Petition Calls for Civility on Sag Harbor School Board; Board Will Attend Retreat

Posted on 24 April 2013

By Amanda Wyatt

Over six weeks since the resignation of former school board member Gregg Schiavoni sparked debate, Sag Harbor Board of Education (BOE) members appear to be moving forward.

The BOE has been under a microscope since Schiavoni sent in his letter of resignation in early March, which criticized the board and its practices.

For members of the recently formed community organization, the Sag Harbor Education Best Practices Group (SHEBPG), the resignation and “the divisiveness between board members raised a red flag that we believe could not be denied or ignored,” according to a petition filed with the board Monday night.

At the start of Monday night’s well-attended BOE meeting, the petition asking the board to commit to best practices and examine the concerns of the community, among other things, was delivered to the district clerk.

John Battle, also speaking on behalf of co-creators Jonathan Glynn and Gordon Trotter, said in an email to The Express that the petition ultimately contained nearly 275 signatures.

“The petition includes no demands, no ultimatums, no charges of wrong doing. It implies none of these things. It is meant to be a loud and clear call for this board to get its house in order,” Battle pointed out at the meeting.

“The intent of this petition was to encourage a more thoughtful response to a wary public and though we believe that there is more work to be done we thank you for your reassurances to date,” he added.

Following the delivery of the petition, Theresa Samot, board president, announced that in response to requests at previous meetings, the BOE would hold a special retreat next month.

“We will be having our board retreat on May 9, focusing on those topics that we talked about at previous meetings — best practices, open meeting laws and communication,” she said.

Battle, speaking for SHEBPG, said he was “heartened” by this news and thanked the board for “tightening up executive session procedures” and “affirming its commitment to best practices.”

There was also discussion about public expression at meetings, including whether the district needed to have two public input portions. Currently, members of the community sign up with the district office to speak for the first public input session before the regular meeting begins. The second public input session, which occurs after the meeting, is open to anyone who wants to speak.

While speakers are limited to just a few minutes, there is no cap on the number of speakers, which means that public input can be as short or lengthy as desired. Recently, some of the more contentious school board meetings have had public input sessions that have lasted for over two hours.

Still, Samot pointed out that this separated the district from others, which sometimes allot only 30 minutes for public expression.

“I wouldn’t be in favor of that, because I think it’s important that everybody be able to speak,” she said.

Board member Mary Anne Miller and Chris Tice, the board’s vice president, said they would work on the policy and present it to the BOE at its next meeting.

Also on Monday, Samot said the board would place on the agenda a time for a representative of School Leadership, the consulting firm overseeing the search for a permanent superintendent, to attend an open BOE meeting. At the last meeting, several community members questioned the BOE’s decision in January to delay finding a permanent superintendent for another year and wondered why the search could not continue sooner. Samot said that School Leadership had recommended waiting until before the holiday season to resume the search, since people sometimes look for new jobs at that time of the year.

In related news, the BOE approved contracts for two consultants to work with the district in its efforts to curb the use of drugs and alcohol. The contract with Human Growth and Development Network, which is for $100 per hour, will not exceed $8,000. The contract with East End Counseling LLC is for $70 per hour and will not exceed $5,600.

Human Growth and Development Network has been contracted to help the district develop a comprehensive drug and alcohol prevention program, which they hope to put in place for the 2013-2014 school year. East End Counseling, on the other hand, was described by Dr. Bonuso, interim superintendent, as providing some “hands-on” counseling and working with parents on the substance prevention initiative.

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