr. Dvorkin in 2000 and later served as school board president. “There was no doubt that he cared deeply about our district. It is a testament to his fairness that his eulogy was delivered by the former head of the Edgemont Teachers Union.”

It is Mr. Dvorkin’s own words that hold the key to his approach, which was both rational and independent. Let us point to this wonderful letter that Mr. Dvorkin wrote to The Record-Review in 2000. “Effective members must have the intestinal fortitude to come to decisions that are intellectually honest, take a stand on each issue and not take opinion polls to decide how to vote.”

Entering the race

Mr. Dvorkin provides inspiration to those seeking to serve their communities as members of their district’s school board.

The Katonah-Lewisboro School District Board of Education will have three trustee vacancies to be voted on during the May 21 annual school election and vote. A trustee’s term on the school board runs for three years.

Packets for potential candidates are available for community members interested in running for a seat on the Katonah-Lewisboro School District Board of Education. They can be obtained from district clerk Kimberly Monzon at 186 Waccabuc Road in Goldens Bridge, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

In Bedford Central, three board seats will be ending on June 30, those of Erika Long, Suzanne Grant and Jennifer Gerken. Individuals must run for a specific seat, and each seat is a three-year term. New members of Bedford Central’s board are required to fulfill 12 hours of mandated training: six hours on board governance and six hours on fiscal matters.

Each candidate must properly file a nominating petition with the district clerk in order for his or her name to appear on the ballot for the annual school election and vote. The deadline to submit the nominating petition is Monday, April 22, at 5 p.m. Petitions should be brought to the district clerk in the central office on the Fox Lane campus.

The Westchester-Putnam School Board Association is offering a workshop for all prospective school board members on Thursday, April 11, from 5:45 to 9:30 p.m., at the education house in White Plains City School District, 5 Homeside Lane, White Plains. Registration is required; go to

There is no better way to let your voice be heard.

Read more local coverage of your hometown in this week’s issue of the The Record-Review. Newsstand copies are available at several locations listed above, or subscribe today for convenient home delivery.

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