There is never a dull moment in the Sag Harbor School District — and on Monday evening, the phrase was infused with new meaning at the board of education meeting. Dozens of teachers attended wearing their grey shirts, reiterating their dissatisfaction with contract negotiations and a stalemate in the bargaining process, and more than 20 parents and residents turned up to weigh-in on an upcoming parking project and the future of the middle and high school playing fields.
The board intends to spend around $1 million to create 51 additional parking spaces at the elementary school, renovate the Jermain Avenue lot near the Pierson gym and create additional car spots at the high school. During the meeting, the board announced an amendment to the plan. The parking project will no longer include seven spots that buttress Jermain Avenue. Now, there will be grass separating the street from the parking lot.
School board president Walter Wilcoxen further noted that the school isn’t required to increase the parking by any legislation, but would like to create new spaces to satisfy the needs of its staff and to accommodate a few visitors. Sag Harbor Village Police Chief Tom Fabiano was on hand to support the parking project and said the congestion of parking has created safety issues.
But Carol Williams, who lives on Jermain Avenue across from the school was uncomfortable with spending money on parking and didn’t mind Pierson staff parking on the residential streets.
Other residents believe that by providing more parking, the school is encouraging car use over other modes of transportation. In conjunction with the parking project, some feel there should be a commensurate effort to promote biking and walking to school.
“The more people walk and bike, the safer walking and biking will be,” said 725 Green chairwoman Gigi Morris. Sara Gordon with the Peconic Land Trust asked for a plan to reduce car trips for families and staff.
Some parents also brought up the need for adequate sidewalks to the school, which would be the responsibility of the village. Village trustee Tim Culver said the village board was exploring installing sidewalks but such projects remain expensive.
The parking project would be part of a larger facilities bond which will be put up for a vote in December. Considering current interest rates and the decrease in construction prices, Wilcoxen said the school will most likely spend less on the project now than it would in the future.
In addition to discussions over parking, the board is mulling over purchasing a synthetic turf field for the middle and high school. The initial capital investment for synthetic turf is around $990,000 said director of buildings and grounds Montgomery Granger, but requires little maintenance. Over a 10 year period, the costs associated with an organic field or a synthetic one are comparable, he added.
“I hope we do one or the other,” remarked school board member Ed Haye. “I hope we don’t leave it the way it is.”
The current fields, noted Granger, are extremely compacted which can lead to injuries.
As the board meeting was winding down, Teacher Association President Eileen Kochanasz spoke to the stalemate in contract negotiations with the board.
“We have been watching some very organized, well-thought out plans presented and input from the public has been accepted. We just hope for the same treatment for the teachers,” said Kochanasz. “I have one thing left to say. The teachers are ready willing and able to negotiate.”
On Monday, Kochanasz said TASH officially asked for a “crisis” status with the New York State United Teachers union on the state of the negotiations, citing the board’s rejection of the fact finder’s report as a key reason for the move.
As the negotiations continue, several parents at the meeting said they feel the strife is deteriorating morale in the district.
“I feel a sense of loss in the schools and the community I moved into,” noted parent Janice Arbia. “I look at the teachers all dressed in the same shirts and I think there is a frustration in the board’s unwillingness to speak. Dr. Gratto you just got a raise … Then you [the board] are telling the teachers to tighten their belts.”
Wilcoxen said he will meet with Dr. Gratto and two other board members this week to “revisit the concept behind some of [the board's] positions and use it as a way to explore coming back to the table.”
“We spent two hours before [the meeting] started discussing ways to restart the negotiation process,” noted Haye. “Hopefully it will result in more fruitful negotiations.”
To which, Kochanasz replied, “Well that is good news for us and the district.”