With New York Governor David Paterson poised to make a total of $3.2 billion in state funding cuts, the Sag Harbor School District will likely lose $148,000 in state aid next year. And as a result of this reduced subsidy, the school will probably need to trim expenses for this school year.
The Pierson community recently swirled with information that one such cut was the middle school guidance counselor. At a board of education meeting on Monday, over a dozen teachers and parents lobbied the board to retain not only the position but the current counselor, Carl Brandl. School superintendent Dr. John Gratto assured the public that Brandl’s position is safe for the rest of this year but said he couldn’t make the same guarantee for 2010-2011.
Based on public comments, Brandl has several supporters in the community. One mother, who preferred to remain anonymous, said she works in the kitchen staff and witnesses first hand how Brandl relates to the students.
“Carl is a man who knows every single one of those kids. He is vital [to the school],” she remarked.
Other parents asserted that a middle school guidance counselor provides necessary emotional support to help students through the difficult years of early adolescence. Brandl advises close to 220 students and has been with the district since 2004.
According to Pierson guidance counselor Eileen Kochanasz, in a meeting last week Dr. Gratto said Brandl’s position could be cut.
“Staffing cuts needed to be examined. We were looking at staffing cuts as one idea. But it has been rejected. Now, we don’t feel that is necessary,” stated Dr. Gratto.
He later added that the school didn’t believe it would be fair to cut staff or programs in the middle of the year. Instead, Dr. Gratto outlined a four-part plan to maintain existing staff despite decreases in state aid.
The first measure mirrors a similar spending freeze enacted last year. The district’s business manager Len Bernard will analyze the remaining budget dollars with a fine tooth comb and is expected to suggest $100,000 worth of cuts. Dr. Gratto added that the cuts will be vetted with administrators. Secondly, the school will disable approximately five to six overhead lights near classroom windows. This idea is expected to save around $10,000. Student Jessica Warne supported this idea, but teacher Nell Lowell suggested the school look into installing an additional light switch for fixtures by the window. On snowy or rainy days, said Lowell, the classroom would need the extra light.
The district is also looking to reduce the heat from 72 to 69 degrees, which would slash expenses by $10,000. Dr. Gratto added that by the end of the school year, Pierson will save around $38,000 by sharing transportation costs with the Springs School District over the summer.
Teacher Jim Kinnier asked if the district will commit to employing Brandl next school year. At the meeting, Dr. Gratto said at this point the board couldn’t make such a statement.
“There is a lot we don’t know about next year. But my preference would be to keep him,” added Dr. Gratto.
During the meeting, 725 Green chairwoman Gigi Morris urged the board to hold off on the school’s proposed parking project. Morris noted that the local community is financially struggling. She added that several residential neighbors of the school would prefer to have parking on the street instead of having taxpayers bear the cost of the $1 million parking plan. She said an ad hoc group representing several members of the community, from the police to the village, would soon be forming to comprehensively analyze the parking and traffic around the school.
If the bond proposition is passed, Dr. Gratto said the parking project can be deferred to the end of the bond’s design phase. The group would have around six months to compile and present alternatives to the parking plan.
Parent Ken Dorph spoke out against the project, saying by providing free parking the school had “fallen victim to one of the worst mistakes in traffic management.” He added that as a parent he always finds parking within a block of the school.
“To spend a million dollars on parking [in this economy] is wrong and I cannot support this,” said Dorph.