I am writing in response to a letter you published in the June 21st issue of the Sag Harbor Express from Janet Grossman, YARD Committee member. Ms. Grossman states that “Mary Anne Miller, and several other board members don’t think the district should be involved with the beach program for insurance reasons, among others.” She goes on to state “there is little action being taken by the school board to resolve the insurance issue.”
I find Ms. Grossman’s statements to be a bit misleading and frankly, rather irresponsible coming from someone who has been so deeply involved with YARD since its inception in 2000 and one who calls herself an advocate for the youth of Sag Harbor. Ms. Grossman should know better than anyone how important it is for youth programs to be properly insured. And, to be clear, insurance issues are only one of many items that need to be addressed with regard to the YARD Summer Beach Program.
Ms. Grossman, along with her YARD counterparts, have been fully informed of all of the issues at hand for well over two years now. The Board of Education received a detailed analysis from the school district attorney in August 2010 of the various issues related to the creation and operation of, and the school district’s future association with YARD. Multiple meetings were held between board of education members, Dr. Gratto and the YARD representatives where the challenges were laid out, and possible solutions were reviewed. The school district attorney, insurance broker, and district administrators have all been available to lend guidance and support during these discussions.
So, what are the issues related to the YARD program other than having the necessary insurance coverage? A fully executed “Municipal Cooperative Agreement” between the Sag Harbor School District and the various municipal entities is as necessary today as it was in July 2000, when the program was first started. In fact, a “municipal cooperative agreement” was drafted by the school attorney and forwarded to SHUFSD Superintendent, Kathryn Holden on July 19, 2000; but for some reason it was never signed or fully executed. Further, Ms. Grossman is named as one of the board of directors of the “Youth Committee Board” in the original draft of the Municipal Cooperative Agreement, so I am surprised that she so easily dismisses the necessity for this fully executed agreement.
The law requires that the school district have this agreement in place in order to “operate and maintain neighborhood recreation centers” (GML Section 244-b). This agreement should have been fully executed in July 2000 by all participating municipalities, as well as each subsequent year up to the present. Thankfully, after much perseverance and having a signed agreement in hand, the school district can officially and legally engage in operating a recreation program through December 31, 2012.
In addition to having to sign off on a Municipal Cooperative Agreement, the school district has been advised by our attorney to address any issues related to necessary Civil Service Titles for all YARD employees. (As an aside, all school district employees who are not members of a collective bargaining group, must be assigned a “Job Title” from Suffolk County Civil Service and be approved by Civil Service to work in such title.) Each job title requires specific experience, education, certifications (i.e. CPR) etc. The approval process takes time, and it is certainly in the best interests of the YARD representatives, as well as the school district, to hire only those candidates who are qualified and found to be compliant with all Civil Service regulations and expectations.
To further complicate matters for Sag Harbor School District in this role as lead agency, Civil Service has advised Dr. Gratto and the Board of Education that “Beach” job titles are never used in schools and only one or two “Recreation” job titles are used for school programs. This finding points to the fact that school districts rarely, if ever, act as a lead agency in the running of summer beach programs. Since this practice is so rare, by agreeing to be the lead agency, the Board of Education has given our administrators a bigger hurdle to cross in order to be fully compliant in the eyes of Civil Service.
Lastly, Ms. Grossman accuses the school board of taking “little action” to resolve the issues at hand surrounding the YARD Summer Beach Program. Nothing could be further from the truth and I believe she has done a great disservice to both the program and the public by attempting to malign the people who are responsible for upholding the law, providing transparency and maintaining high quality and effective programs related to the school district.
I think it is important to remind everyone that in May of 2011, the Board of Education made it very clear that the summer of 2011 would be the last year that the school district would allow the Summer Beach Program to operate under the district’s authority. (The Sag Harbor Express published multiple reports on this issue last year.) Based on the decision made last May, the Board of Education had no reason to think the Municipal Cooperative Agreement, insurance issues, Civil Service Titles, etc. needed to be put in order, because the district was not moving forward in the role of “lead agency” for the 2012 summer season. Further, when the Board of Education reached out to the “Friends of Yard” late this winter in an effort to clarify outstanding issues with YARD, we received a memo stating that the 2012 Summer Beach Program was “NOT the district’s concern.”
The memo goes on to say “the BOE and administrators have no decision making authority” with regard to the Summer Beach Program and the only reason for the BOE to be updated on such programs would be if “they are strictly for Sag Harbor students.” (This memo was referenced in the July 5, 2012 issue of the Sag Harbor Express.) (It is also important to mention that the YARD Summer Beach Program is open to all Suffolk County youth ages 12-18 years old; not restricted to Sag Harbor School District students).
So, I ask Ms Grossman … who should be accused of taking “little action” to solve the multiple legal and very concerning compliance issues facing the YARD Summer Beach Program this year and for the past 12 years? I believe the answer is YARD/Friends of Yard and anyone who calls themselves a committee member, executive director, Youth Committee Board member, treasurer, etc. of the above referenced group(s). The issues were laid out over two years ago. There was more than enough time to address the challenges and craft some solutions in order to continue this program outside of the school district. Much support was provided by the school district, local and town officials, community volunteers, past and current BOE members etc., to YARD/Friends of Yard representatives in an effort to help them come up with a viable solution.
I am confused by the statements made in Ms. Grossman’s letter, shocked by her accusatory tone and concerned by her blatant misrepresentation of the facts surrounding this issue. When the Board of Education made the decision to no longer run the Summer Beach Program after August 2011, and Friends of Yard confirmed that school district representatives need not concern ourselves with the program, what action should the BOE have taken?
Further, when it became apparent that YARD/Friends of Yard representatives had not found any solution to run the Summer Beach Program on their own in May of this year, the BOE put the wheels back in motion to try and salvage the program for one more summer. Dr Gratto and the school attorney went above and beyond in a few short weeks to solve a very thorny issue for the time being.
I hope Ms. Grossman can say she did the same. Writing an inflammatory letter to the editor and omitting much of the factual information is counterproductive to the process and does very little to bring the community together in support of your vision. Perhaps Ms. Grossman will think twice before writing such a letter next time?
Mary Anne Miller
Member of the Sag Harbor School Board
To the Editor:
Last week I declined to take my oath of office for the Sag Harbor School District Board of Education. Having been recently elected I must apologize for those who put their trust in me and deeply thank those who actively supported me. I have been on the BOE for six years and am proud to be a part of a group of people who have brought wonderful opportunities to the district. Our detailed Facilities Needs Plan, our Pre-k, and our recent acceptance as an IB school are just three of the wonderful projects in which I participated. I am also proud to be member of the team that supported initiatives to improve the overall financial health of our school district, raised the standards of accountability, and promoted greater transparency to the community.
School districts always have challenges of one sort or another. Sometimes it’s financial efficiency, sometimes union negotiations, sometimes it’s looking for a new administrator — it’s always something. What helps a BOE member get through some of the tougher issues is acquired knowledge gained through seminars and reading, professional guidance from fantastic administrators, and best practice. Knowing the seven members sitting at the table are willing to search for the right answer. To be able to rely on a fellow member for thoughtful suggestions is a godsend. And to be able to trust a fellow member is divine. If you can trust your fellow members you have no reason to be defensive or scheming, both of which are terribly destructive to the BOE governing process.
For the last year and a half there has been very little trust and no dedication to consensus building but there has been mistrust, scheming, grandstanding, blindsiding and micromanaging. Suffice it to say after six years I no longer have the patience or positive mental attitude and it would be better for someone who does to take my seat. But why did I run?
I ran because I believed, if reelected, those who oppose much of what I believe and have been part of, would realize we all have to work together. We have to find consensus. The BOE went so far as hiring a wonderful facilitator from the NY School Board Association to help us with our internal strife. I’m afraid it was for naught. There was no behavioral change and members still interrupted each other, still prevented the President from leading an orderly meeting and members still spoke so long as to skew anything positive.
I truly hope whoever is elected or appointed to my seat is a facilitator, a moderator and a consensus builder. Someone who has the skills to bring people together to work for the common good. I also hope the remaining members of the BOE read their literature on what a school board should and should not do, and attend more seminars to raise the level of their knowledge. The big three previously mentioned behavioral problems the BOE must avoid are: grandstanding, blindsiding and micromanaging. If the BOE can refrain from these behaviors the future will be much improved over the last year and a half. If not, well … we shall continue to lose quality administrators, and the politics of who you know will overtake the policy of best practice, at the expense of our children’s education.
With much regret,
Public Health Crisis
Please publish this letter to North Haven Village Board.
As a resident of North Haven for the past 22 years, I have been diagnosed with Lyme disease three times. Myself aside that would be bad enough, but to know that virtually all of my neighbors who live year-round in North Haven Manor have also been afflicted (many of them also multiple times), leaves me feeling angry that we have a public health crisis that is not being taken seriously. Since I returned home from Florida in late May, restricting my outdoor activities to walking in my neighborhood with my dogs on the shoulder of our roads, I have had to remove four ticks and am awaiting the results of yet another Lyme test. While I am very vigilant about checking myself and my pets, I still managed to be bitten!
If you have not already done so, I urge you to view the documentary, “Under Our skin” that is online and to check the websites of the” International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society”, and the “Tick Borne Disease Alliance” which clearly exposes the serious health problem that faces the eastern end of Long Island, a hot spot for tick borne diseases.
As you know, North Haven village served as the control for the Four Poster Study on Shelter Island that studied the tick infestation. After three years of study, they found a significant decline in the tick population (97%). While there is no perfect solution to the problem, I am here on behalf of North Haven Manor’s Home Owners Association to demand that the village find the means to implement the Four Poster Program to abate our tick infestation.
I have recently contacted Ed Romaine’s office, as I was informed that he was making an effort to move the Suffolk County Legislature to action. I was told that he sponsored legislation that recently created the “Tick & Vector Borne Diseases Task Force.” While I understand the need to do our homework before moving forward, how many more studies do we need before we take action? The significant results from the four Poster study should be enough for the village to begin implementing the program—I would be willing to place a 4-poster device on my adjacent lot and I would also be willing to help find other locations within the Manor and in the village.
How many more people need to be impacted? How many more health care dollars will be spent treating the illness instead of eradicating or reducing the major source of the problem? While I have responded to antibiotics to address my Lyme infections, my partner is one of the unlucky individuals. She has never tested positive for Lyme disease, but has for the past eight years suffered with a life-threatening allergy to meat and dairy that has now been directly attributed to the Lone Star tick bites. She has been rushed to the emergency room 11 times in eight years—twice reaching an anaphylactic state!
Most of the residents of North Haven have erected deer fencing to reduce the risk of tick borne diseases and damage to their gardens. But, as we now know, deer are not the only carriers of ticks. Most of the residents, including myself, have no choice but to use some kind of pesticide.
However, this “hit or miss” approach is ineffective if you take action and live adjacent to areas that are not treated.
You are the officials we elected to safeguard our community and the people living in it. Myself and others believe you have fallen short of the objective. We have a Lyme Disease EPIDEMIC here. And we need positive action NOW!
Josephine DeVincenzi, Ed.D.
Vice president, North Haven Manor Association