School’s Big Fix Fails: $6.7 Mil Would Have Made Major Repairs

Posted on 09 December 2009

web parikng lot

Sag Harbor residents voted down the $6.7 million school bond on Tuesday. Unlike the budget vote and school board elections this spring, the bond proposition failed to garner the same voter turn out. The bond was supported by 279 residents, though 358 voted against it, with a total of 637 residents voting. Only 28 residents submitted absentee ballots. In the spring, the 2009-2010 budget received 1,221 yes votes and 599 no votes.

“I’m very surprised by the turn out,” said school board member Theresa Samot. “It’s disappointing because a lot of long range planning went into this.” 

Pierson’s Long Range Planning Committee, made up of parents, board and community members, first analyzed the repairs needed at the Pierson campus to be included in the bond. The list of improvements mainly focused on bringing the school’s buildings into code and safety compliance. The bond included upgrades to the mechanical, electrical, plumbing and HVAC systems and other architectural projects.

“This was a nuts and bolts bond,” said superintendent Dr. John Gratto after the bond votes were tallied.

At a board meeting on Monday, school board member Daniel Hartnett explained that the bond is a more cost effective way of paying for these repairs compared to folding them into the annual budget. He added that the school is retiring a bond from 1997 this year, which would have lowered the net tax impact of the new bond. In previous meetings, the board has also pointed out that interest rates for bonds are extremely low and favorable for the district and construction and labor costs will likely be lower as well due to the ailing economy.

“If you had to pay for these things on an annual basis taxes would be through the roof,” chimed in business manager Len Bernard, at the meeting.

Pierson parent Chris Tice said on Monday that several school parents were conflicted about their vote. Tice reported that many said they would prefer to continue to fund educational programming and staffing. Parents at the meeting had heard that middle school guidance counselor Carl Brandl’s position would be cut. Members of the board explained that Brandl’s job was safe for this year.

“If we have to use $500,000 in one year [for some items in the bond], we would have to look at cuts. This bond spreads the cost out very evenly [over the years]. People who move into the community are going to have an equal share,” noted Hartnett.

“This is the best way we have to fund these expenditures,” added board member Ed Haye.

During meetings on the bond, the board received public criticism over the project to repave and add additional parking spaces at Pierson and the elementary school, which cost close to $1 million.

“Maybe the voters felt the money spent on parking wasn’t justifiable,” theorized Dr. Gratto on why the bond failed to pass. “I thought the vote would be closer but the economy is bad.”

Dr. Gratto also pointed out that there wasn’t a project in the bond to capture the imaginations of the voters as the bond was aimed at fixing a wide variety of facility issues, from better temperature control to replacing a portion of the roof at Pierson.

“None of these projects will heal themselves,” noted Dr. Gratto. “[But] we will have to reassess the bond.”

Once the ballots were cast and the results announced, school board president Walter Wilcoxen said the board could put the bond up to a vote again in May.

The majority of the public who voted on Tuesday at the Pierson gym failed to support this plan, but board member Mary Anne Miller believed the voter turn out showed that several key constituents in the community didn’t cast their ballot. She pointed out that there are a little over 5,000 registered voters. Miller further noted that several residents spend the winter elsewhere and young college students are also away at school.

“Sag Harbor has an uncanny spring turnout,” said Miller on the elections and budget votes held in the Spring. “A larger voter turn out better represents the community.”

According to Dr. Gratto, the future of the myriad items in the bond will most likely be discussed at a budget workshop on the buildings and grounds to be held on January 11.

Among other items, the bond would have paid for repairing and enlarging the school district”s parking lots (above).

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6 Responses to “School’s Big Fix Fails: $6.7 Mil Would Have Made Major Repairs”

  1. Ellen Dioguardi says:

    It might have helped turn out if the school had organized reminder calls or something similar as they often do (or the PTA does) for the Budget. As a former member of the Board of Education and a strong supporter of anything positive for the school district I read about the vote a week or so ago but completely forgot. I work late on Tuesdays and like most lead a pretty hectic life a phone call reminding me would have gotten 4 more yes votes at least since I would have told my husband and 2 co-workers who just informed me they also forgot about the vote. Obviously this work needs to be done perhaps if the School Board, Administration and TASH can figure out how to come to a reasonable solution to the contract mess before May and everyones focus can come off the t-shirts, the accusations and the drama the voter turn out will improve and more people will feel inclined to vote YES. As for my vote – how about a calling circle of former Board members, teachers and students next time around and get out the positive votes?

  2. harbordad says:

    I received a phone call reminder.
    I think the failure was really on the part of the schools and the board. The main feature I heard about was that the elementary playground was going to be redone. Honestly, it looks near new and I haven’t heard any children wanting to forego recess because the playground doesn’t work, quite the opposite. I voted yes because I learned that there are some basic neccesities that require repair. The community should have been poked in the face with the ideas such as “the roof is about to cave in” and “the parking lots are not navigable” It’s a reflection of salemanship. I’m not up on the exact numbers, but it looks to me that not even 25% of THE PARENTS showed up to vote. If the repairs are that urgent, I would argue that there has been a failure to comminicate on the part of those that believed this bond was neccesary.

  3. concerned parent says:

    I, too, am ashamed to say I forgot to vote…passed right by after picking up my son at school…maybe if there was a sign or someone standing outside Pierson, it would have made me stop to go in. But I also feel things happen for a reason. I was tossed on how to vote. YES, the bond is the best way to cover the costs of needed repairs. YES, the schools need necessary repairs and updating. YES, it is necessary to take advantage of the low interest rates and secure the $ now. To sell that to a community struggling to pay their mortages, however, the plans better be good. The items in the forefront, or that got the most reaction, were probably not the most necessary of the repairs (the parking lot, playground, etc.) I agree with “harbordad” that it is a reflection of salesmanship. Maybe some of the needed repairs, such as the parking lot are not ready to have a million $ commitment, especially since the plans need work. I also really need to hear that TASH (not the teachers, but the teacher’s UNION) and the BOE are working together more positively. The negativity brewing between the two sides is so counterproductive and downright immature it makes me cringe. (Though, Monday night’s board meeting was much better than past meetings.)

    The community (and the country) is faced with economic crisis and all we hear is more spending plans. Who is able to save these days? Government and public services need to set the example. I want to hear more cost savings plans!!! The administrators, TASH and the BOE need to start over and work TOGETHER to find more areas for cost savings. Yes, please just START OVER. Put the past issues behind and MOVE FORWARD. Fix the past issues by only speaking positively, thinking out of the box, and proposing new ideas. I hear all over the country, that teacher’s unions are pushing for increases that just cannot happen when the public, and the governments do not have the funds to support them! Note: this is not a reflection of “people” support, but only financial support. I will support our teachers in any way I can, but simply can’t with the almighty dollar at this time. TASH needs to educate and convince the BOE, and now the public, that they are worthy of the increases and more importantly, where they see the $ coming from. I just heard on NPR that cuts have been made in LA because the teachers union would not concede to more realistic economic levels. Please don’t sacrifice the jobs of the teachers we love, by forcing the Board to make cuts. Please think of the big picture and how these issues will affect us all now, and most importantly, into the future! The t-shirts need to go. Use them for rags to clean the school of this ugly mess.

    The school is a community builder. No doubt about that. I ask TASH to come forward with dates and ask the BOE to schedule the next meeting. I keep hearing that the BOE is not negotiating, but maybe there is no more room left to negotiate! The proposed contract includes pay increases, good health benefits, etc. I say, take it now before jobs get cut all together! No one can predict what will happen in the future, so put the Carl Brandl issue to rest. It is clear that he will have a job, but how can anyone predict what will happen next year? Impossible! Maybe if BOE included those involved in decisions that concern them more… think about how a superintendent’s raise will look at this time, and if the raise was unavoidable and was already in his contract then state that plain and clear…think about how it looks to give a million $ parking lot plan precedence over finding closure with the teachers. The employees are the lifeblood of the system. Good, positive moralle is essential. People just want to feel like they are important and “respected,” especially by their employers. I believe TASH should take a hard look at the costs they are proposing to our district… now and into the future. From my perspective (an many others), the teachers already have a good salary system, an incredible benefit package and retirement plan (in the millions, am I not correct?!).

    So, until May, when we will hopefully be able to vote on a new bond, lets take a closer look at the costs being incurred by the schools and paid for by the community. $62/ year (for how many years?) seems like a good investment to me to help ensure safe, energy efficient structures to house schools, BUT only through smart, planned spending. Let’s give teachers the respect and honor they deserve as they help form the future of our society. Let’s also give the community respect and thanks for supporting the teachers and administrators with their hard-earned tax dollars. And let’s remember to respectfully thank the BOE for working so very hard to address these issues on unpaid time. We are so fortunate to live in a community in which no one takes their job lightly. Thank you for listening.

  4. honesty needed says:

    Keep reading till the last line, even if you don’t agree. I really hope the last line, or something like it can happen. Humor would be good for us all.

    It is notable to respect the Board of Ed for their use of unpaid time.

    But not without acknowledging that Power is sometimes the “Pay” that a ruling body looks for and gets. Ditto for influencing agenda’s.

    The Superindendant and the Board are focusing the community on the here and now, drawing attention away from the lack of forthrightness exhibited at the beginning of their method of hiring the superindendant (not his fault).

    Although the ommunity was not literally taxed by dollars, it was taxed and drained of good will. That actually may have cost dollars, you just never know.

    I would like to ask the teachers to put away their t-shirts, but not because they started anything. They were denied the security of contracts by the failure of the Board of Education.

    I for one will be committed to voting no on any Spring Bond proposal if the Administration doesn’t, by Christmas, accept the fact finder’s initial findings which were not the travesty that the Administration made it out to be, and I will bring a minimum of 25 people to vote no with me.

    I heard several very scornful and mocking remarks made about the fact finder’s work from my own direct conversations with the “unpaid” Board Members and the salaried increased Superintendent.

    The scorn and derision were unjustified and demonstrated their counting on the community to made the wrong decisions about the teachers, pressuring the teachers based job insecurity, changes they are making in the schools now, changes they are not telling the community about now, so that they achieve what they couldn’t by good faith bargaining without telling the community.

    They are covering this and counting on anti-union; wow don’t teachers have a cream puff “scheme/deal” salary/work load going on mentality.

    The quality of the education in the schools is being degraded against the teacher’s legitimate educational know how as this debate goes on, refusing to bargain about it.

    Now, they have added to the financial worries by talking of all the money the negative bond vote will create. They had their eyes on sticking it to the teachers, like a few of them did verbally to the fact finder. They love that the teachers’ felt they had to resort to t-shirts so that people would have something to hold against the teachers.

    At least the teachers are protesting honestly and not trying to achieve their goals by stealth bad faith non bargaining.

    The Board of Ed and the community need to look back to that original method of operation that the Board of Ed used to hire the current superintendent.

    Or am I the only one who remembers when part of the Board of Ed snuck out of their own meeting when the Superintendent was “introduced”.

    It literally doesn’t pay to have too short a memory if you want to assess a situation properly. The arbitrariness started at least at that time.

    The total situation has to be looked at, and at a certain point, teachers should change their wardrobe: like maybe a Christmas colored shirt with: “God bless us everyone”

  5. Art says:

    I am sorry the vote failed but this is not the time to be asking for money to fix parking lots and I agree the marketing was bad on this vote. I think we can all agree we want to do the best we can for our schools but many of us are making very hard choices now and are mostly doing without. I trust we can still make important emergency repairs and get by until the economy improves. In the interim I hope we can spend what we do have wisely.

  6. Elementary School Parent says:

    I think the parking being included did this thing in. Fixing some cracked asphalt is one thing but $1m+ for however many new parking spots is silly. The way I understand it the playground “fix” was replacing the sand of the playground with chopped up tires. We have the tires at our house and it’s cool but can be done anytime. I’m concerned with the money saving repairs that won’t be made. Come on you greenies out there – many of these repairs were going to save money in the annual budget with lower energy bills. Hey Sag Harbor, if you won’t do it for our kids, won’t you do it for the Polar Bears and Al Gore?!
    For the record, I voted yes on the bond.

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