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Letters October 29, 2009

Posted on 30 October 2009

Clarifying Position on Negotiations


Dear Editor,

I am writing this letter to you with a concern that the community has been misled on my opinion of the teachers contract non-negotiations.

On October 5, I attended the board of education meeting. At the meeting I spoke to the board in regard to the contract issues and the effect, I felt, it was having on the children and the community.

In the October 8 paper you quoted only a portion of what I said. My goal in speaking to the board was to let them know my frustrations in the board’s unwillingness to meet with the teachers and get proceedings started. I wanted to know why it was taking so long for the board to set a date to negotiate. I did bring up the fact that Dr. Gratto recently received a raise from the board. I continued speaking in an effort to bring out the point that although Dr. Gratto may have been entitled to his raise for the accomplishments he may have made, it didn’t look very good on the teachers and that they were told to tighten their belts when they asked for their raise.

By omitting what I continued top say about Dr. Gratto’s raise, you mislead the readers on my opinion of Dr. Gratto. It appears in the article that I did not agree with Dr. Gratto getting a raise. I do not have enough information on Dr. Gratto’s performance to even have an opinion on this. My point once again was how did it appear to the public and to the teachers to be put off on contract negotiations after Dr. Gratto got his raise. As many will say, the timing was just off. As I said that evening, I am supportive of the teachers in the great job they do with the children. I believe that there are valid points on both the teachers’ and the board’s requests. I even stated that this matter is between the board and the teachers and that the community has been drawn into the issue due to the length of non-negotiations. I told the board that I believed the teachers’ actions are based on frustrations with the board’s unwillingness to meet with them.

This misinterpretation escalated in the October 15 issue of the paper, with a quote in the section “From the Web.” The quote from “taxpayer” and my incomplete statement are not clearly separated. Since my name is the only one printed in the article, as “taxpayer” is unwilling to own up to their own words, it is construed as my words as if I have written the post. Only persons that attended the board meeting that evening, or those who know me, will be able to decipher between the two and understand that this is not my opinion.

After the October 15 paper came out, I received phone calls from people looking to clarify my views. I am hopeful that you will print this letter, in its entirety, in this week’s paper to clear up any misconceptions.

Thank you,

Janice Arbia

Sag Harbor


When Negotiations Were Done With Respect


Dear Bryan,

The fine reputation that our schools now enjoy is something that the parents of today’s students take for granted. But this was not always the case.

The elevation of the Sag Harbor school district from disrepute to admiration is due mostly to past superintendent John Barnes, and a board led by Bill Grimbol, who employed a system called Mutual Gains Bargaining. These negotiations led to a contract that fostered a spirit of common purpose … with the children as first priority. Pastor Grimbol described the process: “We started to feel like a community, a family. We bargained as if we were truly all friends. At the end of the process, we all knew what we could tell the taxpayers of Sag Harbor. We were in it together, and our strategy reflected that perspective. Everyone had been shown respect.”

The way the present board is treating our teachers is disgraceful. This board is moving the district backward to a time when the Sag Harbor schools had a negative reputation and were at the bottom of the pay scale. (This is not hearsay … I am a 30-year-veteran teacher and coach of the Hampton Bays school district and am very familiar with how all the East End districts are historically assessed.)

Once it was known that Sag Harbor had negotiated amicably and fairly, this inferior reputation was turned around by the acquisition of a stellar administrator in Joan Frisicano, and a pay/benefits package which at last made the district competitive and enticed some of the best and the brightest instructors to come to Sag Harbor. And the results are evident: we are the only East End school with  an Intel semi-finalist, standardized test scores are up, advanced placement course enrollment is up, AP exam scores are extraordinarily high, and college admissions are at record numbers. Contact TASH for the statistics of these achievements.

I urge this board to honor your teachers and acknowledge their hard work. If you are willing to reward your superintendent with a hefty raise for “a job well done,” then to not accept the report of a professional fact finder indicating that the contractual requests made by your teaching staff after completely merited, is an insult to both the teachers and the taxpayers.

Sincerely,

Cam Gleason

Sag Harbor


Truth in Numbers


Dear Bryan,

I would like to clarify my position with regard to the ongoing teacher contract imbroglio, as I was quoted in last week’s paper.

As I said at the last Board of Education meeting, I believe that there is only one real sticking point in this situation: the long-term costs of teacher pensions and retirement health care. All of the other issues – from payments to teachers for overnight field trips, to payment of teachers’ unused sick time, to the performance of traditional teachers’ duties – is navigable.

Nearly every teacher in the district was present at last week’s meeting. It is not hard to imagine that whole group 30 years from now. Nearly all of them will be retired. Nearly all of them will still be living. Our district is being asked by the teachers’ union (TASH) to make a long-term commitment today to pay out these teachers’ future retirement salaries and benefits at a rate acceptable to TASH (rather than at the lower rate the board has presented). There is nothing inherently wrong with that.

But TASH needs to reveal its math to the community. They have had many idle months during these stalled negotiations to convince the public that their plan is reasonable for the future. In both public and private encounters with TASH leadership, they have demurred when asked to disclose the long-term tax costs of what they are proposing.

This apparent refusal makes it difficult for any citizen to make an informed decision as to whether or not their plan makes sound financial sense. If the commitment they are asking for from the community today results in double-digit tax increases 20 or 30 years from now, then the community needs to know that. None of us wishes to make long term promises that can’t later be fulfilled – that is simply unethical.

If TASH’s math adds up, then I will be happy to support their plan. But I need to see the numbers.

My mother retired in 2000 after 30 years of teaching public elementary school in Connecticut. Two years before her retirement, she went from an expectation of paying none of her health benefits post-retirement, to paying 100% of her benefits post-retirement. The community in which she taught, and the teachers’ union in which she had always trusted, were unable to come up with a reasonable plan to pay out the previously promised commitments. It went from all to nothing – overnight.

Why? Because 20 years before she retired, neither her board nor her union had the foresight to consider HOW they were going to keep their promises. They took the easy way out, agreeing to get along, until, suddenly, they were (OOPS!) out of money.

It is in TASH’s best interest to avoid such disasters for its future members. While it is encouraging that the board has agreed to set a negotiation date (and I fault the majority of the board for not wanting to come to the table sooner), if TASH doesn’t come in with its math in order, I can’t see how this problem is going to be solved any time soon. The proof will be found in the numbers, not in the angry emotions.

Sincerely,

Laura Avedon

Sag Harbor


Re-elect Linda Kabot


Dear Bryan,

I support Linda Kabot for Southampton Town supervisor and I ask your readers to do the same on Election Day.  Linda has used her time in public service to amass an incredible understanding of the complex issues that face our town. Sure I am biased because I serve as her deputy supervisor, but my time with her has convinced me that from finance to land management issues to open space and farmland protection to public safety to local community issues, there is no one who has a depth of knowledge like hers. She is using that strong grasp of the policy issues to create an open and honest town government and to lead Southampton in the right direction.

Her commitment to our town led her to fight the party bosses and she won. The hurdles and battles that she has endured over the past nine months would have sent many other people packing, but she has remained steadfast to her vision and to you – the taxpayer. The town has a supervisor who has amazed all by her ability to remain strong and focused on the job that she was elected to do. We need a supervisor like that. We need to re-elect Supervisor Linda Kabot.

Thank you.

Bill Jones   

Hampton Bays


Wants Chance to Lead


Dear Bryan,

Thank you for the coverage the Sag Harbor Express has given this year’s hard fought town supervisor’s race. Your job was twice as difficult because you have had to cover both East Hampton and Southampton. I would like to thank Kathryn Menu in particular.

It has been very rewarding meeting so many people on the campaign trail, their interest and encouragement is something I will not soon forget. They are very much concerned about the future of our town.

Finally, during my terms in office as the Supervisor of North Hempstead, when the town was facing a severe fiscal crisis, I was able to cut taxes, eliminate wasteful government spending, streamline town government and still deliver all the services people had come to expect.

I would like to do the same for the people and Town of East Hampton.

Sincerely,

Ben Zwirn

Candidate for East Hampton Town Supervisor

Democratic, Working Family and Common Ground lines


Predicts Landslide


Dear Bryan,

 My final letter before election, and I am ready for a landslide! I believe that voter turn out will be historic. I believe that voters are ready to throw out the old style politics and vote in professionalism, competency, and drag this town into the 21st century, ready or not! I have been writing to you for months, and have enjoyed every moment of the effort.  Now I am ready to serve as your first write-in independent town board member.

Please know that my heart is with all the winners and losers of this campaign, but I continue to feel that I have the persistence, the passion and the potential for magical synergy to take us all into a better tomorrow.  

Please write-in my name for East Hampton Town Board, a true independent!  

Prudence Carabine

East Hampton


Power of the Voter


Dear Bryan,

For everyone’s information, it is legal to take a pencil or pen, even one with a candidates name on it or a card or paper with information on it into the voting booth. Prudence checked with the Board of Elections after one of her volunteer’s was approached and threatened with arrest if he or anyone else did that.

I have been married to Prudence for more than forty years and raised a family with her. I know her well and she is the one who has the knowledge and will to fix the Town. I am going to write in Prudence Carabine in the slot above Councilman. I think that you should too. Make your decision, but remember that she is from here and that she cares. The magic of democracy is the power of the voter.

Sincerely,

Brian P. Carabine

East Hampton


What is Liberty?


Dear Editor,

It would be helpful to know what that stalwart of “liberty” and “freedom”  — letter writer Bill Jones — means by those slogans, or what they mean to him (his letters in The Exopress, September 24 and October 15, 2009). He comes across as so 1776: indeed, as a soundtrack made in 1776.

Accordingly, some questions for him. If American soldiers did not die for national health care and other social programs but for “freedom” and democracy;” and if “liberty” is yielding ground to government:

a)              What has he done with his “freedom” and “liberty”?

b)             What is the difference between a “democracy” and a “republic” or do they mean the same to him?

c)              Is “freedom” or “liberty” exclusive of government and government social programs?

d)             Did he attend a property taxpayer-funded public school?

e)              Is he a current beneficiary of Medicare or other government (federal or state) social program, or did he opt out of all of them?


His answers to these questions may clarify his understanding of “liberty” and “freedom” as he seems to be unique among his fellow citizens.

Yours sincerely,

David Carney

Sag Harbor

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2 Responses to “Letters October 29, 2009”

  1. Elise Goodheart says:

    Giving Teachers their Due

    Dear Bryan,

    I attended the Board of Education Meeting that took place this past Monday evening (November 2nd) where many teachers and citizens had an opportunity to ask questions of the Board and voice their concerns regarding the teacher contract negotiations (or lack of them).

    The Board, after two years of stalling, has now agreed to sit down to negotiate with the teacher’s union and I like everyone else at the meeting last night am hoping that they come to a settlement.

    I’m glad that they are finally coming to the table but I am concerned that even with some sort of settlement that some serious damage has been done to our school and possibly to our community at large.

    This may only be my impression but, I thought that our society, here in America, had an understanding… a sort of unwritten contract with the teachers in our public schools. A pact, if you will, that basically gave teachers the understanding that “If you take good care of my children we will take care of you”. An understanding that teachers can’t expect to make the same salaries as MBAs, doctors or lawyers but by choosing a profession that educates our children that we as a society agree to make sure that teachers are taken care of by insuring that they get cost of living increases and decent retirement benefits.

    From my first hand experience with the teaching staff at both the elementary, middle and high schools here in Sag Harbor, I can say unequivocally that the teachers in this district have lived up to their end of the bargain. They have been there year after year looking out for my children’s welfare and educational rights to learn and flourish. In short, they have lived up to their end of the contract and I believe we must do the same.

    Yes, we all know that the country’s economy is hurting right now and times are tough but how did the teachers of this community become the scapegoats for our financial woes?

    I think that by refusing to come to the table before this point and claiming that we as a community, because of these difficult times, would need to question “business as usual” with regards to teachers contracts that the Board has, if nothing else, succeeded in doing harm to our teachers’ reputations by implying that the teachers’ are greedy or unrealistic in their expectations.

    In our community, as of late, I’ve seen evidence of disrespect and a general annoyance with the teachers’ struggle and I seriously question if this is really the road we want to continue down? If we show disrespect for our teachers then our children will follow suit and then where will that leave our public education?

    If we say that we value education then we must value our teachers. But, if we instead, break our societal contract with our teachers then (pardon the puns but) won’t we just be “throwing the baby out with the bath water” and then who will be blamed when our public school system “goes to hell in a hand basket”?

    I content that the teachers did nothing to deserve this treatment. I believe we owe them our apologies for letting our own displaced insecurities get in the way of the excellent and noble work they do. It is time for us to renew our promise and give the teachers the contract and gratitude that they are due.

    Elise Goodheart

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