By Claire Walla
The future of the Sag Harbor Youth Advocacy and Resource Development (YARD) program, which provides an after-school program for teens at Pierson Middle/High School during the school year and sponsors field trips and outings when school is closed, is still up in the air.
After speaking with the school’s insurance provider, Sag Harbor School Board President Walter Wilcoxen said the good news is that the cost of providing liability insurance for the after-school program is minimal. However, the issue now becomes the board’s willingness to be responsible for all YARD functions — including those that are held off campus.
At issue, in part, is YARD’s summer beach program, in which parent volunteers host beach outings two nights a week for Pierson students. The school board has liability concerns that revolve around the fact that kids from outside the Sag Harbor School District have attended the events.
School board members agreed that the summer beach program is not an issue that would get resolved immediately. However, school board members discussed the future of YARD’s after-school service.
“From my perspective,” said board member Dan Hartnett, “I hope we keep the program.”
Wilcoxen noted that there are other ways the school district can address the issue of after-school care, citing a program laid-out by Pierson Middle/High School Principal Jeff Nichols, as well as the SHAEP program currently in place at the elementary school, for which students currently pay fees.
Sandi Kruel, who is on the YARD board of directors, expressed frustration at the lack of communication between the school board and YARD members.
“We’ve had meetings with you guys for seven months now and we have said to you numerous times, tell us what you want us to do and we’ll do it,” she said. “We didn’t even know you had spoken to the insurance company until tonight.”
YARD’s recreation supervisor Debbie Skinner said, “The YARD board is certainly willing to ‘chunk out’ the programs it now offers” and look at the after-school program and the beach program as separate services.
“YARD serves a very critical need in our community,” added school board member Chris Tice. “[The program] is not really a financial burden for us, so I challenge us to find a way to figure it out.”
Sag Harbor School Superintendent Dr. Gratto said he will meet with YARD board members in the next two weeks and bring recommendations to the board of education at the next school board meeting in two weeks.
It looks like rough seas for the Pierson Middle/High School Sailing program.
With the prospect of facing sharp budget cuts in the coming years, school board president Walter Wilcoxen said the school district will not be able to fund as many programs as it does currently.
“If there’s any way we can support this club outside the school venue, fine. But we’re going to start having discussions regarding many things about what is critical to our main mission, and what is not,” Wilcoxen said.
Some members of the board see the sailing club as a potential liability, that it functions in a nebulous realm somewhere between the parameters assigned to school sports teams and school clubs, making the operation difficult to oversee from the district’s standpoint.
Breakwater Yacht Club Director Bruce Tait, who oversees the sailing program, has said the club is only asking the school for its participation in two ways: purchasing Inter-Scholastic Sailing Association (ISSA) membership so that students can compete in events, and providing one faculty advisor, who doesn’t need a sailing background, to be in charge of logistics, like collecting permission slips and monitoring children who are not out on the water.
“Conceptually, I love the idea of having [the sailing club], but I don’t think it fits the definition of a program that we can take on ourselves as a school,” school board member Chris Tice said.
In the end, Dr. Gratto suggested the school continue to support a Middle School Sailing Club for the spring term, which would cost about $1,400 for an advisor, with the intention of eliminating both the middle school and high school programs for the 2011 – 12 school year.
“That would give [the Breakwater Yacht Club] enough time to put the plans in place for next year,” he said.
Sag Harbor School Board members expressed disappointment upon learning that State Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr. cancelled his appearance to stand before the school district at a special meeting that would have taken place last Friday, March 25.
The assemblyman issued a press release explaining he had been tied up in Albany for issues related to the state budget, and noted that he would be speaking to the community at large about the proposed two-percent tax cap at Rogers Memorial Library in Southampton on April 20.
“I was very excited to go to that, and all of a sudden I found out it was canceled,” said resident Walter Tice who added that a two-percent cap would profoundly change the school district, and said it is “illogical” that Thiele would support such a measure. “I urge you not to give up your effort to change his mindset.”
“This is a very union-dominated state that has worked itself into a [place] where our taxes are out of control,” Wilcoxen responded. “I personally would support a tax cap, with caveats.”
Such caveats include repealing the Wicks Law, the Triboro Amendment and delving into pension reform, all measures that would loosen-up the high cost of labor for school districts throughout New York State.
In a continued effort to make business office operations more effective and efficient, Sag Harbor School District Business Manager Janet Verneuille appealed to the Board of Education for a new position in that department.
“I’m proposing, at this point, to bring in somebody who would act as a secretary to me, but more importantly would be in charge of benefits,” Verneuille said. “The most important part of the budget is labor, so it’s very important to have someone doing benefits apart from salaries.”
The board supported the addition of the new position.