By Amanda Wyatt
In the future, Sag Harbor schools may begin revising their policies on proof of residency for students in the school district.
At the board of education’s last meeting on Monday, December 18, board members and school administrators discussed the need to more closely monitor whether all students do, in fact, live within the district boundaries.
Currently, students are only required to submit proof of residency when they first enter the school district. This means that a student who moves to a new house outside of the district could secretly continue to attend Sag Harbor schools, even though he or she is zoned for another district.
Sag Harbor does not check to see whether returning students live within the district unless suspicion is raised that the student is not a true resident, said business administrator John O’Keefe. In those cases, the district puts the student under surveillance.
“And that’s complicated, difficult, sensitive and very hard to do after the fact, especially if someone’s been here for a long time,” noted board member Mary Anne Miller.
“I do think there are some things we could do if we would like to clean this up and get it to be easier for our business office and our residency officers in the district so we’re not chasing people after the fact,” she said.
Carl Bonuso, interim superintendent, said that O’Keefe was looking into the issue and that the district would confer with other districts on their policies.
“Some districts have enforced a policy in grades three, six and 10 [stating] even though you’ve been here, you just have to recertify and prove that you live here and give the same documents that a new person moving in would have to give,” Miller said.
She also brought up the issue of students who move out of the district in the middle of the school year. Sag Harbor does not have a policy that explains what to do if a student leaves in April, for example, only a couple of months before the end of the school year.
“I think it would probably go a long way in cleaning up some of these sneakily ongoing things that we’ve been dealing with as a district. The challenges are getting harder and harder,” Miller added.
“This [residency requirement] is pretty much out of the law book,” noted Sandi Kruel, a board member. “This isn’t by us, this is law. New York State has very strict guidelines of residency issues.”
In other news, Jill Sanders of the accounting firm Cullen & Danowski, LLP presented the board with a report on her firm’s external audit of the district. Sanders explained that her firm “rendered an unqualified opinion” of their finances, meaning that their financial statements were fairly presented.
“Overall, the condition of the district is good. You’ve worked very hard to set forth a budget that’s a livable and meaningful, [and] you’ve lived within your budget,” she said.
Sanders said that the district received a high score for their fund balance, which was at four percent. The fund balance, she explained, is the district’s “free and clear emergency money.”
Furthermore, “there are no significant deficiencies or material weaknesses [in the district],” Sanders said, noting the firm did makes some suggestions in its management letter to the administration.
The district’s audit report will be posted on the website.
Also at Monday’s meeting, the board voted to utilize March 25 as a snow day, if needed. In addition, the board voted to move its annual budget hearing and scheduled educational meeting from Monday, May 6 to Tuesday, May 7.
During the public input portion of the meeting, teacher Jim Kinnier announced that the Teachers Association of Sag Harbor (TASH) is presenting an educational film series in the Pierson Middle/High School auditorium starting next month.
The documentary “The Finland Phenomenon” will be screened on Tuesday, January 15 from 7 to 8:45 p.m., while “Dan Rather Reports: Take a Lesson from Singapore” will be screened on Tuesday, February 5 from 7 to 8:45 p.m. A discussion will follow the screenings of the films, which explore how each respective country produces some of the most high-achieving students in the world.
After the screenings and discussions, Kinnier said TASH would make a report detailing recommendations on ways to improve Sag Harbor’s educational system.
“We believe very strongly that this is a very good school district and things are going well here, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for improvement, either,” he said.