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Letters April 29, 2010

Posted on 29 April 2010

Are We Mad?


Dear Mr. Boyhan:

The Sag Harbor school budget proposal to be voted on May 18 is another grotesque example of the lack of leaders (with guts) from our school board members, past and present who are supposed to be well informed and represent the community.

In the past 15 years:

 1. The consumer price index rose 38 percent.

 2. The school budget rose 294 percent (from $8 million to $31.5 million!)

 3. The school budget rose an average of 19.5 percent each year through the compounding effect of each yearly increase, just like the teacher salaries do.

4. Present cost per pupil, $34,388!


Is there any homeowner in the district who has increased earning of 19.5 percent a year?

Has the managing editor of the Sag Harbor Express seen his salary increased 19.5 percent a year?

Have we gone mad?

How can a community support such greed and be able to survive?

Of course if parents have just one child at the school, the community is supporting that child with “a donation” of $34,388. Such parents are delighted as their taxes are insignificant compared to the obscene cost per pupil at our school. How do you think such parents, along with their relatives will vote on May 18? Will such children be able to afford living here when they grow up and have to pay the bills?

What are our school board members thinking, have they no guts or are they just dumb or are they pawns and submissive to the teachers union? Do they know how many of our teachers are able to pass the 12th grade Regents exam?

Since 80 percent of the budget is teacher salaries and benefits, wouldn’t it be nice if each yearly increase of 19.5 percent equaled a similar increase in their ability to teach?

Inflation cannot be blamed as the consumer price index rose only 38 percent in the entire fifteen years!

Wouldn’t it be nice if we had our medical and dental plans covered for life as the teachers do? Do any of us taxpayers have a dental plan? (who can afford it?)

The teachers will try and diffuse this insanity by saying: “but it’s for the kids.”

Nonsense, it’s for them and they want more! Would any taxpayer like to have a work schedule of only 180 days a year with a full salary, pension, dental and health benefits for you and your family for life? Ah, join the teacher’s union and you will!

The school board has proposed an over 12 percent tax increase for Southampton residents as we reel from the financial meltdown and jobless frustrations and reduced or static incomes.

Question: Will the school board have the guts to reduce staff, and some programs?

The cost of running our school is financially dysfunctional and unreal.

School boards have been established to deal with the realities of a community.

Our present board members need to be doused with pails of cold water to wake them up!

As a start, why does each school principal need an assistant? There are only 916 students in the entire school!

The only real way to stop this madness is for the state to take over the financing and administration of our public school system. (Of course not now as the state is bankrupt, mainly because they also promised their workers lofty pensions and health benefits for life!)

In the meantime: The proposed budget is insane. Vote no on May 18!

Former School Board Member (’92-’95 )

George Silano

North Haven


Make an Investment


Dear Bryan,

Pure talent enhanced with opportunity. This was the feeling in the audience at Pierson’s recent production of Thoroughly Modern Millie. The cast, the crew, the sets, the orchestra and the talent of each person involved in the show collectively showcased our investment in our schools. It was a stellar production that brought us joy and pride. In sports, art, music, science, theater, technology, academics or community service, our students show that they are the product of our investment in their education. Every talent tapped in experiences that are provided in our schools shape the passion in the people that our children become. Our responsibility to the belief that a strong school reflects a strong community which in turn provides a strong future for all of us needs our support more than ever. Invest in education on May 18. Support the red and black. Say yes to Pierson Pride. Spout the Spirit. Be a Whaler.  Invest in our schools.  Invest in childhood. Invest in the future. Our kids are counting on us.

Sincerely,

Donna T. Denon

Sag Harbor 


Continue School’s Legacy


Dear Editor:

We are writing this letter to appeal to all of the residents of Sag Harbor. The Sag Harbor School District budget vote is on May 18. As we all know, this country is experiencing a significant financial crisis that has been phrased the ‘great recession’. Many school districts are directly suffering from this recession, and are confronted with significant financial decisions. Our school district is no different, and has tremendous fiscal decisions to make that can ultimately negatively affect the school and the community for decades.

The Sag Harbor School District is comprised of the Pierson Middle/High School, and the Sag Harbor Elementary School, and has always been an integral part of the Sag Harbor community. Sag Harbor is a residential community comprised of many families who have lived here for generations and received an education through the hallowed halls of Pierson. Many people do not realize that Pierson has been, and hopefully will always be, a legacy of each and every resident that lives in our beautiful community. A legacy that will always ask our community to remember the impact the school had on your life.

Our schools have substantially improved in the last decade, to provide all of our children an education that has proven to rival some of the wealthier school districts on Long Island. Despite the fact that we have buildings that continually need to be repaired, an elementary school that does not have an auditorium, cafeteria, updated gymnasium, insufficient technology, a middle/high school that needs more technology, modernized auditorium, science labs, more text books, athletic fields and etc., many of our children continue to strive to attain an academic success that has been unparallel in this school district, town and beyond.

Knowledge is power, and the ability to enrich and enhance a child’s life is priceless. Education has always been a means to open new worlds to a child and create opportunities that perhaps were not within reach. Currently, our schools enhance and improve the lives of our children because Pierson and the elementary school attain a high level of academic excellence. Furthermore, an outstanding school district will maintain property values and attract families to be part of our great school system.

In the event the 2010/2011 budget does not get passed, all of the academic achievements attained by our schools will come to an immediate halt, a stand still. The successes will be erased, because our school will literally not be able to continue to go forward on a contingency budget.

We respectfully ask everyone to make every attempt to continue the Pierson legacy for our children and community.

Maria Banks

Gay Snow

Sag Harbor


Has Insurance


Bryan,

I want to clarify what Susan Pashman incorrectly wrote in last week’s letter to the editor article. She stated that I, among other groups, am not required to have insurance.

I am required and do have liability insurance for yoga instruction at Pierson High School for adults.

Thank you,

Sharmila Cohen-Gold, RYT, M.Ed.

Sag Harbor


Weeding Needs to Be Done


Dear Bryan,

In the 62nd Federalist Paper James Madison, later our fourth President said, “It will be of little avail (to be of use) to the people, that the laws are made by men of their own choice (meaning elected by the people), if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood.”

Do you remember that it took public humiliation to get a few representatives to read the “stimulus” bills of 2009 and 2010? Do you remember that Mr. Obama was going to change the ways of Washington and so he promised not to sign any bill with “earmarks,” but did so twice? And can there be any finer example of what Madison warned about than the 2,400 page nationalized health care bill? One month after its passage experts are still slogging their way through this tome that is “so voluminous that it cannot be read, or so incoherent that it cannot be understood.”

It is springtime and there is weeding to be done in America. Our once robust democracy is being oxygen deprived. Without hyperbole, the question is whether we shall live or we shall die. Our garden needs tending. Let us turn this “Winter of Our Discontent” in America, fair reader, into a springtime of renewal. Let us take back our country.

Bill Jones

Hampton Bays


Strength to Fight


Dear East End Community:

There comes a time when you can never be more proud of where you live. One of those moments came on April 10th. The Unite to Fight organizers were in awe with the outpouring of love and support that filled the high school gymnasium and then the Sag Harbor Fire House to benefit Tom Hand. We would like to thank the sponsors and volunteers who helped to make the event a great success. We’d also like to thank all those who attended the game and those who came to the firehouse to enjoy a very tasty spaghetti dinner.

Tom posted his battle with cancer on CarePages.com. It’s an online community for visitors to come together to share the challenges, hopes and triumphs of anyone facing a life-changing health event. This personalized website gives members a way to relate their stories, post photos and update friends and family instantly. In turn, those friends and family members can send messages of love and encouragement. Tom has said that reading those messages each day helped him tremendously. For his family and friends, at times it was hard to read some of those entries when Tom was suffering. But at the end of almost every entry, no matter how much pain he was in, he always managed to send an inspiring message. We want to share one of those with all of you.

“Being alone hurts, to be alone and have an illness at the same time hurts even more. If you have a family member or know someone who deserves a visit, why don’t you find a few minutes and go visit, call, or write. That few minutes will go a long way and you may even benefit from it. I encourage you all to make the best of every day and spread “the good stuff” constantly. Our time here on earth is short and precious so make the best of it and include other people along the way. So when I say thank you I mean THANK YOU!”

Melissa, Emilie, Kevin & Kevin

Unite to Fight


High Calculations


Dear Editor:

We all want our children well educated but the cost of doing this must be something the community can afford.

When I look at the school budget – wow – 12.76 percent. Why is this? I obtained information from Sag Harbor and Southampton school personnel, from Internet and newspapers. If there is a pay freeze it will not be what the taxpayers think. There is a pay raise system called step increments. As per union contract any teacher who gets an

additional degree advances to a higher pay grade. That’s OK; but they then get a raise every year for 27 years. This year the raise is 2.75 percent. Understand that this is not a one time raise, it is for 27 years. At the present time the average school teacher pay is $88,000 without benefits. Let’s see how the system works with a theoretical pay raise of 2.5 percent per year and the actual step increase this year of 2.75 percent.

First Year: $88,000 X 1.025 = $90,200; now add to this the step increase $88,000 X .075 = $2,420 for a total of $92,620.

Second Year: $92,620 X 1.025 = $94,936; now add to this the step increase $92,620 X .0275 = 2,547 for a total of $97,483.

Do you see what a financial disaster this is? It becomes $97,483 the second year. Calculate this for a contractual 27 years. I was told that this is the norm and that nothing can be done about it. Being the norm does not make it right and also don’t forget the union contract must be signed by the school board.

At the present time the school tax consumes 73 percent of our town tax and 75 percent of the school budget.

George Warren

Sag Harbor


Voodoo Economics


To the Editor:

I note that the Sag Harbor Village Board has just adopted a new budget that calls for a “2.43 percent increase” for FY 2010-11. 

The Village Board is quoted in your paper last week as saying that this reflects a “priority to keep spending down for the coming fiscal year.”

Apparently it sincerely believes that it has achieved this goal. Indeed, the Village Clerk is quoted as saying that the new budget implies a (modest) $14.57 per month increase for a “house assessed at $795,000.”

Of course the problem is that such average property values are not static. The real property tax burden is properly calculated by dividing actual taxes by average property values. As in most Long Island communities, these appear to have dropped sharply in Sag Harbor over the last 18 months.  

For example, according to one well-known website that tracks real estate values by community, average property values in Sag Harbor fell by an average of 15.6 percent, year over year, through April 2010. (See http://www.zillow.com/local-info/NY-Sag-Harbor-home-value/r_47499/), By law, assessed valuations are eventually required to reflect such changes. There may be lags in the system, but it is “voodoo economics” for the Village to exploit such lags

If Zillow is even close to right — and its estimates may even be an understatement, given all the vacant storefronts and for-sale signs that we see around us — the Village’s new budget really implies an increase in the average Sag Harbor real effective property tax burden (taxes/average values) by 21 percent in a single year. On the Southampton side of the village, the increase may be even greater.

Of course this also comes on top of likely sharp real property tax rate increases for our towns and school districts. 

Overall, therefore, this is hardly a “conservative” Sag Harbor Village budget at all. It is exactly the situation that I warned about last spring. 

Perhaps the only consolation here is that this growing local tax burden is not unique to Sag Harbor. It is part of a much wider pattern. 

All across the country, during the last two decades, local government authorities got used to expanding their budgets year in, year out in a period of rising property values. Now, in the deepest downturn since the Great Depression, many of these local government authorities are still trying to continue the same old lax spending habits. 

Indeed, this year, local governments in the US are projected to spend about $1.88 trillion, an increase of $143 billion over 2009. Most of this will have to be funded on the backs of weary property owners, even in a depressed market — which means “real property tax rates” will be rising everywhere — except in communities that organize to take away the “punchbowl” from their elected officials. (See http://www.usgovernmentspending.com/#usgs302a for more info on projected spending levels by level of government). All this spending by local governments is more than the entire federal government’s projected $1.6 trillion for non-social security/non-medicare spending in FY2010, which has increased by only $87 billion. 

In a period when many self-styled “fiscal conservatives” are working themselves into 

a lather to complain about irresponsible budgets in Washington, it is important to remember that fiscal responsibility begins at home, and that it requires us to make  a fundamental break with bad “business as usual” spending habits.

A good place to start would be with a mandatory cap on annual village and town spending increases, limits these increases to the rate of increase of average property values.

Of course our hope would be that local officials and political parties hear the pleas of beleaguered taxpayers for such a measure. But if they don’t, maybe we need to organize a local, non-partisan version of the “Tea Party” that is focused on local government. 

Yours respectfully, 

James S. Henry, Esq.

Sag Harbor

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One Response to “Letters April 29, 2010”

  1. Alex Hally says:

    Completely perceive what your stance on this matter. Though I’d disagree on a number of the finer details, I think you did an awesome job explaining it. Positive beats having to analysis it on my own. Thanks


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