Letters December 18

Posted on 18 December 2008

Understanding Costs of Education


Dear Editor,

Some weeks ago you published an article submitted by Jo Rizzo called “Cut School Budget Now.”

In the article she questions the salary and benefits of the elementary school librarian and requests that the budget be cut by 10 percent, mainly through staff downsizing, teachers contributions toward their benefits and eliminating other peripheral costs. She cites Manorville’s staff reduction of 18 people and feels Sag Harbor should follow suit. She opposes the automatic step increases the teachers receive annually and appears to give an accurate report on the economic conditions and the effort by both the public and private sectors to cut costs.

You may not agree with Jo Rizzo’s opinions, but her views are shared by a substantial amount of people in the community. In particular, her feelings on automatic step increases are a very sensitive issue in the community.

The following week her letter was answered by the co-presidents of the Sag Harbor Elementary School PTA in a letter to the editor called “Responsible to Support School.” This letter defended the salary and the benefits of the elementary school librarian, citing her education and years of dedication to the job. The article went on to point out the exceptional staff and wonderful programs we have which provide us with an outstanding school system. By example, it refers to families moving to Sag Harbor to take advantage of our schools, people outside the district paying to send their children here, and the outstanding AP scores achieved in this district as contrasted to all other school districts on the east end.

I feel that both letters stretch a few points to make their case.

In the letter from the PTA leaders they claim smaller class sizes generate savings, “Because it creates an early intervention opportunity that actually has proven to decrease the percentage of students who require classifications and additional services.”

We should be very concerned at all times wit the well- being of our children. However, if this sensitivity to their behavior lends itself to justify even smaller classes, in order for the teaching staff to observe the students in more detail and suggest early intervention, then should not this concern be met with an increased staff of psychologists, to observe student activity at a classroom level?

Jo Rizzo states in her letter that “It is time for the board to offer a retirement incentive to the staff who are eligible to retire and to those who are not doing a good job and there to collect a paycheck. Not every job should be filled. Those who will be hired should be younger educators who really have the spunk and desire to do a good job. Etc, etc…”

This is the simplification of a complicated downsizing project.

I have never met Jo Rizzo and have never been introduced to PTA leadership, although I have been active in the school district and have attended a majority of the board of education meetings over the last eight months. It is a shame to see well-intended people so far apart with clashing opinions on important issues. Only a better understanding of each other’s position can minimize the delta difference that exists between them.

That’s what open agendas and transparency are all about!

It would have been great if the PTA leaders had answered Ms. Rizzo by offering benchmark the librarian’s position against that position in a few other district libraries. Not by considering salary and benefits alone, but also reviewing the scope of work, duties and responsibilities. It may well be that our librarian teaches the children research skills and guides the children offering significant value to their educational process.

Ms. Rizzo should be informed of the union’s role in participating in the staffing of teachers, influencing programs and all changes and revisions in staffing. I have heard of programs offering retirement incentive to senior teachers, with potential replacement being strongly influenced by the union. In addition forced downsizing may have the union take the position of a “last in, first out” policy, which would take the junior members of the teaching staff out of their jobs. There are state regulations and union policy which would have to be considered in any downsizing. This would make the retention of the best possible staff very difficult. You can’t blame the union for positions they adopt. Their objective is to recognize seniority and time of service, inbeing fair to all members. I have heard this seniority policy is reinforced by the state.

In any case, if the PTA and the Teachers Association of Sag Harbor (TASH) were to apply their resources they could come up with a published document that would explain in detail the role of the Union in the staffing efforts of the school district.

This would be a giant step forward in bringing a real transparency of the district’s operation to the entire community.

In conclusion, I would suggest the entire community make a serious effort to understand their quality-driven educational system in Sag Harbor. The board of education meets biweekly on Monday evenings. The meetings and the issues they discuss are important and enlightening to all who attend. The PTA report at these meetings is given with feeling, energy and an obvious compassion for the students and the staff they represent. I do not agree with everything that the PTA leadership requests, but no one attending any one of these meetings can do anything, but respect and admire their loyalty and passion to their cause.

I would be pleased to be introduced to Jo Rizzo at one of these meetings.


Ed Drohan



Greater Than Pie


Dear Bryan,

I was so happy to read in the Sag Harbor Express that the youth group is still making pies! I worked with Denny Boyle on the first pie-baking marathon. That was about ten years ago when my sons were in the youth group along with Denny’s daughter Erin. We all had so much fun! Here is a little know fact, many years ago my Mother Felice McMahon started the food pantry in a closet up stairs at the Presbyterian Church. The Food Pantry has now grown to be a viable part of the Sag Harbor Community. I don’t live in Sag Harbor anymore but from time to time I do read it on line. So I wanted to let Denny know what a wonderful person he is, in continuing to work with the youth group of Sag Harbor all these years. This is something that the young folks with take with them when they leave Sag Harbor. It instills in them a sense of community and to know what a great feeling it is to help others in need even if it’s a pie at Thanksgiving. No matter how big or how small a gift is, it’s a wonderful feeling to know that the person receiving it is so grateful for your thoughtfulness and kindness.

Being kind is contagious. It spreads like wildfire; so continue baking! Merry Christmas to Denny and his family and to all of Sag Harbor.


Becky Vilardi (Wolfram)

Vero Beach Florida


There is a Light


To the Editor,

In this season many believe there is a light that darkness shall overcome. I offer just one candle…

Martti Ahtisaari, this year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner, said Wednesday that President Elect Barack Obama should  move quickly to try to resolve conflicts in the Middle East.

“The credibility of the whole international community is at stake,” said Mr. Ahtisaari, a former president of Finland and a veteran United Nations mediator. “We cannot go on year after year, simply pretending to do something to help the situation in the Middle East. We must also get results.”

He urged Mr. Obama to give the region high priority his first year in office. There is light.

In peace,

Larry Darcy

North Haven


Brook or Slade?


Dear Bryan, 

I have followed with interest your coverage of the Sag Harbor gateway hearings and find myself perplexed by comments made by Jeremy Samuelson of the Group for the East End regarding the Long Pond Greenbelt’s ecology, specifically those comments concerning Ligonee “brook.” I must disagree with Mr. Samuelson’s description of the area as one of the “single most significant natural resources in the state.” On the contrary, it has been well marked by the industry of local inhabitants over hundreds of years. The “brook” itself is of unnatural origin with the surrounding area containing little, if any, of its original vegetation. At the height of Sag Harbor’s industrial period that site along with most of the East End was clear-cut to provide fuel for the local works. After the supply at hand was exhausted, firewood was imported from Connecticut to meet Sag Harbor’s needs. 

More worrisome, however, is Mr. Samuelson’s assertion that the “brook” is the sole drainage out of the Long Pond Greenbelt. His claim is not supported by the currently accepted hydrological model of the area. Upwards of 30 percent of the recharge water (mostly rainfall) entering the Greenbelt north of Crooked Pond flows through the Magothy and upper glacial aquifers into Sag Harbor cove. Forty percent of this discharge has flowed entirely within the upper glacial aquifer at an average speed of 200 feet per day. The water we see in the Greenbelt ponds is the exposed surface of that aquifer. (South of Crooked Pond, the flow is to Mecox Bay and the ocean.) 

Ligonee Brook’s periodic flow pales in volume when compared to that of the aquifer coursing beneath our feet. 

The name Ligonee was originally applied to a wetlands, now lost to dredging, that extended from the mouth of the “brook” to just beyond Ligonee Bridge Lane, a path that ran between Noyac Road and what is now Morris Cove Road. This is the place noted in 19th century editions of the Express to be the site of great eel and alewife catches. The name Ligonee is not of aboriginal origin but a corruption of “Leg and Knee,” an apt name for a swamp (William Wallace Tooker, The Indian Place Names on Long Island and Islands Adjacent, 1911). 

Tooker also notes that the “brook” was “not natural but dug by fishermen,” quoting a reference in the Records of the Town of Southampton, page 192, book 2 wherein it is described as a “slade.” To the earliest English settlers here, a slade was a dry watercourse. Ligonee “brook” is a slade dug by settlers to increase the flow of fresh water into Ligonee Swamp in the hope that it would attract large runs of alewives. This was commonly done on Long Island and in coastal Massachusetts (whence Southampton’s first settlers came). Other local examples include the cuts at Otter Pond ca. 1729 and at Georgica and Sagg Ponds. As the cuts into the latter two were not permanent, the Town Trustees were obliged to open the ponds to the sea for the spring spawning runs of anadromous fish species like alewives.

These slades and openings were not novel. The technology can be traced back along the migration paths of the early settlers of Southampton, first to the area around Lynn, Massachusetts, then to East Anglia where the English, using methods adopted from the Dutch, had drained much of their wetlands for agricultural use by the end of the 17th century. 

The “brook” is not a natural feature and may well add to the flow of contaminants, commonly found in storm water run-off, to Sag Harbor Cove. This is very similar to the situation with the storm water “dreen” at Haven’s Beach. In both cases, in an effort to control runoff, we end up speeding the delivery of contaminants to the surrounding marine waters. Given this, perhaps the most environmentally positive thing to do with the “brook” would be to return it to its natural state by filling it in.

Best regards,

Bill Brauninger

North Haven




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