By Marissa Maier
A visitor to Sagaponack Village might believe the one-room schoolhouse on Main Street has remained untouched since it was built in 1885. Pint-sized students sit on old-fashioned wooden desks with inkwells and a cast-iron stove located at the front of the classroom keeps them warm. Though everything seems sleepy enough, changes are afoot in this small school district.
In January, Sag Harbor Schools Superintendent Dr. John Gratto and Pierson School Principal Jeff Nichols pitched the merits of a Pierson education to a group of almost a dozen Sagaponack parents. For the past year, said Sagaponack School Board President Charles Barbour, Sagaponack parents asked the board to explore the curriculum at neighboring school districts beginning with middle school. The village’s educational program runs from first through fourth grade only, at which point students have traditionally moved on to the East Hampton School District.
With the state poised to cut close to $200,000 in aid next school year, Pierson is looking for a much needed boost on the revenue side of their ledger and tuitioning-in Sagaponack students could help sustain programming, noted Dr. Gratto in a later interview.
“The fiscal condition of the state is restrictive and we are looking at ways to bring in revenue,” Dr. Gratto further explained.
When asked if the school would need to increase the academic staff, he remarked, “It depends on how many students there are in each subject. There is high enrollment in Spanish and science in some areas … [But] the cost of additional teachers would be offset by the revenue.”
For the 2010-2011 school year, Sag Harbor will charge out-of-district students $16,217 annually to attend grades kindergarten through sixth and $21,080 for grades seventh through twelfth. Full day tuition for special education students is $44,196 per year for the elementary school and $50,808 for middle and high school. The sending school district, however, must provide transportation for their students.
“We are also looking at the side of the cost to the taxpayer. Sag Harbor is definitely a little bit cheaper,” said Barbour, based on his preliminary research of the school’s contract with East Hampton. He noted though that East Hampton is in the midst of crafting next year’s school budget and their tuition rates are subject to change. East Hampton’s Business Administrator Isabel Madison couldn’t be reached for comment.
In exploring other districts, Barbour noted the board is seeking a well-rounded program with a host of extra-curricular activities and excellent test scores. At the presentation Dr. Gratto and Nichols highlighted the school’s class sizes, which boasts an average of 20 students per academic class, curricula focal points, including the Intel science projects, young playwrights program and the model United Nations, the selection of arts programs, athletics, the credentials of the faculty, and students’ regents and advanced placement test scores.
Sagaponack is currently in the midst of a five-year contract with the East Hampton School District. Dr. Gratto explained that school’s superintendent Lee Ellwood seems assured the school may end this agreement before the start of a new academic year. The Sagaponack school is presently comprised of 21 students. Four children are enrolled in the fourth grade. School clerk Jeannette Krempler confirmed one student plans to attend East Hampton in the fall of 2010. Barbour pointed out parents may decide where to send their children for middle and high school. Sagaponack, he noted, isn’t required to commit all of their funds to one school district.
“The kids who are in East Hampton, we want to keep them in East Hampton. We wouldn’t want them to have to change schools,” said Barbour. “We want to leave this as an option for parents and to make sure there is a choice for them.”
The Sagaponack school board is slated to discuss tuitioning-in their students to Sag Harbor at their next board of education meeting on March 4.
Springs School District
Last Thursday, on February 11, Dr. Gratto and Nichols made the same presentation to a group of around 15 parents at the Springs School in East Hampton. The Springs program spans from pre -kindergarten through eighth grade with a student population of around 550. After middle school, students have customarily passed on to East Hampton, but it appears many parents are rethinking this arrangement. Dr. Gratto reported that several parents appeared willing to sign their children up for Pierson that evening. He added that the Sag Harbor School will schedule a tour for prospective Springs students in the near future.
Following the presentation, the Springs School Board reportedly decided to put a referendum to a vote in May. The referendum, piggybacking on the budget vote, would give parents the choice of sending their children to Pierson or Bridgehampton, as well as East Hampton after the Springs program ends in eighth grade.