To the dismay of many in attendance at Monday’s meeting, the Sag Harbor school board agreed to combine two vacant positions in an effort to possibly save the district money and make it more efficient. In his first big decision as superintendent, Dr. John Gratto recommended the district advertise for a single candidate to serve as both the athletic director as well as the director of buildings and grounds.
Gratto said he understood that in the past the district employed a part-time athletic director who was in the office roughly three days a week. He said the new position would be full-time, with the emphasis being on the athletic director responsibilities. He said he saw a lot of interrelation between the two positions, particularly with the athletic director often working with the custodial and grounds staff to make sure the gym is ready and the fields are in proper shape.
“If they were combined, then you’d have greater responsiveness to immediate [athletic] issues,” said Gratto.
He said the new position would increase the effectiveness of the athletic director and that “athletic issues happen five days a week, not just three.”
“And likewise, I don’t think, since the [buildings and grounds] position has been open since February, that it’s a fulltime job.”
Board president Walter Wilcoxen said after former buildings and grounds director Jim Beauman left early this year, the custodial staff has done a great job. He sees the new position, in terms of buildings and grounds, as more of a supervisory one.
“[Dr. Gratto] reviewed it with custodians and they seem to agree,” said Wilcoxen. “They need part time oversight.”
He also mentioned the current construction projects at the elementary school and Pierson and said by hiring a clerk of the works, he has realized the director of buildings and grounds doesn’t necessarily have to perform that duty.
“[Clerk of the works] Mike Nicholetti has done a wonderful job. Why? Because it’s his business,” said Wilcoxen. “With Jim [Beauman] it wasn’t his business. I think it was unreasonable to ask Jim to do that. Seeing how well Mike has done, if we take that responsibility away from the director of facilities, then it reduces the workload.”
“And there’s no doubt about it,” continued Wilcoxen, “we’re trying to economize any way we can.”
District business manager Len Bernard said salaries for the two positions combined amounted to roughly $145,000. He said the savings in benefits could be $20,000 and in terms of salary, it depends on what is offered for the new position. On Monday Dr. Gratto said the salary would be negotiable to a point.
The new position was widely accepted by both the board and the administration. Pierson principal Jeff Nichols said he thought it was a good idea and board member Dan Hartnett said he considered it “creative and courageous.” The audience however disagreed. Dr. Gratto said it would take a very special candidate to fill it, but Marian Cassata thought it might take even more than that.
“I think it will take an act of God,” said Cassata, “to bring someone to this district [to fill both positions].”
She said she could not see any candidate being able to fulfill the responsibilities of both positions.
“Having been a physical education teacher at the kindergarten level through the high school level, as well as a college coach, I’ve always considered the AD a 24/7 position if you’re going to do a good job overseeing your coaches,” said Tom Gleason. “For me this seems like a very difficult combination.”
Chris Tice asked Dr. Gratto if in his travels through other school districts he had encountered the combination before. He said no, but that based on conversations with Nichols and the head custodians, he felt like it was doable in Sag Harbor.
Gratto and Wilcoxen both said they had entertained another, more common, combination. With current Pierson assistant principal Donnelly McGovern stepping down in the fall to return to teaching, there is now another administrative vacancy.
“The most common [combination] is athletic director and assistant principal,” said Gratto. “We considered that, but didn’t want to go that route.”
Wilcoxen said they liked the current model of having two assistant principals at Pierson.
“It’s a responsibility issue,” he said. “They do such a good job of getting back to the parents and dealing with the students.”
Cassata also pointed out that the athletic director is expected to do much more than just coordinate with coaches.
“Historically and traditionally the AD is also responsible for implementing the health curriculum in schools and direct and shape programs like wellness in the district,” said Cassata.
She also mentioned that in the past, pertaining to buildings and grounds, the district had struggled with “thorough long range planning” and with “assigning capital money to deal with buildings.”
“It’s a very difficult skill set,” said Cassata. “When you advertise, I think you might want to advertise as either [one position] or [two]. That way, you won’t waste time looking for this perfect person.”
Top Photo: Superintendent Dr. Gratto and board president Walter Wilcoxen at Monday’s meeting. John Bayles photo.